A Failure to Speak Up----and Its Consequences


The month since Trump’s inauguration has been fascinating. One can watch “leaders” of the Jewish community engage in cost-benefit analyses to determine whether they should embrace, ignore or condemn Donald Trump as he bungles his way forward.

On the national scene, it appears that the ranks of the courageous have been led by the Anti-Defamation League’s (my former employer) Jonathan Greenblatt. He has shown no patience for the insensitive acts, attitudes, and language of the Trump folks regarding Muslims, African Americans and Jews. He has calculated that being honest with his constituents outweighs having briefings by machers in the administration or headline speakers at fundraising dinners.

On the other hand, there are the Jewish organizations who have managed to rationalize Trump’s domestic malfeasance and extremism with the apparent hope that they will retain access and influence with the crafters of America’s Middle East policy. They have sold out their domestic principles in the hope that they will be able to assist Prime Minister Netanyahu.

As columnist Bret Stephens noted in Time Magazine, about his conservative colleagues who sidle up to Trump and his folks,

This is supposed to be the road of pragmatism, of turning lemons into lemonade. I would counter that it’s the road of ignominy, of hitching a ride with a drunk driver.

Among the hitch hikers are Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The Center is ostensibly concerned with civil rights and “tolerance” but it can’t admit the Trump connection to extremism and bigotry which endangers both civil rights and tolerance.

When the White House proclamation on Holocaust Remembrance Day failed to mention Jews, Rabbi Hier facilely excused the egregious omission as a “rookie mistake.”

When issues arose about Trump’s repeated failure to condemn anti-Semitism, Hier was uncharacteristically mild, “he’s made a couple of mistakes…he should have spoken up sooner.”

Those of us familiar with the Wiesenthal Center know that vigorously opining on anything that even hints at anti-Semitism is what the Center does best. They have no compunction about claiming that anti-Semitism is alive and well even without evidence (see my op/ed here).

This week I authored an op/ed in the Los Angeles Times commenting that Trump’s “too little, too late” condemnation of anti-Semitism doesn’t begin to deal his “world view and conduct [which] are the swamp from which bigotry and hate emerge.” Afterwards, I was interviewed by KNX Radio.

The broadcast piece had Rabbi Hier as the counterpoint opining that “it’s ridiculous to postulate the notion that Trump is an anti-Semite.” After all “he loves his daughter who is a convert to Judaism and his son-in-law who is an Orthodox Jew….” Some of Trump’s best friends……

Of course, that was a feint. Neither my Times piece nor responsible critics have alleged that Trump personally is “anti-Semitic;” who knows other than his psychiatrist and his confessor. His actions and attitudes are what matter, not his subconscious.

By his actions and words he has reflected an indisputable hostility towards Muslims, Latinos, immigrants, and, as of this week, segments of the LGBT community. And that same hostility is a threat to Jews and the republic. The noted historian of anti-Semitism, James Carroll, wrote in The New Yorker this week about Trump and the link between bigotries, “In fact, our temperamental President is bigotry’s cliché. Even the cult of white supremacy on which his movement depends has its origins, too, in the positive-negative structure of the Western imagination, a structure erected in the first place to keep Jews in their place.”

Trump’s greatest danger lies not in his endorsing American pogroms or venal hate, but in his tolerating, cleansing and advancing those who do.

He has demonstrated a disturbing inability, or unwillingness, to distinguish between acceptable, rational political discourse and extremism. While he unhesitatingly attacks the media as “the enemy of the American people” he has no compunction about praising, normalizing, sanitizing, and hiring bigots and extremists—-in his view THEY are NOT the enemy of the people.

One of his buddies is an internet troll who is manifestly unhinged, Alex Jones. He is a vile extremist who proudly proclaims that he speaks on the phone to Trump and hopes to soon have White House press credentials. He insists, as The New Yorker reported, “that national tragedies such as the September 11th terror attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Sandy Hook elementary-school shooting, and the Boston Marathon bombing were all inside jobs, “false flag” ops secretly perpetrated by the government to increase its tyrannical power (and, in some cases, seize guns). Jones believes that no one was actually hurt at Sandy Hook-those were actors-and that the Apollo 11 moon-landing footage was faked. [Emphasis added]

His screwiness, as one might expect, spills over into anti-Semitism,

Cause let me tell you, the Emanuels [Rahm, Ari, et al.] are mafia. And you know I was thinking, they’re always trying to claim that if I talk about world government and corruption I’m anti-Semitic, …..it’s not that Jews are bad, it’s just they are the head of the Jewish mafia in the United States. They run Uber, they run the health care, they’re going to scam you, they’re going to hurt you.…..I mean it’s like, if being against Jews that are weirdo Nazi collaborators and gangsters makes me anti-Semitic then fine…” [Emphasis added]

Any politician with an ounce of sophistication, let alone the president of the United States, would steer clear of anyone with Jones’ record and reputation. But Trump has appeared on Jones’ radio program [in 2015] and commented that, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.” More disturbingly, as president, Trump continues to talk to Jones; he doesn’t find Jones’ abhorrent views toxic.

Trump also has on his staff as a deputy assistant, Sebastian Gorka, who, when he lived in Hungary (from 2002-2007), had “close ties to Hungarian far right circles, and in the past has chosen to work with openly racist and anti-Semitic groups and public figures.” He proudly wore to an inaugural ball the lapel pin of the Nazi collaborationist regime that ruled Hungary during the Holocaust. He has termed recent criticism of the White House omission of Jews from their Holocaust remembrance declaration “asinine.”

The president is clearly unable, or unwilling, to distinguish between normal political actors and flame throwing bigots and extremists who fertilize the agar of hate. He has hired extremists, consorts with crazies, and, in the process, legitimizes bigotry and radicals.

Rabbi Hier notwithstanding, whether Trump’s daughter or son-in-law are Orthodox Jews, devout Presbyterians or atheists doesn’t alter the fact that Trump doesn’t parse haters and extremists from mainstream political actors and our common discourse. That is a threat to our democracy. That distinction is what makes American democracy so durable, the extremists remain isolated and ostracized on the fringes. To the extent that they are legitimized, they are poisoning our politics.

Rabbi Hier’s museum documents the rise of Nazism in Germany, he ought to know that those who consort with bigots and extremists become their facilitators and virtually indistinguishable from them.

Trump's Too Little, Too Late Response to Anti-Semitism


By David A. Lehrer    

The headlines blared out “Trump Speaks Out Against Anti-Semitism” as President Trump condemned anti-Semitism after touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture Tuesday. 

This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms. The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.

Undoubtedly, some Jewish and civil rights organizations will praise Trump for his long-awaited statement. The fact that “it was like pulling teeth” [as The Washington Post noted] to “finally” elicit a condemnation that should be about the easiest thing a politician has to do, makes it nearly meaningless.

The issue is not whether Trump is an anti-Semite or is capable of mouthing a boilerplate rejection of hate--that is simply too low a bar. It should be the minimum expected of a leader in 21st century America. Who but vulgar extremists and bigots would publicly take him to task for denouncing anti-Semitism?

The real issue with Trump is that his world view and his conduct are the swamp from which bigotry and hate emerge.

The president has scurrilously attacked the media. He relies on baseless internet conspiracy theorists (e.g. Breitbart and Alex Jones) for his most bizarre assertions. He shamelessly cites apocryphal dangers (“rising crime rates” domestically, “rapist” immigrants here and abroad, Muslim demonstrators on 9/11).

Trump continually stereotypes individuals (the African American reporter who “must” know the Congressional Black Caucus members; the Orthodox Jewish reporter who was assumed to be asking a hostile question last week). He betrays a deep lack of intellectual rigor (“well that’s what they told me” in responding to his erroneous claim of a “historic” electoral college victory). He trumpets themes that invoke historic bigotries (“America First”) and omits a mention of Jews from his Holocaust Remembrance Day declaration. In all this, he gives aid and comfort to haters and wackos. 

None of this can be ameliorated by his seemingly sudden epiphany that anti-Semitism is “painful” and “sad.” His chief strategist and senior counselor, Steven K. Bannon, the former Breitbart News head, made a career out of similar distortions and lies. If Bannon’s self-proclaimed goal remains “to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today's establishment,” he’s more than willing to have Trump briefly bow in the direction of civility and then go on his merry way to undermine the mores that have become the hallmark of American presidents over recent decades--tolerance, care in use of language and respectful and accurate discourse.

We have truly reached a nadir of lowered expectations if Trump’s trite condemnation of anti-Semitism is allowed to sanitize his tawdry record of employing the tools and methodology of haters--that is what would be “horrible and painful.”    

Leaking, Whistleblowing and the Truth---an expert's gude



Mark Felt may be the most famous leaker in modern U.S. history.

Better known as “Deep Throat,” the FBI’s second in command secretly met with then-little-known Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and gave insider guidance to the scandal that threw Richard Nixon from power.

History has deemed Felt a great whistleblower for helping expose dirty tricks, secret surveillance and cover-ups that let an elected president operate above the law and threatened the country’s democratic institutions.

Yet as the scandal blossomed, White House associates painted the shadowy source as a disloyal “leaker” who, rather than support the president’s agenda, undermined Nixon for personal reasons. Sound familiar?

A similar debate is swirling around Donald Trump’s White House, amid an expanding probe into whether his campaign worked with the Russians to influence the presidential election. Much of what is known publicly has come from so-called leaks – information provided surreptitiously, in some cases from within Trump’s own camp.

