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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 eighties and nineties, the window is closing on those able to provide eyewitness accounts and thus we have a heightened sense of urgency to promote Holocaust education, and create museums and memorials as Canada is attempting to do. Together we must carry the memory and lessons of the Holocaust into the future.

The Ottawa Protocol to Combat Anti-Semitism, which Canada was the first to sign this past October, defines anti-Semitism, in part, as “denying the fact, scope, mechanisms, or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of the Nationalist Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War Two.” Holocaust denial is not simply historically inaccurate, it is anti-Semitism.

A second, disturbing trend is Holocaust glorification, which can be seen in events that openly display Nazi symbols and in the growth of neo-Nazi groups. Following a March 2011 commemoration in Latvia, a notorious neo-Nazi made blatantly anti-Semitic statements, including incitements to violence against Jews, on a television talk show. When I was in Albania two months ago, I received disturbing news that a local publisher has decided to print Mein Kampf. While we believe in and support freedom of expression, it is scary to think that Hitler’s ideas continue to resonate with some people today. Holocaust glorification is also especially virulent in Middle Eastern media, some that is state-owned and operated, which calls for a new Holocaust to finish the job. Truly bone-chilling.

A third concern is Holocaust relativism – where some governments, museums, and academic research institutions are conflating the Holocaust with other terrible events that entailed great human suffering, like the Dirty War or the Soviet regime. No one, least of all myself, wants to weigh atrocities against each other, but to group these horrific chapters of history together is not only historically inaccurate, but also misses opportunities to learn important lessons from each of these historic events, even as we reflect on universal truths about the need to defend human rights and combat hatred in all of its forms.

History must be precise – it must instruct, it must warn, and it must inspire us to learn the particular and universal values as we prepare to mend this fractured world. In 2010, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress called on the government to amend Canada’s war veteran’s allowance legislation to designate Ukrainian resistance groups as allied veterans and extend benefits to their surviving members. While these groups fought against the Soviets during World War II, some members were also complicit in Nazi crimes. In response, 100 international scholars sent an open letter to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, criticizing the proposal.

The fourth trend is the increasing tendency of blurring the lines between opposition to the policies of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism. What I hear from our diplomatic missions, and from non-governmental organizations alike, is that this happens easily and often. I want to be clear – criticism of policies of the State of Israel is not anti-Semitism. But we record huge increases in anti-Semitism whenever there are hostilities in the Middle East. This form of anti-Semitism is more difficult for many to identify. But if all Jews are held responsible for the decisions of the sovereign State of Israel, when governments like Venezuela call upon and intimidate their Jewish communities to condemn Israeli actions – this is not objecting to a policy – this is hatred or harassment of the collective Jew, or anti-Semitism.

Ruth Klein, National Director of the League for Human Rights of B’nai B’rith Canada, summarized this trend best when she said: “Whereas before the talk was of Jewish control of the media and Jewish control of the government and the financial world, the terminology now has changed. It’s Israeli control. It’s Zionist control.” These conspiracy theories are not objecting to a policy of the state of Israel, they are hatred or harassment of the collective Jew.

Natan Sharansky identified when he believes anti-Semitism crosses the line: it is anti-Semitic when Israel is demonized, held to different standards or delegitimized.

In the recently concluded UN Human Rights Council session, once again a grossly disproportionate number of the resolutions targeted Israel. Clearly, this is holding Israel to a different standard. No less, when the United Nations first passed its “Zionism is Racism” Resolution that singled out Israel as the world’s only racist country, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia was committing genocide and receiving little or no attention for their crimes against humanity. The U.S. is often the only “no” vote in international bodies where countries seem to have an obsession with singling out Israel for disproportionate condemnation. Yet there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. America’s stepped-up engagement with the United Nations, a top priority for President Barack Obama, has yielded important achievements---look at the Security Council’s recent statement condemning the attacks on Israeli diplomatic missions, the first such action in seven years. Israeli leaders tell us they are pleased we are there at the UN, not only to defend Israel against attempts to unfairly single-out the Jewish state, but also to lead the battle for greater Israeli participation.

