CNN’s Dana Bash on Fighting Antisemitism
In an Aish.com exclusive interview, Dana Bash discusses what she learned researching her CNN special and key lessons she wants to impart.
When I first heard that Dana Bash, CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent, was creating the CNN Special Report Rising Hate: Antisemitism in America, I knew it was bound to be a watershed in how we discuss the rising levels of Jew-hatred in the US and around the globe. Dana is widely known as a hard-hitting journalist; I also know her as my fun cousin – our Holocaust survivor widowed grandparents married each other when Dana and I were young, blending our family together and giving us new beloved relatives and lifelong friends.
In this Aish.com exclusive interview, Dana opens up about what she learned researching her CNN special and key lessons she wants us all to take away.
“I always knew my great grandparents were killed in Auschwitz, that my great aunt was killed in Auschwitz,” Dana recalls. “What happened to our family is the ultimate antisemitism.”
Shadows of the Holocaust were always a part of Dana’s life.
Rudolph and Matilda Vidor, Dana Bash's great-grandparents, who were killed in Auschwitz
Dana’s Grandpa Frank was larger than life and one of Dana’s greatest influences. He and his wife Teri made a harrowing journey, escaping across Nazi Europe, and finally found refuge in the United States in the midst of World War II. Years later, when he married my Grandma Frances, Frank learned of the difficult journey she’d made, too, fleeing from Nazi-occupied Austria to the US. Many of her relatives, like Frank’s, weren’t able to escape and perished in Europe.
“I always remember Grandpa Frank and Grandma Frances – and the many thousands of people who found refuge here during the Holocaust,” Dana says. “I think about how incredibly patriotic they were and how much they loved America.”
Standing Up to Hatred
That was a key motivation in making Rising Hate: Antisemitism in America. Our grandparents certainly realized that antisemitism exists even in America. They lived in Skokie, IL, site of the famous battle over a planned Nazi march in 1977. Yet they maintained a deep abiding belief in the decency of the United States and believed Americans could be trusted to repudiate Jew hate. “We owe it to them to call out antisemitism,” Dana explains. “It’s our responsibility.”
Teri Vidor Weinman and Frank Weinman, Dana Bash's grandparents, seen in 1939 on their wedding day while on the run in Prague
CNN’s Rising Hate: Antisemitism in America highlighted the horrific rise in anti-Jewish assaults in the United States in recent years. Paul Abbate, Deputy Director of the FBI, appeared on the CNN special because he thinks the rise in antisemitism is such a pressing issue. “The threat level against the Jewish community is historic and over the last few years it’s been on the rise,” he explained. His agency found that in 2020, the latest year for which records are available, Jews were the target of 57% of religiously motivated hate crimes – despite being only 2% of the American population. When Dana asked him on the program whether Jews suffer from hate crimes more than people of other religions, Abbate’s answer was unequivocal: “There’s no doubt about that.”
In 2020, Jews were the target of 57% of religiously motivated hate crimes – despite being only 2% of the American population.
The program explored phenomena of rising antisemitism in politics, both on the right and the left in today’s America. Political discourse has become more hateful, something that Dana has witnessed firsthand in her work. “Unfortunately, it’s a change in atmosphere: not just hatred against Jews, but hate in general. It’s become normalized: people have gotten used to really negative, ugly discourse in a way that did not exist before.”
Dana worries that outraged political language can be “a slippery slope from discourse to violence.” She recalls that in the past some critics have attacked her for being Jewish and criticized her, not on the merits of her work, but instead by bringing up ugly anti-Jewish stereotypes.
Left to right: Dana Bash, her mother Francie Schwartz, Frances Weinman, Dana’s brother David Schwartz and her grandfather Frank Weinman.
That’s a danger that she highlighted in Rising Hate. In recent years some Jewish reporters have found themselves on the receiving end of hate-filled anti-Jewish rants and threats. On the show Atlantic journalist Julia Ioffe explained how she “started getting all these calls and all of this ugly stuff on social media and my email and then the photoshops of my face in gas chamber, or my face in an Auschwitz mugshot…” Social media has made posting antisemitic content easier than ever - while efforts to police it often lags behind.
One recent study found that five of the major social media platforms failed to remove antisemitic posts 84% of the time.
Her Son’s Star of David
One of the most pivotal moments for Dana in making Rising Hate: Antisemitism in America occurred before the cameras even started rolling. Dana was preparing to interview Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, United States Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism and the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. Dana mentioned to Dr. Lipstadt that she admired the Jewish star necklace she was wearing. Dr. Lipstadt replied that she’d only recently started wearing it as a way to stand tall and proclaim her Jewish pride in the face of rising antisemitism.
