The warning signs were there all along. We just ignored them.
Antisemitism had become routine on the streets of West Hollywood long before Hamas’ notorious Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Two years ago, City Hall released the first of several public notices entitled “Hate Has No Place Here” which addressed anti-Jewish incidents in the city. It began with reports about anti-Semitic flyers and memes on social media. Less than six months later, the city sent out a second, more concerning bulletin:
“We have received reports this weekend about multiple vehicles seen in the area displaying messages of antisemitism, and about incidents of hate speech in the community. These reports are particularly distressing as we mark Harvey Milk Day. We celebrate Milk, who was Jewish and who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, and we will never forget the path he helped to build in rejecting discrimination and in embracing full civil rights. In honoring his life and in remembering how his life was cut short by hate-fueled violence, we must commit to standing together in rejecting hate.”
Antisemitic incidents in Los Angeles and California rose significantly over the past two years. In 2022, the Greater L.A. area experienced a 30% increase in antisemitic incidents compared to the previous year. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported 237 incidents in the county in 2023, up from 182 in the previous year. These incidents included 143 instances of harassment, 86 cases of vandalism, and eight assaults. Some specific examples included a homeless man being assaulted for wearing a kippah, antisemitic remarks directed at Jewish neighbors, and a synagogue window being broken. Statewide in California, there were 518 incidents reported in 2022, a significant jump from 367 incidents in 2021. This 41.8% increase included a rise in white supremacist flier distribution. One notable incident involved the Goyim Defense League hanging banners over a Los Angeles bridge with antisemitic messages. These incidents weren’t limited to criminal acts but also included non-criminal acts like distribution of hateful fliers and bigoted remarks.
And yet for many non-Jews, myself included, the disturbing trend of swastikas etched on buildings and outlandish propaganda blaming Jews for this world problem and that world problem didn’t really register on our radars as an emergency.
We listened passively as Whoopi Goldberg made a mockery of the Holocaust and Kanye West spewed shockingly hateful anti-Jewish thoughts. We heard their half-hearted apologies and then forgot all about them (as did they).
When residents like Phillipe Mora told City Council that tearing down the historic Temple Beth El was a bad message for West Hollywood to be sending to the world, we wondered why a fuss was being made over such a sad and unremarkable old building.
“This is dangerous, what you’re doing,” Mora told the council in July. “Given the current situation in this country, which I’m sure you all know about, it’s crazy. WeHo, a beacon of progressive thought, will burn down. As goes WeHo, so goes the nation. To approve and promote the destruction of a historic and active synagogue, built by Warner Brothers and Max Factor, in this dangerously polarized society? The destruction will only receive applause from racists and anti-Semites.”
When the city decided not to sponsor a screening of J’Accuse!, an acclaimed Holocaust documentary, we didn’t exactly see what Dillon Hosier of the Israeli-American Coalition for Action was so mad about.
And when local Jewish leaders worried about a West Hollywood councilmember’s past support for anti-Zionist causes, we didn’t really understand why it was relevant — after all, Israel and Gaza are half a world away, and what happens there has no real bearing on what happens here, right?
How naive we were.
Even the shocking and violent incidents didn’t wake us up to what was clearly on the horizon. Those were just outliers, we thought.
October 7 proved we were dead wrong.
The rampant ignorance and indifference toward Jewish discrimination seen throughout America was exposed in many cases as a flimsy mask for deep-seated racial and religious contempt. The hostility toward Israelis and the appalling outpouring of sympathy for their murderers is ample proof that our supposedly civilized, progressive nation is just as prone to the racist, fascist poisons of the mind as far less enlightened people were in the 1930s and ’40s.
To their credit, West Hollywood’s progressive elected leaders have consistently taken a hard public stance against antisemitism. That includes Mayor Sepi Shyne, Mayor-elect John Erickson and Vice Mayor-elect Chelsea Byers, who have all faced accusations of antisemitism. When compared with the progressive leaders in academia who could not even bring themselves to denounce literal and explicit calls for Jewish genocide coming from their student bodies, they’ve done their due diligence.
But City Council can do very little to stem this awful revival of an ancient hatred.
It’s really up to us to fix this within ourselves.
We must not only “never forget,” we must remind each other every day what happens when we regard certain people as less than human.
We must look at one another not as outsiders, enemies or as different species but as one single biological family alone in all the universe. We must love and protect our Jewish family just as we do our LGBTQ family and our Islamic family. And we must cherish the family members who seem most foreign to us, the ones we don’t connect with and especially the ones we don’t agree with.
There is no “them” … there is only “us.”
We must treat antisemitism and indeed all anti-human hatred as a chronic disease, a deadly, highly contagious autoimmune disorder with no cure.
As such, we must fight it vigilantly, daily, forever, with everything we’ve got — because it will kill us if we don’t.