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Opinion
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Guest Column
In Pinellas and across America, we must stand up and speak out against antisemitism and other bigotry | Column
Too many Americans feel unsafe right now, and we must work together to change that.
Holocaust survivor Toni Rinde shares her story during the Unite Against Hate vigil outside of the Florida Holocaust Museum on Thursday, June 3, in response to the vandalism of the museum building with antisemitic graffiti.
Holocaust survivor Toni Rinde shares her story during the Unite Against Hate vigil outside of the Florida Holocaust Museum on Thursday, June 3, in response to the vandalism of the museum building with antisemitic graffiti. [ MENGSHIN LIN | Times ]
Published Jun. 8

We’re all human.

That line in the song that opened the rally against hate outside the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg last week resonated with me as I stood with dozens of our friends and neighbors to send a message.

The gathering reflected one of Florida’s greatest strengths — diversity in race, ethnicity, gender, political party and religion. Yet we were united in our stand against the hate that scarred an outside wall of the museum last month. We’re all human, and public officials and private citizens must continue to stand up and speak out against antisemitism and other forms of bigotry. Too many Americans feel unsafe right now, and we must work together to change that.

Ben Diamond
Ben Diamond [ Provided ]

As a kid growing up in Pinellas County, I had thought these issues had been laid to rest with the Allied victory in World War II. Both of my grandfathers served in the war. My father’s father was wounded in Europe. He was a proud Jew, and he was proud to enlist to be part of the military campaign to defeat Adolf Hitler.

But I’ve learned over time that history has a way of repeating itself. The vandalism at the Florida Holocaust Museum is not the only recent antisemitic incident in St. Petersburg. Antisemitic fliers were recently circulated in my neighborhood, and on Beach Drive along the city’s iconic waterfront. These hateful acts reflect an increase in antisemitic threats and violence across the country.

In New York last month, a brick crashed through a window of a kosher pizza restaurant. In Los Angeles, men shouting antisemitic threats harassed Jewish diners outside a sushi restaurant. Synagogues have been vandalized in states such as Arizona, Illinois and Utah. In Nashville, a hat store sold “not vaccinated’' Star of David patches for $5. That is a gross misappropriation of the symbol some European Jews were required to wear, and it trivializes the memory of millions of Jews murdered during the Holocaust and the enduring pain suffered by their families.

It’s bad enough that a hat lady in Nashville would equate the inconveniences of the pandemic with the horrors of the Holocaust. Even worse, however, is that this person may be taking her cues from elected members of Congress, like Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who said that congressional rules about social distancing and mask-wearing were “exactly the type of abuse” that Hitler inflicted on the Jews. There can be no tolerance for this kind of rhetoric, just like there can be no tolerance for our museum getting scarred with antisemitic graffiti.

What we need in Washington are men and women who can shoulder the responsibilities of lawmaking, not outrage peddlers who want to replace the real work of government with inflammatory comments for their social media followers. In Congress, we should support bipartisan efforts to condemn antisemitic violence and to provide more funding for security at faith-based institutions.

What we need in our communities is to continue to educate and speak out against antisemitism and all other forms of bigotry. Vulnerable populations of all types in Florida and the nation should not live in fear. We are stronger when we work together to create safer communities for all like we are working to build in St. Petersburg.

Today, I will be among the speakers in a town hall meeting organized by the Jewish Federations of Southwest and Central Florida to encourage everyone to speak out against antisemitism and to become more educated about these issues. One way to do that is to visit the Florida Holocaust Museum or its website, www.flholocaustmuseum.org, which offers extensive information and resources regarding lessons from the past. We’re all human, and we are all stronger when we stand together.

State Rep. Ben Diamond is a St. Petersburg Democrat and a candidate for Congress in the 13th District that includes St. Petersburg, Clearwater and most of Pinellas County.