Don’t be a bystander

summit panelists

Leaders advise against silence at Countering Hate Summit

The message was clear at today’s Countering Hate Summit: don’t be a bystander.

“Without the bystander, there is no holocaust,” Amos N. Guiora, a University of Utah professor of law, told the summit attendees during his keynote address. “We have no choice but to educate aggressively. It’s no fun addressing and countering antisemitism. It’s ugly out there. We have the responsibility to act because if you don’t, you’re a bystander. And, if you know your colleague isn’t addressing antisemitism directly, you are an enabler, and you are then guilty of institutional complicity. I’m involved in legislative efforts around the country and the world to criminalize bystanders and enablers.”

The summit, presented by the Jewish Federation of Orange County’s Rose Project and UC Irvine’s School of Social Ecology and supported by UCI’s Office of Inclusive Excellence, was attended by about 250 elected officials, school administrators and educators from throughout Orange County. It featured Guiora’s keynote and two panel discussions focused on addressing and understanding the growing levels of hate and antisemitism across the country and in Orange County.

In his opening remarks, Erik Ludwig, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, underscored the summit’s role in incubating partnerships and attracting allies to diminish the footprint of hate.

“At a time when antisemitism and bigotry have been normalized, this summit sends a clear message: there’s no home for hate in Orange County,” Ludwig said. “A strong democracy depends on our ability as civic leaders to put an end to hate.” 

UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman agreed. “It is an act of great importance and great hopefulness to gather here today, acknowledge the issue, engage in dialogue, educate ourselves, create new partnerships, develop strategies and leverage our collective resources and our collective goodwill.”

Summit speakers also included Amy Adamczyk, professor of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice; E. Alison Holman, UCI professor of nursing and psychological science; demographer Ariela Keysar; Jeff Kopstein, UCI professor of political science; Hannah Yu, chief of the Hate Crimes Unit in the New York County District Attorney’s Office; Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer; Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley; Irvine Police Chief Michael Kent; Lisa Armony, executive director of Hillel International’s Campus Climate Initiative; Rabbi Peter Levi and Rabbi Richard Steinberg. School of Social Ecology Dean Jon Gould and Ludwig served as moderators.

Most of the speakers emphasized the need for people to stand up and say or do something against hate crime or hate speech. But, “don’t choose a side,” Keysar stressed. “Choose humanity, respect and friendship. We must give each other mutual respect.”

Along that vein, Holman said one way to combat hate is to “role model compassion.”

Hate crimes affect victims and perpetrators alike, she said. “The physical health consequences of hate are very real. When you experience anger and hostility, your risk for cardiovascular disease increases. Creating a place where a person feels safe can prevent some mental health challenges and provide healing. And, compassion is required to bridge gaps.”

Levi said it takes many partners to bridge gaps and fight antisemitism.

“We want to end it forever,” he said, “but sometimes our tools are wrong. If you bring an umbrella to a climate change conference, you have the wrong tool, and fighting hate and antisemitism is a climate change issue. We need government and policy. We need changes in public attitude, which happens through education. We need corporate partnerships. We need to have incentives. We need resources. We need skills and knowledge. That’s the way we need to go.”

In a video message to summit attendees, California Attorney General Rob Bonta expressed his support for eliminating hate and racial bias throughout the state.

“We won’t tolerate violence,” he said. “Hate against any one of us is hate against all of us.”

He urged the reporting of hate crimes to local law enforcement. Hate crimes also can be reported to the state by calling 833-8-NO-HATE or by visiting the website.

Staying silent simply won’t do, the speakers agreed.

“You need to speak out on hate,” Spitzer said. “I don’t care who you love, but I care who you hate. If you hate and hurt, you will pay.”

So, “are you a bystander, an enabler or are you an actor?” Guiora asked the audience.

Closing out the summit, Gould said, “this is not the end of the conversation. Together we care about this issue, and we are committed to doing something about it. Together we fight against hate, especially antisemitism.”

— Mimi Ko Cruz