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Columnist Who Grew Up At Pittsburgh Synagogue Speaks In Charlotte

Bari Weiss

As staff editor and writer for the opinion section of the New York Times, Bari Weiss is used to situating herself in events and conversations that define our times – like the #MeToo movement and freedom of speech on college campuses. Last November, she took on shootings motivated by hate – not because there’ve been so many of them, but because it happened at the synagogue she grew up in – Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh where 11 people were killed.  It began, "I want to tell you what it is like when your neighborhood becomes the scene of a mass murder."

She joins Morning Edition host Lisa Worf.

WORF: How did this shooting - happening in a place and among people you're so familiar with - how did it change your view of the dynamics of these shootings and how we should understand them?

WEISS: You know, I've always been paying attention really closely to gun violence in this country. I'm someone that believes that repealing the Second Amendment should very much be on the table politically but that there's something fundamentally different when you see your neighbors gunned down in a place that is sacred to you. Then when you go home and you show up all of the things that are abstract in a way when you see them happen in another community just become entirely real.

WORF: You talk a lot about the best angels that you saw during those days following the shooting and concerned that though there are wonderful and heroic acts in the aftermath of something like this that maybe it's just not enough dealing with those forces.

WEISS: To say that I was moved by what I saw in Pittsburgh that week is an understatement. I am still processing the goodness. That I saw that part didn't surprise me per se but it was just incredibly moving. But yeah, I'd be lying if I didn't say that I'm very scared of rising anti-Semitism in America coming from both the left and the right. And the challenge of fighting anti-Semitism because it's not like other forms of bigotry. It's a conspiracy theory and in a culture in which conspiracy thinking is thriving, I don't see it going away anytime soon.

WORF: On Real Time with Bill Marr after the shooting, you said, "American Jews have traded policies they like for the values that have sustained the Jewish people in this country." What do you mean by that?

WEISS: What I mean is that I know a lot of people who - Jews, proud Jews - who sort of held their nose and pulled the lever for Donald Trump in 2016 because even though they found him detestable in terms of his character they felt that he was going to do right by the state of Israel. And in terms of scuttling the Iran deal and any number of foreign policies that they supported. I knew a lot of people like this. I know a lot of people still like this and I understand where they're coming from. They feel politically homeless. They feel like increasingly the Democratic Party is turning away from Israel and that, I mean I don't even know to call the Republican Party anymore, that the Trumpist Republican Party is sort of their better bet. And I just don't think any particular policy is worth the price of what it means to have a person of Donald Trump's character as the leader of the free world.

WORF: Last May you wrote a column called "We're all fascists now" about free speech on college campus. What are your concerns about reactions from what you've called the fringe left? And you do describe yourself as a liberal.

WEISS: Yeah, I would say I'm a sort of center-left centrist. But the markers and what these words are keep changing and that actually takes me to the answer which is my concern is the way that very, very powerful words are getting hollowed out. So the word fascism, for example, I get called a fascist, I get called a member of the alt-right. I find this very interesting. My concern is we are living at a time in the world where there is rising fascism. Look only at Brazil. Look at Hungary. I can go down the list. If I'm a fascist, what are those people? So I don't think that people who are using weaponized words understand that in overusing them and inaccurately labeling people with them they're actually stripping these very important potent words that we need to reserve for actual fascists and racists and members of the alt-right and misogynists of their meaning.

WORF: That's Bari Weiss, staff editor and writer for the opinion section of the New York Times. Thanks Miss Weiss.

WEISS: Thank you. 

Bari Weiss speaks at The 2019 Main Event, Feb. 7, at Temple Israel. More information.