Remarks at the 9th Biennial Stephen S. Weinstein Holocaust Symposium

Hannah Rosenthal
Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism

Wroxton College, United Kingdom

June 24, 2012

Good evening. Thank you for inviting me here today. It is an honor to represent the United States Government and to participate in Wroxton College’s 9th Biennial Stephen S. Weinstein Holocaust Symposium. This symposium is important, and this session – discussing the “new anti-Semitism” of the late 20th and early 21st centuries – is particularly critical. 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. Recently, this approach was most notably seen when she boldly stated that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights” in recognition of the fact that not only do LGBT individuals care about and need protection from violence and discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, but they need and deserve the pantheon of all human rights guarantees, including 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 shooting outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, France in March – 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.

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. I run into people who think anti-Semitism ended when Hitler killed himself. Sadly, more than six decades after the end of the Second World War, anti-Semitism is still alive and well, and evolving into new, contemporary forms of religious hatred, racism, and political, social and cultural bigotry. In many ways, anti-Semitism today is more difficult to call out. Older forms of anti-Semitism, the kind we have almost come to see as inevitable, are easy to identify and generally condemned by government officials. But today’s new anti-Semitism, often hidden under a mask of political correctness, or disguised as legitimate political or historical debate, is more difficult to identify and combat.

The persistence of anti-Semitism, as well as its changing face, prompted the British Government to action in 2009. In 2009, the United Kingdom hosted the first annual conference of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating anti-Semitism (ICCA). The ICCA is an international coalition of Parliamentarians representing 40 countries. The sole mandate of this group is to fight anti-Semitism with the goal of understanding and combating modern anti-Semitism on a global scale. At their first conference, this group produced the London Declaration on Combating anti-Semitism. This document is important not only because of what it says, but because it started an intentional conversation about the global ills of anti-Semitism. It notes the parliamentarians’ “alarm[…] at the resurrection of [both] the old language of [anti-Semitic] prejudice and its modern manifestation – in rhetoric and political action – against Jews, Jewish belief and practice and the State of Israel.” It states that a “comprehensive program of action” is needed to deal with this crisis. Not long after that conference adjourned, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown became the first world leader to sign this historic declaration. He “encourage[d] other heads of government to become signatories to this historic agreement….[so that] together our renewed efforts can rid the world of this ancient virus”.

You should be proud of the leadership role the United Kingdom played in 2009 in framing this important conversation, and of the subsequent work the ICCA did in Ottawa when they drafted the Ottawa Protocol on Combating anti-Semitism. But it is my strong belief that if we are going to rid the world of anti-Semitism and fulfill the goal of the London Declaration, first we must name and identify what it is we are talking about. What do we mean when we talk of today’s “modern manifestations” of anti-Semitism? How do we define them? Once we do that, then we can begin to fight it.

Therefore, today I would like to talk to you about the trends in anti-Semitism I am seeing as I travel the word. Of the six trends I will recount for you, all but the first one are – in my mind – part of today’s “new” anti-Semitism. And as you will see from my remarks, the spread of anti-Semitism is not receding. It is growing.

The first trend I have been seeing is the persistence of traditional forms of anti-Semitism, which stem from hatred that 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 seen this on schools and synagogues all over the world – in Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and the Middle East. 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, into 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 sometimes taught to religious students as truth. Moreover, demonized depictions of Jews, particularly cartoons, continue to proliferate in media throughout the world.

Sadly, the United Kingdom is not immune to this phenomenon. The London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research reported that between October 2010 and March 2011 more than 40 percent of Jewish university students witnessed or experienced an incident of anti-Semitism. Additionally, as late as 2010 anti-Semitic language continued to be found in textbooks supplied by the Saudi Arabian government and used to teach 5,000 pupils in private weekend schools outside of the UK’s public school system. Despite these sobering statistics, there was good news in the United Kingdom this year. According to the Community Security Trust, a British NGO that monitors anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic incidents dropped in 2011 from 325 incidents to 283. Additionally, civil society took commendable steps to address anti-Semitism. In response to several incidents of football fans chanting anti-Semitic slogans during matches, the UK Football Association launched an initiative to tackle faith-based discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Kick it Out, an antiracism organization, sponsored a short film starring several soccer players to address racist abuse by fans. We are far from ridding the world of this ancient hatred, but I am heartened when I see governments and civil society working together – productively – to combat anti-Semitism.

As troubling and persistent as traditional anti-Semitism is, I am also seeing forms of anti-Semitism that are sometimes harder to identify and constitute what I call today’s “new” anti-Semitism.

One of these phenomena is Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is espoused by religious leaders, heads of State, such as in Iran, 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. Thus, we have a heightened sense of urgency to promote Holocaust education, and create museums and memorials. Together we must carry the memory and lessons of the Holocaust into the future.

Recognizing the seriousness of this problem, the London Declaration states that “[g]overnments must challenge any foreign leader, politician or public figure who denies, denigrates or trivialises the Holocaust and must encourage civil society to be vigilant to this phenomenon and to openly condemn it.” This statement is a recognition that Holocaust denial is not simply historically inaccurate, it is anti-Semitism. And it must be called out.

A third, 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. And even here in the United Kingdom just last year a Conservative Member of Parliament was removed from his post as the parliamentary private secretary to the Transport Minister after attending a party where one guest wore a Nazi uniform and other guests toasted Third Reich figures. While we believe in and support freedom of expression – – including expression that many might consider offensive – it is scary to think that Hitler’s ideas continue to resonate with some people today. But let me not leave you with the impression that this is simply a European problem. Holocaust glorification is especially virulent in Middle Eastern media, some which is state-owned and operated, which calls for a new Holocaust to finish the job. Truly bone-chilling.

