Persistent forms of antisemitism and nativist othering raise important questions on how White Nationalism plays into White supremacist othering of minority demographics based on religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, and immigration status. For the U Remembers edition of Reframing the Conversation, our panel of experts highlighted correlations between racial and religious persecution and the need to unify to acknowledge, confront, and dismantle White supremacy.
Daniel K. Cairo:
Welcome. Thank you for being with us. I am Dr. Dan Cairo, special assistant of strategy and operations to the Vice President for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. I use pronouns him/his/el, and on behalf of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Student Affairs, we welcome you to our last monthly installment of this academic year of Reframing the Conversation.
It is here where we address contemporary subjects affecting today’s campus and the community at large. Please note that this conversation is being recorded and it will be closed captioned which you will be able to find on our website at diversity.utah.edu. But before I begin our discussion today, I would like to acknowledge that this land, which is named for the Ute Tribe, is the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute, and Ute Tribes. The University of Utah recognizes and respects the enduring relationship that exists between many Indigenous peoples and their traditional homelands. We respect the sovereign relationship between tribes, states, and the federal government, and we affirm the University of Utah’s commitment to a partnership with Native Nations and Urban Indian communities through research, education, and community outreach activities.
So for today’s panel discussion, “White Supremacy and Antisemitism,” this conversation is being co-hosted with our partners from the Hinckley Institute of Politics and in celebration of U Remembers.
U Remembers reflects on the historical effects of racial discrimination and invites us to make connections between the past and contemporary social issues. This year’s theme, “Breaking the Silence,” and events will aim to inspire our community to learn and become involved in combating the rise of antisemitism, moving from bystanders to active participants in the work eliminating hate and all its forms. To learn more about the week’s activities, please visit diversity.utah.edu/ur.
Now, it is my pleasure to introduce our partner from the Hinckley Institute of Politics, Molly Wheeler, who will bring remarks and introduce our moderator.
Molly serves as the managing director of community outreach from the Hinckley Institute. She returned to the Hinckley Institute in 2018, after earning a Masters in Political Sociology from the London School of Economics. Molly manages the Hinckley Forum Series, the Huntsman’s seminar is the Institute office in finances.
Thank you, Dr. Cairo, for that introduction and for having me today. And thank you to everyone, panelists and audience members alike, for joining us for this important conversation. As Dr. Cairo mentioned, I’m here on behalf of the Hinckley Institute of Politics.
The Hinckley Institute of Politics is a non-partisan organization at the University of Utah. We provide an array of transformative experiences for students through internships, classes, and forums. Our Hinckley forums specifically seek to foster public discourse on the most current and pressing issues bringing in local national and international leaders. Partnering with Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion on the Reframing the Conversation series has allowed us to do just that.
Today’s Reframing the Conversation for U Remembers is both timely and critical. As a nation, we have seen horrifying increases in both White nationalism and antisemitism as well as troubling decreases in Holocaust awareness, especially amongst younger generations. It is our hope that today’s conversation can shed light on the insidious ways both White supremacy and antisemitism have been entrenched in our society and help envision a better way forward.
I am honored to introduce our moderator for today’s discussion Dr. Maeera Schreiber.
Maeera Shreiber is an Associate Professor Department of English at the University of Utah. She is the author of Singing in a Strange Land: Jewish American Poetry and Poetics (from Stanford University Press) as well as numerous articles in journals such as AJS Review, Prooftexts and PMLA on poetry, religion, and Jewish thought. She was awarded fellowships from the Stanford Humanities Center, the National Humanities Endowment and the Frankel Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies. Recently she was a Senior Fulbright Scholar at Haifa University.
And with that I will turn the time over to Professor Schreiber.
Thank you so much Molly, and I before we get started I really want to thank EDI and the incredible staff that has shepherded us and urged us to really consider the urgency of this moment and the opportunity to speak with you all.
We have five panelists today, and I’m going to introduce them to you. Then each of them will speak for five minutes or so, and tell us about their particular perspective that they’re bringing to this issue. Then we’ll have time for response and ultimately for your questions and their answers.
So our first participant (and I hope I will see them as I’m introducing them): Benedicte Dansie graduated from the University of Utah with degrees in English (BA) and History (BA). She wrote her history senior seminar on how migration affected the genocide of Roma and Sinti during the Holocaust. While at the university, she completed an internship working at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Poland. Benedicte will attend the University of Edinburgh in the fall, pursuing an MScR in Collections and Curating Practices. She plans to focus on Holocaust museums outreach and education.
