By Fr. James M. DiLuzio CSP
On Thursday, November 10th, I attended the all-day symposium “NEVER IS NOW” sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) at New York City’s Javits Center. As I approached the building, Chassidim men and women held up protest signs on a variety of issues including Issues with Israel, Anti-Zionism, and “Keep ADL Out of Our High Schools.” You may know that ADL offers upper grade level programs addressing bullying, racism, and antisemitism in the schools – a program in which I have a great interest. It seems Chassidim have concerns that the ADL program defends LGBQT+ rights along with those of fellow Jews and other minorities. Others claim that ADL is too all-inclusive and neglects its emphasis on antisemitism.
Once inside, I was amazed at the substantial number of young adults at the event. Inspiring! Older adults, however, made up the largest percentage of the 2,000 plus attendees (my estimate). Attentive to the power of SYMBOLS in any religious context, I was struck by the small percentage of people wearing kippah or yarmulke (Yiddish for a special kind of “kippah). For my part, I wore my Roman Collar to show Catholic support in ADL’s efforts to counter the evils of racism and antisemitism. Interestingly, I did not encounter anyone wearing a clerical collar – Catholic, Protestant clergy or otherwise. Christian clergy may have been present, but none were identifiable, and I circulated widely within large and small groups. My collar, however, as it proved a great entrée for conversation.
Initial presenters and emcees included:
- Jonathan Greenblatt, CDO and National Director of ADL Jonathan Greenblatt | ADL Read about his recent book: It Could Happen Here: Why America Is Tipping from Hate to the Unthinkable―And How We Can Stop It: Greenblatt, Jonathan: 9780358617280: Amazon.com: Books
- Juju Chang, Co-Anchor of ABC News “Nightline,” spoke of raising her family in a Jewish household
- Fernando Lottenberg, OAS (Organization of American States) Commissioner to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism in North and South America OAS: Who We Are
- Albert Bourla, DVM, PhD, Chairman and CEO of Pfizer Albert Bourla – Wikipedia
- Christopher Wray, FBI Director, spoke on the FBI’s vigilance to prevent hate crimes, noting the increase in violent speech and actions against synagogue communities and Jewish organizations since 2020
Among the keynote speakers, I gained the most from Albert Bourla as he shared his poignant experiences growing up in a Jewish household in Thessaloniki, Greece, among primarily Orthodox Christians.
In his role as Pfizer CEO, Dr. Bourla elaborated on the antisemitism that erupted throughout and beyond the Corona Virus pandemic, particularly among those who either claimed the pandemic a political plot and /or refuted the value of vaccines, or worse, that the vaccines introduced DNA modifiers into the vaccinated. Later I attended a session on QAnon (Internet Conspiracy Theory) and the MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) movement (one-and-the-same!) offering more details to that phenomenon. The emphasis there:
- “In personal encounters, please do not argue with these folks. Invite them, instead, to identify their feelings of fear, of being marginalized, or whatever is going on in their personal lives. Try to address the feelings, not the issues, to open the door to sanity.”
- Never share outrageous posts on internet platforms — even to ridicule them or offer opposing argument. You are helping disseminate the information and furthermore, add to the algorithms that prove the item is popular.
Another Keynote: Christopher Wray, FBI Director, highlighted the intensified security at synagogues and churches, particularly those with large first and second-generation immigrant populations. The corresponding break-out session I attended offered the following information:
- Currently, most states in the US do not designate “Domestic Terrorism” as ‘Illegal.’ Nevertheless, the FBI identifies domestic terrorism according to the following criteria:
- Racial or ethical based violence
- Anarchist rhetoric and action
- Vigilante propaganda and civilians acting as law enforcement officials
- “Sovereign Citizens” who invent their own laws and attempt to impose them on others
- Extremists among any group or organization
- FBI continues to negotiate a balance between the 1st and 2nd Amendments to the US Constitution and finds it exceedingly challenging.
- Always REPORT threats to personal and environmental safety to police.
