Collier County condemns bigotry, anti-Semitism and hate in proclamation

Illustration by Rose Wong.

Oct. 25, 2022 by David Silverberg

Full disclosure: The author was the drafter of the proclamation covered here.

Today, the Collier County Board of Commissioners proclaimed the county’s condemnation of bigotry, anti-Semitism and hate towards all people.

The proclamation made at the Commission’s regularly scheduled general meeting came amidst a rise in anti-Semitic expressions nationally and incidents locally, as well as a general increase in expressions of intolerance and prejudice (proclamation image below).

The proclamation was introduced by William McDaniel (R-5), chair of the Commission. It was approved by all commissioners.

This author spoke in favor of the proclamation, stating “President George Washington famously wrote that the United States gives ‘to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.’ This proclamation puts Collier County squarely within that fundamental, patriotic American tradition.”

Also speaking was Rabbi Adam Miller of Temple Shalom in Naples. Miller noted that Temple Shalom was 60 years old and when he became rabbi, one of the oldest congregants related that when she was being shown local properties the realtor told her that she should stay on Florida’s east coast with other Jews.

The current proclamation, said Miller, was valuable for everyone because “it expresses respect and engagement” with the whole community.

Also present to lend support was Rabbi Ammos Chorny of Beth Tikvah Congregation, Naples; Rev. Tony Fisher, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Naples; Vincent Keeys, president of the Collier County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and Bebe Kanter, Democratic candidate for county District 2.  

Significance of the proclamation

No proclamation is going end hate or bigotry or anti-Semitism. However, amidst a rise in prejudice, especially during a heated election period, there is value in a formal statement condemning those sentiments.

The proclamation puts Collier County officially on the record against that kind of bias.

Deterrence

Very importantly, the proclamation may deter hate crimes, violence and expressions of anti-Semitism. It “condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence, or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property, or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin.”

Given that there have been instances of anti-Semitic vandalism and leafletting in neighboring Lee County, this may protect Collier County from similar incidents. Anyone contemplating such actions, if made aware of the County’s position, may decide not to break the law.

It also makes vigorous investigation, pursuit and prosecution of hate crimes a priority for county law enforcement.

The denunciation of violence also comes amidst advocacy of violence and violent political rhetoric.  Most immediately, yesterday, Oct. 24, Christopher Monzon, a supporter of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), was brutally beaten by four men while passing out campaign flyers in Hialeah.

The proclamation also repudiates the kind of overtly anti-Semitic allegations made locally by Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be campaign manager for Collier County School Board candidate Tim Moshier. On a national level, rapper and singer Kanye West (who now prefers to go by the name Ye) has tweeted anti-Semitic tweets, sparking anti-Semitic demonstrations and leafleting in California.

An anti-Semitic demonstration on an overpass in Los Angeles, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 23. (Image: TMZ)

Hospitality

With Southwest Florida recovering from Hurricane Ian and its hospitality and tourism industries damaged, the proclamation makes clear that Collier County is an open, welcoming place and ready to receive all visitors and guests.

This is important on a global basis as people make their vacation plans and the tourist season rolls around. They will be carefully examining Southwest Florida.

Despite the physical damage resulting from the storm, at least Collier County’s welcoming attitudes and commitments are intact, as made clear by the proclamation.

History

It is a sad fact of history that after a natural disaster there is frequently scapegoating and persecution of minority ethnic, racial or religious groups. It seems that people must vent their frustration and anger resulting from a natural calamity. But since they can’t take it out on the storm, fire or flood, they take it out on each other—and it’s at its worst when it’s officially sanctioned.

There are numerous examples of this.

Reaching back in history, after the Great Fire of Rome in the year 64 of the Common Era, the emperor Nero sought to deflect suspicions of his own arson by blaming and persecuting Christians in the Roman Empire and especially in the city of Rome itself. In 1666 during the Great Fire of London, with Britain at war with Holland, Londoners attacked foreigners living in their midst while the fire raged.

In the United States, people of Irish extraction were blamed for the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, giving rise to the legend of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, a sly canard against them. In 1889, after the Johnstown Flood in Johnstown, Pa., survivors, some of Eastern European extraction, blamed ethnic Hungarians for a variety of lurid crimes and alleged atrocities. In 1906 after the San Francisco earthquake, the discrimination and prejudice against the city’s Japanese community was so great that it threatened to cause war between Japan and the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt had to intervene on behalf of the community. In 1927, after the Mississippi River and its tributaries severely flooded there was a savage wave of lynchings of blacks when the waters receded. During the 2019-2021 COVID pandemic, goaded by President Donald Trump, attacks on Asians rose exponentially.