Are these leakers heroes or villains? In my view, as an editor who has spent years wrestling with this issue, it’s a distinction without a difference.

Everyone who provides information to the press has a motive. The “whistleblowers” look to expose wrongdoing in hopes of stopping it. The “leakers” may have more selfish motives – jealousy, revenge, taking down a competitor. Either way, leaks have illuminated major problems in government and business – many of which would never come to light.

Journalists, unlike the leakers, have a duty to verify the information before publishing. They also have to determine if it’s in context, if it’s important for public understanding and if it will endanger lives.

The best news outlets have acted responsibly. In 2005, for example, The New York Times delayed publishing revelations that President George W. Bush authorized the National Security Agency to conduct domestic eavesdropping. The Bush administration pleaded that release of the information would jeopardize investigations and alert terrorists who were under scrutiny.

When the article ran after a year’s delay, The Times omitted details that Bush officials claimed could aid terrorists. Such care is challenged in the new media landscape.

Today, journalism rules are being rewritten amid intense competition for news breaks and the rise of news sites that eschew media’s traditional role as a “gatekeeper.” BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith defended the publication of the full text of a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent on Trump, saying modern journalists must sometimes publish “unverified information in a transparent way.” The decision was roundly criticized.

During the recent congressional hearings into the Trump campaign’s Russia connections, Democrats have generally praised the “whistleblowers” and probed the implications of the information they revealed. Trump has hurled personal insults, and Republicans, anxious to provide cover for their president, have largely downplayed the substance of the leaks to call for action against “leakers.”

Such hypocrisy is not exclusive to the GOP: Democrats reacted to the leaked emails from Hillary Clinton’s brain-trust by excoriating the leakers. Meanwhile, Republicans reveled and Trump asked the presumed Russian leakers to bring it on.

As hearings resume and leaks undoubtedly accelerate, an informed electorate must understand the cynical game that’s being played. Feel free to criticize the messenger. But pause and think before dismissing the message.


Concern, Not Panic


There has been an epidemic of anti-Semitic threats and acts of vandalism directed at Jewish institutions in the United States over the past several weeks. The Anti-Defamation League has reported more than 90 incidents this year.

The level of concern and the number of incidents even led to President Trump opening his speech to the joint session of the Congress last night with a robust condemnation of what has transpired, “we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.”

His remarks may help quell some of the anxiety in the Jewish community which was exacerbated by his recent suggestion that the incidents may have been “false flag” operations designed to discredit him.

Obviously, simply the fact that Jewish cemeteries and centers are the targets of threats and vandalism is, in itself, troubling. What is not clear is whether they reflect an increase in anti-Semitic sentiment in the body politic or isolated acts of some of society’s losers.

It is instructive to put the headline-making events in some historical context.

Historically, inflammatory incidents such as these (toppling tombstones) which receive intense media attention tend to promote copycat incidents which take on a life of their own—often unrelated to an underlying sentiment of anti-Semitism that motivated the precipitating incident.

In 1959-60 an epidemic of anti-Semitic garnered world-wide attention, the ADL published a study, Swastika 1960 .”On December 24, 1959, a swastika was painted on a synagogue in Cologne, Germany. On December 26, the first wave of similar incidents occurred in the United States. For the next nine weeks, swastikas were smeared on Jewish temples, on Jewish community centers, on Jewish homes, on churches, on sidewalks, on college campuses, on automobiles….By the time the epidemic had spent itself, some 643 incidents had occurred.”

Among the study’s conclusions was, “It cannot be disputed that publicity given to the German desecrations and subsequent outbreaks played a major role in setting off further incidents. The offenders, as we saw earlier, often reported that they got the idea from newspapers, from television, and other mass media. It is probable that as early incidents mounted, publicity given to them precipitated other incidents as offenders of otherwise low predisposition were stimulated to participate….”

It is a striking parallel to today, except that today the threshold for a troubled actor to “participate” is so much lower. Anyone can email, call or otherwise threaten and frighten individuals around the globe with a few key strokes or a muffled voice distorter. Domestically, it hardly takes a committed bigot to enter an old cemetery and topple gravestones and then see the results of his handiwork on the 11 o’clock news.

When I advised victims of vandalism in my years at ADL, I invariably suggested that publicity be avoided unless there was already a series of bad acts—inspiring other thugs was to be avoided at all costs.  I knew from experience that press attention on an act of hate, especially if it provoked a public display of emotional injury by the victim, generated copy cats.

There are reasons for concern because of today’s incidents—but not for panic. There are no indications of a wave of anti-Semitism in the US today.

In fact, in the midst of the threats, desecrations and presidential mixed messages there was an under-reported study by the Pew Center two weeks ago which should offer some solace.

Pew published its periodic “religious feeling thermometer” to determine how religious groups feel about each other in the US. Last month’s survey had only better news; the “warmth” meter for Jews and Catholics (historic subjects of American bigotry) is high—even higher than in 2014 when the survey was last done,

Americans express warm feelings toward Jews, with half of U.S. adults rating them at 67 degrees or higher on the 0-to-100 scale…..These warm ratings are not significantly affected by the ratings of Jews themselves, because Jews make up just 2% of the U.S. adult population.

Similarly, about half of U.S. adults (49%) rate Catholics at 67 degrees or higher. But this does include a substantial share of respondents who are themselves Catholic, as Catholics make up roughly one-fifth of the adult population in the U.S. Looking only at non-Catholic respondents, 43% rate Catholics at 67 or higher on the thermometer and 44% place them in the middle range.

The Pew results are worth remembering as we watch the news and witness events that seem to run counter to what the data show. Bad acts and occasional reversals can and will happen, even if the flow of history is favorable. The media will tire of reporting the incidents and they will diminish as the troublemakers get less pay off for their anti-social conduct. The thugs and vandals are not today’s most serious problem.

What is Not Said Can be Crucial


The talk shows and cable news networks are busy conjecturing as to whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Sergey Kislak, the Russian ambassador to the US, to impact last year’s election. Did Attorney General Sessions, General Michael Flynn or Jared Kushner discuss email leaks, “fake news” and other sordid acts with the ambassador and his colleagues?

Unfortunately, that speculation ignores an even more fundamental concern—what clearly wasn’t discussed—the moral, political and diplomatic outrage of the Kremlin impacting our democratic, electoral process.

This morning while driving to work I listened to Andrea Mitchell Reports on MSNBC. Mitchell is the long-time NBC journalist who serves as their chief foreign correspondent (she also happens to be the wife of Alan Greenspan). She is a sane and sober adult in a sea filled with lots of screamers and yellers.

Among her interviews today was Andrei Kozyrov, the former foreign minister of the Russian Federation (1990-1996). A seasoned Russian diplomat who is no fan of Vladimir Putin (he made that clear) and is now a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. Parenthetically, he hired both Sergey Kislyak (the Russian ambassador to the United States who is at the center of the recent Trump-Russia controversy) and Russia’s current foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

In a frank and honest discussion of the controversy swirling around Attorney General Sessions, General Flynn and Jared Kushner, Kozyrov helped clarify why our focus on a single issue of the scandal, possible collusion, has been misguided.

What was really at stake in these encounters, as Kozyrov put it, wasn’t just the Trump campaign’s possible complicity in election tampering, but equally troubling, the impression that the Trumpites left with the Kremlin diplomat that “no one seems to be bothered by our actions.”

Kozyrov observed that Ambassador Kislyak couldn’t but come away from those meetings sensing that Trump campaign leaders really weren’t troubled by what he and his buddies had done; after all, no one said a peep about it. The former foreign minister concluded that the Trumpites’ silence would have been the lead in the diplomat’s cables to Moscow—“we can continue to meddle in the American elections, no one seems to care!”

Sessions, Kushner, and Flynn (who were adamant in stressing that they didn’t raise the issue of election involvement by the Russians) insured, by their silence, that the Kremlin would conclude that their tampering was cost free.

Kozyrov—remember, he’s the former Russian foreign minister—opined that the American “leaders” should have begun their discussions with Kislyak by denouncing the election meddling and telling him to make sure that the Kremlin stopped what it was doing immediately. By their timidity, they acquiesced to, and encouraged, what had been taking place.

Perjury and Logan Act violations are disqualifiers for high public office, but cowardice should be as well.  Our expectations for what public service demands should be higher than avoiding “legal jeopardy;” we should also expect that our “leaders” do what is moral, appropriate, and necessary—- especially when it comes to fundamental issues of democratic values and processes. Unfortunately, Flynn, Sessions and Kushner would be found wanting (they are manifestly missing a moral compass).

It’s ironic that a former Kremlin diplomat should have to remind us of what was, and is, at stake.

The interview is worth watching, it should be here shortly, http://www.msnbc.com/andrea-mitchell .

"Truth is anything you can get away with"


This week’s Jewish Journal contains an op/ed by Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host with a periodic column in this paper. He holds up the conservative side of the Journal’s political diversity. He can be generally counted on to take jabs at liberal positions and their advocates.

But his recent column is neither a defense of conservative ideology or policy positions, but rather it is a transparently specious defense of Donald Trump pursued by knocking down straw men that he blames on “leftists…and their poisoning of Jewish life.”

