Growing up in the tiny mining town of Searchlight, Nev., I vividly remember when my uncles returned after fighting in World War II. I was too young to understand at first, but it didn’t take long for me to grasp the magnitude of the cause for which they were fighting. They risked their lives to stop the evil, murderous regime of Adolf Hitler and to stamp out the Nazi’s hateful and anti-Semitic ideology – and they won.
I’ve tried to follow my uncles’ example ever since. During my decades of public service, I traveled Nevada and the country – campaigning, meeting new people and fighting for the causes I believed. And while there were undoubtedly anti-Semitic sentiments and actions lingering throughout our nation, it was clear we were moving in the right direction. I cannot recall witnessing any overt anti-Semitic acts or incidents during my travels.
Sadly, now there is troubling movement in the wrong direction.
Anti-Semitic incidents have risen dramatically in recent years, plaguing communities across the United States, including Nevada. As reported in the latest statistics from the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents in the United States surged nearly 60 percent in 2017, marking the largest year-over-year increase on record. Another horrific milestone was reached in October 2018, when 11 people were murdered at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue during the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history.
This was followed six months to the day by a shooting death and injuries at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in California in April.
In Nevada we’ve recently seen a protestor at a Bernie Sanders presidential campaign rally near Las Vegas brandish a swastika sign and a dormitory hall at the University of Nevada, Reno defiled with anti-Semitic graffiti and life-threatening messages. That event was preceded by similar anti-Semitic hate crimes at UNR and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2017 and 2018.
Such widespread anti-Semitism in my nearly five decades of public life I have not seen. I have never been more alarmed and determined to oppose this scourge.
That’s why I decided to partner with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, last April to host two of the foremost experts on anti-Semitism in America for an important conversation and public event. I was grateful to be joined by award-winning author and historian Deborah Lipstadt and acclaimed journalist and author Jonathan Weisman to discuss this alarming rise in bigotry and how we can come together as a country to combat it.
We all need to give this issue the spotlight and focus it deserves. The message is simple: We need to come together as a country – all of us, despite our differences – to stand against hate.
This goes beyond politics. The fight against anti-Semitism is about right versus wrong. In a period of deep partisan divisions and differences, this is a cause that should unite us. It is too important to for it to devolve into the predictable game of partisan bickering. Like in World War II, we must come together with moral clarity and a determination to fight this with a unified voice.
This message needs to reach our classrooms, our dinner tables, our work places, our houses of worship and the halls of power and politics. We need to have difficult conversations and confront those who peddle this hateful rhetoric – even, and especially, when it’s espoused by friends and family. We can no longer look the other way. We need to recognize, acknowledge and address bigotry and make clear that we will not allow anti-Semitism to spread its poisonous roots.
The fight against anti-Semitism isn’t abstract for us now, like it was for me as a boy hearing my uncles’ war stories. It’s not just happening in far-flung battlefields. It’s happening all around us in our daily lives. And we all need to take a stand.
It’s unfortunate that we’ve reached this point, but – together – we can finally put an end to this evil ideology.
Harry Reid is a former United States senator from Nevada, serving from 1987 to 2017. He led the Senate’s Democratic Caucus from 2005 to 2017 and was the Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015.