The comment struck home to Dana because she’d recently had some important discussions with her own son about wearing a Jewish star, the subject of a CNN article Dana wrote. Last Hanukkah, her ten year old son asked for a Jewish star necklace. “To be honest I wasn’t sure how I felt about the idea of him wearing his Jewish faith so prominently in public,” Dana recalled. She explained that she proudly displays a mezuzah on the door to her home – another visible expression of Jewish identity - but when it came to having her young son wear a Jewish symbol in public, she worried that he might become the target of anti-Jewish comments – or worse.
Dana didn’t buy the star, hoping he’d forget about it, but her son remembered, reminding his mom that he’d asked for a Jewish star half-way through the holiday.
“So I bought it for him,” Dana explained to Aish.com. “He goes to a school where there are Jews and non-Jews alike, and some of his Christian friends were wearing crosses. He said they’re proud of their religion, and I’m proud of my religion… He convinced me.”
Dana bought him his star. So far he hasn’t received any negative comments and he’s thrilled with his star of David. Dana credits her son’s pride in being Jewish with making Judaism a palpable, central presence in their family life.
“Instilling Jewish pride means prioritizing, as much as I can,” Dana explains. “It means saying, ‘No, I’m not going to do this live shot on a Friday night; I’m going to spend Shabbat with my family, with my parents.’ It’s a moment when you take a deep breath and relax and enjoy being together.”
Dana points out that one of the greatest Jewish gifts she’s given her son is sending him to Jewish summer camp. The experience has deepened his Jewish identity and pride. “I heard him talking on the phone recently,” Dana recalls, “and he said camp really unlocked his Judaism.” (A large study a decade ago found that children who attend Jewish camp do indeed have a stronger Jewish identity.)
The Importance of Jewish Pride
Since Rising Hate: Antisemitism in America aired on August 21, 2022 – and her essay about her son’s Jewish star - Dana has received a huge amount of feedback from viewers. She has struck a nerve. “I’ve gotten so many notes from strangers and from friends saying that essay inspired them to take out a Jewish star that’s in their drawer that they got for their bar or bat mitzvah – or to buy one - and be loud and proud. I’ve heard from adults and kids; one friend’s two teenage sons even asked for Jewish stars. I never imagined that would be one of the ways this would impact people.”
Yet that’s one of the core pieces of advice Dana heard from experts who appeared in her show: anti-Jewish statements and slurs need to be addressed. When Dana interviewed Jeffrey Cohen, the vice president for the board of trustees at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, and one of the four members held at gunpoint there in January 2022, he noted, “We have that friend’s crazy uncle who’s a blatant racist or antisemite, and they’ll apologize for him, and we’ll all roll our eyes, and we let it go. That’s not what we need to do. Letting things go is a problem.”
Dana shares that advice today. “The best response is education, that’s what I learned. It’s never been more crucial to counter anti-Jewish slanders that people can so easily imbibe today, particularly from online sources. “So much of what people who are antisemitic or just prejudiced in general think they know comes from nefarious, insidious sources,” Dana notes. “They don’t know the truth.” Speaking out about the Jewish experience, Jewish history, and Jewish life – and refusing to be cowed – is one way to stand up to hate.
Our grandparents protested the planned Nazi march in their home town of Skokie in 1977. They refused to remain passive and silent.
Our Grandpa Frank was a huge presence in both of our lives. Dana gave her son Frank’s Hebrew name, and I recall his wise words daily. Frank never tolerated hatred or prejudice in any form. He and my grandparents knew too keenly just where racism and antisemitism could lead. They insisted on standing up for the truth, even when doing so was difficult.
I remember our grandparents protesting the planned Nazi march in their home town of Skokie in 1977. They refused to remain passive and silent in the face of injustice. Most importantly, they put Jewish traditions and Jewish values front and center in their lives.
“What I learned from our family is that Judaism is a religion, and it’s also a peoplehood,” Dana recalls. “It’s also a way of life, a value system; it’s an approach to everything. Doing this project has reminded me that that’s the case… Talking about our family history especially reminded me that for every American Jew – or any Jew in the Diaspora – you’re there most likely because of antisemitism somewhere, and you have to remember that.”
Her CNN special and article are Dana’s way of helping combat antisemitism – and to remind us of the beauty of being Jewish today.