August 30, 2022

Driving Out Darkness: Orange County Summit on Antisemitism and Hate

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to UCI. 

We are delighted and honored to support this extraordinary gathering in service to our community and indeed to our nation as a whole. 

The great motto of the University of California is Fiat Lux – Let There Be Light – and we are gathered to bring the light that will “drive out the darkness” – the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of intolerance.

Almost exactly five years ago, we witnessed a crowd of people marching through Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

Some might have hoped that the Unite the Right Rally would be an aberration highlighting the views of fringe extremists.  If only.  Instead, it was a harbinger, and the “Blood and Soil” radicals have, in anything, been emboldened, and in no small measure, welcomed into the mainstream of politics, both in the United States and abroad.

In this past primary election season, there were candidates for public office who openly proclaimed their hatred for Jews.  The Republican nominee for Arizona governor recently endorsed an Oklahoma legislative candidate who has said “the Jews” are evidence that “evil exists.” Kim Crockett, the Republican nominee for secretary of state in Minnesota, described George Soros as a puppet-master of her Jewish opponent.

And the problems don’t just come from the right. We have also seen attacks from the far left, not just in Jeremy Corbyn’s British Labor Party, but among others who claim that Jews should be perceived as white, privileged, powerful, and oppressive rather than as persistent victims of one of the oldest, if not the oldest, hatred.

It is no surprise that the Anti-Defamation League found that antisemitic incidents in the U.S. hit a record high in 2021 – nearly triple the number of incidents compared to 2015.  Vandalism is on the rise.  Harassment is on the rise.  Assaults against Jews increased 167 percent.  Jews being beaten in broad daylight in the middle of Times Square or Los Angeles or the Las Vegas Strip.

We at UCI are not insulated from these issues. We never have been. During UC Irvine’s planning stages, UC President Clark Kerr forced an end to restrictive real estate covenants in the area.

Many of you may recall how 15 years ago, in 2007, UC Irvine was in the news because of hate speech and hateful incidents that profoundly affected all of us, but especially our Jewish students, colleagues, and friends and neighbors.

Since then, we – and by that I mean faculty, staff, and students together – have worked very hard to speak explicitly about the scourge of antisemitism and to ensure that our Jewish students feel that UCI is a place where they are welcome and where they can thrive.  

As one example: After the Regents of the University of California denounced both antisemitism and antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism, we were the first UC campus to systematically assess how best to implement the Regents’ statement, and the resulting “Higher Ground” report provided over 19 separate recommendations to combat antisemitism, ensure campus accountability, promote education and training, and commit to responsive engagement.

Among our activities were a series of events on antisemitism, including on the topic of antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism featuring New York Times columnist Bret Stephens – and I know a good number of you attended that important community event.

I’m not saying things are perfect – as I said, we are not insulated from our larger world.  But as we are doing today, we can all stand together and address these issues with a clear voice.

Most recently, we have expanded our initiatives to support our work in Jewish Studies. Through the efforts of our Center for Jewish Studies and its director, Professor Matthias Lehmann, we are working to establish a unique new endowed chair dedicated to the study of antisemitism, and a second chair in Israel Studies. 

Additionally, we are forging new partnership relations with the School of Jewish Studies at Tel Aviv University and partnering with regional K-12 schools to provide training and curricular material to teachers.

You may have seen the exciting announcement that Drs. Susan and Henry Samueli, good friends to many in this room, have generously supported our initiatives with a $4 million match for any additional giving toward UCI’s Jewish Studies goals.  We are incredibly grateful for their partnership, and we are eager to enhance our partnerships with all of you and with everyone in the region who cares deeply about these issues.

In reporting on the unprecedented rise of antisemitism, the ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt has said that this isn’t really a Jewish problem; it’s an American problem.  It’s a Europe problem. And history has shown time and time again that the scapegoating and targeting of Jews is just a canary in the coal mine for much broader threats and dangers, especially against efforts to create truly inclusive democracies.

And so it is an act of great patriotism to gather, acknowledge the issue, engage in dialogue, educate ourselves, create new partnerships, develop strategies, and leverage our collective resources. This is a summit, and so – let’s reach new heights of insight and effective action.

I thank all of you for being here.  I thank all our great partners at the Jewish Federation of Orange County and Rose Project, and the ADL, and UCI’s own Center for Jewish Studies, Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’a lot, and every educational, civic, political, and religious institution in our region. I also thank all our wonderful speakers and facilitators.

Yehi ohr ... Fiat Lux ... Let There Be Light.