MODERATOR: Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Thank you so much for joining us today. We’re very pleased to have with us today Hannah Rosenthal, who is the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, and Farah Pandith, who is the special representative to the Muslim communities. Both are with the Department of State. They are going to provide us with a readout of their recent travel to Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Spain for the 2011 Hours Against Hate Campaign. They’ll make some opening comments and then take your questions.
So without further ado, I will turn it over to Ms. Pandith.
MS. PANDITH: Thank you very much, and good morning to all of you. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about our wonderful trip. We really had a great time. I think what would be helpful is if we tell you a little bit about the origin of the campaign, 2011 Hours Against Hate. And for those of you who are – who don’t have the fact sheet in front of you, it’s a campaign that is clearly – it’s on Facebook. So if you go to Facebook and you go to 2011 Hours Against Hate, you will see how you sign up, what the campaign’s about.
But Hannah and I met each other in a very peculiar way, I would say, in a moment at the State Department where I wasn’t expecting to meet her. Clearly, a lot of people are doing many different things at the State Department. Hannah’s portfolio is very different than mine. I had known about her and had read about her appointment with appreciation and energy. But I got an urgent call from Hannah around the time when the Times Square terror plot had been foiled, and she said that she wanted to come see me. And I, of course, said, “Please do come to the office.”
And she came in and she said, “Farah, I know that this is going to be a very difficult time for Muslims, not just here in the United States, but around the world. And I can already begin to see some movement in the media and in the press falsely talking about the religion of Islam being connected to this, not separating the idea that terrorists did this.” And she basically said to me, “What can I do to help?” She said, “The messenger is different if it comes from – the message is different. I’m a different messenger. How can I be helpful to you?”
And that is how Hannah and I met each other. And it was a moment where I actually saw the kind of woman she was, but I also understood that she was a doer and an action-oriented kind of person. And a few months later, we collaborated in Kazakhstan, and maybe you could talk about that.
MS. ROSENTHAL: The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, as you know, is a regional organization that takes its human dimension very seriously. And they have held, over the years, many conferences that have focused on intolerance. So last summer in Kazakhstan – Kazakhstan was the chair of OSCE at the time – had a conference on tolerance. And it was organized this way: The first session was on Islamophobia, the second session was on anti-Semitism, the third on Christophobia, and the fourth on everything else.
And we traveled all the way to Kazakhstan, and part of our job is to prepare the official statement by our government, and as you know from living here and covering stuff, that when you sit around a table in these conferences, there’s one person sitting in the chair of the country. So we – I had written this statement condemning anti-Semitism, and Farah had written this statement condemning hatred of Muslims, and the night before, we decided to swap speeches.
And so at the opening in the first session that was called Islamophobia, they call on the United States, and I’m sitting in the U.S. chair, and I push the button, and I introduce myself as Hannah Rosenthal, the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, and I want to condemn in the strongest words possible all forms of hatred against Muslims, and the room went quiet. Again, if you have never been to these, that is an unusual thing. These are talking heads who make statements, and everybody makes their statement that’s been cleared by their country, and they listened.
And following, the next session, which was on anti-Semitism, Farah was in the U.S. chair, and they call on the United States, and Farah does the exact same thing, introducing herself as special representative to Muslim communities and condemning anti-Semitism in the strongest words possible. When we decided to swap speeches, we also ended both speeches with the exact same words, basically saying hate is hate. Jews can’t fight anti-Semitism alone. Muslims cannot fight Islamophobia or hatred of Muslims alone. Roma can’t fight Roma – and the list goes on and on – that we have to work on this together.
And I will say that in addition to our swapping speeches, we held a side event in Kazakhstan where we had brought six different nongovernmental organizations that were focused on youth, and were – and these organizations all were multiethnic, multi-religious focused, and they got it immediately that we had swapped speeches to have a higher impact on what we were saying. But they came up to us afterwards and basically said that’s very nice to see statements and talking heads, but we really need to be doing more.