His claim is that there is no “wave of Trump-induced anti-Semitism or racism” related to the president, his rhetoric or his campaign. It’s virtually all the hype of “left wing hysteria…because they hate Donald Trump so much, they want to believe it.”

As evidence, he cites eight incidents where threats, graffiti or other bigoted acts were alleged to have occurred that turned out to be phony. He had to reach back to November to try and make his point.

According to Prager a “serious number” (whatever that means) of anti-Semitic acts “are being perpetrated by leftists” and “there are so many examples of hoaxes perpetrated by Black, Muslim and white leftists that they could fill this issue of the Jewish Journal.”

Prager might want to do a bit more homework.

The Anti-Defamation League, which systematically monitors and catalogues anti-Semitic and racist incidents, just issued a report which documents white supremacists’ “unprecedented outreach effort to attract and recruit students on American college campuses.” There have been over one hundred incidents of white supremacist actions on campus since the school year began with more than 61% of the incidents occurring since January.

The ADL, which is very careful about ascribing causality for anti-Semitic incidents, made clear what it thought, “these hate groups feel emboldened by the current political climate….White supremacists, emboldened by the rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign, are stepping out of the shadows and into the mainstream….In January, Jared Taylor [a longtime white supremacist] wrote, ‘It is widely understood that the election of Donald Trump is a sign of rising white consciousness….Now is the time to press our advantage in every way possible.’

Prager will undoubtedly dismiss the ADL’s conclusions as “left wing hysteria…they hate Donald Trump so much, they want to believe it….leftism has poisoned Jewish life.”

Indeed, there are Chicken Littles in the Jewish community who in the past have been too quick to claim anti-Semitism (I have written extensively about that reality for decades both in this paper and elsewhere). But that’s too transparent a diversion to propel forward Prager’s effort to sanitize Trump—he has to ignore over a year and a half of unprecedented incivility and unvarnished bigotry to focus on a few incidents as dispositive.

If one is truly concerned about anti-Semitism (as Prager purports to be) he ought to be troubled by a leader like Trump who undermines the mores of a society that has kept Jews and other minorities safe for over two centuries. Whether Trump condones anti-Semitism in its vulgar forms is an irrelevancy; he promotes and furthers its handmaidens.

In fact, among the most vocal critics of Trump have been principled conservatives who rightly perceive his danger. Most noteworthy among them is Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Wall Street Journal who has made clear that Trump’s modus operandi is lying, “truth is whatever you can get away with.” He warned of Trump’s “assaults on what was once quaintly known as ‘human decency’” in his speech at the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA last month.

And powerfully on point, Stephens has a special message for those who (like Prager) choose to ignore the threat that Trump poses to our society; the class of pundits who are the “TrumpXplainers”, they rationalize what Trump “meant to say” despite his words being “logically nonsensical.”

As Stephens has observed, “the most painful aspect of this for me has been to watch people I previously considered thoughtful and principled conservatives give themselves over to a species of illiberal politics from which I once thought they were immune. We each have our obligations to see what’s in front of one’s nose, whether we’re reporters, columnists, or anything else. This is the essence of intellectual integrity.”

What is in front of our nose is a president who has the likes of a Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka in the Oval Office—individuals with unambiguous ties to extremists and bigots—one who was hesitant to denounce anti-Semitism, who brazenly invokes the discredited America First chant as a call to action, who shamelessly targets a religious minority [Muslims], who has betrayed a profound lack of empathy and understanding for the Black community, who has stereotyped and demeaned Latinos and insults our intelligence with his absurd and incendiary tweets.

Prager’s hostility to liberals doesn’t justify his collaboration with “illiberal politics” and his abandonment of “intellectual integrity.”

Perhaps the admonition of a fellow conservative like Bret Stephens will move him to think again about siding with Trump. That course, as Stephens has written, is “the road of ignominy, of hitching a ride with a drunk driver.”

It’s time to sober up!

The Positive News Ignored Amidst the Dreary

By Virgil Roberts* and David A. Lehrer


Every day brings troubling headlines which justify concern and angst; from the White House to Syria to Russia, the world seems to be upended and the bad news seems to spawn more bad news.

It was in keeping with the glum times that last month’s twenty-fifth anniversary of the Los Angeles riots reminded us of the local racial and ethnic divides—from socio-economic to law enforcement strategies to educational opportunities—that plagued the city in 1992 (nearly three decades after the Watts Riots of 1965) that resonate until today.

In analyzing the media coverage of the anniversary it is clear to us that much of it focused on individual recollections of those horrid days and the issues surrounding the painfully slow economic re-development of South LA. There was relatively little coverage of the one quantitative study of which we are aware that measures today’s attitudes regarding race relations and tolerance and compares them to attitudes in the recent past.

Loyola Marymount University’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles published its Forecast LA study prior to the anniversary and it provided more insight into what is transpiring in South LA today than anecdotal recollections, however compelling the tales are.

The LMU study was sparingly cited and almost exclusively for the revelation that “more LA residents believe new riots likely…” That headline and conclusion (in both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times) were based on the finding that “nearly 6 in 10 Angelinos think another riot is likely in the next five years.” That datum is the first time in over two decades that the fear of a repeat riot has increased, clearly not good news, but also not the whole story.

Invariably, pollsters on issues relating to race and inter-group relations ask respondents their assessment of race relations “nationally” or “what relations will be like in five years”—-opinions that respondents can only guess at based on media reports and conjecture, not their own lived experiences. Their musings can be newsworthy, but isn’t what they know about directly more relevant?

What virtually none of the media explored that was in the Forecast LA study was what the residents of Los Angeles are thinking and feeling now, not what they project into the future; the data are surprisingly positive.

Seventy six percent of Angelenos say that “racial groups in Los Angeles are getting along well.” That compares with 37% making that assertion in 1997 (five years after the riots), 48% in 2007, and 72% in 2012. Angelenos have equaled the most positive assessment of race relations than at any point in the last 25 years.

In terms of particular groups in LA, African Americans think we are getting along “well or somewhat well” at 73%, Asians at 79%, Latinos at 72% and whites at 81%.

Inter-group relations is a complex phenomenon and isn’t amenable to a single question or response, but clearly, most Angelenos think we are getting along well.

What makes that finding more startling than in other circumstances is that it comes after a bruising presidential election campaign when race and ethnicity played a significant role in both the campaign rhetoric and its media coverage.

Trump overtly disparaged the Latino community by labeling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, and described a judge of Mexican heritage as having a conflict of interest solely because of his ethnic roots. He decried Mexican “hordes” flooding across the border bringing chaos in their wake.

He maligned an entire religion by pledging to bar all Muslim immigrants.

He described Blacks as having a “miserable life” and told the community that its neighborhoods are “war zones” where people struggle to get by on food stamps and see nothing but failure around them.

He went lighter on the Jews, but did say he “likes little guys with yarmulkes counting my money and told Jewish Republicans, “I’m a negotiator like you folks.”

Despite Trump’s lowering of the level of discourse and civility and the media focus on those views, we in Los Angeles are getting along about as well as we ever have. It’s astonishing and reassuring that this diverse community isn’t experiencing inter-group tensions that mirror the nightly news and our raised collective anxiety.

Our conjecture is that virtually every minority group leader, and most minority group members, share a common disdain for, and concern about, bigots with power because we all know we could become the next target—there is a sense of shared fate that is generated. Most minority groups have figured out that if Trump disparages one group with simplistic stereotypes and bigotry, other groups are potential targets—we intuitively circle the wagons.

Trump has, inadvertently, become a cohesive force in a way he never intended. In him, we see a reminder of what we all fear—release of the genie of hate and the turning back of the clock on decades of progress. He has accidentally become a unifier and is, in no small measure, a reason for the common ground that minorities in LA now share despite the tenor of the times.

*Virgil Roberts is a long-time civil rights activist whose work includes representing the NAACP in the seminal Los Angeles school desegregation case Crawford v Board of Education. He was recently awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from 100 Black Men of Los Angeles. and has been honored by the Los Angeles Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the University of Southern California’s School of Education, and the UCLA Black Alumni Association.

Don't Let Violent Talk Mar LA Politics Too


Two weeks ago—before the Donald Jr./Russia revelations— the president of the United States was testing our tolerance for outrage with a video tweet of himself appearing to beat up a TV show wrestler who had the CNN logo on his face. During the campaign then-candidate Trump used rhetoric that encouraged his audiences to act out against hecklers; he revels in being a “counter-puncher” who hits back when he feels aggrieved.

He may not be the catalyst of the attitude, but Trump senses that we have become increasingly inured to threats of violence and have, apparently, widely accepted the notion that grievances can be responded to by threats and acting out.

That callousness to threats and violence can erupt in the most unexpected places.

Recently, NPR broadcast a piece about Boyle Heights and the incipient gentrification that is taking place there. A seemingly innocuous topic about the changes in neighborhoods that inevitably occur in dynamic and teeming cities.

As I listened to the report, it was apparent that is was anything but innocuous, in fact, it was rather troubling.

The reporter, Saul Gonzalez of local NPR station KCRW, was offering the national NPR audience a glimpse of LA and his vision suggested that class violence was on the horizon, and there was little resistance to that prospect.

Gonzalez painted a portrait of a Boyle Heights community that is “gritty and industrial” that is being undermined by a “world of high-end art” galleries that are coming into the community and don’t fit in.