Preston Foster is now joining us. He’s an Assistant Professor and the Director of the Public Policy program at Oakwood University. In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Foster to a White House Fellowship, where he served as US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education. Foster has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Oakwood University and earned a MPA from the Kennedy School at Harvard. Preston is the founder of WhatTheyShouldSay.org — a political communications platform, the United Collegiate Black Scholars — a public policy think tank.
Thank you for joining us.
And Dr. Nicole Hemmer is joining us as an associate research scholar with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project at Columbia University and author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics. She is the creator and host of the podcast A12: The Story of Charlottesville, and co-hosts the podcasts Past Present and This Day in Esoteric Political History. She writes a weekly column for CNN Opinion.
Rabbi Micah Hyman is joining us where he is the executive director of San Luis Obispo Hillel. A fourth-generation Californian, he has served Camp Ramah, UCLA Medical Center, Jewish Museums in Tel Aviv, New York and abroad teaching experiential education and Jewish Material Culture.
Thank you so much for joining us, Rabbi Hyman.
Dr. Jacobson our final conversationalist today. Dr. Jacobson is Professor Emeritus of Infectious Diseases and Medical Ethics at the University Of Utah School of Medicine. He trained at the U. of Florida, the CDC, and the U. of Utah. He served on the AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, the American College of Physicians’ Ethics and Human Rights Committee, local Ethics Committees, and chaired the School of Medicine’s Institutional Review Board. He published many book chapters as recently “The Patient as Victim and Vector: Ethics and Infectious Diseases” has been reissued. He is a Past President of the United Jewish Federation of Utah and Chair of its Task Force on Antisemitism and its Partners Against Hate, successful advocates for Utah’s Hate Crimes Law.
So you can see we have a range of voices and presences and perspectives with us today.
I will just reaffirm quickly what Molly said about what brings us to this moment. It wasn’t that long ago, only three months ago, that on January 6th that we watched with horror as insurrectionists made a conservative effort to interrupt the democratic process and to wreak havoc in the name of starting a race war.
Among the many bewildering and terrifying events of that day, we were assaulted by a host of symbols and slogans that combined Trumpism with celebrations of White power and Neo-Nazism. It was hard to understand what was happening, and I think it’s still hard, and we have work ahead of us.
This week at the University of Utah, we’re coming together to remember the Holocaust and it’s atrocities, but also to begin to make crucial connections between the past and our own moment so we work towards a better future.
So going alphabetically, I invite our panelists to bring us to their moment in terms of understanding this shared concern.
Thank you. Benedicte?
Alright. I’m Benedicte. Thank you, Dr. Shreiber, for the introduction.
My specialty is more in Holocaust education and Holocaust history. One of the things that has really impressed me over the past year, and even in the past couple months, is just the increase in hate and an ignorance honestly around the country and how much we’re struggling in educating our population here and honestly around the world on the Holocaust, and in antisemitism, and these issues of racism.
One of the things that I really focus on, and wish that we could focus on as a country in our studies, is the idea that an expanded Holocaust education and an expanded education and outreach system could really help to eliminate some of this ignorance and hate that we see so prevalently in the world. I think a lot of times we forget that not only were six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, but the Roma and Sinti were also targeted — and the Africans and those who were in the LGBTQ community and the disabled and so many others who were considered lesser by the Nazi regime.
If we worked to expand the education and outreach systems so that we talked about all of these issues and all of the steps that slowly led to the extermination of all of these people, it could really help in these issues of modern antisemitism and these issues of White supremacy and racism, because I think they’re just so many ignorant people. There’s so much hate, because people don’t know and they don’t understand. In some recent surveys, it was shown that in people under forty, one in ten hadn’t even heard the word “Holocaust: in the United States and 23% believed the Holocaust was a myth that had been manufactured by the Jewish people to gain sympathy they say.
And I think that’s one of the things that we really need to focus on combating because every single day across the nation, and across the world, we’re seeing an increase in antisemitic attacks and we’re seeing this increase of hate. I think if we really banded together to try and stop all of these things and to expand our knowledge and our education and our acceptance of everyone, then we could really work on moving forward and helping to prevent this spread of hate.
The powerful opening for us. Thank you.
Preston, would you take it, pick up, expand?
Yes, please, and please forgive me for reading what I want to say, but I want to make sure that I say it as intended.
If we honestly pursue the truth of this matter, no one will be made to feel more comfortable.
The anti-services feature of White supremacy in the United States has its roots not in race, but in religion. And not the religion of the Jews. White supremacy in America and also in Nazi Germany is and was grounded in a Christian exceptionalist model. The political doctrine of Manifest Destiny grows from this.
The American brand of Manifest Destiny and the Nazi brand of it are separated more by language and an ocean than by time or ideology. The notion that God has a chosen people is strangely ironic to those who care about this conversation. More ironic perhaps is the possibility that White supremacists’ antisemitism grows, at least in part out of the fear that Jews are indeed the chosen people.
