Last week’s incident during which Lowell School Committee member Robert Hoey Jr. called a former city official an anti-Semitic slur on live TV, suggests a culture of bigotry and discrimination in the highest offices of Lowell’s city government. Hoey’s verbal attack – where he casually uttered a slur most commonly used by neo-Nazis and white supremacists – reflects a disturbing pattern of hate speech and anti-Semitism from elected officials that has increasingly become more common on social media and among extremists in the U.S. in recent years.
As disturbing as Hoey’s anti-Semitism, was the response by guests on the program. The co-host sat in silence following Hoey’s remarks, and the show continued for another 85 minutes without anyone condemning his hate speech – which also repeated an anti-Semitic trope, connecting a Jew with money.
Fortunately, the response by the community and some elected officials shows that hate speech and anti-Semitism will no longer be tolerated in the city. The city’s mayor immediately called for Hoey to resign, and the school superintendent acknowledged that it was not an isolated incident. “In the days ahead, we must collectively commit to the ongoing work of engaging in courageous conversations – and truly bind together as a community to eradicate all forms of anti-Semitism, racism, anti-immigrant sentiment and biased-based conduct,” said Lowell Superintendent Joel Boyd.
In his remarks on TV, Hoey mentioned that the slur had been used by colleagues in the past. “This suggests anti-Semitism and intolerance within the workplace culture of our public government is deeper and more widespread than we might otherwise have known,” leaders of the Merrimack Valley Jewish community wrote in a letter to the Journal. Moving forward, these leaders, along with Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley in Lowell, have called for the city of Lowell to commit to funding and requiring anti-bias training for all city officials and employees, through a program to be agreed upon in conversation with the temple.
The city of Lowell should heed the wise advice of its area Jewish leaders and begin anti-bias training immediately. In a city that has long been the first stop for immigrants and where nearly half of its residents speak a language other than English at home, all residents should feel accepted – especially by city officials whose job it is to serve the public.