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Meeting with Utah Rabbi Samuel Spector on Friday afternoon proved an emotional experience for some board members of the Lehi-based technology company Entrata.
Several were crying, Spector said, as they apologized deeply for antisemitic comments recently made by Entrata co-founder and former board member Dave Bateman.
They also asked their visitor to talk about the history of antisemitism in Utah and told him they’d like to make a “transformational gift” to Salt Lake City’s Congregation Kol Ami, where Spector serves as rabbi.
“That was one of the most touching meetings I’ve ever had in my life,” Spector said Friday. “I cannot say enough nice things about this organization.”
Bateman stepped down Tuesday from Entrata after sending an antisemitic email to Utah political leaders calling the COVID-19 vaccine a plot to “euthanize the American people” and blaming the effort on “the Jews.”
Bateman’s email, sent early Monday from his entrata.com account, cited an unhinged conspiracy theory that says the vaccines are an effort, pushed by global “elites,” including Bill Gates and George Soros, to depopulate the planet.
Bateman’s email included an antisemitic screed, blaming “the Jews” for the nefarious scheme, which involves secretly replacing the Catholic pope with a member of the Jewish faith. He writes that happened in 2013 with the elevation of Pope Francis.
There is no proof to back any of Bateman’s claims. The conspiracy theory has been floating around in several different iterations since September 2020.
Spector praised Entrata’s swift action in removing all ties with Bateman and said board members told him Friday that the former executive had agreed to sell all of his shares in the company.
A public relations representative for Entrata said in a statement that the executive team found Spector’s visit to be “extremely beneficial” and was glad he found it valuable as well.
Regarding Bateman’s shares, he noted a Tweet sent Friday from Entrata CEO Adam Edmunds in which he wrote that the company has informed Dave Bateman he must promptly divest his equity holdings and that Bateman has agreed to “cooperate with that process.”
Spector called Entrata’s board members “the most genuine people I’ve ever met.” He was sorry to hear that some of their kids are now being picked on at school, even though Entrata, the rabbi added, “did everything right.”
He also said Entrata set a great example by reaching out to him and learning more about Judaism, adding that the board has asked him to return and do a workshop on antisemitism for the entire company.
“That’s what we need to do with any form of bigotry,” he said. “Say ‘that’s wrong, and we don’t want to be associated with that.’ … I’m really proud of Entrata for doing that.”
‘Being Jewish anywhere is scary’
Spector said his initial reaction to Bateman’s email was the thought that, unfortunately, these types of comments are not uncommon.
Sometimes the prejudice extends beyond words. Last spring a swastika was scratched on the door of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah’s Sugar House synagogue. In 2018, Congregation Kol Ami increased security measures in response to several antisemitic incidents. And, in 2017, a bomb threat forced the evacuation of Salt Lake City’s I.J. and Jeanné Wagner Jewish Community Center.
Even so, Spector doesn’t believe antisemitism is necessarily more prevelant in Utah, and he feels as safe here as a Jewish person can ever feel.
“Being Jewish anywhere is scary. … There’s always a chance of there being some sort of antisemitic attack,” Spector said. “[But], as Jewish people, our most important day of the year is Yom Kippur, which focuses on forgiveness. … Most people in the world are our friends.”
In addition to the recent support from Entrata, he said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are all “incredibly fine” people who oppose religious bigotry.
The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City spoke out against Bateman’s email, urging its members “who hear conspiracy theories suggesting our Jewish brothers and sisters have somehow infiltrated our church or world” to “immediately block any sources that promote such nonsense.”
For anyone who believes Bateman’s unfounded claims that the COVID-19 vaccine is a plot to kill Americans, Spector pointed out that everyone at Congregation Kol Ami is required to be vaccinated to attend services.
“This is not a conspiracy by Jews to infect non-Jews,” he said. “We are getting the vaccine because we recognize that it saves lives.”
Where these conspiracy theories come from
Religious scholar Matthew Bowman said the practice of putting Jews at the center of conspiracy theories dates back a millennia or more.
Bowman, head of Mormon studies at Southern California’s Claremont Graduate University, is finishing a book about the first widely publicized case of alien abduction in the U.S. His research for the project led him to teach a class on conspiracy theories.
Although Bateman’s claims are outrageous, Bowman said, he’s actually repeating some “very typical theories,” particularly those perpetuated by English conspiracy theorist David Icke.
“They’re not news,” he said, “to anybody who has been paying attention to conspiracy theory for the last few decades.”
Blaming conspiracies on Jewish people, Bowman said, goes back to anger carried by many early Christians who believed Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.
This attitude carried into medieval Europe, where Jews were spurned and distrusted by Christians, Bowman said. There were periods in both England and Spain, he added, in which Jews were required to convert to Christianity or leave the country.
They also had to contend with the idea of blood libel: the false belief that Jewish people sacrifice Christian babies.
With the Catholic Church forbidding its members from charging interest on loans, the stereotype of Jewish people as greedy moneylenders emerged.
Bowman said conspiracy theories about Jewish people carried into the modern era when, at the turn of the 20th century, a Russian army officer forged a document that purported to be the minutes of a meeting of international Jewish leaders in which they plotted to take over the world.
This document, titled “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” was created just before communists took over the country, Bowman said. Karl Marx was Jewish, and Russian officials wanted to rally the people against him.
The document, however, took off worldwide and became in many ways “the founding text of modern conspiracy theory,” Bowman said. “It links together these modern anxieties about big institutions controlling our lives to this really old story of antisemitism.”
The idea of a secretive band infiltrating institutions — whether Jews or the illuminati or the “deep state” — remains somewhat popular among contemporary conspiracy theorists. But anyone who studies conspiracy theories, Bowman said, can quickly spot that they’re just the same ideas repackaged again and again.
Having that knowledge, he said, “adds to our ability to dismiss it when you recognize the conspiracy cliche behind it [and] makes it all the more easy to not take [it] seriously.”