USA – Antisemitic hate speech at Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem, PA

Bethlehem, PA – At least four people were seen wearing “It’s okay to be white” T-shirts and were overheard uttering antisemitic slurs on the final day of Christkindlmarkt on the ArtsQuest campus in Bethlehem, according to event organizers and Jewish community leaders.

ArtsQuest, which runs Christkindlmarkt, and the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, were quick to condemn the slurs and hate speech.

“Earlier today, ArtsQuest was made aware of reports that a patron at Christkindlmarkt was spreading antisemitic hate-speech and conspiracy theories,” ArtsQuest said on Twitter. “To be clear, hatred has no place in our diverse community, nor is it welcome in our beloved Christmas City or at any ArtsQuest sponsored event.”

ArtsQuest CEO Kassie Hilgert said organization officials did not know about the hate speech until after it happened. Hilgert learned about the incident when she received a phone call from Robby Wax, president of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, on Sunday evening.

The Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley issued a statement in which it said that at least four people were seen wearing the T-shirts with “It’s okay to be white” printed on them.

“These same people were heard telling patrons that ‘Jews were responsible’ for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, as well as slavery, and that Jews ‘own and run everything,’” the federation said in its statement, noting that the Anti-Defamation League has said that slogan “became popular with white supremacists several years ago, and it is upsetting to see people wearing these shirts and making these hateful comments in our community.”

The federation said within an hour of being notified of the slurs and hate speech, Robby Wax, president of JFLV, spoke with Vicki Doule’, chair of the ArtsQuest board of directors and ArtsQuest President and CEO Kassie Hilgert.

The federation said ArtsQuest is reviewing its policies to prepare for any similar circumstances in the future.

That review, Hilgert said in an interview Monday, would involve meetings with community members and partners to formulate a strategy on how to respond to potential future incidents of public hate speech at an ArtsQuest event. She encouraged ArtsQuest patrons to report hate speech or hateful conduct they see to volunteers and staff.

“I don’t think we are the only event or organization that’s going to see these types of things that can potentially happen, so what can we do to ensure that experience, that everyone who comes here is enjoyable and valuable?” Hilgert said. “Part of that is, ‘see something, say something.’”

Jewish Federation officials credited the Lehigh Valley community for an outpouring of support in response to the antisemitic incident. Mayors of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton all signed proclamations this week that disavow antisemitism, according to their statement.

“Despite this incident, we should be mindful of the wonderful support we have received and are continuing to receive from the non-Jewish community across the Lehigh Valley in response to increasing antisemitism,” the federation’s statement said.

Bethlehem Mayor J. William Reynolds condemned the alleged hate speech in a statement to The Morning Call Monday.

“America has seen a rise in antisemitism in every state and city, and it’s clear that Bethlehem is not spared,” Reynolds said. “This is the just the latest evidence of a much larger problem in America, that a group of people doesn’t believe in concepts like inclusion, diversity and valuing faiths other than their own.

“We need to call out hate speech for what it is,” he added. “We can never stop calling it out, or never let people think that they can openly espouse racist hateful speech.”

Hilgert said despite the hate speech incident, which she called “reprehensible,” she was encouraged by the outpouring of support for the Jewish community that she has seen in response.

“The outreach we have gotten from all corners of our community has been truly heartwarming and to me, exemplifies what this region really is about,” Hilgert said.

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