Combating bigotry | Windows and Mirrors

Author and journalist Jonathan Weisman visited the Stroum Jewish Community Center to as part of the center’s “Words to the Wise” series.

In May 2016, Jonathan Weisman posted on his Twitter page a portion of a Washington Post column by Robert Kagan.

The piece was titled, “This is how fascism comes to America.” Posting news articles and columns was nothing new for Weisman, a journalist himself who works as a deputy Washington editor for the New York Times (the other Washington). But this time, he received a response in which his name was inside three parentheses: “(((Jonathan Weisman))).”

While he didn’t initially know what those parentheses meant, he quickly learned. Three parentheses are a method used by members of the alt-right to figure out which individuals have been marked for targeting. In other words, they work similarly to hashtags in that the punctuation marks sort online searches. But this sorting typically ends in harassment, online abuse and other sorts of cyberbullying — as Weisman experienced following that one tweet.

He received thousands of replies spewing anti-Semitic sentiments in response to that single post. Weisman grew up in a modestly Jewish household and said that while he identifies as Jewish, he’s not particularly observant. The online hate he received made him very aware of his background.

“It made me feel much more Jewish,” Weisman told a sold-out crowd on Jan. 17 at the Stroum Jewish Community Center (SJCC) on Mercer Island.

He was in town to discuss his book, “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the age of Trump.”

Pamela Lavitt, director of Arts + Ideas and Festivals for SJCC, said Weisman’s appearance at SJCC was part of their “Words to the Wise” series — author talks that focus on engaging and intriguing speakers, chefs and hot topics.

“We wanted to present this conversation because it is clearly in the zeitgeist but it is not an easy one to tackle when your mission is to inspire connections and celebrate Jewish life and culture,” Lavitt said. “We wanted an expert in this area to present a thoughtful, civil, thought-provoking conversation and KUOW quickly became a great partner to help us get there.”

At SJCC, Weisman was interviewed on stage by KUOW’s “All Things Considered” host Kim Malcolm and the two discussed what life has been like for Jewish people.

Despite the title, Weisman said his book is more about the rise of bigotry and intolerance in this country.

“Anti-Semitism is just one manifestation of it,” he said.

And it has manifested here in the Pacific Northwest. Lavitt said they are no strangers to subtle and overt anti-Semitism. Last year, there was a false bomb threat at SJCC that led to the entire building being evacuated.

Weisman said everyone has a target on their backs.

“No one is really safe,” he said.

When Weisman’s book was published in early 2018, he received push back from conservative Jews who he said emphasized bigotry and anti-Semitism coming from the left, not the alt-right.

Then on Oct. 27, 2018, the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh was targeted in a mass shooting where 11 people were killed and seven were injured. Weisman said prior to the shooting, his book may have been controversial but there was no sense of urgency.

“Pittsburgh changed that conversation,” he said.

Following the Tree of Life shooting, any second guessing people had about the alt-right was gone and people began to recognize the problem. And as a result, Weisman said people began asking what they could do.

He said when it comes to fighting against hate, we have to come together. This is a time for coalition building to combat bigotry.

“This is not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue,” Weisman said, adding that all parties should be against it.

That’s the dream, right?

One of the first steps to do this is to better understand each other. Weisman said when people experience anti-semitism, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia or any other “ism” or phobia, they either dismiss what other marginalized groups are going through or argue that their own problems are bigger.

Given my background, I am very familiar with what Asians and Asian Americans have experienced and know a little bit about other people of color. However, I am not too familiar with the Jewish experience outside of what I learned in school about World War II — which is to say, the basics of the Holocaust.

So when I attended last week’s event and learned a little more about the ways they have been targeted, it was, well, I wouldn’t say it was good to learn about other people’s hardships — but I knew it was important.

It’s important for all of us to know that for marginalized groups and communities the struggle is real.

Laura Bammer, a Maple Valley resident who attended the event at SJCC, also appreciated what Weisman had to say about sticking together to combat bigotry.

“You have to take it all seriously,” she said.

Bammer said she was interested in attending last week’s talk because the topic was focused on identity groups who have been targeted more frequently since the election of President Donald Trump. As a white woman, she said she only has one identity that falls under that umbrella. But Bammer, who is not Jewish but noted her children are, said she wants to understand more perspectives.

SJCC’s programs are focused on building understanding.

Lavitt said they invite people from the Jewish and Mercer Island communities as well as outside of those communities to get together to build awareness and to do it in the spirit of erudite and open dialogue in which everyone is welcome and can connect.

A video of Weisman’s interview with Malcolm will be available on the SJCC website, sjcc.org, in about a month.

More in Opinion

Bellevue College student Vanessa Lora-Garibay speaks on prejudice and discrimination during a rally on campus on Jan. 22. Samantha Pak/staff photo
We need to, but how do we talk about race? | Windows and Mirrors

Racism is still an issue in this country. How can we have constructive conversations to move forward and heal?

United Methodist Church: To split or not to split | Windows and Mirrors

Local clergy from Eastside United Methodist Churches weigh in on the church’s future regarding LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Honor those who went before | OPINION

These officials and many others served with distinction even on the occasions when you disagreed with them.

From left, Jenny Wang, Rose Fu and Nancy Irwin enjoy a conversation with each other during a Talk Time class at Aljoya Mercer Island. Samantha Pak/staff photo
Come for the conversation, stay for the friendships | Windows and Mirrors

Talk Time classes allow English language learners to practice their speaking and conversation skills.

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Despite ruling on Public Records Act, we need to keep a close eye on Olympia

Washington Supreme Court upholds that state legislators are subject to the Public Records Act.

Samantha Pak/staff photos
                                Above, Josh Gibson is in Bellevue College’s Neurodiversity Navigators program and it has helped him stay in school after five unsuccessful attempts. 
                                Below, Abby Leaver enrolled at Bellevue College after learning about the Neurodiversity Navigators program.
Helping neurodivergent students navigate higher education | Windows and Mirrors

The Neurodiversity Navigators program at Bellevue College offers various services to students who are on the autism spectrum.

When asked their opinion on contract talks, they were silent | OPINION

A 2017 law lets lawmakers offer negotiation topics. But a bipartisan panel didn’t do so this week.

Changing systems doesn’t happen overnight | Windows and Mirrors

It’s been a year since the Menchie’s incident and here is what the city of Kirkland has been working on since then.

Discerning fact from opinion | Column

It can be more difficult than people first think, according to the Pew Research Center.

Our newspapers have many reasons to be thankful | EDITORIAL

Changes have had positive impacts, readers offering support.

Traffic passes over the 90-year old Magnolia bridge, aging and in need of replacement, Wednesday in Seattle. State and local governments could end up scrambling to pay for road paving and other transportation projects as a Washington state measure that would cut car tabs to $30 was passing in early returns Tuesday. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Post-election, new battles loom over Eyman’s car-tab measure

Lawmakers will wrangle over cuts in transportation spending as lawyers tangle on the measure’s legality.

From a place of respect | Windows and Mirrors

What does it mean to share your culture with others?