Tag Archives: hateful rhetoric

We can no longer say that anti-Semitism is in retreat

“Burton” isn’t a traditional Jewish surname. My grandfather was born Moshe (Milton) Bergstein. He grew up in Harlem in the 1920s along with his younger brother Levi (Louis). Louis aspired to become a sports journalist, but he knew a Jewish-sounding surname wasn’t going to get him on New York radio. So he changed his name, and his older brother – wanting to share a family name – did so with him. Louis Burton went on to have a distinguished career in New York sports journalism.

This history is not unique to my family.

In the 1947 film, Gentleman’s Agreement, Gregory Peck plays New York journalist Philip Green, who is surprised to learn that his secretary changed her name after being rejected for jobs with her Jewish surname. Green goes undercover as a Jew to research anti-Semitism, and discovers discrimination against us in housing, employment, services, and even within his own family. Several Jewish Hollywood producers didn’t want to make this film, fearing repercussions. Actors turned down the lead role. The film was a surprise hit at the box office and received many honors, including the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Jewish “defense” organizations, like JCRC in 1944, were created in this context; to unite our community in standing up to the socially acceptable anti-Semitism of those times. And when, over time, it appeared that anti-Semitism in America was in retreat, our focus shifted to other forms of defense and advocacy.

With expressions of anti-Semitism gaining in frequency (with multiple hate incidents of swastikas in schools last month alone), we can no longer say that anti-Semitism is in retreat. There has been a notable spate of violent attacks on Orthodox – i.e. “visibly” – Jewish people around New York City recently, along with incidents of Jews being harassed for wearing Star of David necklaces and other Jewish identifiers at some progressive marches, or being tossed out of an Uber for speaking Hebrew. Still, we can appreciate that the current experience of anti-Semitism in the US remains substantively different from the experience of many on the receiving end of rising hatreds and bigotries. Most in the Jewish community (ie, those presenting as White and straight) have generally not shared the experience of those in our community and others who were stabbed in the streets for holding hands with a same-sex partner, or had the cops called for sitting while Black in a Starbucks, or got screamed at by a customer for speaking in Spanish.

But here are some of the alarming realities we are facing here in the US: In several races around the country, neo-Nazis – espousing the removal of Jews from public service or even the country – are running for office. Disturbingly, these candidates are polling as high as 5, 10, and even 20 percent. Thankfully, local Republican parties are moving to vigorously denounce and expel these folks. While no one is anticipating – yet – a victory for these politicians, it is becoming acceptable to say: “yes, I know this candidate expresses these anti-Semitic views, but I’m still considering him as an acceptable candidate for public office.”

On the Democratic side, in various races we are seeing candidates openly acknowledge disturbing debates in their political circles about the very legitimacy of a Jewish state. These candidates are firmly asserting: “I support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.” But, it is becoming acceptable in certain spaces to espouse anti-Semitic notions about Israel (For a cogent articulation of the distinction between legitimate criticism of the policies of the State of Israel and the slippery slope that leads to left-wing anti-Semitism, read this excellent Washington Post op-ed by Rabbi Jill Jacobs of T’ruah).

My point is this: even amidst the recent wave of populism, and with rising expressions of hatred and bigotry of all forms, we – the Jewish community – aren’t (yet) as vulnerable and marginalized as we were in the 1940s. Nonetheless, we are seeing something insidious: the normalization, once again, of anti-Semitic expression in significant parts of our society.

Toward the end of Gentleman’s Agreement, Green’s fiancée describes herself being sickened by an anti-Semitic joke at a party. But she did nothing to challenge it. The lesson in this movie – and in this moment – is that silence condones bigotry.

Our charge today, and the charge of all decent people, is to not be complicit through our silence, and to confront and challenge anti-Semitism – and all forms of hatred – wherever and whenever they appear. We cannot lose sight of the fact that our fate is inextricably bound with that of other marginalized minorities, as one expression of bigotry fuels so many more. We must unite as a Jewish community, in solidarity with our partners, to make it socially intolerable to hold these views. Our failure to do so puts us at risk of becoming an America where, once again, our personal defense may come at the expense of proudly displaying our Jewish identities. That must be unacceptable in our great nation.

Shabbat Shalom.


