Jewish congresswoman discusses antisemitism rising 2023

At GW Hillel on Wednesday, a congresswoman discussed Jewish values, the growth of antisemitism, and youth political engagement.

The first Jewish woman to represent Florida in Congress, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-FL, said her Jewish upbringing gave her a “responsibility” to serve her community. Adena Kirstein, executive director of GW Hillel, moderated the event.

Wasserman Schultz, who represents Florida’s 25th congressional district, claimed Jewish ideals like “tikkun olam,” or “making a difference in the world,” inspired her legislative decisions. In 2006, she introduced a resolution to declare May Jewish American Heritage Month in the US, which then-President George W. Bush signed.

The National Archives reports that every president since George W. Bush has recognized JAHM annually.

Wasserman Schultz said she is “most proud” of being the first Jewish woman to serve Florida in the U.S. Congress, but she didn’t understand it until her predecessor, former Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-FL, told her while she was running.

“It really gave me pause when I learned that because there is a sense of responsibilities that came with that distinction,” Wasserman Schultz added. “It increases the responsibility I have always held.”

Wasserman Schultz said her time as University of Florida Student Senate president inspired her to enter national politics. Before her 2004 election to the U.S. House, Wasserman Schultz was elected to the Florida Senate in 2000 and the House in 1992.

Wasserman Schultz was DNC chair from 2011 to 2016. When asked about political double standards, she stated she was scrutinized more than male chairs.

“In the normal course of running the DNC, the decisions I would make, I would get scrutinized or called out by the media or by other people who had say-so in the work that we were doing,” Wasserman Schultz said. “They never questioned my male predecessors.”

Wasserman Schultz was criticized for her 2016 election primaries emails that favored Hillary Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, including one that said Sanders would never be president. She resigned one day before the 2016 DNC convention when DNC insiders and Sanders supporters criticized her.

Wasserman Schultz expressed alarm about rising antisemitism, particularly in Florida. According to the Anti-Defamation League Florida, Florida had the fourth-most antisemitic incidents in 2022, behind New York, California, and New Jersey. In 2022, the ADL recorded 269 antisemitic occurrences in Florida, up 42% from 2021 and a state record.

Wasserman Shultz claimed social media firms’ refusal to restrict antisemitic and racist speech allowed it to spread “wildfire” online and promote harassment, attacks, and speech. She stated social media corporations profit by not removing racist comments.

They claim to fight hate.

Wasserman Schultz stated social media corporations are indifferent. “They pretend to want to take down the hate, but they make money off of it and use their algorithms to promote it and advertisers make money from it.”

Since 1979, the ADL has reported the most U.S. antisemitic events, including harassment, graffiti, and attacks, in 2022. The ADL defines harassment as “harassment verbally or in writing,” vandalism as “antisemitic intent or which had an antisemitic impact on Jews,” and assaults as “targeted with physical violence accompanied by evidence of antisemitic animus.”

Wasserman Schultz, who became the youngest female Florida legislator when she was elected to the House at 26, said serving with colleagues old enough to be her parents and grandparents made her realize the need for the “energy” and “ideas” of the “lens of the younger generation.” She said as a young mother of three children, she co-sponsored the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act to prevent child drowning by requiring pool drain covers to reduce body, hair, and limb entrapment because no one had “taken on” the issue.

She noted that youth representation in Congress has improved, but more young people should seek for government.

“Now it will be different, now you could run as a single young woman,” Wasserman Schultz added. “But it’s so important that younger people think about running because you lose that perspective generationally.”

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