Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of ADL (Anti-Defamation League), recently delivered the inaugural Staenberg Lecture.
Greenblatt sounded the alarm that hate and systemic violence is gathering momentum in the United States — and that violence on a more catastrophic scale could be just around the corner.
“After we saw neo-Nazis marching through Charlottesville, after a rash of anti-Jewish assaults in Brooklyn, after the umpteenth time that a politician compares the state-sponsored genocide of 6 million Jews to mandates to wear masks indoors, or after the U.S. Capitol was the site of a violent insurrection — if that doesn’t worry you, you’re not paying attention,” he said.
“These threats are like killer storms bearing down on us, threatening to bring immediate violence and overwhelming harm to us all. In the face of this, we need to both defend ourselves and work to combat it aggressively. We have no other choice.”
Greenblatt described the role Big Tech has played in normalizing hate and acts of violence. “Social media is the most consequential force when we try to understand the rise of antisemitism and hate in society today,” he said. “It has been exploited by extremists with chilling effectiveness. Today, content that would be barred on any other medium can be found by your 12-year-old with a few clicks on the computer or a few swipes on their phone.”
Furthermore, he urged Big Tech to address the incitement of violence taking place on its platforms. “It’s time they pay the price whether through stiff penalties or regulatory intervention,” Greenblatt said. “But if the government won’t act and businesses won’t self-regulate, civil society needs to step into the breach. Because the freedom of speech isn’t the freedom to slander, and the freedom of expression isn’t the freedom to incite violence.”
Greenblatt also reflected on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the largest military mobilization in Europe since World War II. “It’s gut-wrenching to see the scenes of horror and utter brutality of the Russian forces as they lay waste to this wonderful country,” he said. “It’s an unnecessary war that’s caused the death of thousands, dislodged millions of innocents and traumatized the world. The ramifications of the Russian savagery pose a threat to democracy everywhere and remind us of the danger of ignoring dictators.”
Made possible through a generous commitment to Maryville University from the Staenberg Family Foundation, the annual Staenberg Lecture series focuses on contemporary social issues through the lens of the Holocaust, its lessons and its historical significance. Maryville is presenting the lecture series in partnership with the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum.
The Staenberg Lecture will return in Spring 2023. More details about the event will be announced in the coming months.