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June 16, 2016

Charleston Anniversary: We Mourn, We Act

One year ago, on June 17, 2015, a white supremacist murdered nine parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.   It’s terrible – and unfair – that the quiet space in time we should have had to reflect and properly mourn these murders targeting African-Americans has been literally blown apart by another tragedy – even larger in scale – involving the deliberate targeting of members of the LGBTQ community in Orlando this past weekend.

We can and must grieve for the victims of the heartless white supremacist who murdered nine people who had welcomed him into prayer,

communion, and fellowship.   We can and must mourn the victims in Orlando celebrating life during Pride Month and Latino Night.

And:  we can do more than stand in solidarity and mourn.

On this anniversary, after a weekend of bias-motivated mayhem, we should rededicate ourselves to ensuring that we, as a nation, are doing all we can to fight hate and extremism.

1)     Law enforcement authorities are now investigating what role – if any – radical interpretations of Islam played in inspiring the Orlando murderer to act — and that work is clearly justified.  But we must recognize and pay attention to extremism and hate coming from all sources – including white supremacists, like the murderer in Charleston.

2)     Charleston and Orlando are further evidence that firearms are more pop­u­lar than ever as the deadly weapons of choice for Amer­i­can extrem­ists. We must end limitations on federal research on gun violence – and make it more difficult to obtain firearms through increased waiting periods, safety restrictions, and limitations on purchases – especially of assault-style weapons.   None of these steps will certainly prevent the next gun-toting mass murderer – but, as President Obama said, “to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Photo Credit: Cal Sr via Flikr

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
Photo Credit: Cal Sr via Flikr

3)     We need more inclusive and extensive laws in place to combat violence motivated by hate and extremism.  On the state level, though 45 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws, a handful of states – including South Carolina – do not (the others are Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, and Wyoming).  ADL and a broad coalition of three dozen national organizations have formed #50 States Against Hate to improve the response to all hate crimes, with more effective laws, training, and policies.

And, though hate crime laws are very important, they are a blunt instrument – it’s much better to prevent these crimes in the first place.  Congress and the states should complement these laws with funding for inclusive anti-bias education, hate crime prevention, and bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment prevention training programs.

4)     And finally, let us resolve to more fiercely resist unnecessary and discriminatory laws, like North Carolina’s HB 2, that deprive individuals of the opportunity to live their lives in dignity, free from persecution because of their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

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January 28, 2016

Crossing the Line: When Criticism of Israel Becomes Anti-Semitic

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This article orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Task Force Protestors

Protesters at Task Force Conference in Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the wake of a protest against a reception featuring an Israeli community group at a recent LGBTQ conference, there has been widespread controversy. We have read blog posts and articles, watched videos of the protest, and heard from friends and allies who were present at the demonstration.

Yet, what was perhaps most painful for many of us is that we value and embrace much of the good work of these activists and organizers.  They are some of our nation’s leading advocates, working to secure justice and fair treatment to all. Often they stand as allies in our work for justice and equality.

Unfortunately, though, this fissure is not a new experience.  Since starting as the CEO of ADL last summer, I personally have heard from many college students that their Jewish faith renders them pariahs on their campuses – unless and until they affirmatively denounce Israel.

Campus Hillels and other Jewish organizations that have long worked with LGBTQ campus groups, student of color organizations, and other progressive clubs on campus to host film festivals, panels, and other events increasingly are being shut out, rejected from participating, even when Israel is not on the agenda. Where other students are not being subjected to a litmus test on their views on Israel, Jewish students have been singled out and questioned about their objectivity and position on the issue.

As racial tensions flared across the country the past few years, we heard anecdotes from Jewish racial justice advocates that they were called “kikes” or targeted with other anti-Jewish slurs. When they tried to address the epithets, they were told they need to understand that “it’s because of Israel.”

Here’s the thing, though. It’s not. It’s anti-Semitism.

Let’s be clear. No government is immune from criticism. Surely neither the U.S. government nor the government of Israel nor any other.  Indeed, we have criticized policies and practices of Israeli leadership when we felt appropriate to do so.

We recognize that anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists will condemn Israel. That is a reality. That is their right. We disagree – vigorously – with their accusations of pinkwashing, with claims that Israel is an apartheid state, and with other efforts to demonize Israel.  And we will speak out, challenge their mischaracterizations, and dismantle their indictments with facts and truths, as is our right.

