Anti-Semitism talk reveals the nasty side of politics

By Miranda Senft


(Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

Exactly one year ago last night, on November 8, Erin Schrode, the youngest woman to run for Congress, lost the election to incumbent Jared Huffman.  Earlier in the year, four days before the primary election, she became the victim of a storm of online anti-Semitic hate perpetrated by Andrew Anglin, creator of the alt-right newspaper The Daily Stormer, and his followers.

Schrode woke up that day to explicit, sexist and anti-Semitic comments that promoted violence and sexual assault against her.

Last night in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall, Erin Schrode gave a lecture titled “Antisemitism in the New Political Climate” sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Hillel House. In the lecture, she talked about her background as an activist, a social entrepreneur and an environmentalist and her experience running for Congress.

At the age of 13, Schrode co-founded the nonprofit organization called Turning Green, which is a campaign dedicated to the opposition of hazardous chemicals in beauty and personal care products. At the age of 18, Schrode attended a conference and became inspired to do more and to be more active in grassroots movements.

At the age of 24, after graduating from New York University, she decided to run for a Congressional spot in her district, the second district of California. Her goals were to redefine civic engagement, reinvigorate a culture of public service and expand the definition of who can be a politician.

Schrode called the time spent on her campaign “the most exhilarating and exhausting time of [her] life.”

Then came the attacks. At first, they started out as hundreds of messages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, her personal cell phone and her personal email. The next day, after not responding to any messages or making any public statements, thousands more came. The FBI became involved as the hate speech continued, said Schrode; Anglin of the Daily Stormer called her the “Filthy Jewess” and the “Hissing Weasel.”

Schrode asked the audience what anti-Semitism meant to them in a single word, the crowd responded with words such as “ignorance,” “attack,” “hate,” “threatening” and “history.”

Schrode said, “You have to call out hatred. You have to name it and address it.”

Since then, Schrode has been the target of attacks from not only the Daily Stormer, but from Richard Spencer, an active white supremacist, and David Duke, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

When asked what she would say to these men if they were sitting in front of her, Schrode said, “Hi. I’m Erin. Why me? Is it just to make an example out of someone?”

Schrode continued, “It’s a lot easier to discriminate against that which is not in your face. It’s a lot easier to desecrate something that seems like it’s at a distance…You find some sort of common ground, or you just show up and show people that you’re real, that you’re human, that you live and you breathe and you want a future for yourself and your children. And it changes the dialogue.”

Keren Radbil, a senior obtaining a bachelor’s degree with an individual concentration in environmental and agricultural education, knows all too well what discrimination feels like.

“I’ve been called a ‘baby-killing Zionist’…I’ve heard a whole bunch of things similar to what she said, but obviously not to that degree,” Radbil said, adding that she hasn’t just faced anti-Semitism on campus, but also felt ostracized for being pro-Israel.

“I’ve definitely not spoken up enough in my UMass career about my love and affection for Israel out of fear of being silenced and shut out of my social circles, because I know that supporting Israel is not the cool thing…because the preconceived notion is that to be pro-Israel is to be anti-Palestinian. I don’t hate Palestinians, and I don’t hate Muslims,” said Radbil.

Radbil was encouraged greatly by this speech, stating, “hearing her speak to us about ‘find your passion and go do it, find something small and go do it’ was amazing for me.”

Ruth Rohde, a senior environmental science major with a concentration in sustainable business practice, has had a more positive experience at UMass when it comes to dealing with anti-Semitism.

“I’ve been very happily surprised that…I haven’t had major issues. Some of that is the way that I talk to people I think, because if they start a conversation with me about it, it ends well,” Rohde said.

Jonathas Marcello Demiranda, a sophomore geology and Portuguese double major, has had similar experiences to Ruth on campus, but has experienced what he describes as “nuanced anti-Semitism” off-campus.

Demiranda wears a kippah full time, which is a brimless cap worn by many Jewish men that covers their heads. He said, “I do get a lot more stares when I walk by and people see my kippah. I can feel people behind me, and it’s a very interesting feeling to feel people looking at you.”

Schrode called on the people at UMass by challenging them, saying, “What do you care about and what are you doing about that? We need more people to act upon their passions, act upon what fuels them for the greater good.”

Schrode finished her lecture by saying, “I believe in the power of education to change the world, and it’s places like [UMass] that fuel the growth and foster that innovative spirit and ultimately can have a legacy that will positively impact not only your campus, not only your children, but a community, a country and a world.”

Miranda Emily Eden Senft can be reached at [email protected]