There are genuine debates to be had about the impact of gentrification on low-income communities-especially ones with large numbers of renters. Whether people get compensated when their neighborhoods gentrify and whether there are comparably priced accommodations for them elsewhere are legitimate issues to raise and debate.

But that debate is not furthered when it devolves into vulgar class warfare and threats of violence that are accepted as part of the discussion.

Reporter Gonzalez gave a megaphone and a majority of his broadcast to an activist, Leonardo Vilchis, who railed against art galleries because they might lead to others moving into the neighborhood who might add to its value:

Put in an art gallery with paintings that cost tens of thousands of dollars and the audience that comes to this place starts looking for other kinds of amenities….They look for the brewery, for the coffee shop for the place to hang out. All of those things increase the cost and the value of the local neighborhood

The fact that the galleries are moving in to what the report itself described as “vacant industrial spaces” didn’t impact Vilchis' argument—he described the galleries as “cancer cells…who need to move out….you need to start killing the cancer cells that are creating the cancer.” [Emphasis added]

There are those who have taken his vile language seriously: mock eviction notices and flyers with human skulls in gun sights accompanied by threats such as “Boyle Heights is not safe for hipster trash” printed on them were noted in the report.

But Vilchis saw nothing wrong with those tactics—-compromise is impossible, “they” all have to leave; after all, they are like spreading cancer cells and they are all bad. He derisively dismissed those moving into the neighborhood who are sympathetic to gentrification concerns and desire to work with the community, “‘OK, I’m a cancer cell, but I want to be good,’ doesn’t change the fact that you’re a cancer cell. You need to move out.”

The fact that the NPR reporter never expressed the slightest discomfort with Vilchis’ characterization of the art gallery owners or his condoning threats of violence or the not-so-subtle bigotry against folks who don’t fit the mold of those who now live there, suggests that we now yawn at incendiary rhetoric, stereotypic expressions, and even threats of violence.

In an era when much has been written about the need to integrate neighborhoods across racial, ethnic and socio-economic lines this blatant push for homogeneity is bizarre. That is not where America or Los Angeles needs to head.

The absence of a nuanced discussion of the natural and constant growth and transformation of cities (after all, Boyle Heights was once a pre-dominantly Jewish neighborhood) including gentrification, would be too much to expect in a short radio piece. There should have been at least a bit of outrage over, or at least a counterpoint to Vilchis’ incendiary remarks. There was but one gallery owner quoted as saying “I’m not going anywhere.” Was no one else in the neighborhood concerned about threats, intimidation and the prospect of violence?

In the Age of Trump, if the president can appear to assault a reporter with whom he disagrees and hecklers can be assaulted with his approbation, even NPR is not immune from callousness to threats of violence.

It’s wrong in the White House and it’s wrong in Boyle Heights.

Trump and Charlottesville---Why the Meltdown?


In the aftermath of Trump’s Tuesday press conference at Trump Tower, there have been countless analyses of why he chose to undo his conciliatory condemnation of haters on Monday that sought to ameliorate his bungled statement of Saturday.

Did he calculate that his hard core base wanted him to come out swinging, to endorse Confederate monuments and thumb his nose at mainstream voters and the “mainstream media”? Was he just seeking to offer an unorthodox, revelatory and counter-intuitive take on events that was “ignored” by the media for their malevolent reasons? Or was he channeling the Fox News feed of that morning which had made virtually all of his talking points?

There was endless speculation as to what animated Trump to have a national, live TV meltdown.

The reality that he revealed in his off-script remarks is far more troubling than most of the conjecture—his Tuesday presser confirmed what should have been apparent from the outset of his candidacy—he is incapable of discerning what makes extremists and bigots different from mainstream politicians and most of civil society.

He won’t relegate extremists to the periphery of American politics—as all his predecessors of the past century have done—because he reasons and thinks as extremists do. Their tools are his tools, their warped reasoning is his warped reasoning, their obliviousness to facts, data and truth is mirrored in our commander-in-chief.

As one who has monitored, listened to, had surreptitious contacts with extremists for over four decades, it is clear that Trump’s thought processes are an awful lot like theirs. He may not be animated at base by hate and venom, but how he reasons is chillingly similar to the policy arguments of bigots.

They believe in conspiracies, they are convinced a hidden hand works against them, they ignore and have a contempt for data, truth and civil dialogue and they always blame someone or some group for what ails them or society.

For most of the last half century plus, American presidents, electeds at all levels, opinion molders, and good citizens have intuitively realized that political extremists were different than mainstream politicians on both the left and the right. Civil rights organizations and good people have endeavored to ostracize and relegate to the fringes of society extremists who violate a set of unwritten rules on public conduct and decency.

From the John Birchers and their flirting with anti-Semitism in the 60s to George Wallace in the 70s to Louis Farrakhan more recently (see my op/ed of  9/17/1985 in the Times) to David Duke and Louisiana politic—-policies or comments that flirted with bigotry and stereotypes, even if made in passing, were enough to derail careers, elicit presidential condemnations and generate near universal abhorrence. It was clear to most leaders that overt expressions of bigotry and stereotypes were not acceptable vocabulary of late 20th century America.

Political correctness, with all its frailties, prevailed and there was a perceptible decline in hate crimes, the diversification of corporate boards and of elected officials, the election of an African American by significant electoral majorities and the virtual elimination in public discourse of racial, religious and homophobic epithets and expressions.

This is not to suggest that dog whistle politics with covert appeals to bias and intolerance didn’t happen—indeed they did (e.g. Willie Horton ads); but they were different than vulgar, overt expressions of hostility.

They can be offensive, but they indirectly acknowledge what the ground rules of civility are—no blatant bigotry. There have been occasional accusations made against fervent advocates on the left and the right of being extremists where the label was sloppily and unfairly applied—passion is not same as unreason. Mercifully, those instances have been few and far between.

Into that environment, comes a candidate who has flaunted all the norms of political discourse and debate and who utilizes the very cognitive tools of extremists (Klansmen, neo-Nazis and far left extremists share the methodologies): he traffics in bizarre conspiracy theories, he blithely ignores data, he bullies, attacks and demeans, he threatens, he blatantly lies with demonstrably false assertions on numerous issues, he perpetually claims to be the victim with a designated culprit[s] (other than himself) who is/are always to blame.

Why would he find extremists deserving of condemnation or isolation? He managed to become president despite all those traits— it has all worked for him.

For traditional politicians, individuals or groups that exhibit these characteristics represent flashing red lights—“stay away, extremists, bigots, crazies at work.” For Trump, they are a mirror of his modus operandi—just bit more extreme in policy.

He simply doesn’t see them as qualitatively different than himself—if he’s mainstream then they likely are too. It is not a basic instinct of his to ostracize and reject them. In fact, if they like him (and David Duke and Robert Spencer do) he may just like them back, or at a minimum, he won’t call them out.

The decades-long work of civil rights advocates and good people in society to relegate bigots and extremists to the fringes of our political system is being undone before our eyes. Trump is normalizing and mainstreaming bigots as we have never seen before—he is, once again, unprecedented in his actions.

As Edmund Burke noted, “All that is needed for evil to triumph, is for good men to remain silent” – if we care at all, that’s simply not an option.

The Vengeful Gods of Purity


It’s all too predictable, a religious/ethnic/political leader dares to deviate from the orthodoxy of the day and the vengeful ideological gods seek to exact a price.

Over the past few weeks, the Jewish right has become animated over the appointment of Professor David Myers of UCLA—a distinguished scholar of modern Jewish History—to head the Center for National Jewish History in New York. His credentials are impeccable—not only does he hold an endowed chair at UCLA, he headed its history department and has been actively involved in Los Angeles’ Jewish community as a leader and public intellectual.

His critics attack him for “radical viewpoints” and even worse, having a “moderate façade” that masks a “radical core.”

Myers’ views on Israel and the Middle East are more complex than Hadassah’s or the Jewish National Fund’s, but that does not make him treif. Virtually all the insidious allegations are either inaccurate or McCarthyite attacks imputing to Myers positions that have been taken by organizations that he wrote for or spoke before. The allegations and the rebuttals to them can be read here.

500 Jewish Studies professors have decried the attacks as “scurrilous” and the “worst kind of MCarthyism….calls for his ouster based on ad hominem charges on purely political grounds must be rejected.”

Despite the pushback the onslaught has continued to this day, he is “an enemy of Israel.”

His credentials for his new position and his political bona fides are really not the issue—-the Center for Jewish History is “standing by their man.” The real question is how self-appointed guardians of Jewish ideological purity have the chutzpah to seek to impose their political viewpoint as a litmus test for leadership of a national Jewish academic institution. They see their views as the only proper path for leaders.

They attack and condemn and threaten with impunity knowing that there are sectors of the community they can animate by simply asserting that Myers “is a fierce critic of Israel” and others who will be intimidated into silence for fear of also being targeted and impugned. That’s how McCarthyites work.

The transcendent question is whether the institutions involved with the Center will have the spine to continue to resist the pressure to acquiesce to threats and intimidation. So far, so good.

Having served for twenty seven years with the Anti-Defamation League, I have some familiarity with those who threaten the Jewish community—David Myers is not among them. Failing to distinguish between dissenting viewpoints and real threats is failing to understand nuance and complexity and the bounty of free speech in a democracy.

