Want to curb hate crimes? Require students to study tolerance in college

The weekend shooting at a Southern California synagogue sparked two predictable responses.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who happened to be in the Golden State at the time of the tragedy, called for stricter gun control.

Gov. Gavin Newsom preached tolerance and safety.

“An attack against community is an attack against our entire state – who we are and what we stand for,” Newsom declared. And he announced a $15 million allocation to protect religious sites.

You’ll notice a term missing from the governor’s words: anti-Semitism. It’s at the heart of the shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue – and a greater problem facing California.


Tempting as it is to connect this latest act of barbarity to Trumpian incivility – some will contend MAGA equals fascism equals anti-Semitism – this is a story of a young man who hated Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, African Americans, immigrants and feminists. It’s all there in his manifesto, along with his labeling Trump a “Zionist, Jew-loving traitor.”

According to the latest numbers from California’s Department of Justice, hate crimes in this state involving a religious bias grew from 171 in 2016 to 207 in 2017, a 21.1 percent increase. The number of anti-Jewish events rose from 82 to 104, a 26.8 percent increase. That’s more than double the 46 anti-Islamic events reported in California in 2017.

But from 2014-2015, California hate crimes involving a religious bias increased 49.6 percent. You can’t pin that on Trump.

Nor can you blame Trump for what was happening on California campuses before he sought office.

In February 2015, a Jewish fraternity at UC Davis was defaced with swastikas. The words “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber” appeared on a bathroom wall at UC Berkeley. The previous fall, the phrase “Hitler did nothing wrong” materialized in a table at UCLA’s Bruin Café. Fliers posted across UC Santa Barbara’s campus accused Jews of masterminding the 9/11 attacks on America.

By no means is Trump an innocent, especially for defending white nationalists as “very fine people.” Those were the very same people who had marched through Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

But California’s leaders can do better at addressing anti-Semitism. They could make this a learning experience – literally, not just figuratively – for California collegians. Keep in mind, the accused Poway shooter was a 19-year-old CSU student.

Twenty-five years ago last month, Steven Spielberg visited Oakland’s Castlemont High School to address the student body on the Holocaust and intolerance. Earlier that year, a group of Castlemont students attending a screening of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List had been tossed from a theater for laughing at a scene in which a Nazi soldier casually murders a Jewish woman.

The result of that controversy was a program called the Schindler’s List Project that combined teaching about the Holocaust with the showing of the movie to California students statewide.

A quarter of a century later, the memory of the Holocaust has been cheapened. Separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border is likened to gassing and murder at Nazi concentration camps. A Trump Administration official once suggested a greater crime against humanity currently exists.

“The Jews who died in the Holocaust had a chance to laugh, play sing, dance, learn, and love each other. The victims of abortion do not,” Scott Lloyd, former director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, wrote while in college.

“Worse than Hitler” has become a tired, throwaway line.

Perhaps it’s time for another Schindler project – this one at the collegiate level. But instead of a few hours of reading about the Holocaust, make a tolerance course a core requirement for receiving an undergraduate degree.

It might not bring an end to future tragedies like the one in Poway. But it might open students’ eyes. And with more enlightened Californians, hopefully the fewer the darker days.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at