In an example of better behavior and the positive influence authority figures can have, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (a deliberate, man-made disaster), President George W. Bush and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani successfully tamped down any retaliation against American Muslims.

“I ask you to uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here,” Bush said in a speech to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001.  “We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them.  No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.”

So far Southwest Florida has not seen any of this kind of scapegoating in the wake of Hurricane Ian. The Collier County anti-bigotry proclamation may go some way toward preventing it in the days ahead.

A reaffirmation

There is a power in reaffirmation and recommitment—just ask couples who renew their wedding vows.

The Collier anti-bigotry proclamation may seem to simply restate principles and values that all decent people share. But sometimes it’s things that seem most self-evident and obvious and taken for granted that need reaffirmation.

Further, these values and principles have long been under assault, along with democracy itself. They can no longer be taken for granted or assumed to have power on their own.

The proclamation makes clear that Collier County is a place of tolerance that “abhors bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, and all forms of hate against all people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin,” as it states.

Beyond just setting an example for Southwest Florida, the Collier proclamation can serve as a template for every town, city and county in the nation as they reaffirm their allegiance to common values and principles. The village-to-village fight can be waged for good.

Collier County’s issuance of the anti-bigotry proclamation puts it squarely within the fundamental, patriotic, American tradition expressed by President George Washington at the dawn of the nation in 1790. He wrote that “…happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

And now Collier County has again made clear that applies in Southwest Florida as well as everywhere else.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Collier County Commissioners expected to condemn anti-Semitism, bigotry at Oct. 25 meeting

A meeting of the Collier County Board of Commissioners on July 13, 2021. (Photo: Author)

Oct. 20, 2022 by David Silverberg

Full disclosure: The author drafted the proclamation discussed in this report

The Collier County, Florida, Board of Commissioners is slated to vote on a proclamation condemning hate crimes, bigotry and anti-Semitism at its meeting next Tuesday, Oct. 25.

The item is on the Commission agenda for the meeting as Proclamation 4A, the first such proclamation to be considered at the meeting.

The proclamation (text below) is scheduled to be introduced by Commissioner Bill McDaniel (District 5) chair of the commission. It is expected to pass unanimously, having previously been on the “consent agenda” of items that commissioners vote on to approve as a block.

Consideration of the measure was held over from the Sept. 27 meeting, when Rabbi Adam Miller of Temple Shalom in Naples protested that it was being considered on the second day of Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year and requested a postponment.

The proclamation puts Collier County’s opposition and condemnation of hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism on the public record. It commits the county to “actively and vigorously oppose, investigate, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence, or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property, or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin… .”

The proclamation was initially inspired by a number of anti-Semitic incidents in Lee and Collier counties, in particular the anti-Semitic expression of Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be campaign manager for county school board candidate Tim Moshier.

However, since that posting in early September, additional anti-Semitic expressions have been made by singer and rapper Kanye West (who now goes by the name “Ye”) and former President Donald Trump, who accused American Jews of being ungrateful for all he had done for Israel.

The Commission meeting will convene at 9:00 am at the Collier County Government Center, 3299 Tamiami Trail East, 3rd Floor in Naples. Residents can sign up to address the Commission prior to the meeting. Public petition speakers are limited to 10 minutes and general address speakers to 3 minutes.

Text of the proclamation:

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida is an open and welcoming place to residents, guests, and visitors from all over the world;

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida adheres to laws and regulations and upholds the Constitution and Amendments of the United States of America;

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida provides equal justice under the law and protection to all law abiding residents and visitors;

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida supports democracy and democratic forms of government;

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida abhors bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, and all forms of hate against all people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin.

NOW THEREFORE, be it proclaimed that the Board of County Commissioners of Collier County, Florida condemns anti-Semitism in all forms and expressions; condemns all forms of discrimination, prejudice, and hate against any person or group of people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin; condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence, or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property, or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin, and will provide to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.

DONE AND ORDERED THIS 25 Day of October, 2022.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Collier County Commission reschedules anti-bigotry resolution vote to Oct. 25

A meeting of the Collier County Board of Commissioners on July 13, 2021. (Photo: Author)

Sept. 22, 2022 by David Silverberg

Full disclosure: The author is the drafter of the resolution described below.

