Jewish Federation, UC Irvine Host Countering Hate Summit

Speakers included politicians, members of law enforcement and the clergy
February 13, 2024
Courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Orange County

The Jewish Federation of Orange County and UC Irvine’s School of Social Ecology held a “Countering Hate” summit on Thursday, Feb. 8, featuring various national and local leaders as speakers.

The summit was held at UC Irvine’s Beall Applied Innovation Building and 224 people attended. California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) addressed the summit via video, telling attendees, “I’m your partner and my door is always open to you.” He lamented the rise in antisemitism, pointing out that the number of recorded anti-Jewish bias incidents by the California Department of Justice increased from 152 in 2021 to 189 in 2022. “Hate against any one of us is hate against all of us,” Bonta declared. He told attendees to “notify local law enforcement immediately” if they or anyone know they know believes they were victims of a hate crime.

Bonta also touted California’s diversity and that the Jewish community, which consists of 15% of the state’s population, is a “key part of that diversity.” “Regardless of how you worship what you believe and where you’re from you belong here and I’m committed to fighting for that,” he added.

UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman spoke toward the beginning of the conference, proclaiming that the Oct. 7 massacre was the “largest one-day massacre of Jews” since the Holocaust and “an act of profound gleeful cruelty, the likes of which we have not seen in our lifetimes.”

He recalled how 17 years ago, UC Irvine was in the news “because of hateful incidents that profoundly affected all of us, but especially our Jewish students.” Since then, UC Irvine became the first campus “to systemically assess how to implement” the UC Regents’ statement denouncing antisemitism and antisemitic forms of anti-Zionist, Gillman said. He also touted the “series of events on antisemitism” that the university held, including an event featuring New York Times columnist Bret Stephens.

While Gillman acknowledged that not everything’s perfect on campus, “we can all address these issues with a clear voice and a determined heart.” “This is a summit and let’s reach new heights of insight and effective action,” he added.

Courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Orange County

Jewish Federation of Orange County President and CEO Erik Ludwig also spoke at the beginning of the summit, explaining that there is “widespread fear and anguish here in Orange County and around the country” due to the sharp rise in antisemitism since Oct. 7. “Being together matters,” he said. “Your being here today gives me hope.” He added “we must commit to the future opportunity if we’re going to end antisemitism and hate in Orange County we must lean into partnerships.” As part of that, he announced that the Federation launched a Countering Hate resource page providing “curriculum guidance and professional development.” “We want to build partnerships and a community of practice that will help support a hate-free OC,” Ludwig said.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer (R) spoke during the “Local Experience” panel, where he argued that “we have to understand the consciousness of the Jewish people;” Spitzer recounted visiting the Dachau death camp as well as his visits to the Holocaust museums in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Israel. If you go to Israel and stand on the border of the Gaza Strip or realize how small Israel is and “everyday their freedom and their safety is in jeopardy,” then you understand “what it means to be a Jew,” Spitzer contended.

Spitzer also announced that Friday is the start of the trial for the Newport Beach man who allegedly murdered Blaze Bernstein, a 19-year-old gay Jewish male in January 2018. Bernstein, a University of Pennsylvania student at the time, was stabbed to death while visiting Orange County during winter break.

Additionally, Spitzer proclaimed that his office is “prepared” to deal with the hate that will be sparked by the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. “If you hate and you hurt, then you have to answer to me and my attorneys,” the Orange County DA declared.

Spitzer argued that while the U.S. Constitution is the “greatest document that was ever created for humankind” due to its protection of freedom of speech, religion, and association, “we pay a huge price in society because of that document.” He called referred to some elected officials as being “idiots” who engage in hate speech “do not understand that the words they use and the actions they take will instill in people.”

The Orange County DA urged attendees “to know who your judges are in Orange County and when they run for office.” Spitzer pointed to a case in which he prosecuted a man named Tyson Mayfield, who was sentenced to five years in prison for shouting racial slurs at a pregnant African American woman and threatening to “drop her baby.” Spitzer sought a 38 years to life sentence since Mayfield had two prior convictions on his record, but the judge only sentenced him to five years because she removed one of Mayfield’s priors. An appeals court later overturned the sentence, putting Mayfield back on trial and making him eligible for the higher prison sentence if convicted.