- Always REPORT Cyber threats, account hackings and takeovers – never treat them lightly. Keep an ongoing paper trail of all incidents (hard copies)
The FBI recommends the following organizations to increase awareness of potential threats to life and security in worship:
- Department of Homeland Security Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership Resources including:
- CSS – Community Security Services Community Security Service – Protecting Jewish Life and Jewish Way of Life (thecss.org)
- TALL POPPY – an internet service to prevent and report online harassment Tall Poppy – About Us
Here are some points from a second break-out session I attended entitled “Cultivating Effective Alliances: How Partnerships Promote Positive Change.” Members of the following organizations spoke about their complimentary respective goals:
- Committee100.org promoting positive contributions from the Chinese American community Mission & History | Committee 100
- Jewish Federation of North America Home | The Jewish Federations of North America JFNA mission addresses hate by improving access to health care and addressing poverty for Jewish communities and their neighbors: “Economic Security guards against Hate”
- “United Against Hate” engaging local civic leaders throughout USA to root out sources of hate ideologies and counter evidences of prejudice General 4 — United Against Hate (unitedagainsthateweek.org)
- Several groups promoted access to technology as a CIVIL RIGHT. There is a bipartisan Affordable Technology Bill currently circulating in Congress that needs public support.
My last break-out session: “Anti-Israel? Anti-Zionism? Antisemitism? How to Identify and What To Do” Representatives from these organizations participated in a Panel Discussion:
- Matthew Berger, Executive Director, Foundation to Combat Antisemitism Foundation to Combat Antisemitism (fcas.org)
- Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Board of Deputies of British Jews – Board of Deputies of British Jews (bod.org.uk) In Ms. Van der Zyl’s experience, people who are Anti-Israel are, indeed, Antisemitic. Using these or similar words, she repeatedly asked the question: “Why would anyone deny sovereignty and a nation of their own to any race or ethnicity? To deny this to the Jewish people is genuine Antisemitism.” She also noted that international criticism of Israel is inordinate compared to critiques of conflicts in other nations.
- Shaya Lerner, ADL Director of Israel Affairs. The following essay comprises Mr. Lerner’s main points: A Message to Progressives: It’s Time to Reclaim Zionism From the Anti-Zionists | Jewish & Israel News Algemeiner.com
The day concluded panel discussions for the entire assembly and an interview with Congresswoman Liz Cheney conducted by journalist Ruth Marcus, Associate Editor of the Washington Post. Among the panelists:
- Michael Eric Dyson who affirmed a recommitment to solidarity among Black and Jewish Americans See: Michael Eric Dyson
- David Schwimmer, a popular television actor and activist on issues of sexism and racism. RAINN Partners with Actor and Producer David Schwimmer and the Ad Council to Launch #ThatsHarassment PSAs | RAINN See also his outreach to African Americans in the film industry: David Schwimmer Reveals He Pushed For Ross To Date Black Women On ‘Friends’ – Essence
- Bret Stephens, Opinion Columnist, New York Times Bret Stephens – Wikipedia
- Doron Almog, Major General, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel Home | Jewish Agency for Israel – North American Council (jafina.org)
- Carly Maisel, Global CEO, Kirsch Foundation Kirsch Foundation Who We Are
- Eugene Robinson, Columnist and Associate Editor for the Washington Post Eugene Robinson – The Washington Post
- Ruth Marcus, Associate Editor of the Washington Post Ruth Marcus – The Washington Post
- Congresswoman Liz Cheney Liz Cheney – Wikiwand
Ruth Marcus’ interview with Congresswoman Liz Cheney closed the day-long event. Marcus focused on Cheney’s role as Chair for the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capital, applauding her for her witness to the value bipartisan cooperation. The women also addressed the link between QAnon and MAGA in growing antisemitism throughout the nation and these organizations influence worldwide.
For more on Liz Cheney and the Committee, see Meet the members of the select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection | CNN Politics
‘Not accurate’: Liz Cheney and Jan. 6 committee fire back at Mike Pence after attack (msn.com)
For more information on ADL: https://www.adl.org/
Anti-Defamation League CEO denounces Dave Chappelle’s SNL monologue (nypost.com)