It is with profound shock and dismay that we learned about a local antisemitic incident yesterday, February 24th, during a televised morning show. Robert Hoey, Jr., an elected official of the Lowell School Committee and guest on the show “City Life,” described a Jewish former colleague using an antisemitic slur, one used almost exclusively by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Magnifying the offense, this slur was used in connection with the former colleague’s role as a financial manager, furthering a prevalent – and historically, sometimes deadly – antisemitic trope.
That an elected official in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the Commonwealth would casually use such language is offensive; that he went on to make offensive remarks about other minority groups and individuals is appalling. Further, Mr. Hoey mentioned that the disparaging language he used has in fact been commonly used by his colleagues in the Lowell City government. This suggests antisemitism and intolerance within the workplace culture of our public government is deeper and more widespread than we might otherwise have known.
It is also distressing that others on the show were silent. In Lowell schools and homes, we teach that silence is complicity. We also find this principle expressed in Jewish texts: the Talmud states that “shtika k’dumiyah,” silence is like agreement. Silence supports the oppressor and not the oppressed. People of every faith throughout the Merrimack Valley teach and learn that we must speak up in the face of hatred. With antisemitic incidents presently at a record high, Mr. Hoey’s public statements have the potential to embolden those who would further an agenda of hatred. As Robert Trestan of the Anti-Defamation League points out in his response to this incident, the danger of such language “is that it encourages and it incites others to act out…and some people will hear this, and it will reinforce their hatred, and some of them will act out in violent ways. So maybe it’s an opinion show and everyone is entitled to an opinion, but this type of speech, particularly and especially from someone who is an elected member of a school committee, is dangerous.”
We appreciate and support Mayor Leahy’s and the ADL’s call for Mr. Hoey’s resignation and a public apology, and hope that Mr. Hoey will immediately comply and engage in self-reflection and education.
Further, the routine toleration of discrimination and hate among Lowell officials and employees that this incident has brought to light must be addressed. We call upon Mayor Leahy, the Lowell School Committee, and the City of Lowell to work towards healing this untenable situation. We ask that the City of Lowell commits to funding and requiring anti-bias training for all city officials and employees, through a program to be agreed upon in conversation with Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley (Lowell).
As Jewish clergy and community leaders, we are committed to opposing anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination and hatred. We pray that other community leaders of all faiths will stand with us in working for a more just and welcoming society here in the Merrimack Valley.