“You need to speak out against hate for everybody,” Spitzer said. “I don’t care who you love but I do care who you hate.”

Also speaking on that panel was Rabbi Peter Levi, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Orange County office. Levi likened Holocaust speakers and museums to bringing “an umbrella to a climate change conference” unless “they’re fully integrated into our curriculum.” “It’s not enough if we really want to move the needle,” argued Levi. “We need systemic approaches to do that.” The ADL is using a “whole of society” approach to address antisemitism, Levi explained.

Levi called for fighting “the false binary” that you’re either for Israel or Palestine, when the “overwhelming majority of Jews in America and Americans are actually for both” Israelis and Palestinians living in safety and security. “Figuring that out is a challenge,” he added.

During the audience Q&A portion of the summit, Levi differentiated between right-wing and left-wing antisemitism by comparing the former to a hurricane that you know is coming and can prepare for, while the latter is more analogous to climate change in that it’s slow-moving and it’s unclear what the long-term impact is. He also touted the ADL”s “No Place for Hate” campaign and that more than 70 schools in Orange County are involved in the program.

The other panel was focused on research and policy. One of the speakers on that panel was Jeffrey Kopstein, a political science professor and director of the Center for Jewish Studies at UC Irvine. Kopstein explained that over the summer, he surveyed 1,500 non-Jewish students at UC Irvine and one other UC school; he found that “there is antisemitism and [it] overlaps with anti-Israel attitudes.” Kopstein acknowledged that it “doesn’t fit perfectly,” but there is a strong correlation between the two.

On the question if universities are the ones producing the antisemitism, Kopstein found that there’s “absolutely no difference in attitudes between the years” of students. “They’re either getting it from before they show up or outside the university,” he said. Kopstein did acknowledge that there is campus antisemitism, it’s just not being produced by the campus, he argued. “America does not have a university problem,” Kopstein declared. “America has an antisemitism problem.”

Another speaker on the policy and research panel was Hannah Yu, the hate crimes chief in the New York County’s DA’s office. Yu highlighted the fact that 2023 saw the highest number of hate crime cases brought by her office; she posited that “when we are such a polarized country or a polarized world … there is much more friction or much tension in every community or group.”

To bring a hate crime case, you have to prove motive, which Yu acknowledged isn’t always easy. She explained that under state law, the Manhattan DA’s office charges drawings of swastikas on “real property” like street lamps and buildings as felonies, and that it’s also a felony to burn a cross and hang a noose. A misdemeanor harassment would involve pulling off an individual’s yarmulke or Star of David, according to Yu.

While New York’s hate crime laws are “robust,” there are some loopholes, Yu said, pointing to to how at one point, gang assaults couldn’t be charged as hate crimes but individual assaults could, an issue that the Manhattan DA’s office addressed by working with legislators to fix it. Additionally, false reporting of an incident is not included as a hate crime under state law, per Yu.

The keynote speaker was Amos Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah. Guiora spoke about the need to “educate aggressively” against antisemitism, arguing that failing to do so makes you an enabler and bystander. “We are literally at a crossroads,” he declared.

Guiora recalled how he was vacationing in Paris on Oct. 7 when his wife woke him up to inform him about what was going on; they ended up cutting their vacation short and racing home. He did say that there are finally some women’s organizations that are “listening” in regards to the “unimaginable sexual violence” committed by Hamas on Oct. 7. But Guiora asked where the voice are pounding tables and saying “this is wrong” in response to the “from the river to the sea chants.”

Guiora, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, explained that Holocaust minimization was those claiming that the death toll in the Holocaust was two million, not six million, Jews; similarly, Oct. 7 minimization are those who blame Israel for the atrocities that day. He drew parallels between the silence from bystanders during the Holocaust to those who are doing the same now regarding Oct. 7. He argued that there is “zero time” for “more fun” things like watching the Los Angeles Lakers or Golden State Warriors play basketball. He urged the audience to ask themselves, “Are you fighting on behalf of those who don’t have a voice?”

Other speakers included Sociology Professor Dr. Amy Adamczyk, Orange County Human Relations Commissioner Rabbi Richard Steinberg, Irvine Police Chief Michael Kent and Katrina Foley, who serves on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

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