It always amazed me in my years at ADL to watch those within the Jewish community who spent their energy railing against fellow Jews for not toeing a particular ideological line—they were in pursuit of an elusive “unity” of thought which they seemed to believe would insulate Israel and Jews from the political realities of the world. Such unanimity never existed and would offer no shield against pernicious external forces if it did.

They create illusory threats to puff up and demonstrate their own bona fides.as the guardians of rectitude. Whom they harm, malign, or sacrifice, is irrelevant to them—they are in pursuit of a more noble “good.”

In 1852 Nathaniel Hawthorne warned in The Blithdale Romance of true believers who “have an idol, to which they consecrate themselves high-priest, and deem it holy work to offer sacrifices of whatever is most precious…”

They have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience. They will keep no friend, unless he make himself the mirror of their purpose; they will smite and slay you, and trample your dead corpse under foot, all the more readily, if you take the first step with them and cannot take the second, and the third, and every other step of their terribly strait path.

The Jewish community does not need Grand Inquisitors to impose ideological homogeneity on our institutions, those “guardians” simply seek mirrors of themselves, not a “greater good.”

Words----Historic and Current--—To Be Heeded


In November, 1953, less than a year into his first term in office, during the height of the McCarthy era, President Eisenhower received an award from and delivered the keynote address at the Anti-Defamation League’s annual board meeting in Washington, D.C. As the story was recounted to me by someone who was there (I worked for the ADL for 27 years), those in attendance thought it would be a routine address by the new president making nice to one of the country’s leading civil rights/Jewish organizations, kind of a pro forma “you are nice and do good work”.

Shortly before the speech, ADL leaders learned that the national press and the then novel TV cameras would be observing and what was going to be routine was now a “major policy address.”

It turned out that the speech was among the, if not the, first times that Ike spoke out and distanced himself from Sen. Joe McCarthy. But it was by indirection, he never mentioned McCarthy’s name (to that point Ike was still trying to ignore McCarthy, as if the senator didn’t matter).

To those in attendance, it wasn’t clear what the news was, but by the next morning the message had gone out. Eisenhower had spoken about the right of every American to meet “your accuser face to face”, the “right to speak your mind and be protected in it.” He extolled the values of the “soul and the spirit” that make us proud to be Americans; who the threat to those values was became apparent:

Why are we proud? We are proud, first of all, because from the beginning of this Nation, a man can walk upright, no matter who he is, or who she is. He can walk upright and meet his friend–or his enemy; and he does not fear that because that enemy may be in a position of great power that he can be suddenly thrown in jail to rot there without charges and with no recourse to justice. We have the habeas corpus act, and we respect it.

And today, although none of you has the great fortune, I think, of being from Abilene, Kansas, you live after all by that same code in your ideals and in the respect you give to certain qualities. In this country, if someone dislikes you, or accuses you, he must come up in front. He cannot hide behind the shadow. He cannot assassinate you or your character from behind, without suffering the penalties an outraged citizenry will impose.


….I would not want to sit down this evening without urging one thing: if we are going to continue to be proud that we are Americans, there must be no weakening of the code by which we have lived; by the right to meet your accuser face to face, if you have one; by your right to go to the church or the synagogue or even the mosque of your own choosing; by your right to speak your mind and be protected in it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the things that make us proud to be Americans are of the soul and of the spirit. They are not the jewels we wear, or the furs we buy, the houses we live in, the standard of living, even, that we have. All these things are wonderful to the esthetic and to the physical senses. [Emphasis added]

I was reminded of this historic statement by two speeches this week from leading Republicans, who, like Eisenhower, bravely took on one of their own and made clear what others fear, or lack the courage, to say. They laid down markers as to what is acceptable conduct in American politics and, without being explicit, who was engaging in conduct that was beyond the pale.

On Monday night, Sen. John McCain spoke at the National Constitution Center as he received its Liberty Medal. It’s a passionate statement about what’s important and unique about America.

During the course of the speech he offered the following:

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to. [Emphasis Added]

Like Eisenhower, without mentioning the name of his antagonist, the senior senator from Arizona got his message across loudly and clearly.

Then on Thursday, former President George W. Bush delivered a speech in which he never mentioned Trump, but the sinner he was referring to was transparently clear:

Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication…. We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.

We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade – forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.

We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments – forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge.


This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed. And it means that the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation.

We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools. And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.

In short, it is time for American institutions to step up and provide cultural and moral leadership for this nation. [Emphasis Added]

The McCain and Bush speeches are historic moments; perhaps the beginning of a wave of revulsion at the lies, distortions, hate and awful policies that emerge from the Trump White House. When two pillars of a party, much like Eisenhower in 1953, say enough is enough and that it is time to “step up”—perhaps people will listen.

The Fallout of Bigotry


Many in the civil rights community have warned of the corrosive effects of President Trump's attitude towards minorities and extremists from the day he announced his candidacy. His comments at his announcement, during his campaign regarding Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, and, occasionally, Jews are now stuff of legend. He has continued in his incendiary musings during his tenure as president; he clearly holds stereotypic views of those who aren't just like him.

But as insidious as his remarks are, even more troubling is his reluctance, or his inability, to relegate extremists (those who blatantly purvey hate and bigotry-not just dog whistles) to the periphery of American politics-as all his predecessors of the past century have done. He meets with them, he grants them interviews, and he ignores their toxic views to focus on those that align with his.

Instead of rejecting bigots out-of-hand, he has flaunted all the norms of political discourse and debate by using the very methodologies of those bigots. He traffics in bizarre conspiracy theories, he blithely ignores data, he bullies, attacks and demeans, he threatens, he blatantly lies with demonstrably false assertions on numerous issues, he claims to be the victim of a perpetual witch-hunt with a designated culprit[s] (other than himself) who is/are always to blame for what goes wrong.

Is it any wonder then that his brand of thinking has become more common, that extremists are being normalized and accepted, that bizarre-hitherto ostracized- views are now offered as an acceptable part of political discourse? The ripple effects of a sloppy thinker like Trump are only beginning to impact us.

This week, Moscow's man in the House of Representatives, Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher of Orange County, made clear that he has no qualms about consorting with a Holocaust denier.

After it was revealed that he took "conservative journalist" Charles C. Johnson [who has claimed that during the Holocaust around 250,000 Jews were killed in concentration camps and that the existence of gas chambers is questionable] to a meeting with Sen. Rand Paul, Rohrabacher found nothing amiss. He blithely asserted that "I welcome his support on those issues of agreement and oppose those ideas on which we disagree."

Apparently, Holocaust deniers, bigots and extremists are acceptable if they endorse other issues that Rohrabacher supports.

He doesn't get that Holocaust denial, and hate more broadly, are not isolated imperfections. The thinking that denies the most well documented crime in history, which blames minorities for society's ills reflects a distorted and bizarre mind and an absence of reason and logic-it's not a blip on an otherwise clear screen of sanity. Who would want the support of a bigot such as that?

That an American elected official in 2017 doesn't feel compelled to ostracize and separate himself from a manifest extremist is an indicator of what is transpiring more widely.

This week the Anti-Defamation League reported a 67% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the US through the third quarter of 2017 as compared to 2016. Not surprisingly, of the 1,266 incidents some 221 occurred on or near the August 11 rally in Charlottesville-the event that Trump had such ambivalence in condemning (recall, he thought a bunch of regular folks were marching with torches and Nazi chants).

What Trump clearly doesn't get is that political extremists are different than mainstream politicians on both the left and the right. For decades, civil rights organizations and good people have endeavored to ostracize and relegate to the fringes of society extremists who violate a set of unwritten rules on public conduct and decency.

From the John Birchers and their flirting with anti-Semitism in the 60s to George Wallace in the 70s to Louis Farrakhan more recently (see my op/ed of 9/17/1985 in the Times) to David Duke and Louisiana politic-policies or comments that flirted with bigotry and stereotypes, even if made in passing, were enough to derail careers, elicit presidential condemnations and generate near universal abhorrence. It was clear to most leaders that overt expressions of bigotry and stereotypes were not acceptable vocabulary of late 20th century America and those who purveyed them were deservedly isolated and shunned.

But we now have a president who not only doesn't understand what extremism is (except for the easy to discern Islamic version), he inspires others to follow his myopic lead; to wink at hate and sanitize the hater because "he agrees with me on other significant issues."

The reality is that the hater wins, his bigotry ends up tainting everyone who consorts with him; the rationalizers become aiders and abettors of prejudice and their own words and deeds become suspect.

Trump can't be stalwart and uncompromising in condemning radical Islamic terrorism and its brand of hate while being timid and apologetic regarding other versions of bigotry. It's morally and politically dishonest and corrupting.

As Sen. John McCain said in his speech to midshipmen at the Naval Academy earlier this week,

We have to fight against propaganda and crackpot conspiracy theories. We have to fight isolationism, protectionism, and nativism. We have to defeat those who would worsen our divisions. We have to remind our sons and daughters that we became the most powerful nation on earth by tearing down walls, not building them.

Bret Stephens Lecture

This piece was originally featured in The Jewish Journal on July 5, 2017.

By Ryan Torok, Staff Writer, and Jakob Marcus, Contributing Writer

As a New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens expresses views on some of the most complicated topics of the day, including terrorism, immigration and President Donald Trump. He also recognizes the value in a healthy dose of self-doubt.