MBR and JCRC Respond to Hate Speech and Misinformation Campaign

We, the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis (MBR) and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, condemn in the strongest terms the recent attacks on our colleague and former MBR President, Rabbi Howard Jaffe, by Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) and its director, Charles Jacobs. This group, whose Orwellian name belies their relentless defamation of Boston-area Muslims along with respected leaders in the Greater Boston Jewish community, has used the most tendentious of arguments to suggest that Rabbi Jaffe is somehow linked to terrorism and Islamic extremism. We are hesitant to even dignify this claim with a response, but the honor of our colleague and our community moves us to issue this statement. Jacobs used a picture of Rabbi Jaffe under the heading, “No one else unmasks clergy who seek to do us harm,” as part of a recent fundraising campaign, the clear implication being that one of the most respected leaders of the Greater Boston community is somehow in league with enemies of the Jewish people.

Despite their claims to be standing up to extremism, Charles Jacobs and APT are the true face of extremism in our community: purveyors of hatred and division, they engage in outrageous attacks on communal institutions and individuals involved in the important work of building relationships among Boston-area Muslims and Jews. They have targeted respected rabbis in our community as well as leaders of our communal institutions, including the Jewish Community Relations Council and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. Their attacks on Rabbi Jaffe and his congregation are just the latest salvos in an ongoing campaign of misinformation and innuendo meant to spread discord and fear. Not content to simply publish his opinions, Jacobs and APT members gained access to members’ emails in Rabbi Jaffe’s congregation, and subjected both congregants and staff to an onslaught of vile and threatening calls and emails. There is no place in our community for this kind of verbal violence. We call on all Jewish communal news organizations—including The Jewish Advocate and the Times of Israel—to refuse to carry Charles Jacobs’ writings unless and until he ceases his defamation of respected Jewish communal leaders and vicious anti-Muslim propaganda.

CJP and JCRC Statement on Violence and Bigotry in Charlottesville

We are heartbroken and outraged by the events in Charlottesville, VA this weekend. We join with the many of our member organizations who have already condemned both the violence perpetrated, and the message of racism, anti-semitism and other xenophobic views we heard today.

We are dismayed by the response of the President. This is, as the American Jewish Committee said today, "a time for moral clarity." Condemning "hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides" blurs the truth and gives a pass to neo-Nazi perpetrators. We join with our national network, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, in calling on President Trump to unequivocally condemn the white nationalist marchers and their movement.

We pray that calm will be restored, and that all people of good will can come together in confronting hate and bigotry in all its forms. We mourn the loss of life and we pray for those injured today.

We can and must be better than this.

Joint Statement of AJC Boston and JCRC Concerning Newton Public Schools – April 11, 2016

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In recent months there has been increasing concern regarding anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and other matters that affect safety, civility and respectful relations in the Newton public schools.  In an effort to allow community members to share their concerns and generate constructive discussion, Newton Mayor Setti Warren hosted a community forum on April 7th, which was attended by students, parents and interested community members – including representatives of our agencies. 

There were presentations by high school students, teachers, a civil rights lawyer, the Newton Superintendent of Schools and others.  Concerns were expressed about manifestations of bias and bigotry and how to build healthy community among diverse constituencies within the schools.  It was an effort to initiate a much needed community dialogue and we welcome this effort.

To our dismay, a group of activists – who have been identified in the media as members of the Jewish community - disrupted the proceedings.  An African-American mother was heckled while discussing her own child’s experience of racism.  There were loud contentions that the only concern worthy of discussion was anti-Semitism.  The overall affect was to shift the focus of the meeting from concerns about anti-Semitism, as well as racism and homophobia to the conduct of the meeting itself.

To be clear, anti-Semitism has once again emerged as a virulent global phenomenon.  Members of the Jewish community have legitimate reasons for concern and reasonably wish to encourage vigilance and forthright measures to address anti-Semitic activity in our region. The recent string of anti-Semitic incidents in several Newton schools, for example, requires serious attention. Moreover, it is hardly a secret that pernicious elements exist that are seeking to import anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bias into American school curriculums. We share this concern.  However, it does not justify conduct that was manifest at this meeting or the disrespect that was shown to neighbors, who also had difficult experiences of their own to discuss.  These activities do not represent the broader sentiments of the Jewish community.

In a multi-cultural multi-faith society like our own, the struggle against anti-Semitism does not take place in a vacuum.  It is part of a larger struggle to build respectful tolerant communities where citizens not only tell their own story, but are able to listen and have empathy for the struggles of others. 