That fear causes White supremacists to view Jewish influence to be threatening and disproportionate. This dug makes for good fertilizer for conspiracy theories and the justification of hate. Still, the strongest root of White supremacist antisemitism is majoritarian, Christian exceptionalism.
“America must remain Protestant,” said the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in 1926.
According to Professor Edwin Gaustad, author of Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land: A History of Church and State in America, the catalyst for the creation of the Anti-Defamation League was a response to the perceived threat to Protestant dominance posed by the accelerating immigration of Jews to the US in the early 20th century.
However, the evidence of White Christian supremacy in America precedes the grand wizard’s declaration by at least 136 years. In 1790, during his first year in office Jews in Rhode Island had cause to petition President George Washington to form a government that “is no sanction to bigotry and no assistance to persecution but generally affords to all liberties of conscience.”
Washington’s minimal success in doing so made the toleration of Jews, and to an early American accomplishment the root of majoritarian White Christian supremacy continues to yield strange fruit from Jews as well as from Blacks. The current pattern of violence against Jews and synagogues reminds us far too often of the cause of avoiding this discomforting fact. Thank you.
Professor Foster, thank you. You have broken some silence. And I really appreciate the topics you’re bringing before us. Professor Hemmer?
So I’m going to approach this from the coverage and conversations I had during and after the violence in Charlottesville in 2017. This is a moment that predates the Tree of Life massacre that predates the assault on the Capital, and that was for many Jewish people in Charlottesville a really shocking period, because even though many of the people I talked to had experienced antisemitism in their lives, the idea of a kind of physically violent, virulent Neo-Nazi antisemitism was something that many people said was foreign to them. Literally foreign.
Risa Goluboff, who is the dean of the University of Virginia Law School, talked about how a year before the attacks in Charlottesville, she had been in Germany and gone to synagogue there. And as she was leaving the synagogue with her family, the rabbi was walking out with them and he took off all of his Jewish identifying clothing. She was shocked by this, and he said well, it’s not safe to walk out in this clothing. She remembered marveling that it was so different in Germany compared to Charlottesville, and she found herself in the summer of 2017 wondering if her children should walk out on the streets of Charlottesville in Jewish identifying clothing.
It was a summer of real trauma for many Charlottesvilleians including Jewish Charlottesvilleians who were confronted with a kind of legacy of antisemitism that they had talked about with their parents and their grandparents but were experienced in a visceral way many of them for the first time. Although there were Holocaust survivors in the synagogue community who felt the echoes of the experiences of the 1940s, what was born wasn’t just that the Neo-Nazi symbology and the German phrases that were being thrown around were familiar, but something that had not been part of their everyday lives, but also that it marched side by side with Neo-Confederate imagery on the streets of Charlottesville throughout the summer of 2017. This was an event that took months to unfold and sort of climaxed in the events of August 11th and August 12th.
There was this mix of anti-Black and antisemitic rhetoric and violence. What I was so struck by, and talking with Rabbi Tom of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, was a real awareness of how White supremacy brought together antisemitism and anti-Black violence. That was an important point of reflection for the almost entirely White congregation at Congregation Beth Israel and how over the course of what was known in Charlottesville as the Summer of Hate, when there were all of these alt-right and Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazi figures in Charlottesville, that at the synagogue they were doing real work it could confronting their own White supremacy and what it meant to confront and acknowledge anti-Blackness in their community and something that they needed to do in order to effectively dismantle White supremacy.
What that led to in Charlottesville were interfaith dialogues, interfaith activism, cross-racial activism, and a real response that the Holocaust survivor in the synagogue pointed to and he said “this was what was missing, right? We didn’t have communities coming together to protect us in the same way during the Holocaust” pointing to the way that Charlottesvilleians across the board rallied to protect the vulnerable communities, including how vulnerable communities looked inward in order to make sure that they were doing the work of dismantling White supremacy.
So, I thought I’d throw that out there as the perspective of really a community that was under attack for several months during 2017.
That’s very helpful, and I think beginning to put the connections across communities is why we’ve gathered today.
Rabbi Hyman, and then Dr. Jacobson.
Rabbi Micah Hyman:
I’m just so honored to hear this depth and the breadth of this horrible, horrible moment and yet the potential for learning education and conversation.
This evening is Holocaust Memorial Day. It is also called Yom Hashoah. Shoah means abysmal, the abyss, the kind of radical horror that we as people and as a world experienced collectively all those years ago. And yet the abysmal silence is not just inappropriate but a sin in the highest way — to remain silent in the face of current hatred, antisemitism, violence against other people whether that be African Americans, Asians, LGBT. Benedicte you mentioned them, Nicole you as well. Just even in the Walmart shooting as well for a Latino man to say, “we are the new Jews.”