MS. PANDITH: So in terms of doing more, we wanted to build an action-oriented campaign, and we really embraced both what the President and the Secretary of State has talked about in the last couple of years – one, the importance of civil society and grassroots. The Secretary of State has talked a lot about citizen diplomacy – P2P, as we would call it – and has talked about the importance of the American Government doing more than we ever could before and understanding what’s happening at the grassroots. The President, of course, has talked very carefully and very strongly about the importance of doing things with mutual respect. And so that concept was very important, along with the concept of volunteerism.
But we also understood how important it was to use 21st century statecraft to move into a place where we’re making it accessible for the next generation. The Secretary of State has talked a lot about the importance of youth and the youth demographic worldwide. And certainly in the work that I’m doing and the work that Hannah does around the world, we are looking at a youth generation because they’re the pivot points. They’re the pieces of the puzzle that will make a new world for all of us.
And so as we thought about an action-oriented campaign and we listened to the reaction from our colleagues in Kazakhstan and civil society around the world after this event at the OSCE, they said, “What can you do to go beyond words and statements of the U.S. Government?” And we developed this campaign, 2011 Hours Against Hate, to answer their ask of us, which is: Can you build something in which you can catalyze the next generation to do more and to answer the call that they all see important, which is to build a stronger world out there, one that does not have the burdens of the past, one that is forward-thinking?
This campaign, as I said, is something that can be found with a click of your mouse, and it is something that has allowed people accessibility around the world. It is not something in which you have to interface with a government to be part of. But regular citizens who like the idea of this campaign, the nuances that will be different between a Spain or an Azerbaijan or a Turkey will depend on how the organizations out there decide to use this campaign. Perhaps you could tell us a little bit more about the campaign of deeds.
MS. ROSENTHAL: And it is clearly action-oriented. But when we’re focusing on young people who, in five minutes, are going to be the majority population on the globe, we not only need to focus on how they communicate with each other in 21st century statecraft, but young people mostly do not have the resources to write a check to an organization, they may not have developed an expertise yet that they can offer to a community. But what they do have is time. And so the focus of the campaign is asking young people to pledge an hour, two hours, five hours, whatever, and asking them basically to walk in other people’s shoes so that a young Muslim might say, “I pledge two hours to work in a Jewish clinic,” or a Catholic youth may say, “I’m going to pledge a few hours in a Baha’i food pantry.”
And it isn’t just about religion. Unfortunately, there are all forms of hatred. And so we also find other vulnerable populations very excited about this because it not only gives them an opportunity to be an activist and to do something, but how do you volunteer for another organization? You do it through relationship building. And so it is giving people something to do that will have much longer life, and the ripple effects will be hopefully even more profound. And that’s how we designed this, using what they have – communications expertise that I don’t completely understand how they communicate, but they certainly do, and their excitement about being able to actually do something, a campaign of deeds rather than just talking heads and words, and reinforcing the fact that it’s all about relationships.
That’s what we do at the State Department. State Department’s all about building relationships so we don’t have to, hopefully, drop bombs. And this is a way of getting young people to recognize the power they have, the power they have through their communication, and they’re actually doing something to be with people who look differently than they do, who pray differently, or live differently than them.
MS. PANDITH: So what we did this year in February – the third week of February, we went to Vienna, we went back to the OSCE, and we launched the campaign. And we launched the campaign at the OSCE because we, as you heard, began the concept – the kernel of this idea, “The messenger matters,” way back at the OSCE in June of 2010. So we went and we gave a presentation. We got incredible enthusiasm by the ambassadors of the OSCE from many different countries across the board, all parts of Europe that said, “What can we do to help?” And what we did – what we decided to do was not just, obviously, launch it publicly into a media campaign, but we went to three countries that we thought had really good examples of communities of different shapes and sizes living with each other over history.