The Collier County, Florida, Board of Commissioners has rescheduled a vote on a resolution condemning bigotry, hate crimes and anti-Semitism for Oct. 25.

The resolution was scheduled to be passed at the Commission’s general meeting on Sept. 27 as part of the “Consent Agenda,” routine matters passed en bloc, without separate discussion of each individual item.

However, Rabbi Adam Miller, Temple Shalom, Naples, protested to Commission Chair Bill McDaniel (R-District 5) that the meeting fell on the second day of the Jewish High Holy Day of Rosh Hashonah, the New Year. He requested that it be rescheduled until after the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Sukkot, when he could mobilize other community and religious leaders to support it.

McDaniel agreed.

The resolution, below, is now scheduled to be considered as a separate item at the Commission’s general meeting on Oct. 25.

In its entirety the resolution states:

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida is an open and welcoming place to residents, guests and visitors from all over the world; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida adheres to the laws and regulations and upholds the Constitution and Amendments of the United States of America; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida provides equal justice under law and protection to all law-abiding residents and visitors; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida supports democracy and democratic forms of government; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida abhors bigotry, discrimination, prejudice and all forms of hate against all people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA: condemns anti-Semitism in all forms and expressions; condemns all forms of discrimination, prejudice and hate against any person or group of people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin; condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin, and will provide to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Collier County Commission to consider resolution condemning hate, bigotry, anti-Semitism

Collier County residents hold a candlelight vigil at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation to protest hate and bigotry in the wake of violence in Charlottesville , Va., on Aug. 14, 2017. (Image: Author)

Sept. 21, 2022 by David Silverberg

Full disclosure: The author is the drafter of the resolution described below.

The Collier County, Florida, Board of Commissioners will be taking up a resolution condemning bigotry, hate crimes and anti-Semitism at its next general meeting next Tuesday, Sept. 27.

The resolution is officially on the meeting’s agenda as item 10A, although that could be changed if deemed necessary by the county manager. The general business portion of the meeting begins at 10:00 am.

In its operative paragraph the resolution condemns anti-Semitism, discrimination, prejudice and hate. It states that the county resolves to pursue and prosecute hate crimes against people, property and institutions and, to paraphrase President George Washington, “will provide to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.”

(The full text is below.)

Commissioner Bill McDaniel (R-District 5) and chair of the Board, is expected to introduce the resolution.

The resolution comes amidst a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Southwest Florida.

Although the resolution is an expression of opinion rather than an ordinance imposing penalties, it nonetheless puts the county on the record opposing all forms of hatred, bigotry and discrimination.

In its entirety the resolution states:

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida is an open and welcoming place to residents, guests and visitors from all over the world; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida adheres to the laws and regulations and upholds the Constitution and Amendments of the United States of America; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida provides equal justice under law and protection to all law-abiding residents and visitors; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida supports democracy and democratic forms of government; and

WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida abhors bigotry, discrimination, prejudice and all forms of hate against all people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA: condemns anti-Semitism in all forms and expressions; condemns all forms of discrimination, prejudice and hate against any person or group of people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin; condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin, and will provide to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.

The Board of Commissioners will be meeting at 9:00 am on the third floor of the Collier County Government Center, 3299 Tamiami Trail East in Naples. Public petition speakers are limited to ten minutes and general address speakers to 3 minutes.

To reach the commissioners:

Rick LoCastro

Andy Solis

Burt Saunders

Penny Taylor

William L. McDaniel, Jr.

Chair

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

‘To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance’—Responding to anti-Semitism in Southwest Florida

The bridge over the Rhine River in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo: Author)

Aug. 31, 2022 by David Silverberg

In the city of Basel, Switzerland there is a bridge that crosses the Rhine River.

It’s a magnificent, sturdy bridge and a critical asset for the city. It was built around the year 1225 and was quite an engineering feat for its day.

Construction of the bridge was made possible by a loan from the city’s Jewish community. Theirs was an act of civic engagement and community pride that supported the city’s growth and prosperity. With the bridge built at the southernmost navigable point on the Rhine, Basel flourished and prospered.

But then in 1347 bubonic plague, the Black Death, began to scourge Europe. It was a horrible disease of unknown origins with a swift lethality that terrified the living. Although the term “pandemic” wasn’t known at the time, it was a sickness that seemed to strike the whole world.