We are saying never again, again, and so here having this title be “Breaking the Silence” that is very much the commandment that we all must face, which is not to give Hitler a posthumous victory. That is where antisemitism and White supremacy have this nexus.
When I light six candles this evening to represent the six million Jews, there are more candles to light, as Benedicte as talked about the Roma.We light other handles to recognize how great the loss was during that period. We light continual candles to the vigilance to protest the current denigration, violence, and death of those. We also acknowledge the suffering of all people with inhumanity — not simply as unique people — but for all and suffering.
How do we see ourselves as the Jewish people both as a part: the Holocaust was a unique moment for the Jewish people and history and it will remain that way, but to remain exclusive is a sin. This is the third commandment that people misread, which is not to take God’s name in vain. It isn’t to say “gosh darn it,” you know, I’m being colloquial. It’s לא תשא לשוא (lo ye yell la shav) the word שוא (shav) and שׁוֹעַ (sho-ah) are the same: to not make God’s name — the divine — abysmal, silent, without reaction.
Here in each and every occasion that we have to connect the dots, as we’re doing in Utah…if you told me two months ago that I’d be sitting at a conference in Utah talking about antisemitism, I would say, “really? Zoom that.” And here we are to begin that conversation and to continue it and to grow and health and in strength with all of you.
I have to thank the Rabbi for comments that are just perfectly suited to what I wish to share. Utah — where I live — is called Zion, where there is a mosque on the west bank of the Jordan River and where Jews are called Gentiles. As Maeera has said, it is indeed a “strange land” in which to discuss antisemitism, and as Professor Foster has suggested, it’s also a land which has “born strange fruit” in terms of disseminating some of the anger and hostility that will be talking about today.
It’s hard to discuss this because it’s woefully under-reported. Utah reports an average of about 65 hate crimes per year in a population above 3 million. In 2019, it reported just 18 but when we had the ADL education director engage with our religious school students virtually, every one of them could recall at least once being teased, harassed, or stigmatized for being Jewish.
I will focus not on what’s been done to us, but on what we’re doing and with whom to make our communities safer and more respectful of Jews and other targeted minorities.
I’ve led a congregation and served on the Jewish Federation board, but those were opportunities to assist and direct, not the responsibility to warn and protect.
In 2017, as almost each of you has mentioned, Charlottesville was an incredible moment for our Jewish community. But I also learned in 2017 that antisemitic incidents in the US and hate crimes rose by an unprecedented 60 percent. I’m an epidemiologist, and I was alarmed. But that was a quiet year for infectious disease, and I picked that year to retire and unaccustomed to being unemployed I was quickly drafted to be the Federation’s president.
In 2018 and with antisemitism continuing to rise, our role and priorities had to change. We formed a task force on antisemitism and community relations. Tragically, and too soon, we had to respond to the unprecedented killing of eleven Jews and their synagogue in Pittsburgh.
We spoke out in our local media and helped organize memorial vigils in our congregations. Elected officials and faith leaders of all denominations joined in expressing consolation and support. The next month in our community, an angry man brandishing a metal pipe yelled, “I’m here to kill a Mexican.” The attack nearly killed a 19 year old Mexican-American man and injured his father.
Under Utah law, he could not be charged with a hate crime because our statute was limited to misdemeanors.
That attack and several assaults on gay men led our task force to invite leaders of all targeted groups to join us as partners against hate. With leaders of the African-American, Muslim, Hispanic, LGBTQ, and Jewish communities, the interfaith round table, and our county attorney, we collectively and successfully advocated for our long-delayed but effective hate crimes law.
We published a booklet about the rising incidence of hate crimes, how to respond to hate speech, and how to report hate crimes. We’ve held and participated in public meetings focused on antisemitism. We urged our mayor to make our city a national example of equity and respect in government law enforcement education.
And the Public Square, the Mayor’s Office, and the City Library invited us to organize a community conversation webinar, and in November of 2020, when the FBI released its hate crimes report, we presented our program on the acceleration and redirection — as was just pointed out — on the increasing violence of hate crimes.
A Muslim scholar moderated our panel of experts who came from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the Western State Center. The discussion drew an audience of 300, and has been viewed over 1,400 times.
We’ve responded to antisemitic incidents in our schools, which led to investigations and some corrective measures. We requested many school principals and school boards to implement anti-bias curriculum and student engagement programs rather than pursuing only punitive measures for the most egregious offenses.
