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  4. Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Remarks at the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism Sports Leaders Convening

Secretary Mayorkas Delivers Remarks at the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism Sports Leaders Convening

Release Date: October 12, 2023

Secretary Mayorkas delivered the following remarks in his keynote address at the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism’s Inaugural Sports Leaders Convening.

When I first accepted Mr. Kraft’s invitation – RKK’s invitation – to speak with you today, I intended to give a very different speech. 

I intended to discuss the scope of the rising anti-Semitism problem in America, to make clear that the sports world is not exempt, and to call out recent anti-Semitic statements and actions by several high-profile athletes. I intended to talk about the Administration’s commitment to confronting anti-Semitic violence in our country, and to highlight our first-ever National Strategy to Counter Anti-Semitism. I intended to ask for your partnership and that of your organizations in addressing the world’s oldest form of hatred.

That was before the events of this past weekend. Before hundreds of innocent men, women, and children were unspeakably, brutally murdered and thousands more injured; before more than 150 were torn from their homes, pulled from their cars and off the streets, seized from a concert in the desert, and taken hostage; before Israel was targeted by the worst terrorist attack in its history. 

It was before a demonstrator waved a swastika during a rally in Times Square on Sunday; before a group chanted “gas the Jews” at a rally in front of the Sydney Opera House in Australia on Sunday; before social media was awash in praise for Hamas terrorists and calls for “total Jew death.”

The reality in which we are gathered today is this: Jewish people in our country and across the world are again traumatized, again afraid for their own safety and for the safety of their loved ones.

Those of you in the audience who are Jewish know this; those of you who are not must know this: Every Jewish person has felt the sting of anti-Semitism at some point in our lives, and the impact of an act of hate is lasting.

I lived this in my own home, growing up.  My mother, who escaped the Holocaust while so many in her family did not, did not have me enjoy sleepovers or sleep-away camp as many of my friends did. She had known children who left home and did not return. That tragedy compelled her, decades later, to keep us very, very close.

The events of the last five days have awoken a sometimes deep-seated, sometimes generations-old fear in Jewish people everywhere.  The paradigm for anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitic violence, has shifted precipitously over the past five days. 

So must, too, the urgency with which we confront it. 

I will start by sharing what our Administration and the Department of Homeland Security are doing to quell this storm, before I speak of what we cannot do.

First and foremost, we are partnering with state and local officials to stay vigilant in the wake of insensitive and dangerous calls to action by former Hamas leadership and pro-Hamas organizations.

We are connecting communities with resources made available under the Administration’s National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism. This includes our Protecting Places of Worship resource guide, which we are distributing to synagogues, religious schools, mosques, community centers, and other nonprofits in partnership with the FBI. 

We are, through our Nonprofit Security Grant Program, providing $305 million dollars in support this fiscal year alone to more than 2,200 faith-based and other nonprofit organizations at risk of a terrorist or other violent extremist attack.   

We are, through our Center for Prevention, Programs, and Partnerships, connecting state and local leaders directly with technical, educational, and policy assistance, including our network of 19 Regional Prevention Coordinators who help state governments develop effective, individualized violence prevention strategies.

We are, through our Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Grant Program, helping more than 140 violence-reduction pilot programs across the country get off the ground.

We are being guided in all these efforts and more by our multi-denominational Faith-Based Security Advisory Council.    

What we are not doing, however, is targeting speech – even speech that we find reprehensible. There is no place for hate in America – not against Jewish people, and not against Muslims – but the fact of the matter is that DHS can only operate at the nexus of hate and hate-fueled violence. The fact of the matter is that progress towards truly eradicating hate from the hearts, heads, words, and actions of society must be driven by society itself.

That is why I am grateful for the opportunity to be here with you today, and why I so deeply appreciate and admire Mr. Kraft’s leadership in convening us – because the sports leagues, teams, and athletes you represent are critical to those efforts. 

Sports hold an extraordinary amount of our collective attention, and athletes hold an extraordinary amount of our collective respect. 27 million people tuned in to Sunday Night Football two weeks ago; 112,000 will be at the Big House in Ann Arbor on Saturday; 3.5 million watched every pitch of the Braves-Phillies game on Monday. The two most followed Instagram accounts in the world are of soccer players, and 100,000 Travis Kelce jerseys are selling every week. Though if there’s a breakup, that will plummet significantly.

