By Walter Villa, Special to STU
Anti-Semitism is raging, and we no longer have the luxury of looking away.
There is the obvious physical war in the Middle East, but there is also a much more nuanced, yet deadly public-relations battle, and the latter is a fight that Israel is losing.
Those were among the messages delivered by Ayelet Junger, a lawyer and film producer who was the closing speaker at last month’s “Words Matter! Navigating Faith, Media and Fashion in the Shadow of Anti-Semitism” conference at St. Thomas University.
The event, held at STU’s Gus Machado College of Business Auditorium, was hosted by STU professors Dr. Hagai Gringarten and Ashlee Rzyczycki. “Words Matter!” was billed as a conversation on Anti-Semitism and the impact of language and media.
Junger started her own company, “TruthLens Media”, after the terrorist group Hamas brutally attacked Israel last October 7, killing 1,139 people, and taking more than 200 hostages. It was the largest loss of Jewish life in any single day since the Holocaust.
Focused on the public-relations battle, Junger said her company found 678 films – all with English subtitles and distributed in the west — that have portrayed Palestinians as victims of Israeli violence and so-called ethnic cleansing.
“You might think, ‘OK, they tell their story, and we tell ours,’” Junger said. “The question is, ‘How many of these films tell our story?’”
Junger said she has found fewer than 10 films that tell Israel’s side of the story. And those 10 films are buried on YouTube and poorly distributed.
“A statement, whether true or false, is more likely to be believed the more often it is repeated,” Junger said. “This is a public-relations battle that we’ve lost – by default. We just didn’t know we had to show up.”
Whether Jews live in Israel, the U.S., or elsewhere, Junger said, they must win both the physical war, and the public-relations battle just to live a peaceful life.
Unfortunately, Junger said, films portraying Palestinians as victims of Israeli violence have gone mainstream. For example, a 2022 film called “The Gift” was nominated for an Oscar.
“This tells us about the acceptance of the idea of Jews as oppressors and as something that people do not question or find remotely offensive,” Junger said. “It’s an incredibly effective (Anti-Semitic) machine.”
Junger, who showed film clips during her remarks to further make her points at the “Words Matter” conference, was just one of many speakers who traveled to STU for the event.
STU President David A. Armstrong, J.D., kicked off the conference and stressed the goal of fostering meaningful dialogue on what is unquestionably an urgent matter. President Armstrong also debuted a new STU commercial which calls for an emphasis on critical thinking considering the disastrous congressional testimony delivered by three elite university presidents last year.
It was a uniquely interdisciplinary event, as it was held thanks to the collaboration of STU’s Institute of Interfaith Leadership. Prayers were offered by Father Rafael Capó, who is STU’s Vice President of Mission, as well as by local rabbis.
In addition to the prayers, remarks were made by a pair of mayors: Miami Beach’s Steven Meiner and Surfside’s Shlomo Danzinger.
Among the other distinguished speakers at the event were:
- George Feldenkreis, the chairman and founder of Perry Ellis International;
- Tobi Rubinstein, the best-selling author of “The House of Faith and Fashion: What My Wardrobe Taught Me About G-D”
- Dana Kamilar, the Florida Regional Director of Outreach for Stand With Us
- Nadine Richterman, the Florida Director of Camera
- Jacki Alexander, the CEO of HonestReporting
- and Marc Karimzadeh, the Editorial and Communications Director for the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Mayor Meiner spoke about his youth, much of which he spent reading about the Holocaust.
“How could it happen, especially in such an intellectual and sophisticated society such as Germany,” Mayor Meiner remembers thinking. “What happens when this generation of survivors of the Holocaust dies out or when the World War II veterans who liberated the camps are no longer with us?
“Well, we’re seeing what happens. We’re living through it right now.”
Mayor Meiner said he read a book called: Hitler’s Willing Executioners.
“Hitler couldn’t have done it alone,” Mayor Meiner said. “The Nazis couldn’t have done it alone. It took a lot of people who may not have murdered anyone, but the Anti-Semitism that lived in them let it happen.
