Jewish Groups Hold Events to Counter Inflamed Rhetoric


Two Jewish organizations held events this week — the week of the Democratic National Convention — addressing the issue of hate speech and inflamed political rhetoric.

Two Jewish organizations held events this week — the week of the Democratic National Convention — addressing the issue of hate speech and inflamed political rhetoric.

Bend the Arc Jewish Action held a reception at the National Museum of American Jewish History called “To Bigotry No Sanction: The 21st century Jewish movement for justice in America,” with special guests Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA),

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), philanthropist Alexander Soros and Bend the Arc CEO Stosh Cotler.

On the same day, the Anti-Defamation League held an event in Center City called “Hate Rhetoric as a Political Weapon: Confronting the Civility Gap to Move Forward” with guest speakers Jeff Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center; Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress; and Stacy Burdett, ADL vice president of government relations, advocacy and community engagement.

The week before, both groups had signed onto an open letter from a number of Jewish organizations that addressed hate speech specifically. The letter read, in part, “The Jewish community knows all too well what can happen when particular religious or ethnic groups become the focus of invective. We have witnessed the dangerous acts that can follow verbal expressions of hate. Jews and members of other religious minorities have found safety in the United States, thanks to this nation’s commitment to religious freedom, civil rights, and refugee protection. Yet these values that are pillars of our nation’s strength cannot be taken for granted; rather, they must be renewed and protected in every generation.”

Signers of the letter included HIAS, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, American Jewish World Service, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Jewish Alliance for Law & Social Action, National Council of Jewish Women, Rabbinical Assembly and Union for Reform Judaism, among many others.

Bend the Arc’s Cotler, and Nancy Baron-Baer, regional director of the ADL’s Eastern PA/Southern NJ/Delaware chapter, both feel that this election cycle has been notably different in terms of rhetoric. Baron-Baer points to partisan polarization.

“Last week in Cleveland,” she said, “ADL hosted a similar discussion of the coarsening of the political debate and how hyper-partisanship is an obstacle to the give and take necessary for policy pro-gress. This trend has been escalating, and ADL has even created educational materials to help educators and families help children cope with the rancor in the debate.”

The ADL, which is nonpartisan, does not endorse candidates or get involved with political campaigns. “But, in keeping with its mission,” said Baron-Baer, “ADL has always called out hate rhetoric and stereotypes invoked in political campaigns on both sides of the aisle.”

“Racism, xenophobia, anti-Muslim sentiment, misogyny— these are not new issues to politics,” Cotler said. “But the thing that feels distinct at this point in time is there is now permission for this kind of language, rhetoric, behavior, to be totally blatant, to be considered legitimate political discourse.”

Bend the Arc — a multipronged organization that grew out of a merger of Jewish Funds for Justice and Progressive Jewish Alliance in 2011 — has a political action committee and a branch that endorses candidates directly.

As of press time, they had not yet endorsed, but CEO Cotler said they planned to endorse the Democratic nominee, and had harsh words for Donald Trump.

“Judaism is based in the understanding that all people are made in the image of God, that there is an inherent value and dignity in every human being,” Cotler said. “From the moment Trump began to say that Mexicans and undocumented people coming from Mexico were rapists and murderers to the ban on Muslims, long ago Jews of all political orientations should have been overtly rejecting Donald Trump and everything he stood for.”

Bend the Arc, which is the parent organization of Philadelphia’s JSPAN, will be spending a good deal of time organizing in Pennsylvania, Cotler said, because it’s a swing state.

“We will be sending Bend the Arc Jewish Action leaders into Pennsylvania to do voter contact work, which I think is going to be really exciting.”

Meanwhile, she hopes this week’s event provides an opportunity for people to get to know the group a bit better.

“We’re at a moment where there is clearly a movement underway among tens and tens of thousands of people who want to see our country move in a more progressive direction,” she said. “There is an overwhelming support for bridging the income inequality gap. We have seen now the Democratic platform take on an increased minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is amazing.

“We’re in a moment where racial justice is being discussed not just among people of color but in white families, in white communities and white spaces. We have seen a groundswell of change in the cultural space around LGBT equality. We’re just in a critical moment for progressive organizations, progressive funders, for progressive activists and leaders to fully embrace the power and the numbers that we now have. It will be important for us to show our visibility and our momentum at the DNC.”

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