We’ve arranged site visits by an ADL education director to encourage adoption of their no place for hate program, which is currently in over 1,400 US schools. Acceptance has been difficult, but one high school has just completed the ADL-designed climate assessment. That comes just before the arrival of a new district superintendent who’s African-American and likely to welcome programs that recognize and help manage unconscious bias.
We just recently, with our partners, wrote a letter to our local newspaper joining in solidarity with Asian Americans who sadly have become the most recent and in many ways most offensive targets for this hatred that spreads across so many groups. We had remarkably strong support for our work against antisemitism from leaders of city, county, and state government; from Hillel; and from the University of Utah leadership. And this webinar today is powerful evidence of that institution’s commitment to remembering and learning from the past to build a better, more secure, and more equitable future.
Thank you so much. First, I want to let our audience and auditors who are listening that there is a question and answer feature, and if you put your question in the little Q&A icon at the bottom, I will make sure that it gets directed to the right or at least a panelist who might be able to take it and pursue it.
We have at least one question, but I wanted to open it up for a little cross conversation with this group. I’m moved and hear this thorough going accounts on the part of Dr. Jacobson and all of the work that’s going on in our town right where we live and really, you know, taking the matter into hands. At the same time, I’m very struck by what Benedicte said, which is that there is this huge gap in education, right?
I’m wondering…I was thinking about Professor Hemmer, and you’re — I don’t know how to say — you’re interested in podcasts. How do we begin to educate? Where are the gaps? You know, who aren’t we reaching, and why are we not reaching that?
All at once.
Well, I’ll jump in.
I teach in Oakwood University, which is in Huntsville, Alabama. Oakwood is a Seventh-day Adventist, historically Black college. We aren’t well known, but we produce top-level students who go to the all the best schools, etc. But in our public policy program over the last six years, we’ve had AIPAC, the American Israeli Political Action Committee, recruiting our students and several of our students have been immersed in AIPAC even though they don’t necessarily share many of their political views.
I have found that even with that emerging, that there are still our unanswered questions that — I think — hinder a richer conversation not only between Blacks and Jews, but between Jews and the rest of America.
Netanyahu Likud stance toward the Palestinians still for many students goes unexplained or is avoided at the risk of inviting the charge of antisemitism, but again until these issues are hashed out for those who are ignorant, and I don’t use “ignorant” as an accusation. It’s a description of when people don’t know about the Holocaust, they’re ignorant. When they don’t know about the the history of lynching in America, they’re ignorant.
We have to have courage to engage these difficult conversations about issues that in polite society, we would rather avoid, because into these vacuums go these conspiracy theories or these opportunistic politicians who will fill it with garbage.
I’ll speak very quickly…there are amazing museums and places that obviously people haven’t been able to visit a lot in the last year, but I do think that podcasts and meeting people where they are sometimes using mediums that may at first seem like they’re too trivial for really significant topics. Here I’m thinking of things like Instagram and TikTok, but they actually can be places of education, and they can be places of meeting people where they are.
I also think that they’re sort of like mid-level places to reach out including journalists in a lot of ways.The coverage of Charlottesville in the immediate aftermath, the antisemitism tended to drop out of the story in a lot of ways and trying to keep it surface was actually pretty difficult.
I think it wasn’t until the Tree of Life synagogue shooting that the conversation about White supremacy kept oozing it’s connection to this kind of rampant antisemitism that was, as we know, like leading to more and more hate crimes in 2016 and 2017 and beyond. There are a lot of different levels at which the conversation needs to be pushed — not just in different venues — but making sure that we’re talking to opinion shapers as well.
This might be a really good place to bring in [an audience member’s] question. Ut’s directed towards you, Dr. Hammer, in particular, but I think that the panel might really be able to speak to it.
This is the question: in discussing Charlottesville as an example of contemporary antisemitism, what do you have to say about the rise of antisemitism and AOC’s congressional district in New York City and her refusal to acknowledge it or engage with other local Jewish leaders on the matter.
That’s the question.
So this is somewhat outside of my area of expertise, and so I’d be interested to hear what other people say as well. There has been a pretty significant spike of hate crimes in the Jewish community in New York, not just in AOC’s district but elsewhere.
I mean, I would not draw a parallel between the antisemitism and the violence in Charlottesville and lay that at the feet of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She has been outspoken against antisemitism in her district, including most recently when after the Capital attack a Confederate flag was tied to one of the Jewish centers in her district. I want to make sure we’re not making an equivalency there, but that it is the case that antisemitic violence has been on the uptick and is not always reported on at equal levels to its rise.
I think one of the things for me pertaining to, like, breaking this silence and education is when we actually start talking about these issues in the community and schools. In the United Kingdom, they just did a study that showed for this knowledge really to become part of a lifelong journey of occasion and acceptance that all of this needs to be starting before junior high school and middle school.
