‘We do have to come together to defend each other’
Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper to address New Jersey Jewish Business Alliance
Creating new alliances and repairing relationships is crucial to countering antisemitic incidents, which are at an all-time high, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
Rabbi Cooper will speak about antisemitism and its impact on business and society at the May 31 meeting of the New Jersey Jewish Business Alliance at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City.
FBI Director Christopher Wray testified last November before Congress that “63 percent of the religious hate crimes target 2.4 percent of the U.S. population, which is American Jews.”
“That’s a devastating statistic,” Rabbi Cooper said.
As the associate dean and director of the Wiesenthal Center’s Global Action Agenda, Rabbi Cooper is also the vice chair and a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan federal agency. He points to famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal for his prescient warnings about antisemitism. In 1980, Mr. Wiesenthal said that three factors could combine to push antisemitic acts and rhetoric over the edge: a crisis in society, organized hate, and technology.
Anything is possible, Mr. Wiesenthal told a student at a university lecture, harking back to the Holocaust.
“He was thinking about the technology he experienced, which was radio and newsreels, and then TV,” Rabbi Cooper said. “He didn’t know anything about the internet or what covid would do to all of us. These are very dangerous times. God forbid, if the economy really collapses and we have a serious recession, nobody knows where this can all go.
“We’re in a different era today,” he continued. “There’s no filter. Nobody has to ask a TV producer for permission to come on a show or get a letter past an editor who says ‘this guy can’t even spell,’ while they espouse hatred. There’s no one who will put it in the garbage can.
“Social media is a game changer. The reach of viral information and then the speed of it, literally instantaneous, means that threats and potential problems for us have absolutely been magnified. But it also means we can have access to the same tools. And we can create the right kinds of relationships.”
Jews are being attacked from all sides, Rabbi Cooper said, echoing Mr. Wray’s testimony. “We have social media being leveraged by the extremists from the far right and extremists from the far left. You have members of the Squad” — a group of nine progressive Democratic representatives — “who have immunity because they’re members of Congress.
“On the right, blatantly antisemitic lawmakers are also getting a pass. Then there are some people who have a theological basis, whether they are Islamists or extremists teaching their children that Jews killed Jesus.”
A younger generation doesn’t heed signs of antisemitism, Rabbi Cooper said. “We’re now looking at generations that were born after 9/11. It’s no longer in their rearview mirror, let alone World War II and the Shoah. We have to work very hard to transmit what our values are, what lessons we take from those earlier eras. Then we have to find people, our neighbors who will also get back to the business of transmitting and promoting basic values of decency.”
Rabbi Cooper has a message for the business community he’ll address in New Jersey. “You have a situation where Ben & Jerry’s weaponizes ice cream to defame the Jewish state of Israel,” he said. “I’m looking to businesspeople. I’m saying to them, you have to make sure you’re fighting against that particular approach of expanding BDS into the mainstream of American businesses. We need help on that kind of fight, to be our eyes and ears about what is going on with anti-Israel attacks in the business arena.”
“Thankfully, we were able to push back and defeat Ben & Jerry’s, but there will be many other efforts in the business domain.
“I need these leaders in the room to put on their very creative and successful hats as businesspeople, as community leaders, to get involved on the local school board,” for example. “People in the business domain have a tremendous potential to help expand the DNA of peace both in their own zip code, and depending on what business they’re in, also internationally.
“We need to demand that the social media companies do more to stop their platforms from being the weapons of choice for extremists and Jew haters,” Rabbi Cooper continued. “And at the same time, we must create more friendships, more alliances with our neighbors, and not wait for the next crisis to come along, where people are going to just demonize each other.
“So we definitely need to help repair our society and our relationships, try to move from seeing just stereotypes of the other, to actually seeing a human being there. I don’t think it’s a luxury anymore. I think that it has to be pushed right to the front of our priorities.
“We do have to come together to defend each other and to present, to the extent that we can, a united front.”
This is especially true in the African American community, Rabbi Cooper said. “We know the damage that Ye” — the musician and designer formerly known as Kanye West — “has done, and the damage that Louis Farrakhan has done for four decades. But we’d be making a terrible mistake to assume that their narrative is the mainstream narrative in the African American community. We have to reach out to our neighbors, not just when there’s a crisis involving antisemitism. How can we work together on projects so we see the human dimension and values that we all share?”
What: Rabbi Abraham Cooper will speak at a meeting of the New Jersey Jewish Business Alliance
Where: At St. Peter’s University in Jersey City
When: On Wednesday, May 31, at 5:30
How much: Tickets are $35
To register: Go to njjba.com