In the year 1349, the Black Death hadn’t yet reached Basel but its onslaught was known and residents of Basel panicked. A conspiracy theory began making the rounds that Jews had poisoned the wells, causing the plague.

The Jewish community had high-level protection: in late 1348 Pope Clement VI issued a papal bull absolving Jews of responsibility for the plague. They were under the safeguard of the Holy Roman Empire. The bishops of Basel, Freiburg and nearby Strasbourg met to coordinate their responses.

But none of the assurances held any weight with an agitated and unreasoning mob. On Jan. 9, 1349 those Jews who hadn’t already fled the city were rounded up. The children were separated to be forcibly converted. The estimated 100 to 600 adult men and women were forcefully taken to an island in the Rhine, shackled together in a wooden hut—and then burned alive.

A Jewish community was massacred despite its high-level promises of protection, the civic-mindedness of its members, and its obvious contributions to the well-being and welfare of the city. Their innocence could not prevail in the face of a delusional conspiracy theory that had no foundation in fact. (And, by the way, the immolation didn’t stop the plague.)

Flash forward 667 years. On December 4, 2016, Edgar Welch, a 28-year-old man from Salisbury, North Carolina, shot his way into a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC, based on an utterly baseless and absurd conspiracy theory he had read on extremist websites asserting that a pedophilia ring was operating out of the restaurant. On October 27, 2018, Robert Bowers, 46, entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., and killed 11 people and wounded six based on a conspiracy theory that Jews were importing people into the United States to replace non-Jewish whites. On March 15, 2019 Brenton Tarrant, 28, killed 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand when he attacked two mosques based on the same racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory.

Conspiracy theories—the term doesn’t fully convey the real nature of these hateful, fabricated, slanderous lies—have consequences. Unfortunately, we live in an age of delusions when such insanities are running rampant.

It was probably inevitable that after demonizing immigrants, blacks, Hillary Clinton, Democrats, Joe Biden and going through a pandemic when ignorant people ferociously fought safeguards like masks and vaccines and promoted magic potions, that some would turn their wrath to Jewish targets. The most laughable slander is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-14-Ga.) bizarre 2018 allegation of space lasers owned by the Jewish Rothschild family causing California wildfires. But as absurd and laughable as that defamation is, it’s part of a trend.

And now Southwest Florida has its own blood libel: Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be the campaign manager of Collier County school board District 5 candidate Timothy Moshier, repeated a current extremist conspiracy theory on social media that Jewish-controlled media is using pornography to brainwash white males. This comes after a Bonita Springs rabbi’s car, driveway and home were vandalized and defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti in January, after anti-Semitic flyers were distributed in Fort Myers saying anti-Semitism is a human right and other flyers festooned with swastikas were placed on car windshields at local shopping malls. Most recently, on the other coast, anti-Semitic threats of violence were directed at Bruce Reinhart, the magistrate judge in Palm Beach Gardens who approved the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago.

Jews have heard these kinds of libels before: that Jews punctured communion wafers to make them bleed; that they took blood from Christian children to bake matzohs; that they poisoned wells to spread bubonic plague; that they conspired to impose democracy on Europe and overthrow monarchies; and that Germany lost World War I because Jews stabbed it in the back.

So when new libels and conspiracy theories emerge, it’s not as though Jews are just offended or emotionally upset. They have a lot of historical experience with these kinds of completely false and malevolent fantasies. They’ve been there before. Jews know how they begin, how they spread and how they end—and they always end badly.

There’s also no excusing the source of this madness. In America in the past, these kinds of fantasies could be debunked with facts, healthy skepticism and simple reality. But Donald Trump sought to discredit real reality and impose his own reality, a reality that ranged from such delusions as having the largest inaugural crowd ever to believing that he won an election that in fact he lost. He smeared as “fake” those who pursued truth. He sought scapegoats for a pandemic he couldn’t competently handle. He not only tried to impose his own lies on the world, it was as though he opened a sealed box and allowed every lunatic’s hallucination to gain credence and circulation. Some of those hallucinations are anti-Semitic.

The time may come when this mass mania may die down. This has happened before in America, ever since the days of its first bout of madness, the Salem witch trials.

But until the lunacy passes, as with the Salem witch trials, there are real casualties.

Anti-Semitism in Southwest Florida

For Southwest Florida’s Jewish community the rise of local anti-Semitic insanity presents the same challenge that every Jewish community has faced in the past: how best to respond?