So we went to Azerbaijan, so we went to Turkey, so we went to Spain, and we talked with grassroots, and we also talked with government. We talked with folks who would be interested in hearing more, and the reaction on the ground was quite profound. I mean, I have to tell you I knew it was going to be positive because it’s a great message, but it was really – what really hit home for me was the impact it had on a young kid who said, “Here’s something I can actually do,” as Hannah said. “I mean, I may not have $10,000 or a million dollars to give towards something, but I do have hours. I do have time on the table.” You also talked to student groups who said – multi-faith student groups or multi-religious – I mean, excuse me, multi-ethnic student groups who – it’s not just about being Jewish or Muslim or Christian or Baha’i. It’s about being – a man doing something for a woman. It is about a young person doing something for somebody who is older. It’s about walking in somebody else’s shoes, building more cohesive communities.
So for example, I mean, when we were in Spain, the city of Cordoba took this campaign and really just blew it out. I mean, the mayor of Cordoba said this is really important because not only is this the European Year of Volunteerism – which the EU has this year, and it’s an important synergy that goes together – but in fact, our city has a very – a lot of universities here, we have a lot of young people who are looking – who are forward-thinking, and we too have a history of – at a moment in time, Cordoba has that legacy.
Similarly, I mean, you were just talking about a great experience we had in Turkey with a group of young people – yeah.
MS. ROSENTHAL: Oh, we went to a university, and the young people there – it was a school of theology. And some of the quotes that came out of this, it was like –
QUESTION: That’s in Turkey?
MS. PANDITH: Yes.
MS. ROSENTHAL: In Turkey. This was in Ankara.
QUESTION: Ankara University (inaudible)?
MS. ROSENTHAL: Yes.
MS. ROSENTHAL: And we met – there were professors and there were students. And the students, unsolicited, would say – they would remark to me that anti-Semitism is a national shame. And they wanted me to know that they were aware of that. And then they talked about Jihad should be done through pens, not guns. And unsolicited – we could just sit back and let them talk because they were given a forum to talk about combating hatred. And frankly, it wasn’t about any specific hatred.
MS. PANDITH: And it was fun because not only – I mean, that reaction in Turkey pretty much paralleled the reaction in Spain and Azerbaijan. When we were in Azerbaijan, we met with a group of about 50 young kids, all of whom right then and there asked to be videotaped so they could say, “Hi my name is so-and-so, and I’m volunteering X amount of hours online.” So if you go to Facebook, you can see these kids speaking their –
MS. ROSENTHAL: Various languages.
MS. PANDITH: Yeah. Various languages –
MS. ROSENTHAL: We have no idea what they said.
MS. PANDITH: — talking about what they’re doing and where they’re pledging. You saw the Peace Corps in Azerbaijan take this on because they were like, “We want to make this ours. We want to turn this campaign.” So the logo has been turned from English into Turkish into Spanish. We had an organization in Madrid that was sort of the mother volunteer organization of many different NGOs who have volunteers that – in very many different sectors, say, “We want to make this ours,” and if you go on Facebook, you can see them talk about the fact that it’s almost – I think almost several hundred thousand volunteers combined of young people who say, “We want to do more.” So we were really excited about this, and we were very happy to hear that it wasn’t just one slice of young people. It was – you saw musicians talking, you saw entrepreneurs talking, you saw kids who were just sort of grassroots organizers and activists. So it isn’t just one type of person that’s been affected by this. It’s many.
And I want to just sort of stress one last thing before we open it up to Q&A. You’ll see that this logo on here, 2011 Hours Against Hate, is not a State Department logo. It is a logo so that anyone can take it. This was meant to catalyze. It’s meant for people to take it and make it theirs. We are building hours to push back against societies in which mutual respect is not something that they want to live with, but – I mean, that they want to live with, but I’m really interested by the innovation of a young person who says, “This is how we want to do it in our community. We can take this concept and we can change it. We can do a rally or we can do a virtual campaign or we can do something in our schools or we can do something in a new way.” And the State Department is not sitting there saying, “You can do this, and you can’t do that.”
MS. ROSENTHAL: Not at all.