“The challenge of a columnist, I think the challenge of all intelligent people, on the one hand is to express your views confidently, but to have enough internal security to know you might be wrong — to know that there is some floating small percent of wrongness in any single point of view,” Stephens said on June 20 at Stephen Wise Temple.

Stephens delivered a lecture and participated in a Q-and-A with Stephen Wise Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback at an event titled “The Jewish Future in a Changing America.” Among the topics Stephens discussed were anti-Semitism in the Arab world, free speech on college campuses and the future of journalism.

“The people who have been most damaged by anti-Semitism in the long run have been the anti-Semites,” Stephens said. “In this case, the Arab world has done itself irrefutable harm by expelling 800,000 talented people, as they did in the wake of the creation of the State of Israel.”

Stephens lived for several years in Israel while serving as editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. The former Wall Street Journal columnist predicted the top newspapers in the United States will survive well into the future, despite predictions about the death of traditional journalism.

“I have no doubt there is going to be a New York Times in 20 years,” he said. “I have no doubt there is going to be a Wall Street Journal. And I have no doubt that people do want reliable, authoritative news that they don’t have to double check or wonder [if] that could be true.”

Stephens appeared before a crowd that featured many of Los Angeles’ Jewish leaders, including Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Emeritus Eli Herscher, former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, UCLA Jewish history professor David Myers, Community Advocates Inc. President David Lehrer and VBS Rabbi Noah Farkas.

Stephens expressed frustration with the culture on college campuses that has fomented the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel while stifling other speech found by some to be disagreeable.

“One of the things I find disturbing at colleges [is] they seem to be incapable of dealing with an opposite point of view,” he said. “Their way of dealing with it is saying, ‘That’s evil,’ ‘That’s stupid,’ or something like that, as opposed to saying, ‘That’s another approach to the truth.’”

Has Trump Split the Jewish Community? Hardly.

By Michael Hais


Every four years, in an attempt to maximize their share of the "Jewish vote," the major political parties include language in their national platforms expressing support for Israel as America's truest ally and only democracy in the Middle East. Often that expression contains a pledge to move the U.S embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The belief that the political and even national allegiance of many Jewish Americans is driven by devotion to Israel extends beyond party politicians to a sizable share of the U.S. public. A 2016 survey conducted by the Marttila Strategies polling firm indicates that although anti-Semitism has declined significantly in the United States over the past half-century,  since at least the mid-1960s, about a third of Americans have believed the anti-Semitic dual loyalty canard that Jews are "more loyal to Israel than to America."

To what extent do psychological ties to Israel actually shape the political beliefs and behavior of American Jews? If they do not motivate the Jewish community as much as is often believed, then what does?

Undeniably, a large majority of Jewish Americans have an affinity for Israel. A 2013 Pew Research survey indicated that an overwhelming (87%) said that "caring about Israel" is an important part of being Jewish.  On a more demanding measure of affiliation, about 7 in 10 Jewish Americans (69%) said they are at least somewhat "emotionally attached" to Israel.

But, that's not the whole story. In spite of their psychological connection to Israel, most Jews ´placed greater importance on other "Jewish" values-remembering the Holocaust (73%), leading an ethical and moral life (69%), working for justice and equality (56%), and being intellectually curious (49%)-than they did on caring about Israel (43%). Beyond this, when asked if being "strongly critical of Israel" is compatible with being Jewish, a large majority (89%) said that it is.

Moreover, to borrow from Borscht Belt comics' assertions that "where there are two Jews, there are three opinions," Jewish Americans are not of one mind about Israel. While it is true that a sizable majority have at least some emotional connection to Israel, the extent of that link varies by denomination, generation, and political party identification.  The ties are strongest among the Orthodox, those 50 years old and above, and those who identify as Republicans. This split in the opinions of Jewish Americans toward Israel and other matters runs throughout the Pew study.

If allegiance to Israel and support of its current policies is not the primary determinant of the political beliefs and behavior of Jewish Americans, what is? Pew's research suggests the crucial factors are the very things that shape the opinions and votes of most other Americans-their party identifications, their opinions on current political issues, and their perceptions of major political figures. Pew sums those up by saying that "Jews are among the most liberal and Democratic groups in the population."

A large majority of Jewish Americans (70%) identified with or leaned to the Democratic Party; this when 49% of the U.S general public claimed a Democratic attachment. More remarkable, nearly half of Jewish Americans (49%) said they were liberal and just 19% called themselves conservative. This was almost reverse the numbers for the general public, within which 38% said they were conservative and 19% liberal.

To confirm the trend, millennial Jews (18-29 year olds) were the most Democratic, liberal, and pro-Obama age cohort that Pew sampled. They are also the least emotionally connected to Israel and the most critical of its policies. Interestingly, Jewish millennials are as likely to have been to Israel as any other generation of Jews; suggesting that it isn't simply indifference or ignorance that account for their disconnect from the Jewish state. 

Undoubtedly, the vigorous embrace of the unpopular Trump by Netanyahu compounded by Bibi's public disdain for the ever-popular Obama may, inadvertently, be undoing the hard work that Birthright Israel undertakes when it provides free trips to Israel for the young.

These liberal and Democratic identifications were reflected in the opinions of Jewish Americans of all ages on major issues.   A huge majority (82%) said that "homosexuality should be accepted by society." A majority (54%) also preferred "a bigger government that provides more services" rather than a "smaller government that provides fewer services (38%). A majority of U.S. Jews approved of Barack Obama's job performance (65%) at a point in his administration when 50% of the general public did.

Despite the assertions of Jewish conservatives and many Jewish organizations today, the positive perceptions of Obama carried over to his policies toward Israel and Iran even when those organizations and the Israeli government were highly critical of those actions. With the exception of the Orthodox, Jewish support for the president's policies crossed all demographic and denominational lines. It also substantially exceeded  that within the U.S. general public.  

The liberal and Democratic proclivities of Jewish Americans continued in 2016 when a large majority  (71%) voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016; only 23% voted for Donald Trump. The Jewish vote for Clinton as similar to what it had been for other Democrats since 1968 and may have exceeded that for Barack Obama in 2012.

The attitudes of Jews toward Donald Trump have not improved since his election. A March 2017 Gallup survey indicated that Trump's job approval as president was only 31% among Jewish Americans, 11 percentage points below that of the electorate overall. 

The data are clear.  Jews remain disproportionately Democratic and highly negative about Trump. This makes it even more surprising that a number of important Jewish organizations remain reluctant to criticize the president. . Their likely rationale is that Trump will be supportive of Israel and that little good would be served by alienating a potential friend of that country, especially in light of Trump's campaign promises to revoke the nuclear limitation treaty with Iran and move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

But these leaders and organizations run the serious risk of misunderstanding and, indeed, alienating their own Jewish base on the unlikely chance (already disproven in large measure) that Trump will honor his hyperbolic campaign promises in his presidential policies. Given the high stakes, the low probability of success, and the president's erratic behavior and elusive beliefs, it is a gamble better not taken.

Mike Hais is an expert in market research having served for more than 22 years at Frank N. Magid Associates. He has a doctorate in political science specializing in American politics and political behavior. He is co-author with Morley Winograd of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics, Millennial Majority: How a New Coalition Is Remaking American Politics, and Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America. This op-ed was written in association with Community Advocates, Inc.

This piece was featured in The Jewish Journal on April 14, 2017.

A Deafening Silence

By David A. Lehrer, George T. Caplan, Steven Windmueller, Rabbi Laura Geller and Michael Hirschfeld

For at least the past half century, Los Angeles has had active Jewish community organizations that often spoke with one voice, took stands, ventured into politically risky territory and helped mark Jews as a force to be reckoned with on the community relations and political scenes. 

Today, that is not the case. 

What was once the Jewish community’s umbrella organization, the Jewish Federation, remains deafeningly silent on an issue that is high on the list of major concerns of most Jews — the actions and words of the Trump administration. 

We know that if there is any group in society that should be wary of a leader who exhibits the traits of Trump, it is us. The history of the twentieth century sets off our antennae and ought to make action natural, reflexive and immediate.  

Over past decades, the authors of this piece were active participants in meetings, demonstrations, legislation, community events and forming alliances that were meaningful benchmarks on the path to Los Angeles becoming the diverse, vibrant and accepting environment that it is. Avoiding tough issues, running from controversy, or fearing internecine backlashes were not how we operated.

Whether it was engaging minority communities in contentious, but civil, debates over affirmative action and preferences in the 1970s or reaching out to neighbors and allies to cobble together opposition to police abuse and the resurgent Klans and Aryan Nations in the 1980s and 1990s, or creating roundtables and coalitions with Muslims, Latinos and African Americans in the 1990s and 2000s — we knew that our faith and our fate were intertwined with those of others; parochial self-absorption was not the prevailing ethos, for us, or for others. 

It was not without thought that in the early 90s, as Operation Desert Storm began, Jewish leaders (at a time when passions related to the war and Muslims were high) spoke out against potential hate that “might” be directed at our Muslim neighbors. Some in our community were unhappy (“what’s the need?”) but it was the right and proper thing to do and we did it; to remain silent was seen as an abdication of our leadership responsibility and of our Jewish values.

There is little doubt that were a politician to have surfaced over the past forty years who pilloried minority groups, maligned immigrants as racists and thugs, promoted conspiracy theories that historically were the stock-in-trade of racists and bigots, and scorned reason, data and facts — protests from the Jewish community would have been thunderous in warning of the danger to our democracy, to the fabric of the community and to ourselves. The non-profit leadership of this community would have been vocal, visible and busy organizing in opposition. 