Societies take their cues from a select few role models, and more often than not, the person whose example we see and whose voice we hear every night on TV and on Twitter is the captain, star, coach, or owner of our favorite team.

Your voice matters.  Your leadership makes a difference.

Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1960s, I, for example, took cues from my favorite baseball team, the Dodgers – Sandy Koufax, Walter Alston, Don Drysdale, Walter O’Malley. Koufax chose to sit out Game 1 of the 1965 World Series to observe the Jewish high holiday of Yom Kippur. Team owner O’Malley shared Koufax’s burden, saying “I won’t let Sandy pitch on Yom Kippur under any circumstances.” Pitcher Don Drysdale took Koufax’s place and, when he got shelled by the Twins in that Game 1 and was being pulled out, he told his Manager, Walt Alston, “I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too.”

Those four Hall of Famers built a publicly inclusive, supportive, and above all, dominant team. That’s what the New England Patriots are as well. For years, kids in California and across the country emulated them when we played catch in a backyard or played in Little League. Because of the example those Dodgers set, we felt more confident in our abilities and in our worth; more comfortable taking pride in ourselves and in our faith.

Such leaders exist in every sport, in every league, and in every city. The Orioles’ Israeli starting pitcher, Dean Kremer, made his first career playoff start on Tuesday night and used his moment with reporters to talk powerfully about the Israeli family members he was pitching for. Aly Raisman won an Olympic gold medal with a floor routine that paid tribute to the Munich eleven, 40 years after that massacre. Ray Allen quietly brought his teammates to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum before every road game in Washington. Before I had the privilege of beginning my address to all of you, Mr. Kraft, RKK, spoke of his travels to Israel, bringing athletes to understand the Jewish experience – the experience of the State of Israel, and what that means, and what that should mean to the world, and how we teach tolerance and respect and understanding.

I encourage all of you to try, in the days, weeks, and months ahead, to make sure that examples like theirs are what our country sees – that voices like theirs are what we hear – that people like them are who we look up to.

Sports can elevate and champion these missionaries of tolerance. It can also create them.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity, and the honor, to meet with survivors of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. During that engagement, on the margins of the Eradicate Hate Summit, a survivor named Audrey asked me a very important question. We were discussing some of the security measures the Department of Homeland Security provides communities to stop hate-fueled violent attacks when Audrey asked us to take a step back. 

“People are not born hating each other,” she said. “They learn it somewhere along the way. How can we reach kids before they learn to hate, and teach them how to respect?”

I wanted to be here in Foxborough and speak with all of you today because I believe an important part of the answer to Audrey’s question lies in sports, including with you. 

From as young as four or five years old, sports, at their best, teach us the importance of working together in pursuit of a common goal. Sports teach us to judge others based on their skill, decency, and hard work alone. Sports help us make friends and value fair play. Sports are where we learn how to compete, but how to respect our opponents; how to win with humility, and how to lose with grace. 

These are not lessons that government can teach, but they are lessons that can help mitigate the threats government is charged with confronting. In a world that is witnessing a tremendous rise in hate and in acts of hate-fueled violence, sports, at their best, can be the antidote to a world that increasingly seeks to isolate us and pit us against each other – a world that tells us it is acceptable to mock those we perceive to be beneath us, to resent those we perceive to be above us, and to justify acts of hatred and violence against both. 

We need all of you in this room today, and your peers and colleagues across teams, leagues, conferences, divisions, and associations, to help administer the antidote. The antidote not just with respect to anti-Semitism, but to hate in all its forms.

The Department of Homeland Security, your Department, is eager to be your partner – a member of your team – in whatever way we can.  It is my hope that this summit, at this moment, can be the beginning of such a partnership. 

I again thank you, Mr. Kraft… for hosting this summit, and I thank all of you for being here. Thank you for your commitment to using your voices and your platforms to honor the victims of hate, and build a more tolerant, secure future. And thank you for the opportunity and the honor to speak with you today.

Thanks so much.


Last Updated: 10/12/2023
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