“When we see calls for a cease fire that never mention Israel’s right to self-defense, that’s Anti-Semitism.
“When they never even mention the hostages who are being held in the most gruesome manner, that’s Anti-Semitism.
“When we hear phrases such as, ‘From the River to the Sea’ that is code for genocide of the Jewish people, that’s Anti-Semitism.”
Mayor Meiner said just being at the “Words Matter” conference – whether it was the guest speakers or those in the audience — was vital to the cause.
“Don’t discount how important being here is,” he said. “You talking to your friends about this cause – you are having an impact.”
Mayor Danzinger injected some humor into what was mostly a solemn affair, saying: “As a politician, if someone offers me a microphone, I have to take it.”
Turning serious, Mayor Danzinger also referenced the Holocaust and how the “world stayed quiet” while six million Jews were being slaughtered.
“It wasn’t until the war came to our doorstep, with Pearl Harbor, did we (the U.S.) get involved,” Mayor Danzinger said. “It was that silence, that, after World War II, we said: ‘Never again.’”
Mayor Danzinger explained that ‘never again’ doesn’t mean no more attacks. It means the world will never again stay silent.
Richterman spoke out against the “constant barrage of hate and lies being spewed in the media, online and on college campuses that have resulted in the (high) level of Anti-Semitism we have not seen since the Holocaust.”
She chronicled major lies that have are often repeated and, as she phrased it, the “facts that refute them.”
Richterman added that many of those lies are merely what is known as projection.
“Many of the things that Israel is accused of,” she said, “are actually things the other side is doing.”
Kamilar spoke in personal terms of how Anti-Semitism has impacted her life.
When she was a child, her eight-year-old brother had his hand slammed in a school locker, and a swastika was drawn on his forehead.
“My parents were afraid,” she said. “We quietly placed our Judaism in a box inside ourselves, and we began to only be Jewish at home.”
Because of this, she did not grow up going to synagogues.
However, she always gravitated toward Jewish kids in school, and, due to their recommendations, she took a “birthright trip” that changed her life, traveling to Israel for 10 days to learn about her culture.
“Never have I felt a connection to a land and a people so instantaneously,” she said. “I knew Israel was my homeland as it had been the Jewish homeland for centuries before me.
“I came home, I quit my cushy corporate job, and I began my new life in Pro-Israel advocacy. I know, pretty crazy move. But that’s the power of learning what home means.”
Kamilar also commented about October 7.
“These attacks included some of the most heinous reports of violence the world has ever seen,” she said. “Rape was used as a weapon of war. Beheadings and indiscriminate killings – men, women, and children as young as nine months old were ripped from their homes and brought to terror tunnels underneath Gaza, where many still reside today.”
Touching on similar themes as those shared by Junger, Kamilar said Israel is fighting a “battle for public opinion.”
Kamilar correctly states that American news coverage shifted quickly from “shock and horror” regarding Hamas’ barbaric attack to the condemnation of Israel’s retaliatory efforts.
Since October 7, Kamilar said, there has been a 337-percent increase in Anti-Semitism across the U.S.
When rapper Kanye West posted his horrific comment that ‘Hitler was right’, he posted it to his 50-million followers. For context, there are just 16 million Jews on Earth.
As Kamilar said: Do the math.
And, while you are at it, notice what is going on across the country.
“We’ve seen pro-Hamas rallies on college campuses, chanting, ‘Gas the Jews,’ with no repercussions from the schools,” Kamilar said. “We’ve seen students having their yarmulkes ripped off their heads. We’ve seen sexual assaults – degrading Jewish women and calling them Anti-Semitic slurs.
“As the media perpetuates unbalanced coverage, they paint Israel – and by extension Jewish people – as an all-too-powerful aggressor set on the destruction of people.
“This is a dangerous narrative for the Jewish people, and it directly correlates to the rise of Anti-Semitism.”