There once was a school of thought that held the best way to deal with random displays of anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance was to ignore them. Reacting publicly to a swastika scrawled on a bathroom door or carved into a school desk would only serve to give the offenders what they wished for: the oxygen of attention. Ignore them, and they would fail to take root in the public consciousness.
Those days are over.
Acts of intolerance are becoming more commonplace, and more brazen. The Anti-Defamation League, as noted in this space before, recently marked a 42 percent spike in incidents of harassment, vandalism and threats in Massachusetts over the past two years. In many cases, the incidents aren't the anonymous scrawlings of years past but public displays, like the student performing the Nazi salute near his Jewish peers at a Newburyport school event, or anti-Semitic slurs lobbed at two rabbis from a passing pickup truck last week in Peabody.
It can seem exhausting in this day and age to speak loudly and clearly against every act of intolerance, large and small. Yet it most be done.
So count us among those heartened by the full-throated response Wednesday from the residents of Peabody, where a week ago two rabbis were subjected to anti-Semitic slurs while walking down the street.
“Unfortunately, as we saw last week in Peabody, and as we too often see in news headlines across America and around the world, prejudice continues to rear its ugly head," said Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who helped arrange rally that brought almost 400 people to the steps of City Hall. "And although we cannot wish it away, we can condemn it swiftly and clearly wherever it bubbles to the surface.”
One of the rabbis who was accosted, Sruli Baron of Tobin Bridge Chabad, said rallies such as the one held Wednesday help send a powerful message.
“The real solution is to root out the hate,” he said. “It needs to be uncool, unwoke to hate.”
Daniel Agranov, the deputy general consul of Israel, put it best:
“Each and every one of us must take personal responsibility and commit to ongoing vigilance to call out hatred and bigotry whenever and wherever we encounter it," he said. "If our society starts to accept these verbal attacks as normal, that is when the troubles begin.”