A fourth 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 it 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. Therefore, it is unacceptable when a member of the Hungarian Jobbik party states, during an interview with the London Jewish Chronicle, that “It has become a fantastic business to jiggle around with the numbers” of dead Jews.

The fifth 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, delegitimized, or held to different standards. Perhaps there is no clearer example of Israel being held to a different standard than at the United Nations. 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. When the United Nations first passed its “Zionism is Racism” Resolution 35 years ago the Khmer Rouge was committing genocide in Cambodia and receiving little or no attention for their crimes against humanity. Sadly, the United Nations is still often being used as a platform to demonize and delegitimize Israel.

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 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 did not escape the attention of the drafters of the London Declaration on Combating anti-Semitism. In fact, the Declaration makes two important statements on the subject. First, it addresses the singularity of Israel’s disproportionate treatment in international bodies. It states that “Governments and the UN should resolve that never again will the institutions of the international community and the dialogue of nation states be abused to try to establish any legitimacy for anti-Semitism, including the singling out of Israel for discriminatory treatment.” The document specifically calls out the 2001 Durban Conference for what it was – anti-Semitic. Secondly, it addresses what I find to be one of the most challenging parts of my job – fighting the idea of collective Jewish guilt for all of the ills of the world. To that end, the Declaration states that “Parliamentarians shall expose, challenge, and isolate political actors who engage in hate against Jews and target the State of Israel as a Jewish collectivity.”

Recently, I traveled to Sweden. There, I paid homage to Raoul Wallenberg, a righteous diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis. I also met with the controversial mayor of Malmo. Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city, is home to a small and diminishing Jewish community. Sadly, it is a prime example of this kind of anti-Semitism, harassment of the collective Jew.

Like many cities, Malmo has its share of crime, much of which is likely linked to organized crime. In a city with an estimated 700 Jews out of a population of 300,000 residents, it concerns me that that 6% of all hate crimes are anti-Semitic – many of them directed against the city’s Rabbi. According to the police, there were 80 anti-Semitic crimes reported in 2009, 34 in 2010, and 67 in 2011. The police attributed the higher number of crimes in 2009 to the “special circumstances” of Malmo playing host to the Davis Cup Tennis Match between Israel and Sweden. This sporting event – merely because Israel was participating – resulted in a wave of anti-Semitic attacks across the city. When the Jews of Malmo held a peaceful demonstration in support of Israel, their singing of hine ma tov was overwhelmed by chants of “damn Jews” and “Hitler, Hitler, Hitler!” If holding Malmo’s Jews responsible for a policy of the State of Israel isn’t anti-Semitism then I don’t know what is. Rather than provide leadership and promote a message of tolerance, Malmo’s mayor Ilmar Reepalu took the opportunity to blame the Jewish community for the violence and discrimination saying that they should have denounced Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza but chose not to.


This was neither the first nor the last time Mayor Reepalu made such anti-Semitic and ill-informed comments. And while I do not know if my meeting with Mayor Reepalu will lead to a change of heart or a change in behavior, I do know that I found in Sweden a government who is taking the issue seriously. All of the Ministers I met with vigorously condemned anti-Semitism, in all of its forms. They are searching for solutions to this new form of a centuries-old hatred. And all of them understood that fighting anti-Semitism as a stand-alone issue would never succeed, and therefore committed themselves and their country to fighting xenophobia in all of its forms wherever it existed.

The sixth 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 modern Europe, with 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. The 2011 Human Rights Report was released just this past month and the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report will be forthcoming shortly. Sadly, as the introduction to our 2011 Human Rights Report states, we have seen a continuation of persecution of Jews this past year

I have also been involved in developing a major training initiative for State Department employees so they can better monitor what is happening in their countries. I want to 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 the United Kingdom, 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 and Christians 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 to discuss best practices with the goal of putting forth a Holocaust and tolerance curriculum that could be utilized by all member states.

Part of this educational role is conveying Holocaust and tolerance education in a format that children can understand and relate to. When I was in Stockholm recently, I had the opportunity to visit a Swedish-run public authority called “The Living History Forum.” Using the Holocaust as a starting point, students are taught not to stand idly by – not to watch as their friends and classmates are bullied, not to be complicit in hatred if and when they see it. By approaching Holocaust education through this lens, “The Living History Forum” inspires their students not to stand idly by in the face of hatred and intolerance. They are teaching their students that while standing up for those who need our help may not be the easy choice, it is the right choice.

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. I understand that the governments of the United Kingdom and Italy are currently engaged in a similar endeavor by training their law enforcement officials on how to identity and protect against anti-Semitic crimes. In addition to training law enforcement, the United States Government is using 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.

Early in her tenure, 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, in the summer of 2010. 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.

Another effort I’ve made is with my colleague Farah Pandith, the Special Representative to Muslim Communities. Together, we launched a virtual campaign called “2011 Hours Against Hate,” using Facebook and Twitter. We are asking young people around the world to pledge an hour or more to help or serve a population different than their own. We ask them to work with people who may look differently, pray differently or love differently. For example, a young Jew might volunteer time to read books at a Muslim pre-school, or a physically capable student might volunteer to help a disabled student in her class, or a heterosexual college student might volunteer to help organize a college campus pride event. 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 partnered with the London Olympic and Paralympic Games! In January, the London Olympic and Paralympics approved the NGO 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 thousands of young people – students and young professionals – in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. We met with students in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Spain – countries that in their histories celebrated Jews and Muslims co-existing and thriving together. In Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Greece, the United Kingdom, and Albania, we met with youth and interfaith leaders. We discussed the importance of strengthening mutual respect and understanding among different religious and ethnic groups. What we found everywhere we traveled was that 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 today. And thank you, most importantly, for being a part of the solution.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

%d bloggers like this: