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Hannah Rosenthal

Hanna Rosenthal's Prepared speech First Annual Shindleman Family Lecture at the Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism

Hannah Rosenthal's, May 7, 2012


Editor's note: The remarks Rosenthal delivered were substantially different than the remarks below which comprise her prepared speech]

Good evening. Thank you for inviting me here today. It is an honor to be here as a representative of the United States Government and admirer of your work. The Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism is one of only six institutions in the entire world dedicated to the scholarly study of anti-Semitism. This is an extremely important mandate. I have seen, throughout my travels as the United States Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism, that anti-Semitism continues to spread hatred and intolerance in new and old forms. Only by working together to develop systematic and concrete ways of promoting acceptance and respect can we hope to overcome this evil.

Let me assure you of the unwavering commitment of the Obama Administration to combat hate and promote tolerance in our world. The President began his administration speaking out against intolerance as a global ill. Over the past three years, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has also made human rights and the need to respect diversity an integral part of U.S. foreign policy—from the human rights of LGBT people to women’s rights, to international religious freedom.

The Obama Administration has signaled a new path that embraces a vision of a world based on mutual interests and mutual respect; a world that honors the dignity of all human beings. Unfortunately, this vision of the world is still just that – a vision. The recent shooting outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, France – a shooting which left four Jews, including three children, dead and happened just days after the murder of three French soldiers of North African descent in the nearby city of Montauban – is a solemn reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done. My thoughts, Secretary Clinton’s thoughts, and President Obama’s thoughts are all with the victims and their families in this time of grief and national mourning as France comes to terms with this deadly attack.

We are attempting—through diplomacy, public messaging and grassroots programs all over the world—to confront and combat hatred in all its ugly forms, whether it is religious, ethnic, racial, or if it is hatred against someone’s sexual orientation, political opinions, or nationality. Anti-Semitism is one such form of hatred.

As a child of a Holocaust survivor, anti-Semitism is something very personal to me. My father was arrested – on Kristallnacht, the unofficial pogrom that many think started the Holocaust – and sent with many of his congregants to prison and then to Buchenwald. He was the lucky one – every other person in his family perished at Auschwitz. I have dedicated my life to eradicating anti-Semitism and intolerance with a sense of urgency and passion that only my father could give me.

I have been on the job for two years now and I can tell you, anti-Semitism is not history, it is news. This is an important message—one that I try to emphasize wherever I go and with everyone I speak to. For this reason, I and the United States Government, welcome Canada’s recent efforts to strengthen its fight against global anti-Semitism and promote religious freedom for all peoples. Canada is a country that rightfully prides itself on tolerance and inclusivity, and is a reliable leader in the global fight for human rights. First, we note with great satisfaction that Canada has committed to open an Office of International Religious Freedom. We look forward to collaborating with the Canadian Government on all issues of religious freedom, including fighting anti-Semitism. Secondly, we welcome a recent report by the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism. The report’s conclusions echo what I have seen around the world – that while traditional forms of anti-Semitism are “far from extinct” in Canada, “the main and growing problem in Canada,” and, I would argue, around the world, is the emergence of a “new anti-Semitism.”

This persistence of traditional forms of anti-Semitism stems from the fact that hatred is passed from one generation to the next, updated to reflect current events. We are all familiar with ongoing hostile acts such as the defacing of property and desecration of cemeteries with anti-Semitic graffiti. We have even seen this on schools and synagogues in Montreal. There are still accusations of blood libel, which are morphing from the centuries-old accusations by the Church that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood for rituals, to accusations that Jews kidnap children to steal their organs. Conspiracy theories also continue to flourish: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion continues to be a best seller in many, many countries, and taught to religious students as truth. Moreover, demonized depictions of Jews, particularly cartoons, continue to proliferate in media throughout the world.

Canada is far from immune to this phenomenon. Last year, in response to a new museum’s decision to have a permanent exhibit on the Holocaust and a temporary exhibit on the Holodomor – a tragic Soviet starvation campaign that cost the lives of millions –the Toronto-based Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association distributed offensive postcards across Canada that could be construed as characterizing the supporters of the permanent Holocaust exhibit as pigs. The postcard featured a pig on the cover of George Orwell’s novel, Animal Farm, whispering into the ear of a sheep and saying, “All galleries are equal but some galleries are more equal than others.” The UCCLA denied that the pig was in any way intended to represent a Jew, but depicting Jews as pigs is a centuries-old anti-Semitic mainstay which has received new life today in Muslim countries where students are taught that Jews are the descendants of apes and pigs. Sadly, it appears that even some Canadians still fail to recognize the danger of such hateful, insulting, and dehumanizing imagery.

A recent report by B’nai B’rith showed that, while incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism fell in Manitoba in 2011, acts of anti-Semitic harassment increased in the province. In Manitoba, there were three separate cases last year involving violence, including an incident at Oak Park High School, where a Jewish student's hair was set on fire with a lighter. In the same month, the second case of anti-Semitic violence in Manitoba involved a male student at the University of Winnipeg. The student was accosted by another male student and told to “get that disgusting Zionist star (Star of David necklace) off.” In the third case, a 70-year-old man in Gimli was targeted for repeated harassment by a condo neighbor, said Alan Yusim, B’nai B’rith Canada’s Midwest regional director. In all, there were 78 cases of anti-Semitic harassment in Manitoba last year compared to 60 in 2010. Few were reported to police.

As troubling and persistent as traditional anti-Semitism is, we are also seeing new forms of anti-Semitism. These new forms are sometimes harder to identify. One of these phenomena is Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is espoused by religious leaders, heads of State, such as in Iran, in academic institutions, and is a standard on hateful websites and other media outlets. As the generation of Holocaust survivors and death camp liberators reaches their eight

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