Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests and representatives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum– I thank you for the invitation to speak here today. Thank you to Chairwomen Perlman and Saxton for putting together this important luncheon, entitled ‘Global Trends in Anti-Semitism.’ And thank you to our moderator, Jim Sackett.
A year ago, on January 27, I was honored to be part of President Obama’s delegation to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – and there I also had the pleasure of seeing Sara Bloomfield and the Museum honored by the international group assembled. So now on the 66th anniversary, almost on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am am honored to be here to honor you and the critically important work you do.
As the US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, I have some incredible tools at my fingertips. However, one of my most precious resources is my access to the wonderful staff and researchers at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, just a few minutes away from my office at the State Department. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have honored me with this appointment, and have elevated my office and integrated it into the workings of all other parts of the State Department. I have been on the job a little over a year – and I have witnessed six significant trends in the increases of Anti-Semitism around the world:
Traditional forms of anti-Semitism continue to plague societies worldwide. We are all familiar with ongoing hostile acts such as the defacing of property, desecration of cemeteries, and even accusations of blood libel which lately has morphed from accusations that Jews kill Christian children to sue their blood to bake matzah to Jews kidnap children to steal their organs. Conspiracy theories continue to flourish, such as supposed Jewish control of the U.S. media and the world banking system, or that Jewish persons were involved in executing the September 11 attacks. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion continue to be best sellers in many, many countries, and taught to religious students as truth. The ‘old fashioned’ anti-Semitism is alive and well.
Another potent trend is the growing Holocaust denial. It is coming from religious leaders in some places, by heads of State, in academic institutions in some places, and is a standard on several hateful websites and other media outlets. With the passing of time, we have fewer survivors and liberators alive to tell their stories, there is urgency to promote Holocaust education, create museums and memorials, and carry the memory and lessons of the Holocaust forward.
There is also growing Holocaust glorification – which can be seen in parades honoring the Waffen SS still living, in the growth of neo-Nazi groups, and is especially virulent in Middle East media calling for a new Holocaust to finish the job. Truly bonechilling.
And there is Holocaust relativism or revisionism – where government agencies, museums, academic research and the like are grouping the lessons of the Holocaust with other repressive regimes, especially in the FSU. While no one wants to get into dueling victimhoods – to combine these bad chapters of history is not only historically dishonest, it also misses opportunities to learn the different lessons. History must be accurate – 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. No one balances these imperatives better than the museum we honor here today.
And what I hear from our 194 posts around the world, and from our close relationship with NGOs in the US and in other nations, opposition to a policy by the State of Israel morphs into anti-Semitism easily and often. We record huge increases in anti-Semitism whenever there is activity 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 call upon and intimidate their Jewish communities to condemn Israeli actions, when academics from Israel are boycotted – this is not objecting to a policy – this is anti-Semitism. Our State Department uses Natan Sharansky’s framework for identifying when someone or a government crosses the line – when Israel is demonized, when Israel is held to different standards than the rest of the countries, and when Israel is delegitimized. These cases are not disagreements with a policy of Israel, this is anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, the world does not understand, or chooses not to understand these distinctions. The US is often the only “no” vote in international bodies who seem to have an obsession with condemning Israel.
The last trend in growing anti-Semitism 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. The last time government officials spoke of the purity of a nation, we know what happened.
The State Department monitors these trends and activities and report on them in all 194 countries – in two major annual reports: The International Religious Freedom report and the Human Rights report. I am now involved in a major training initiative for State Department employees and have initiated a trip for all interns and new Foreign Service Officers at State to visit the Museum, 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 is all its forms. If we don’t chronicle or name it, we can’t educate about it or fight it.
And my title calls for both monitoring and combating anti-Semitism. Combating this ancient hatred is daunting and calls for many different strategies. My approach to combating anti-Semitism is a community relations approach – to have non-Jews condemn it – government, civil society, international institutions, business leaders, labor unions, media. It is not headline news that someone named Hannah Rosenthal condemns anti-Semitism, but it is if someone named Rashad Hussain does.
Through bilateral meetings and activities, we encourage other governments to take steps against anti-Semitic manifestations within their own societies. We ask governments to challenge acts of anti-Semitism, to speak out against and expose the hatred. We offer help with reporting and data collections. We encourage appropriate outreach by governments to members of Jewish communities. We also encourage governments to partner with us in multi-lateral institutions such as the UN, or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the OAS, EU And others, to those same ends. We are ready to work with governments that want to be part of the solution, and call out those that don’t.
A priority of the State Department is strengthening Civil Society – We promote public discussion on the nature of new forms of anti- Semitism – how to recognize it and ways to combat it, working with NGOs and human rights and interfaith groups to foster thoughtful and problem-solving discussions. We do not just confront intolerance, we actively promote tolerance. We participate in sustained dialogues with opinion leaders and policy makers about increasing levels of anti-Semitism and how it is insidiously entering mainstream media and public settings globally. We have begun the ART Initiative – ART standing for Acceptance, Respect and Tolerance – in which we identify and highlight interfaith and interethnic groups that focus on advancing acceptance, respect and tolerance with youth. As with everything, really, building strong relationships with civil society, with governments, with opinion leaders, is the way to change a culture – from fear and stereotypes to acceptance and understanding, from narrow-mindedness to pluralism, from hate to tolerance.