This disproportionate focus on Israel has not, however, escaped the attention of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism. In fact, their report explicitly recommends that the Canadian Committee of Foreign Affairs in the House of Commons investigate this phenomenon.

The fifth and final trend is the growing nationalistic movements which target ‘the other’ – be they immigrants, or religious and ethnic minorities -- in the name of protecting the identity and ‘purity’ of their nation. When this fear or hatred of the ‘other’ occurs or when people try to find a scapegoat for the instability around them, it is never good for the Jews, or for that matter, other traditionally discriminated against minorities. The history of Europe, with Russian pogroms, Nazism, and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans provides sufficient evidence. And when government officials talk about protecting a country’s purity, we’ve seen that movie before.

The State Department monitors these trends and activities in 199 countries and territories and reports on them in two major annual reports: The International Religious Freedom Report and the Human Rights Report. We will be publishing both of these reports in upcoming months. I am now also involved in developing a major training initiative for State Department employees so they can better monitor what is happening in their countries, and sensitize them to the various forms of anti-Semitism. This will make our annual reports more comprehensive, and allow us to do an even better job of monitoring and confronting anti-Semitism in all its forms. These reports tell us that many countries, including Canada, are trying to advance human rights and fight discrimination. They also tell us that there is so much more work to do. If we don’t chronicle it, if we don’t name it, we can’t fight it.

I consider reporting on intolerance to be part of the State Department’s educational role – we educate international leaders about the hate we are seeing in the world. Securing rights in law and establishing governmental institutions that enforce the rule of law is necessary, but not sufficient, to fight hate. We must ensure that human dignity echoes in both our courtrooms and classrooms. We must write these values into our constitutions and our sermons. Both our leaders and our citizens must firmly recognize and respect human dignity. If we are to succeed in using education to promote peace, we need to form partnerships with civil society leaders, teachers, and parents. Educating our young must also be our priority: they are our future, and their values and opinions form at a very early age.

No government should produce materials that are intolerant of members of any religious, racial, or ethnic group, or teach such intolerance as part of its educational curriculum. The Department of State continues to focus on this important issue and express our concern to the governments using such hateful lessons and textbooks, calling Jews the children of apes and pigs or teaching the old Tsarist forgery the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as fact. We sponsor teacher training on the Holocaust through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and with the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education – focusing on its uniqueness and its universal lessons. Recently, UNESCO held a day-long conference on comprehensive Holocaust education of which I was honored to be a part.

The United States provides training to foreign law enforcement officials, which covers crimes against vulnerable groups, including Jews, because these issues are of great concern to the U.S. We use old and new technologies to communicate with the public about human rights, tolerance and democracy. We strongly support the freedom for all people to express their views, even distasteful ones, both offline and online – but we also work to promote tolerance and to eradicate ignorance. We are enhancing our cultural and educational exchanges to showcase our civil society organizations, and to learn from the successes of other countries in confronting and combating hate in all of its forms.

Of course, it isn’t enough to study and monitor these deeply troubling trends. It is critical that we act to reverse them.

My approach to combating anti-Semitism is not just to preach to the choir, so to speak, but to join in partnership with non-Jews in condemning it – government, civil society, international institutions, business leaders, labor unions, and media.

Last summer, Secretary Clinton launched an initiative to strengthen civil society across the globe. She instructed all of us in the State Department and at our overseas posts to treat civil society as strategic partners. Partnering with opinion leaders from civil society as well as government--and building bridges among ethnic and religious groups -- is the way to change a culture from fear and negative stereotyping to acceptance and understanding, from narrow mindedness to an embrace of diversity, from hate to tolerance.

I want to note two examples of efforts I am engaged in to combat the afore-mentioned forms of anti-Semitism.