They’re saying by age 14, kids are old enough to be able to understand all of these complicated issues, and that these are all things that should be taught to children and can be introduced at a young age. By the time they reach high school and then university, they’re able to talk about it at a more complex level. It isn’t just something that is suddenly being thrown at them in US history, “oh, we went and participated in this war, and we liberated these concentration camps.” That’s really the only mention that a lot of students are getting, and it’s an interesting concept to look at because I know a lot of people worry, “oh, this is too serious. This is too scary a topic.”
The University of Nagasaki — outside of where the bombings took place — also did a study showing that at 11 and 12 that’s when you should introduce all of these topics. They actually send their students to the sites of the atomic bombings to go and learn about that history, and it’s interesting to look at that and how early they introduce that to students versus when we start talking about it, what we feel is acceptable to bring up with kids and with youth and just as a general public.
I wonder if I could just jump in, because I think maybe even unintentionally we’ve expanded our understanding or maybe the audience’s understanding of antisemitism. What AOC and another one of her congressional colleagues have talked about is as much grounded in their concern for the Palestinians in Israel as Professor Foster has mentioned earlier.
I think the challenge here is the idea of negotiating the discussion from what could be considered anti-Israeli or anti-government to anti-Jewish or antisemitic, and just speaking about lack of knowledge many Americans who are very angry with Jews have made the assumption that they’re all citizens of Israel, and it’s somehow their responsibility to control the political environment there.
So let me build on that a little bit, but first highlight that’s a part actually of the transition of antisemitism as the panelists have — particularly Professor Foster — pointed out from something that both originally began as an anti-religious feeling than morphed into an anti-racial feeling and now is in a sense an anti-national feeling as well, which is blending all of those things in a very cavalier way.
The idea that education is a solution to this problem is really tempting to me. I’m an educator as well, but I have to tell you that my experience with my colleagues in medicine has repeatedly demonstrated to me that education is an insufficient way to change what’s more important.
Many of you know the kind of acronym KABB: knowledge, attitudes, belief, and behavior. Of all of those, the easiest to change is knowledge, and my young colleagues do extremely well on exams including licensing exams, but when we study their beliefs and their practices we realize that they’re often distressingly far from the answers that they correctly provided on their tests.
So I guess what I would make a plea for is when we think about education, we think about it much more carefully than the transfer of information. Our target really must not be getting the questions right. The fact that more Americans could correctly estimate the number of people killed in the Holocaust is much less disturbing to me than the White supremacists who have read books about the Holocaust, know exactly what happened, and are very upset that not more people were killed.
So I guess what I really want to say is I’d love to see us think about as Professor Hemmer mentioned thinking about strategies of education, and I think I want to hear more about engagement and who is doing the educating. I think that I am now disappointed in the strategy of providing information to young people without helping them think about who these other people are.
White students growing up without a person of color in their entire middle school and high school career may have read about the Holocaust, but also admit they really don’t know much about Jews. I think that also means they don’t know many Jews and people of color. I would really put a lot of emphasis on creative ways to bring people together, and that’s especially true when groups are intrinsically hostile.
The best thing to do, I think, about AOC is some of what has been done, which is to enlarge her circle of acquaintance and to continue the conversation and not succumb to what many of us do: when we know people are hostile to walk the other way.
Rabbi Micah Hyman:
Yeah, I think this speaks to, you know, what’s the difference between ignorance and indifference. I don’t know, and I don’t care. It’s that nasty combination that they-don’t-care and they-don’t-know that can really steep up, and yet what we’re hearing here is some of the gradations between antisemitism, anti-Zionism, racism, and just pure hatred that needs a little more clarification.
You know, to misquote Judge Ford, he said on the first amendment and pornography, “he knows it when he sees it.”
I don’t know, because I see so many little TikTok videos and I hear kids talking in college, using racial slurs just as a kind of informality or cultural appropriation. These are very carefully constructed things that don’t think about well enough.
I want to say something clearly about a White supremacy and Nazism and Hitler, because what Hitler was saying wasn’t that the Whites are at the top of the pyramid. He was saying that Jews were subhuman, and I think if we hear some of this hatred that is coming up against all of these people and is they’re alien.
I just want to take a moment and talk about this nasty Margarine Taylor Green talking about Jews creating a laser from outer space to create the terrible forest fires in California. What she’s doing is making me alien. She’s making me unhuman. She’s telling me I am not not just an American citizen, I’m not human. This is not a pyramid scheme that we can tolerate, and so we have to invert that to have these conversations.
