On Sunday evening, the Jewish community of Spokane, along with many other people of good will, came together to observe Yom HaShoah – Holocaust remembrance. This year’s theme was Speaking up for “The Other,” reminding the public how the cultivation of fear and hatred by the Nazi Party led to the extermination of 11 million people and how such “othering” continues today.
And yet again, just a day prior to the Holocaust observance and six months to the day after the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting claimed 11 lives, our community is in mourning once more because of religious hatred – this time for shooting victims at the Chabad synagogue of Poway, California. Perhaps many of us have yet to stop grieving for the 250 killed in Sri Lanka, the 50 killed in Christchurch, the nine killed in Charleston and for the many others whose lives have been lost.
In the face of this current reality, where men, women and children are killed in their houses of worship due to their religion or the color of their skin, we must condemn such hatred clearly and without qualification. Hate is not simply another political viewpoint. Hate is not an issue of free speech or part of the marketplace of ideas. Hate is not a party difference. There cannot be a middle ground.
We as Jews know this, personally and directly, from our own history. We know that words matter, and that hate speech is the first step that leads directly to violence and murder. We know that when people fail to speak against hatred, hatred becomes normalized. When people remain silent, anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism, homophobia and Islamophobia flourish. When people excuse white nationalism, Jewish, Muslim, Black, Latinx and LGBTQ and other minority lives and communities are at risk. This is cause and effect in action.
The time has come to recognize that we all must speak out against hatred because hatred leads to violence. This obligation extends to our elected officials who must condemn acts of hate and the rhetoric that causes and enables it.
State Representative Matt Shea recently shared material from the website XYZ.net.au through his social media. This website spreads anti-Semitic and racist conspiracy theories.
One of its writers expressed a complete lack of sympathy with the victims of the Christchurch shooting, saying, “They are not my people.” Over the past few years, Representative Shea has participated in the Red Pill Expo, which includes speakers who condone anti-Semitism and consort with Holocaust deniers, and has founded a local chapter of ACT for America, which propagates anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Through these actions, he is legitimizing the characterization of Jewish and other minority communities as demographics to be hated, feared and targeted. These actions create a clear and present danger for Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities, for communities of color, and for other vulnerable groups, including immigrants and refugees.
Less than two weeks ago, the Washington state Legislature passed, and Governor Inslee signed into law, a Holocaust education bill which encourages all schools in the state to teach students about the facts and the lessons of the Holocaust. We recognize that Representative Shea supported this bill, but cannot reconcile this support with his actions and his words.
We call for Representative Shea to cease posting and sharing links to sites that promote religious or racial intolerance and hatred. We call for him to renounce and cease participating in forums that promote religious or racial intolerance and hatred. Moving forward, we call on Representative Shea, and all our elected officials to use their positions to combat the rising tide of white nationalism, anti-Semitism and racism – not to fuel it.
Words matter and indifference to hate rhetoric ends in violence. We are witnessing this clear cause and effect.
Rabbi Tamar Malino, Diana Koorkanian-Sauders, Pam Silverstein, Neal Schindler, Larry Weiser, Joan Berkowitz, Mary May, Hershel Zellman and other concerned members of the Jewish community of Spokane.
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