On Sunday, Aug. 28, Rabbi Bruce Diamond, head of the Fort Myers Community Free Synagogue, which bills itself as a progressive congregation, published an op-ed in the area’s Gannett newspapers, the News-Press and Naples Daily News under the headline, “I worry about the rising tide of aggression.”

In many ways it’s a strange and internally contradictory essay (with some significant lapses in grammar and usage reproduced here as in the original).

On the one hand, Diamond argued, “At this time there is no existential threat to America’s Jew. It may be that the amount of antisemitic violence and incitement is increasing around us and throughout America, but so are all sorts of violence and incitement aimed at so many groups. It’s not just Jews who are the targets- it be anyone, anywhere and at any time.”

Then he states that “Like many of you, I worry about the rising tide of aggression and government’s inability (and sometimes its apparent unwillingness) to containing it.” 

However, cultural and grassroots anti-Semitism, in Diamond’s view, “is a universe apart from the government organizing and sponsoring violence against its residents, be they Jews or any other identifiable group.”

That kind of official persecution can’t happen, he argues, “as long our democratic institutions remain intact, the courts are empowered, and, by consent of the governed, our Constitution holds sway.”

Still, as Diamond acknowledges, “history teaches us that there no guarantees.” Further, “A people that is made to feel threatened by its leaders can tear its government to shreds and jettisoned its most cherished values overnight.”

So ultimately, Diamond writes, “don’t let yourself feel threatened — not by media eager to sell, by the politicians eager for the trappings of power, or anyone else trying to gain control over you and what is yours. They themselves are the threat. But, remarkably, if we all decide to ignore them they will go away and we will be just fine!”

Diamond is apparently putting the onus for anti-Semitic sentiment on the media that seeks to expose it, officials attempting to stop it and anyone else in authority trying to combat it. If those people are ignored, he believes, the wave of anti-Semitism will simply go away—“like a miracle, it’ll disappear,” as one person infamously said of the COVID virus.

As for the real purveyors of anti-Semitism on the Internet, in leaflets and in public forums, he apparently believes they too will pass like the wind and rain or they don’t present a threat.

A somewhat different response came from Rabbi Mendy Greenberg, head of the local Bonita Springs Chabad (a Hebrew acronym for “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge”) chapter of the very orthodox Lubavitcher religious movement.

On Jan. 31, 2022 it was Greenberg’s mailbox that was destroyed, his car window broken, and his sidewalk defaced with the word “Jew’s” in big red letters by two teenagers, Tucker Bachman,17, and a 14-year old accomplice. The perpetrators were swiftly caught by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, charged with hate-crime felonies and in March sentenced to probation.

When the arrests were made Greenberg was generous and forgiving. He said that Lee County was a place of love and friendship and he had never experienced any anti-Semitic crime in his 17 years there.

“This type of behavior is obviously in the minority so, but it also stains the community,” he said, calling for kindness on the part of people of different faiths and backgrounds.

He was neither bitter nor vindictive. “A little light sheds away a lot of darkness. It may sound like a cliché but it really can change reality. For the Jewish community, my message is there is nothing to be fearful for. We are here to stay, we are not going anywhere. We’re proud of who we are.”

In a subsequent service after the incident, Greenberg urged congregants to deal with anti-Semitism by praying and putting on “tefillen,” boxes with sacred script in them used during prayers by very orthodox Jews.

Analysis: Responding effectively

So what’s the best response to incidents of local anti-Semitism?

Is Diamond right in thinking that, “if we all decide to ignore them they will go away and we will be just fine!”

Is Greenberg right that “there is nothing to be fearful for” and prayer will be sufficient?

Sadly, history doesn’t bear out either of these responses. Ignoring prejudice just strengthens it and indifference has always led to disaster.

Rather, small acts of anti-Semitism—indeed, all minor acts of extremism, hatred and bigotry—are like the early raindrops that precede a storm. They may seem scattered and insignificant at first but they’re precursors of much worse to come.

Unlike a storm, however, these are human actions and human actions can be changed or deflected.

In one respect, Diamond is absolutely right: officially sanctioned and sponsored anti-Semitism. “cannot and will not happen as long our democratic institutions remain intact, the courts are empowered, and, by consent of the governed, our Constitution holds sway.”

A vigorous defense of democracy, the Constitution and justice will indeed impede anti-Semitism at the grassroots. And the local person to date who has most embodied and enforced a robust and unflinching response to it isn’t Jewish at all.