We focus heavily on education and awareness. Educating our young is a priority – they are our future and will shape our world as we face the future. 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 promoting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We sponsor teacher training on the Holocaust – its particular uniqueness and its universal lessons. We help train law enforcement officials on how to identify, report and hold accountable individuals and institutions that engage in anti-Semitic activities. We use old and new technologies to communicate with the public about human rights, tolerance and democracy. We work hard to ensure internet freedom, learn how to condemn on-line hate, and stop its incitement to violence. We are also enhancing our cultural and educational exchanges to showcase our civil society organizations and engagement, and to learn from the successes of other countries.
Some examples of these diplomatic tools we use to combat anti-Semitism include:
To confront traditional forms of anti-Semitism, we raise the issues of blood libel accusations with prime ministers and foreign ministers, as well as religious leaders – urging all to make public statements condemning the rhetoric or activities identified.
To combat Holocaust glorification, we have involved media coverage and have reported examples to the highest level of governments, including the glorification of the Holocaust as a fundamental human rights issue.
To confront Holocaust relativism, we have requested changes in museums, memorials, and have met with academics to discuss historical honesty and accuracy.
To combat the demonization, delegitimization of Israel and holding Israel to different standards than all other nations in the world, we consistently vote NO and offer explanations of our vote to international bodies as well as institutions obsessing on Israel. He are actively trying to reform the Human Rights Council, to remove the only country specific agenda item, which of course is the vehicle to continually condemn Israel as the country who most abuses human rights.
To confront hatred of ‘others’ and ultra-nationalistic movements that marginalize minorities, we help communities build coalitions and partnerships to help vulnerable populations move from isolation to having a voice. We stand in solidarity with other vulnerable minority communities and ask them to do the same for us.
And to combat Holocaust denial, we went to Dachau and Auschwitz with 8 leading imams, two of which had denied the Holocaust, and urged them as Muslim leaders to make a public statement condemning Holocaust denial. This was an historic trip. As soon as the imams decided to pray by the Dachau sculpture commemorating the 6 million Jewish lives exterminated, I knew history was being made. When they prostrated to the ground in prayer, every tourist, every passer-by, stopped in their tracks to witness the moment. And each had their own catharsis at Birkenau – and then unanimously wrote a strong statement condemning Holocaust denial and all forms of anti-Semitism.
To continue this important effort, I took the Imams to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. We viewed the important exhibit there of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the 19th century forgery that claims the Jews are conspiring to take over the world. At the museum’s exhibition, several of the imams recognized that they had been taught the protocols as truth, even in their children’s books.
After seeing this incredible exhibit and meeting with survivors, it became clear to that travelling group that combating Holocaust denial is not just a matter of defending historical truth, but a demand of conscience and an urgent necessity. We all know too well that both the survivors and liberators will not be with us forever.
And the US Holocaust Memorial Museum is working tirelessly to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten. The outstanding exhibits and archives have enabled families to reconnect, others to find out information on what happened to their loved ones, and newer generations to finally conceptualize what really happened. For others, the museum is a powerful force for truth and human rights everywhere. Just like the Museum, I do not limit myself to combating traditional anti-Semitism. In our world today, my job requires me to reach outside the box to groups ranging from imams to youth in order to work towards the elimination of hatred everywhere.
The museum has welcomed more than 30 million visitors since opening in 1993 and has become the world leader in Holocaust education, impacting the way this history is taught in schools and making it accessible to millions more around the globe through its multilingual Web site. With anti-Semitism on the rise, our work together could not be more urgent.
I want to express to you all my appreciation of the incredible work of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I consider the Museum a partner in government and private efforts to understand the Holocaust and its particular and universal lessons. You truly make a difference in monitoring and combating not just anti-Semitism, but hatred everywhere. As Elie Weisel said, ” “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
I want to end with a personal story. As a child, I was aware of the Holocaust not because of a wonderful museum but because it was a household word, it was part of my identity, it was in my DNA. My lens of understanding was through the life of my father, Franz Rosenthal. Other families had large gatherings filled with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. My family reunions could fit at one of your tables with chairs left over. 72 years ago, my father, many of his congregants, were arrested on Kristalnacht and sent to Buchenwald. My father was the lucky one- every other person in his family perished in Auschwitz. We did not even know the dates of their deaths, so to mourn them my father would lead us in saying Kaddish on their birthdays.
Recently, my daughter Shira wrote her college thesis on my dad, and spent several weeks at the Archives in the Museum. She was able to find the actual deportation orders for my family members. I now know that my grandparents Mitzie and Heinrich Rosenthal died on May 28, 1942. And now I can say kaddish appropriately on their yahrzeit.
Thank you all, and thank you to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.