But when that criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism, we will condemn it. It is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated anywhere, especially not in social justice circles.

To be specific, when a person conflates Jews, Israelis, and the Israeli government, it is anti-Semitic. When all Jews and all Israelis are held responsible for the actions of the Israeli government, it is anti-Semitic. When Jews would be denied the right to self-determination accorded to all other peoples, it is anti-Semitic.

And when protesters chant “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” it is appropriately interpreted by most people as a call for the erasure of Israel – and it is anti-Semitic. Giving protestors the benefit of the doubt, it is unlikely that most intend their message to be anti-Semitic. However, regardless of the intent of the protest, the impact matters.

Yet, too often, when students, individuals, or organizations raise the specter of anti-Semitism it is quickly rejected, disregarded, or written off. Israel’s critics literally have written best-selling books decrying their so-called inability to criticize Israel.

But President Obama himself noted that anti-Semitism is on the rise. And, as he eloquently reminded, “When any Jews anywhere is targeted just for being Jewish, we all have to respond.. ‘We are all Jews.’ ”

Indeed, we know that women are best positioned to define sexism, people of color to define racism, and LGBTQ people to define homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism. But, does this mean that all women must reach consensus on what offends them? All people of color? Everyone in LGBTQ communities? Hardly.

So too, we Jews are best situated to define anti-Semitism, even if all of us may not likely reach consensus on the definition. Our millennial experience with intolerance demands the same acknowledgement as other forms of bigotry. Indeed, it is the collective responsibility of activists and organizers across the ideological spectrum to stop and listen when someone says,  “You’ve crossed the line.”

Standing up for rights of disempowered people is a job for us all. ADL has been doing it for more than 100 years. But marginalizing and wounding others in the process helps no one. Rather, it divides us and impedes our ability to find common ground in places where our collective strength could do so much good.

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January 21, 2014

‘That’s So Gay’: Language That Hurts, and How to Stop It

The phrase “that’s so gay” has persisted as a way for students to describe things they do not like, find annoying or generally want to put down, while it is promising that fewer students are hearing homophobic slurs than in previous years.

The phrase is used so commonly that many students no longer recognize it as homophobic because it is “what everyone says.” When educators and other adults intervene, common student responses include “I was just joking,” “I don’t mean actual ‘gay people’ when I say ‘that’s so gay’” and “My friend is gay, and she doesn’t mind.”

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) No Name-Calling Week. In its 2011 National School Climate Survey, GLSEN’s findings remind us of the work that still needs to be done.

  • 84.9% of students heard “gay” used in a negative way (e.g., “that’s so gay”) frequently or often at school, and 91.4% reported that they felt distressed because of this language
  • 71.3% heard other homophobic remarks (e.g., “dyke” or “faggot”) frequently or often
  • 61.4% heard negative remarks about gender expression (not acting “masculine enough” or “feminine enough”) frequently or often

These kinds of responses represent the slippery nature of bias and how easily youth can reflect larger social attitudes about difference. Biased language, when it isn’t checked, can escalate to harsher behavior like bullying, and may contribute to an emotionally, and potentially physically, unsafe school environment.

Here are three things adults should consider when intervening against biased language:

  1. Assume good will. Bias is pervasive, and in all likelihood a student is unknowingly reflecting a bias they heard from peers, the media or family members. The student will likely be open to feedback and dialogue. If they do not believe LGBT people should be mistreated, their language should reflect that.
  2. Stay focused, and do not allow yourself to be immobilized by uncertainty or the enormity of the topic. Intervening in homophobic remarks does not require a discussion about sexuality or the history of anti-LGBT slurs. It is about using language appropriately and in a way that shows respect for diversity.
  3. Be clear about the bias behind the words. Good people sometimes say cruel things. It doesn’t matter if the student didn’t intend to be homophobic, because a negative comment about any group has the potential to hurt individuals and whole communities. While intervening doesn’t require a discussion about sexuality or teaching about the history of LGBT people and/or slurs, the teacher may decide that some classroom instruction in these areas is useful.

 

For more resources, visit ADL’s additional resource page and Curriculum Connections to download Unheard Stories: LGBT History curriculum resource.

 

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