To combat Holocaust denial, I took eight leading imams, two of whom had been deniers, to Dachau and Auschwitz. My goal was to have them issue a statement condemning Holocaust denial.

When we arrived at Dachau, Germany’s first concentration camp, the imams were overcome with the pictures they saw and immediately went to the ground in prayer at the sculpture commemorating the six million Jews exterminated. At that moment, I knew I was watching history being made. All of the passers-by, tourists, and docents stopped in their tracks to witness the spontaneous prayer of these leading imams. And at Auschwitz, it was as overwhelming for them, and, for some, transformational. We were walking amidst ash and bone fragments from the 1.5 million Jews exterminated there – solely because of who they were. We were facing the fact that unfettered and unanswered hatred can indeed create an Auschwitz. All the imams had their own catharsis there, and together, they produced a statement strongly condemning Holocaust denial and all other forms of anti-Semitism.

They are now urging colleagues and schools to join their statement. Some are planning to take their youth on the same trip, to become witnesses to history, to teach the power of hatred, and the power that condemnation can have to stop hatred. And we are now busy planning another trip with imams from the Middle East this summer, hoping they too will sign the original statement their colleagues produced.

My colleague Farah Pandith, the Special Representative to Muslim Communities, and I also launched a virtual campaign called “2011 Hours Against Hate,” using Facebook. We are asking young people around the world to pledge a number of hours to volunteer to help or serve a population different than their own. We ask them to work with people who may look different, or pray differently or live differently. For example, a young Jew might volunteer time to read books at a Muslim pre-school, or a Russian Orthodox at a Catholic clinic, or a Hindu at a Baha’i food pantry. We want to encourage them to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

The campaign was, in fact, so successful that we continued it into 2012. Thanks to a group of British non-governmental organizations, we are now also partnering with the London Olympic and Paralympic Games! In January, the London Olympic and Paralympics approved their application to have 2012 Hours Against Hate branded with the Olympics logo. We can now leverage the energy surrounding the 2012 Olympics to encourage athletes and fans alike to participate in combating hate and pledging their time to help or serve someone who is different from them.

Farah and I have met hundreds of young people – students and young professionals – in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. We traveled and met with students in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Spain – countries that in their histories celebrated Jews and Muslims co-existing and thriving together. We then went on to meet with youth and interfaith leaders in Saudi, Jordan Lebanon, Greece, the United Kingdom, and Albania. We discussed the importance of strengthening mutual respect and understanding among different religious and ethnic groups. What we found everywhere we traveled was that these young people wanted to DO something. The campaign quickly took off and developed a life of its own, with mayors from Cordoba, Spain, to Istanbul, Turkey, to Montevideo, Uruguay, adopting it for their own communities as an organizing tool to promote coexistence.

So while I fight anti-Semitism, I am also aware that hate is hate. Nothing justifies it – not economic instability, not international events, not a soldier mistakenly burning a Koran.

When history records this chapter, I hope it will reflect our efforts to build a peaceful, fair, just, free world where people defend universal human rights and dignity. Sometimes when I talk about fighting hatred, I am dismissed as pushing a “soft” agenda. That is wrong. Those who reject the promotion of mutual respect and coexistence will run up against some hard facts. Unless we confront hate, unless leaders take it on as a threat to healthy politics and healthy societies, they will fail to achieve either.

Therefore, together, we must confront and combat the many forms of hatred today. Where there is hatred born of ignorance, we must teach and inspire. Where there is hatred born of blindness, we must expose people to a larger world of ideas. We must reach out, especially to youth, so they can see beyond their immediate circumstances. Where there is hatred whipped up by irresponsible leaders, we must call them out and answer as strongly as we can – and make their message totally unacceptable to all people of conscience. The Jewish tradition tells us that “you are not required to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

Thank you again for inviting me here to speak before you. And thank you, most importantly, for being a part of the solution.




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