Preston, I look forward to that conversation, which I’ve had at apex: what is antisemitism and what is Zionism, what is a supportive Israel that is healthy, what is a supportive Palestinian (Indigenous and Arab Israelis) that can truly speak to one another, and let’s just call it.
We need to do a better job between Jews and Blacks to show the complications and our shared history. It is not cultural appropriation to use the story of Exodus for an African-American experience nor is it a cultural appropriation if I share my marching with Martin Luther King justice Heschel, and yet we have to do a better job of communicating to one another and expanding this conversation as we are right now.
I truly wish we had an Indigenous person on this panel as well to talk about some of their connectivity between racism, hatred against their indigenous people, as we mentioned their land grant as we do each and every time. Let not that be a footnote. Let that be a marker and a sign for us to communicate as we are now.
Professor Foster, I’m really glad that Rabbi Hyman raised questions about the specificity of the issues as did. Dr. Jacobson. There are several questions here. Now the questions are coming fast and furious, but particularly Professor Foster [an audience member] says, “I didn’t understand your comments and need to study your views to see your perspective. Where can I research Christian exceptionalism? Is it correct to conclude that the basis of your comments suggest White Christians are supremacist because God had a chosen people? Not sure if I understood your point of view. I am a Christian and have never been taught to hate anyone. On the contrary, Christianity [as they understand it] is all about love and inclusion.”
Yes, and in my remarks — and this may not be a completely satisfactory answer — but in my written remarks the christian had a “c” not a “C” because the christianity that I’m speaking about is more tribal than Christ-centered. Meaning that the doctrine of Manifest Destiny comes from the thought that God gave this continent, the American continent, to White Christians to tame for his glory.
That mindset is not taught in the Bible, not taught by Christ, but appropriated by politicians who sought to justify their taking of this continent from the natives. That concept is easy to sell as a politician, because it puts you in a moral high ground and not only puts you in a moral high ground, it gives you a cause. It gives you a mission that is morally justified in your mind.
So much of the Christianity that I see surrounding politics, surrounding these issues, has nothing to do — and I’m a minister’s son, so I can speak on this — I have seen ministers use the Bible politically. But politicians use Christianity politically. It is usually to justify something that is biblically immoral.
Really helpful. Thank you.
We have two questions that are refractions of each other, and I’ll just open this up to the panelists as a group. It’s about education.
[One question] starts by saying, “I spent 2 years at age 19 serving an LDS mission in Brazil. Based on my family’s historically close ties to White separatism in the 80s and 90s, I believe this experience in Brazil in 93-95 had a significant impact on my ability to tease-out the false narratives sold to me by those in my circles. My subsequent experience in the US Navy serving alongside shipmates of various racial and religious backgrounds reinforced what I experienced in Brazil. I would propose that a formal education isn’t the best tool, but a practical one.”
And then [another] asks, “what do you think is the source of power that controls education in our modern society?”
So the question about how is education serving or…this nexus, this problem that we’re looking at, and what are the alternative sites of education that we got to open ourselves up to begin to root this thing out?
Rabbi Micah Hyman:
Well, I’m just going to praise Benedicte — your work at Auschwitz Museum, you know, there and Holocaust education museum work. Then I want to shoutout to Nicole and your work in podcasts. These are alternative forms of education, and I would go all the way to TikTok to say in these small and big ways in real time to confront and to address some of these things outside but complementary with a formal educational system that can recognize it.
As you have these equity and inclusion departments that are happening all across this country, how do we address this top-down and bottom-up? They can come together to really form a powerful change in not just our education, but as Jay said, our behaviors, so that we can act differently. They’re for changing the way we think.
We’re getting to the end, so I want to make sure everybody gets to say something, so please Jay go ahead.
Just to come in quickly about two things: One is thinking about what needs to be taught. We haven’t really approached this other than in a historical way and maybe even a sociological one, but there is a psychological way to think about this.
I loved hearing the word tribal as opposed to certain Christian denominations. We’re all pretty tribal, and we’re all carrying lots of implicit and unconscious bias against people who look different than we are. That’s manifested very quickly when we see power shifts; that is a minority that’s been oppressed has not been in a position to exercise their biases which might be very understandable against their oppressors. When they become powerful, instead of maybe incorporating that lesson which we try to incorporate our Passover which is try to remember that we too were slaves.
Sometimes when we’re empowered, we begin to exercise biases, so my first comment is what we need to be teaching to these young people — who I completely agree should be at a very young age — is the awareness that we are all carrying bias. We don’t have a system for eliminating that or destroying it, but awareness is the first step toward managing it. That’s a skillset to learn. It’s not the same as content-rich education.