At the forum we also heard strong moral leadership from within our Jewish community, in the powerful voices of students like Rebecca Wishnie, a senior at Newton North, who said she has seen anti-Semitism in the hallways of the high school, but she has also seen racism and homophobia. “It does not diminish me as a Jew to say anti-Semitism is not the only issue,” she said.

We cannot fight anti-Semitism by showing disrespect to those from whom we also need understanding and support.  Anti-Semitism is far too serious a problem for such ill-conceived activism. We need to build community with others in our common struggle against hate. As Josh Sims Speyer, a Jewish junior at North so eloquently stated: “When we say one type of hate speech is worse than another, we build walls in our community.”

We, therefore, affirm our commitment to respectful discourse and advocacy and encourage all concerned people to transform current challenges into opportunities for building a healthy and respectful community.



Mel                       AS

Mel Shuman, President                      Adam Suttin, Chair
AJC Boston                                                      Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston



leikand           JB

Robert Leikind, Director                 Jeremy Burton, Executive Director
AJC Boston                                                    Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston


Statement on Troubling Boston Billboard

The JCRC of Greater Boston is appalled by the billboard recently posted in Boston’s North End that denies the existence of the Armenian Genocide. This is a disturbing affront to the Armenian community and to all decent people in Boston. As one neighborhood resident rightly says in today's Boston’s Globe, this billboard, placed across from the Armenian Heritage Park, is "like putting a Holocaust denial ad right above a Holocaust memorial.”

We are pleased that Clear Channel Outdoors, owners of the billboard, has indicated that the message was put up in error and has removed it. 


Boston JCRC Condemns Incendiary Language Against Muslims

The hateful political rhetoric of recent days, condemning Muslims and even calling for them to be barred from entering the United States, violates our most cherished values as Americans and as Jews. It bears reiterating again that the American promise of safe harbor for religious refugees and religious freedom is a principle as old as our republic. 

Incendiary language intended to foment fear and hatred of any group of people must be universally denounced and particularly has no place in political discourse. Recent comments within the current debate about Syrian refugees, themselves victims of terrorism who are seeking to escape from fanaticism and devastation, should cause all American Jews to shudder and reject any suggestion of collective punishment.  We are all too aware of the dangers of discrimination and exclusion from safe haven, which resulted in the death and destruction of so many of our people. Religious freedom and respect for the diversity of religions are of vital importance for our democracy to thrive.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston stands together with the Muslim community nationally and here in Boston, in condemning this demonizing rhetoric. Threats against any group of people have no place in our political discourse or in American society.


AJC, ADL, CJP and JCRC Call on MBTA to Desist in Display of Hostile Advertisement

ADL, AJC, CJP and JCRC jointly call upon the MBTA to immediately comply with their Advertising Standards and desist from displaying a hostile advertisement which is demeaning and disparaging to Israel, Israelis and Jews currently in display at some stations.

The ad combines the image of a child with language, including the words “violence” “Israel’s Military” and “Kill”, to unequivocally elicit anger from viewers. At a time when Jews and Israelis around the world are facing mounting violence and anti-Semitism, this false and deceptive advertisement can only be construed as hostile and dangerously provocative. There is no doubt that the juxtaposition of images and words in this advertisement demeans and disparages Israel, Israeli’s and Jews in violation of current MBTA Advertising Standards. 

We call upon the MBTA to honor its own advertising standards and to desist from what appear to be content based preferences that can only enhance danger in an already volatile environment.

JCRC Statement on the MBTA’s Plans to Ban Political Ads

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston applauds the MBTA for reiterating its intent today to ban all political advertising at its stations and property after our expressed concerns with the tenor and distortions in the current ads about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  JCRC has urged the MBTA to create a forward looking policy to ensure that the validity of political opinion is not subject to the whim of public officials. 

“The Jewish community believes deeply in the principles enshrined in the First Amendment and the value of robust and vibrant debate over complex political issues in the public square. However, such issues will not be resolved by misleading and provocative propaganda that stands to further divide the public,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of JCRC. “The proposed policy outlined by the MBTA would remove them as arbiter of political questions and moves these debates off of billboards and back into the public arena.”

“The free and open exchange of ideas is a hallmark principle of a democratic society, and we believe that the best response to bad speech is more speech,” said Adam Suttin, President, JCRC. “However, this current example demonstrates not all arenas are appropriate for all types of debate.”