Today, the absence of a unified Jewish community leadership protesting President Trump’s incendiary comments on myriad topics, including his targeting of minority groups and immigrants, is shocking. 

The Jewish Federation in particular, the once community umbrella, has remained appallingly silent on Trump’s order restricting the admission of refugees [ironically, they answer critics by pointing out what they did on behalf of Jewish refugees] and his manifest contempt for civility, reasoned arguments and facts. 

Whether it is due to Trump’s perceived support for Israel’s prime minister, or a fear of angering conservative major donors, the silence is inexplicable (nearly ¾ of Jews supported Clinton nationally, considerably higher locally).

Leadership demands that one take a stand on vital issues that may not be perceived as essential to one’s mission — protesting on core issues is easy; that’s self-preservation, not leadership. Leadership asks that you recognize threats where others may not see them and then act, even if at a cost. 

We need an overarching community voice willing to condemn the blatant lying, paranoia, undermining of decency, consorting with bigots and bigotry, and targeting of minorities that will, ultimately, harm us all and debase our most treasured values. Do we get lulled into indolence because we are not today’s target? Why are LA’s Jews compelled to start new grass roots organizations to protest Trump (such as Jews United for Democracy and Justice which garnered over 2,200 supporters in just a few weeks) when the armatures for action already exist? 

The silence from “6505” is deafening especially when three leading conservative pundits have all parted company with the prevaricator-in-chief and described him as either “irrational bordering on mental illness” (Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal), or as the “most reckless, feckless, and malevolent president in the country’s history” (Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine), or admonished Republicans to not “define lunacy down” (Michael Gerson, The Washington Post). 

Stephens, Sullivan and Gerson all have readers, long-time admirers and fee-generating organizations that they have angered and alienated because of their courage — but they spoke out nonetheless. 

In Los Angeles there is no over-arching Jewish community voice speaking clearly and unambiguously about the all too obvious dangers, just a troublesome silence. The warning signs are everywhere, where is the leadership?

Lehrer headed the Anti-Defamation League in LA from 1986-2002, Caplan was president of the Federation from 1988-1990, Windmueller headed the Federation’s Community Relations Committee (“CRC”) from 1985-1995, Geller was director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the American Jewish Congress from 1990-1994, and Hirschfeld headed the CRC from 1995-2003.

This piece was published in The Jewish Journal on March 29, 2017

The Future and Young Voters?

[Countless articles have been written since the November election about the electorate and the voting habits — present and future — of various demographic segments. For example, in a recent Slate.com article, a Harvard professor suggested that Millennials (a cohort of some 95 million young Americans) were going to become more conservative and that the Democrats ought to beware. Community Advocates asked two of the leading mavens on Millennials, Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, to offer their analysis. —David A. Lehrer]

By Morley Winograd and Michael Hais

“The man who is not a socialist (read ‘liberal’ in the United States) at 20 has no heart, but if he is still a socialist at 40, he has no brain.” That aphorism has been variously attributed to Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, and French World War I-era Prime Minister Aristede Briand. Most recently, the idea that people move from liberal to conservative beliefs and votes as they age was stated by Harvard political scientist, Yascha Mounk. However, as so often happens when conventional wisdom comes up against empirical data, the outcome is quite different.

First, young people are not always liberal (or socialist). Mounk, in fact, provides an example when he writes that “in France…Marine Le Pen’s National Front does much better among the young than the old.” The same can be said about Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia and, to a lesser extent, Germany.

Closer to home, a longitudinal analysis of survey data by political scientist, Patrick Fisher, indicates that, “In every presidential election from 1960-1976 the 18-34 year old age group was the most Democratic age group, but in the presidential elections from 1980-1992 the 18-34 age group was the most Republican age group. Especially notable is the strong preference of younger voters for Ronald Reagan, which dispels the stereotype that younger voters tend to support relatively younger candidates.” It also refutes the canard that younger voters always support liberals and Democrats.

But, could it be that those “younger voters” who start out as liberals or Democrats eventually turn to the right as they age? In most cases, the answer is no.  A classic example is the GI or Greatest Generation, those Americans born in the first quarter of the 20th century who lived through and overcame the Great Depression and then won World War II. That generation voted heavily for Democrats starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt, awarding him 85% of their vote in 1932. (Generations, Strauss and Howe, p. 262) As late as 2004, the last measurable segment of GI generation voters gave Democrat John Kerry a majority of their votes.

So, there is no clear tendency for voters to move right or left or toward either party as they age, as Mounk suggested. Instead, as Professor Fisher indicates, due to differing socio-economic conditions experienced during their formative years (generational theorists would add differing parental child rearing practices to the mix), “different generations have distinct political leanings that they will tend to maintain over their lifetime.”

In fact, there is data from Pew Research demonstrating that there is a direct relationship between the identity of the president when voters were 18 years old and the partisanship of those voters in the elections that followed. The perceived success or popularity of a president during a voter’s formative years influences their vote even decades later. Younger Boomers and older Gen-X’ers who came of age during the term of the popular Ronald Reagan voted disproportionately Republican in elections from 1996 to 2010. On the other hand, Boomers who were 18 during Richard Nixon’s tumultuous administration have consistently cast Democratic votes in later years while Boomers and X’ers who came of age during Jimmy Carter’s presidency have normally been Republican in their partisanship.

Meanwhile, in Pew’s initial survey of the Trump presidency, Millennials disapproved of his performance by greater than a 2:1 (64% to 28%) margin. Even among white 18-29 year olds, 59% disapproved. A just published survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago similarly found that Millennials disapprove of Trump at rates ranging from 55% (whites) to 71% (African Americans). Unlike Mounk’s unfounded predictions of the future voting behavior of Millennials, this data point alone suggests that Millennials’ Democratic tendencies are likely to be reinforced unless the president’s appeal to their generation increases significantly.

There is a body of accumulated academic research and current polling making possible a realistic forecast of how America’s most populous generation will vote in the future.  Not surprisingly, those projections suggest that the Democrats currently have the edge in winning the long term loyalties of Millennials. While Mounk points out that white Millennials voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a plurality of 47% to 43% in 2016, it should be noted that the Millennial generation is not only America’s largest, it is also the nation’s most diverse. About 40% of all Millennials and close to half of the generation’s youngest cohort are nonwhite. Around one in five have at least one immigrant parent. Latinos 18-29 voted for Clinton by a greater than 2.5:1 margin (68% to 26%). Among African-Americans in that age range the ratio of Clinton to Trump voters was nearly 10:1 (85% to 9%). That overwhelming Democratic vote among nonwhite Millennials meant that Clinton carried the entire generation handily (54% to 37%).

Party identification is an even better indicator of the deeper partisan proclivities of Millennial (and other) voters than their choice in a single election. That is because in each of the five presidential elections of the 21st century, about 90% of those who identify with a party voted for the nominee of that party. And, by 1.6:1 majority (57% to 36%) Millennials identify with or lean toward the Democratic rather than Republican party.

Younger (18-25 years old) and older Millennials (26-35 years old) are equally likely to call themselves Democrats. Two-thirds (66%) of Latino and 84% of African-American Millennials identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. White Millennials are evenly divided in their party ID (47% for each party). White female Millennials are decisively Democratic (54% to 39%). It is only among white males that the GOP has an edge over the Democrats among Millennials (57% to 40%).

Yascha Mounk may be right in saying that nothing in politics is foreordained. But, in the contest to capture the loyalties of the Millennial generation and control the future of American politics, the Democratic Party continues to hold a clear advantage.

Morley Winograd and Michael Hais are co-authors of “Millennial Makeover, Millennial Momentum and Millennial Majority.

This article was published in The Jewish Journal on March 23, 2017.

Photo by Elizabeth Hahn

Tuition-free College Would Rev Up California’s Economic Engines

By Morley Winograd

Higher education is the key to economic mobility in America. A recent study with unprecedented access to individual and family incomes has proved the case for this proposition beyond a reasonable doubt.

The study done for the Equality of Opportunity Project rated every college in America on how well they did in improving their students’ income after their college experience, whether they graduated or not, compared to their families’ income before they entered college.

The top 10 colleges with the best track record of moving students from families in the bottom 20 percent of all incomes in America when they entered to individual incomes in the top 20 percent when they left included three public colleges in California.

Cal State Los Angeles had the highest “Mobility Rating” of any college in the country, moving almost 10 percent of its student body from the bottom to the top levels of income after their college experience. Glendale Community College ranked seventh, moving 7 percent of its students up the economic ladder, just about tied with the performance of the City University of New York. Rounding out the top 10 of mobility engines was Cal State Polytechnic University’s Pomona campus, where 6.8 percent of all students from the lowest income quintile ended up in the top quintile after taking classes there.

The UC system’s results also earned it some bragging rights. UC Berkeley moved a higher percentage of its students whose family incomes were in the lowest 20 percent to the top 1 percent of incomes than any other elite college, as the study’s authors called them, in the country. And UCLA had the highest percentage of enrollment of students from the lowest quintile of incomes than any other such university in the country, even though their post-graduation income success was not as great as some others. 

But the real stars of the report were what the researchers call “working class colleges,” such as Cal State University or community colleges, that earned their high marks by having the most success with the greatest number of students from lower income families.