My last point is the wonderful way that can be done. You asked Maeera about where to do it. Students themselves can be tremendous allies in this effort. The generations of students that we’re seeing now, I think in many ways, grow up with less overt bias toward difference than my generation and others earlier. But the best way I think that they can work as teachers is to engage with each other.
What we’ve been trying to do, and of course I mentioned, many other schools have done it. The Anti-Defamation League has a student engagement program — not a curricular program but an engagement program — where they invite students who are diverse in our schools today to work together to acknowledge the problems that some of those students are having and speak directly under, you know, careful facilitation to others who are hurting them or harassing them so that people can see firsthand what the consequences are even of their their speech and their jokes, right? For a teenager, it’s not hate crimes, it’s harassment and objectification. I think we have solutions at hand. We just need to all be more aggressive in implementing them.
I think adding on to that, we need to work on finding a balance between our education, our experience, and our outreach. I know other countries actually have their students after graduating spend a year either doing Holocaust education, community service, military service, and all these different things. I worked with a lot of students at the museum who were from other countries, and this was part of their year of education and experience where they were able to go to these places and learn first-hand and see and feel all of the different things.
We need to be better in the US about combining all of this, and instead of just giving the facts and the statistics being able to show like these are the people. These are their experiences. Bringing people in from the community to speak, being able to go and visit museums and other places, and being able to combine it all with social media and more modern ways to communicate to a young audience.
Just very quickly in addition to all of these wonderful content resources, also teach people about misinformation and how and and the tactics used by people who are trying to recruit others into systems of White supremacy and antisemitism, because those jokes often are a recruiting tool. Explaining how that works and how they’re used as forms of engagement and dehumanization and what radicalization looks like, I think that’s important as well.
People need to understand systems as well as all of this really important history — all of those really important experiences — because there are bad actors out there who are highly educated. Like Richard Spencer was a very highly-educated person, but is invested in systems of power and manipulates people who are also invested in those systems of power. Teaching about that kind of manipulation is very important. People want to feel savvy, and they want to feel like they know when they’re being manipulated. I think that can be a powerful tool.
Thank you, Preston?
Very quickly: I believe, and I’m so glad that both Jay and Micah bought it up, in immersion. Meaning that to be educated by people who have experienced what’s being taught. This is why we encourage our students to go to AIPAC. They resist because they think they don’t agree, but how can you know if you disagree with someone that you have never been in the same room with. When you’ve not been discomforted by their whole story, not just the snippet that appeals to you politically. So I believe that if we can be brave enough to stay in a room with people who have a different story and listen to it being told firsthand as opposed to someone who shares your point of view and has a skewed interpretation, you then might have a different point of view.
You’ve brought us to a beautiful place. I think risking the conversations is really what we are trying to do here, and we’re going to invite all the rest of you who are out there to pursue those opportunities.
You’ve asked if our panelists will be available to email and such. Panelists, are you available? I hope you will take them. You’ve stirred up a lot of interest, so thank you.
Daniel K. Cairo:
I am muted. All right, thank you so much to the moderator, Dr. Maeera Shreiber, and to the panelists for the inspiring and enlightening discussion on the connections between the Holocaust, White supremacy, and that enticement. It was powerful. Thank you.
Thank you to the Hinckley Institute for their continued partnership with the Reframing the Conversation panel series and KRCL who will be rebroadcasting this session on the program RadioACTive.
Thank you to the entire U Remembers Planning Committee for planning another week of inspiring events, and please register to join us on Friday at noon where their keynote will be Vlad Khakyin, the national director of programs and antisemitism at the Anti-Defamation League.
To learn more about this week’s events, please visit our website at diversity.utah.edu/u-remembers.
Thank you. Have a lovely day.
I’d love to see us think about, as Professor Hemmer mentioned, strategies of education, and I think I want to hear more about engagement and who is doing the educating. I think that I am now disappointed in the strategy of providing information to young people without helping them think about who these other people are. The best thing to do, I think, about AOC is some of what has been done, which is to enlarge her circle of acquaintance and to continue the conversation and not succumb to what many of us do: when we know people are hostile to walk the other way.
So much of the Christianity that I see surrounding politics, surrounding these issues, has nothing to do — and I’m a minister’s son, so I can speak on this — I have seen ministers use the Bible politically, but politicians use Christianity politically. It is usually to justify something that is biblically immoral.
Students themselves can be tremendous allies in this effort. The generations of students that we’re seeing now, I think in many ways, grow up with less overt bias toward difference than my generation and others earlier. But the best way I think that they can work as teachers is to engage with each other. For a teenager, it’s not hate crimes. It’s harassment and objectification. I think we have solutions at hand. We just need to all be more aggressive in implementing them.