When Greenberg’s home was defaced, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno was having absolutely none of it.

“Violence based on discrimination or hatred of anyone is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in my county,” he said emphatically at the press conference announcing the vandals’ arrests.

Greenberg was grateful. He thanked “God Almighty for such a special sheriff’s department. It is unbelievable the type of support and velocity, speed and determination of the Lee County Sheriff’s staff to get down to the bottom of this case,” he said.

Marceno was pursuing specific violations of specific statutes but his vigor and decisiveness shows the way that anti-Semitism must be confronted if it’s to be defeated. And the Lee County Sheriff’s Office response exemplified the way hate crimes need to be pursued and prosecuted.

But that’s law enforcement. What can everyday people do?

As long as the US Constitution holds sway and provides legal, non-violent channels for activism, the answer is always the same: energize, organize and mobilize.

Opposing anti-Semitism should be a no-brainer for politicians and officials of all parties. For the past 50 years it was just a standard position that was largely taken for granted. But now it must be reaffirmed and people must push them to do it.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish organization that monitors and opposes anti-Semitism and all forms of defamation, has formulated what it calls its COMBAT Plan. It consists of:

  • Condemn Antisemitism
  • Oppose Hate and Extremism Driven by Antisemitism
  • Make Communities Safe from Antisemitism
  • Block Antisemitism Online
  • Act Against Global Antisemitism
  • Teach about Antisemitism

The details are explained in a 2-minute, 50-second video on YouTube.

One of the major aspects of the COMBAT Plan is to get existing institutions—political, social and religious—to condemn anti-Semitism.

On the political front as applied in Southwest Florida, that means people need to contact their elected officials—of whatever party or level of government—to insist that they publicly condemn anti-Semitism.

That should also extend to candidates for elected office. Any candidate who refuses to condemn anti-Semitism should know that he or she will pay a price: at the ballot box, in financial donations and in social isolation.

Political parties too should be pushed to take public stances against anti-Semitism. To cite a particular local case, the Collier County Republican Party reacted to the reports of Richards’ anti-Semitism in the school board race with a defensive message to members accusing the Naples Daily News of “fake news and selective reporting of facts” and attacks by “leftists.”

What it should do is issue a clear and unambiguous condemnation of anti-Semitism and those who spread it. It needs to clearly, emphatically and publicly state that anti-Semitism has no part in the Party, its platform or its candidates and those who embrace or accept or propagate it will not get its endorsement, its support or even be allowed to be members.

Additionally, government bodies like municipal and county governments should be urged to pass resolutions condemning anti-Semitism—as well as all forms of bigotry and prejudice. These may not have the force of law but there is a value in putting this position on the public record.

Non-governmental entities like chambers of commerce, professional and civic associations should also be urged to adopt resolutions, amendments and statements announcing their abhorrence of anti-Semitism, hate and extremism.

Religious leaders of all faiths, denominations and creeds should be encouraged to denounce anti-Semitism, hatred and prejudice from their pulpits and in their communications to congregants.

Citizens should report any criminal anti-Semitic incidents and hate-driven activities to law enforcement and the ADL, which provides an online reporting form, and to local media for coverage and exposure.

Teaching the evils of anti-Semitism and extremism needs to be updated in schools. The ADL provides materials and online resources.

Regrettably, in Florida, there’s no telling at this point how legislatively-mandated changes to the state’s curriculum and teaching force will help dampen anti-Semitism, given Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “anti-woke” crusade. In the past, teaching about the Holocaust and Anne Frank was considered sufficient. But curricula need to be updated and modernized to deal with online hate and new conspiracy theories.

In a very specific instance in Collier County, incumbent school board member Roy Terry needs to be returned to office in District 5 to help continue enlightened, secular, objective education, along with fellow incumbents Jory Westberry in District 1 and Jen Mitchell in District 3.

All this will not end hatred, prejudice and anti-Semitism altogether. But it should ensure that it’s confined to the stupidly ignorant, the pathetically gullible and the completely insane—who should be recognized as such.

History’s lessons

History is clear: hate doesn’t just evaporate, passivity doesn’t protect, and appeasement doesn’t appease. Anti-Semitism and all “conspiracy theories” and hatred need to be actively opposed.

If there is any comfort to be had, it is that this opposition is very much in the American tradition. Here, history provides strength and reassurance and this from a Founding Father revered by every true patriot.

