Eradicate Hate summit concludes, but work has just begun

Attendees at the Eradicate Hate Global Summit
Attendees of the Eradicate Hate Global Summit at the end of
the day’s sessions on Oct. 18, 2021, at the David L. Lawrence
Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh. (Photo by Lindsay Dill)

By Toby Tabachnick and Adam Reinherz

The Eradicate Hate Global Summit brought more than 100 experts from an array of disciplines to Pittsburgh last week to discuss the proliferation of hate. But according to summit organizers, though the summit is over, the work of those committed to change has just begun.

Now, those experts will form working groups and, over the course of the next year, try to develop feasible and effective solutions to combat hate. They will then present their solutions at a summit next year.

The Eradicate Hate Global Summit, which took place Oct. 18-20, was conceived by attorney Laura Ellsworth in the wake of the 2018 antisemitic attack at the Tree of Life building in Pittsburgh. Ellsworth co-chaired the event with Mark Nordenberg, University of Pittsburgh chancellor emeritus.

In her concluding remarks to a crowd of 500 in-person attendees, and another 1000 people watching online, Ellsworth pledged to “be here next year, on our feet, accountable to all of you for following through on our commitment to take what happened here in this city of Pittsburgh, and to transform that pain into hope, into progress, into actual change in the field of hate and the fight against hate.”

Having experts from various fields coming together to share their knowledge and ideas was “extraordinary,” said Meryl Ainsman, immediate past chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and a member of the summit’s steering committee.

“The interdisciplinary approach to one particular subject, which is fighting and combating hate, has been fascinating,” she said.

Experts in various fields are often siloed, she said, but “this was an unbelievable opportunity for people to interact and learn from each other.”

Summit panels cast a wide net in their definition of “eradicating hate,” but largely seemed to focus on identifying how hate speech and violent actions have metastasized in the social media era.

Some were focused on security. A panel on cryptocurrency on the second day of the summit discussed how bad actors have employed largely untraceable online payments to fund terror operations.

Others focused on legislation. Several speakers discussed the need for better regulation of social media to prevent the spread of hate speech online. (Section 230 of the Federal Communications Decency Act, which effectively immunizes internet publishers from legal responsibility for the content users publish on their site, was a hot topic; many conservative lawmakers have been seeking in recent months to overturn or reform the law, saying that it provides a shield for partisan attacks.)

Day three of the summit pivoted once again to discuss victim responses. Other panels ran the gamut from covering domestic terrorism laws to the link between online speech and real-world violence in Myanmar. A panel led by Maggie Feinstein, director of the 10/27 Healing Partnership, discussed trauma-informed care for the survivors of extremism.

Fareed Zakaria, a host at CNN and a columnist for The Washington Post, in a virtual keynote address, painted a grim picture of the current “culture of intolerance” worldwide, along with the rise of right-wing extremism.

He cautioned that we are “heading toward a world of political violence.”

“We all have to recognize that we are heading down a path where, far from eradicating hate, we are encouraging, we are facilitating hate,” he said. “And in a sense, we are almost approving of it if we don’t stop right now.”

Still, attendees were optimistic about the prospect of changing the paradigm.

Jeff Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, called the summit a “beginning” and said he was encouraged by the collaborations between panelists and participants.

“I’m hopeful,” Tree of Life’s Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers said, “because we’re all in it together.”

Scott Brady, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District Pennsylvania and a current partner at Jones Day, said he was pleased that the summit was occurring in Pittsburgh, given the unique contributions the residents can make.

When panelists and participants come to Pittsburgh, they’re able to see how the community’s strength and resilience help drive the conversation forward, Brady said.

“Pittsburgh experienced something that very few communities in the world have experienced,” Brady said. “The loss that, not only the victims’ families, but the entire community [experienced] was traumatic, was devastating. And then to see how the families, the community responded was remarkable, and that was recognized around the world.”

Toby Tabachnick is the editor of the Pittburgh Jewish Chronicle. Adam Reinherz is a staff writer for the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, where this article first appeared.

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