Commentary: When it comes to acts of hate, silence is affirmation

The United Jewish Federation of Utah and its Partners Against Hate are no longer shocked, but are angry and disappointed that flagrant acts of misguided hatred continue in our public spaces and sports arenas.

Words and threats like those hurled August 26 at an African American athlete at Brigham Young University during an intercollegiate volleyball game are intended to intimidate individuals and their community. They succeed, however, in bringing shame and loss of respect to the institutions and those present who permit this to occur repeatedly.

We agree with Gov. Spencer Cox that the words and threats were disgusting. We share his sadness that others didn’t stop them. We welcome the belated response from BYU that acknowledged their failure to act quickly and their subsequent banning the offender from their athletic events.

We agree with The Tribune’s Gordon Monson that he could have been summarily ejected, especially if he refused to desist. We doubt this would help him understand the mistaken basis for his behavior and may even reinforce it.

We recognize the good intentions of the BYU athletic director, who acknowledged falling short on Friday and urged fans on Saturday to treat everybody with respect.

Institutional responses, though important, are rarely as effective and never as timely as the immediate response of peers and others close by. Their silence is affirmation. It signals acceptance and makes them and all of us who stand by in silence culpable as well.

As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Amos Guiora, law professor at the University of Utah, names this silence and inaction “The Crime of Complicity” in his book subtitled “Bystanders in the Holocaust.”

Hate crimes and incidents targeting all minorities are escalating to record high levels in the U.S. Many of us are harassed, threatened and endangered. All of us must now learn how to intercede and, if that’s not possible, alert responsible authorities to intervene. Peers are also best suited to say that such behavior is unacceptable and to help the offender understand why it is wrong.

The United Jewish Federation of Utah has invited leaders of targeted communities and government officials responsible for the safety and respect of all citizens to join us at The Eradicate Hate Global Summit conference in September. We intend to return better prepared, not just to guide responses to hateful acts and speech but to begin best practices to report and prevent them.

We know that offensive behavior and threats to minorities are especially common on our campuses. If a concerned leader from BYU or any of our other colleges and universities would like to join us we’d love to hear from them.

Since 1943, the United Jewish Federation of Utah has been committed to care for and build a vibrant Jewish community. We bring together Jews from different generations, backgrounds and levels of observance to celebrate our shared history and peoplehood. Together with our network of local agencies and synagogues, we are creating a community that is welcoming for all. For more information about United Jewish Federation of Utah, visit www.shalomutah.org.

Jay Jacobson, chair, United Jewish Federation of Utah Task Force on Antisemitism and its Partners against Hate; Alex Shapiro, executive director, United Jewish Federation of Utah; Ron Zamir, chair, United Jewish Federation of Utah Community Relations Committee; Luna Banuri, executive director, Utah Muslim Civic League; Jose Vicente Borjon Lopez Coterilla, Mexican consul for Utah; Jani Iwamoto, Utah state senator.