In 1790, when the United States was newly formed, Moses Seixas, a Jewish resident of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote to President George Washington praising the new government’s attitudes toward religious freedom, in light of past European persecutions.

Washington wrote back and his answer clarified not just the government’s attitude but what would become the nation’s attitude toward all its citizens:

“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

This is the policy that’s now being put to the test both in American government and on American streets, both nationally and locally, in Southwest Florida and everywhere else.

Every true patriot, every good citizen, every American should heed Washington’s words: “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” and give the nation their “effectual support” by supporting democracy, tolerance and freedom with their votes, their actions and their words.

That’s what builds bridges between people—whether those bridges connect communities or cross rivers like the Rhine.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsing real education at the Collier and Lee county school boards—and rebuking anti-Semitism

Candidates for Collier County School Board speak at a forum at the Destiny Church in Naples, Fla. on May 21. (Photo: Author)

Aug. 10, 2022

In Southwest Florida school board elections are supposed to be non-partisan—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t divisive.

That has never been truer than this year. School board elections in Southwest Florida and around the country have become battlefields even if the candidates don’t have party affiliations after their names.

Two world views, two philosophies, two complete universes are in conflict. One is the product of a secular, scientific Enlightenment and the other is based on religion, dogma and doctrine.

What’s really at stake in these school board elections is which worldview will mold the next generation of Florida’s youth. Will they go into the future equipped with the intellectual skills and knowledge to succeed in a complex, diverse, technological world? Or will they be shaped by an emotionally comforting but academically deficient cocoon from which they never emerge?

It’s against this backdrop that Southwest Florida voters should carefully choose which candidates will guide the region’s education.

In both counties early in-person voting begins Saturday, Aug. 13 (the last day to request a mail-in ballot) and runs until Saturday, Aug. 20. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23. Mail-in ballots are already arriving. If candidates receive over 50 percent of the vote in the primary they will be elected without having to run again in the general election.

Collier County

In Collier County the choice is absolutely clear: all incumbents should be returned to office.

That means electing Jory Westberry in District 1, Jen Mitchell in District 3 and Roy Terry in District 5.

Jory Westberry (Photo: CCPS)

This is not even a contest: these three educators have experience, credentials and a proven commitment to the education and the well-being of Collier County’s students. Their past efforts earned the Collier County School District an “A” rating from the Florida Department of Education for the fifth year in a row.

Jen Mitchell (Photo: Author)

None of the challengers have anything close to their qualifications to sit on the school board.

No challenger has shown an interest in or familiarity with the nuts and bolts of school system management, budgeting and decisionmaking, which is really what keeps a school district functioning.

Roy Terry (Photo: CCPS)

There’s no point in belaboring this. If Collier County students are going to be competently educated, Westberry, Mitchell and Terry need to be re-elected.

Lee County

There are similar stakes in Lee County’s school board race, where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has reached down to support and fund his own favored candidates.

The candidates endorsed by the Lee County Democratic Party merit the support of Lee County voters.

They are:

  • District 1: Kathy Fanny
  • District 4: Debbie Jordan
  • District 5: Gwynetta Gittens
  • District 6: Tia Collin

On a disturbing note

One particular campaign incident merits special attention.

In the Collier County School Board race for the 5th District, candidate Tim Moshier’s campaign manager, Katiepaige Richards, posted an overtly anti-Semitic 7-second video on social media.

Katiepaige Richards, campaign manager for Tim Moshier, in her social media video.

With the text “j€w$ remixing the part where they’re not using p0rn0gr@phÿ as mind control” over the image, Richards mimes being a disc jockey scratching records while dancing. Her careful use of symbols in the text to avoid alerting community standards algorithms indicates that this was a very deliberate production and not something done casually.

Her reference is to a new anti-Semitic canard among the extreme right that, as Richards put it in a different tweet: “…Zionists use pornography as mind control for the population… for white people specifically… no one has yet to prove me wrong.” And in another post she stated that she’s “not a fan of zionists, degeneracy, vaccines or globalists.”

When asked about his campaign manager’s video at the opening of a new Republican Party headquarters, candidate Moshier told Naples Daily News reporter Rachel Heimann Mercader that “I don’t have a problem with it.”

Moshier has no educational credentials whatsoever. Before this he was just unqualified for a school board seat; his answer and indifference to bigotry make clear he’s unfit for any public office at all.

It’s just one more indication of the stakes and sensibilities in this year’s school board races—in Southwest Florida and across the country.

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!