How did these colleges achieve this outstanding performance? It wasn’t by spending more money than elite colleges. The average per student instructional expenditure at places like Stanford is $87,100. By contrast, the average per student expenditure for working-class colleges that were able to achieve Ivy League levels of completion was only $24,600, or less than a third of what elite schools spent.

Overall, the study demonstrated that places such as Cal State and community colleges were contributing the most to our state’s need for economic mobility by providing the broadest access possible within their unique academic roles and at a much more reasonable cost.

To rev up the state’s economic mobility engine, we need many more of California’s families to gain access to a higher education experience. Today, many families think they can’t afford college for their children, even though they know, as this study shows, that it is key to their economic success. But experience also shows that when states eliminate that worry by making a promise that tuition will be free, enrollment rates soar. For instance, in Tennessee in the first year of its Promise scholars program, which makes all of the state’s two-year institutions tuition-free for high school graduates, enrollment in the community colleges rose 24.7 percent.

Now that we have incontrovertible data showing that going to college is the key to upward mobility and that we know how to do it with reasonable levels of expenditures, California should enact a Promise program to make tuition free for two years at Cal State or any of our community colleges. Without spending very much money at all, such a program would open the floodgates of economic opportunity to families throughout the state and provide California with the workforce it needs to remain competitive in the global economy.

Morley Winograd is president and CEO of Campaign for Free College Tuition. He can be reached at morley@freecollegenow.org. This op-ed was written in association with Community Advocates Inc. of Los Angeles.

This piece was featured in The Sacramento Bee on February 13, 2017

President Obama, The Millennial Whisperer

By Morley Winograd and Michael Hais

President Obama will be seen by historians as the first president to bring millennial values to the challenges of the Oval Office. He isn't a millennial (in fact he has two millennial children), but his leadership style and beliefs reflect America's largest and most diverse cohort. And while much of the rest of America is divided on how well he has performed as the nation's 44th president, Obama has won overwhelming approval from the millennial generation, born 1982-2003.

More than three-fourths of millennials (77%) approved of Obama's job performance in a mid-December Pew Center survey, surpassing even the previous high mark the group gave him — 73% — just after his first inauguration in 2009. For much of his administration, millennials were only marginally more positive about the president than the rest of the population, but once his departure from office drew closer and the contrast between him and either of his potential successors - Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton - became clearer, millennial approval of the president's job performance shot up by about 15 percentage points, accounting for just about all of the increase he has enjoyed in his final year in office.

Some of the enthusiasm stems from millennials' perception that Obama tackled the issues they care about most. Almost half of millennials (46%) credit the president with making significant progress "toward solving the major problems facing the country," a far greater percentage than for any other generation. Only 10% of millennials, compared with 30% of older generations, think he made things worse.

Millions of millennials have health insurance because Obamacare allowed them to remain on their parents' plan. Theirs is the only generation in which a majority tell pollsters they support the Affordable Care Act. Millennials in particular have also benefited from Obama's initiatives to reduce the interest rates on student loans and allow millions to convert loan repayments to a percentage of income rather than a more onerous flat amount. In addition, the president's improved job-performance marks, especially their latest rise, reflect improvements in the economy that millennials now see in their incomes.

But more than any specific benefit, millennials appreciate the way Obama has championed their causes and created a more tolerant America.

One in five millennials has an immigrant parent, and most in the generation credit the president with trying to find a comprehensive solution to the immigration issue, especially for the youngest "Dreamers" who found new hope under the president's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order. By carefully building a foundation of support of gay rights, Obama's leadership also helped enshrine same-sex marriage among our constitutional protections. According to Pew surveys, close to three-quarters of millennials view immigrants and immigration positively (76%) and support gay marriage (73%); less than a majority of older age groups agree.

Finally, Obama's daily demonstration, as our nation's first African American president, that race should not be a barrier to achievement has reinforced millennials' desire to include everyone in the group and to celebrate their own diversity. In fact, some of the president's finest millennial "whisperer" moments happened when he addressed the question of race in America, including his eloquent speech on the topic as candidate Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary. In an interview with NPR, he couched his answer to a question about political correctness with a defense of tolerance that fits millennial attitudes: "Don't go around just looking for insults," he said, quoting advice he has given his daughters. "You're tough. If somebody says something you don't agree with, just engage them on their ideas."

It's not surprising that the same set of Americans that overwhelmingly approve of Obama would disapprove of the man who will replace him as president on Jan. 20. Already 64% of 18- to 29-year-olds disapprove of Trump's performance as president-elect, the highest disapproval rating of any age group in Pew's January survey.

Millennials will represent more than one out of three Americans by the end of this decade. Despite Trump's electoral college win in November, it seems likely that millennial attitudes will dominate American political discourse and policy decisions in the coming years. It's not clear now how much this generation's demographic and political importance shaped Obama's presidency and how much the cause and effect ran in the other direction. But it is clear that the optimism the president expressed in his farewell address is based in large part in his faith in his children's peers:

This generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I've seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, just, inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America's hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace, and you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You'll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.

And with that the country's first millennial president left the stage.

Morley Winograd and Michael Hais are co-authors of "Millennial Makeover, Millennial Momentum and Millennial Majority." They wrote this essay in association with Community Advocates, Inc. in Los Angeles.

This piece was featured in The Los Angeles Times and The Arizona Daily Star in January 2017.

Should You Intervene in a Bias Attack?

By Francine Russo  [Community Advocates cited below]

 In the aftermath of November's election, many have expressed distress at an apparent wave of reported bias incidents. There were 867 reported incidents of language or behavior in which bias or prejudice played a role in the 10 days following the election, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-bigotry advocacy group. One of the most visible such events occurred on December 6, when a man screamed “terrorist” at a hijab-wearing New York City transit worker and pushed her down the stairs in Grand Central Station. An unidentified “good Samaritan” stepped in and took the woman to the hospital.

Was that the right thing to do? Did the helpful bystander risk danger? Was the action typical of most bystanders? Over the past few decades researchers have studied the behavior of bystanders at violent incidents. They have discovered factors that motivate these people to act or do nothing. They have also studied the result of various forms of intervention, both for the bystanders and for the victims.

Early research found that the more witnesses there were to an incident, the less individual responsibility to act each person felt. Subsequent study has discovered, however, that witness response is far more complicated. In fact, experts say, whether and how to act in such a situation involves a complex calculus in almost all circumstances. But learning the best possible approaches can help prepare you, should you ever witness an aggressor threatening or harming someone.

—Prepare yourself by thinking ahead or getting training. If you see a news story about a bias incident, suggests Sherry Hamby, an expert on the psychology of violence at Sewanee: The University of the South, “Role-play in your head what you would do and say. That may help you be more ready.”

—Stay alert to potential incidents. That’s one of the things taught by Elena Waldman, executive director and instructor of Artemis, a self-defense training organization located in New York and other east coast cities. “If I see an agitated or menacing person stalking another person,” she says, “maybe I’ll strike up a conversation with the vulnerable person. I might even say, ‘That guy over there is giving me a bad vibe. Is it okay if I stand here?’ I might ask another person to stand near us, just to create a safer space.”

—Call 911 immediately if there’s violence. This sounds obvious, but in the heat of the moment not everyone thinks to do it first, experts say. Then try to apply first aid if you have had training. Offer comfort and a sense of safety.

—Consider what feels safe before you attempt any intervention. Research by Hamby and her colleagues shows that a significant number of people are harmed when intervening. That's bad enough—but in addition, she says, “It was more traumatizing to the victim if the bystander made it worse or got harmed. It’s trickier than it’s treated to be a helpful bystander.”

—Don’t confront the aggressor with angry talk or violence. If you talk to the aggressor at all, do it in a mild and unchallenging way. “We all think we are going to be Harrison Ford in a movie,” 

Hamby says. It’s important, she says, not to escalate the situation. Instead, defuse the tension by changing the subject or even using humor. If the attacks are just verbal, she suggests you move closer to the victim and talk to him or her about something unrelated such as the weather or a popular television show, or pay them a compliment such as, “Love your outfit!” “You can act like you didn't even notice the person harassing the victim,” she says.

—Aid the victim. Ask whether he or she needs help; whether it is a ride or calling a friend.

—Enlist other bystanders. Often they will join you if you ask.

—Record the incident. If it feels safe, photograph or video the scene and the person. Or memorize everything about the attacker and the incident, including the actual words used. “The words used in the commission of the act,” says Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Kacey McBroom, “can be the difference between a regular crime and a hate crime.”

Remember that intervening is a personal decision. In such a threatening situation many people feel frightened and freeze. Decisions often have to be made within seconds. A former Navy Seal may decide to act in a way you wouldn’t—and depending on the situation, that might make things better or worse. At a minimum, you can call 911.

If you want to be better prepared, Waldman says, there are free or low-cost bystander classes at empowerment self-defense organizations around the country. For additional resources, she recommends the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation Web site. At Artemis, “We have lots of people of all genders in our classes,” she adds.

The fact that so many people are distressed by these bias incidents can be seen as a good thing. 

“The sky is not falling,” says David Lehrer, president of the human rights organization Community Advocates and a former executive of the Anti-Defamation League. “We believe Americans are more tolerant than ever before. The trends are in the right direction.”

This article was published by Scientific American on December 14, 2016.