Attention On Hate Speech Drives Donations To Fight Anti-Semitism

Aug 25, 2017
Originally published on August 25, 2017 9:45 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Charlottesville protesters claimed they marched to defend Confederate memorials, but much of their venom was directed at Jews. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports on how that hate speech and vitriol is driving many Americans to donate to organizations that fight anti-Semitism.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Jewish community centers were founded to serve the Jewish immigrant population. Today, many of them serve anyone who comes in. Michael Feinstein directs the JCC in Bethesda, Md.

MICHAEL FEINSTEIN: We're still probably 85 percent Jewish, but I've been noticing more and more non-Jewish members coming in and using our fitness center. We have non-Jewish families coming to our preschool. And we have many non-Jewish families in our day camp as well.

GJELTEN: The fitness center at the Bethesda JCC is state of the art. The head trainer, Dahhia Johnson, is African-American. And she's enrolled her son in the JCC preschool, where he's learning Jewish songs and trying to get his mom to sing along.

DAHHIA JOHNSON: He'll say, Mommy, your turn. And I'm like, do it one more time, buddy (laughter).

GJELTEN: Dahhia heard the racists in Charlottesville, the taunts against blacks but also the hatred directed against Jews. And she says it made her sick.

JOHNSON: Not just because I'm African-American but because this is where I work every day. So hearing the things that were said hurts me both ways.

GJELTEN: There is evidence that the anti-Jewish hate in Charlottesville has alarmed Americans of all faiths. The Anti-Defamation League, which has led the fight against anti-Semitism for more than a hundred years, saw its donations increase tenfold in the week after Charlottesville, with the vast majority coming from people who had never given before. ADL President Jonathan Greenblatt says he's hearing anecdotally that the gifts are coming from an especially wide range of donors.

JONATHAN GREENBLATT: We're seeing prominent individuals of different faiths step forward and support the ADL and do so in a very public manner.

GJELTEN: Some of the non-Jewish donations come via corporate CEOs. Bumble, an online dating service, made a big contribution to the ADL, as did the CEOs of Apple, Uber and MGM Resorts. James Murdoch, son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, made a $1 million personal donation. Growing non-Jewish support for the fight against anti-Semitism is clearly part of the story, but there may also be another factor. The ADL, under Greenblatt's leadership, has emerged as a leading player in fighting all forms of bigotry.

GREENBLATT: We're one of the largest providers in the U.S. of anti-bias content in schools. We are the largest trainer of law enforcement in how to deal with hate and hate crimes and extremism.

GJELTEN: So some of the new non-Jewish donors to the ADL may simply see it as one more organization fighting intolerance at a time when that's a growing concern. The ADL's rising profile as an anti-hate organization has aroused some controversy among right-leaning Jews. Bethany Mandel, a columnist for the online Federalist magazine, published a commentary this summer lamenting the ADL's, quote, "sad slide into just another left-wing pressure group."

BETHANY MANDEL: I heard from a number of ADL donors who said, I've been thinking this a long time, and I'm not interested in funding a general interest group again - hate and bigotry. There's a million other organizations that do that.

GJELTEN: But that was before Charlottesville. Again, the ADL's Jonathan Greenblatt.

GREENBLATT: I think what we have seen in Charlottesville is that it is impossible to disentangle a hatred toward Muslims and a hatred toward blacks with a hatred toward Jews.

GJELTEN: And it does now seem there may be a payoff to Jewish organizations when they reach out to non-Jews, either to serve them or be helped by them. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "PLAINS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.