MS. PANDITH: It is simply saying, “Here’s the concept. How do you want to run with it and make it yours?” And that’s what we’re hoping to do this year, and that’s why the Secretary has been so vocal about this campaign. In fact, I’m sure you heard her speech in Berlin a couple of weeks ago in which she talked about this campaign as well, and we’re hoping to see more action on the ground. As it is already, we have already surpassed the 2,011 hours. And we’re seeing more and more momentum worldwide.
MS. ROSENTHAL: Yeah. We were hoping that at the end of the day, we’d have people pledging 2,011 hours – get it, the year and all – and it happened immediately. And we’re onto the third iteration of that.
And I will tell you, as clever and as profound as I thought the campaign would be for people because the young people asked us to put something together that would do something, I have been amazed at the reaction. And I’ll be interested in your questions. But with young people, they didn’t have questions on why are you doing this. They got it. They don’t like the direction – now, Farah mentioned that we were going to countries where Jews, Muslims, and Christians have a good history, at some point in their history, and not so much now. And the young people were unanimous, and they don’t like the direction it’s going; “Thank you for giving us something.” And we’re very excited to see the immediate response of young people.
Now, it’s easy for us – we in the United States, we have schools that require service learning. We – I’m sure you know that in our culture here, we volunteer. Something happens – the community – in a community, people volunteer. That is not the case almost everywhere we’ve gone. And separately, we’ve gone to many other countries. The notion of volunteering or hooking arms with people different than you is not something that comes naturally to them. While they get the campaign, the question often is: So we’re not going to get paid for this? That’s right. Well, then how do we do it? How do we find out where there is a shelter for victims of domestic abuse? How do we find that out? Well, then it becomes an amazing learning experience about their communities, and not just their communities, but communities that they don’t walk in a lot.
So it’s been a profound experience for us to get to travel on behalf of the State Department on this, but this is not a State Department-only thing. And when we got to Cordoba, there were signs all over with this logo in Spanish. There’s no State Department or anything on it. They took it, they owned it, and so it is going. We really hope you’ll go on Facebook and see it all.
So we’re eager to answer any of your questions.
MODERATOR: Excellent. Thank you. Just a reminder, when you ask your question, please state your name and your media organization.
QUESTION: May I start?
QUESTION: Yildiz Yazicioglu, CNN Turk, Turkish correspondent. I would like ask firstly, Ms. Rosenthal, how do you react – how do you get your reaction into Turkey, especially after (inaudible) case, and Turkey-Israel relationship now really look (inaudible) – if you get any reaction from students or in your meeting about Israel relationship between Turkey?
MS. ROSENTHAL: Well, first of all, I just want to be clear. I am the special representative to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. George Mitchell is the special envoy on Middle East peace. So I often do not even entertain what’s going on between Israel and Palestine and the whole area.
But I will say we heard from young people that they understood that their Jewish neighbors had nothing to do with the policy of the sovereign State of Israel. They were able to separate it, even as some of the people who were older in their communities were not. They separate – the young people separate their identification of identity on a set of values – not on politics – and we heard that loud and clear. And actually, all three of the countries, people – the young people actually remarked to be Azerbaijani is not an ethnicity, it is not a religion, it is about our values. I mean, we heard it loud and clear. And we heard it in Turkey that the young people understood. They were able to separate concern about a policy of Israel and their Jewish neighbors. And that’s a very good thing, because –
MS. PANDITH: Can I say something, too? One of the things that was remarkable – and in the traveling that I do as special representative to Muslim communities – I’ve been all over the world – one of the things that has struck me about this generation is how proud they are of their culture and their history. And many of them are going back to different points in their history to say, “Look at who we were,” and “What do we want to become?”
And they’re taking the narrative and they are reshaping it. They’re making it theirs. I call what’s happening in the world right now with the generation under the age of 30 a youthquake. And I call it a youthquake because they’re moving things, they’re shaking them up in a way that our generation sitting at this table is actually very surprised that they’re lighting things on fire. They’re using technology to spread ideas. Part of those ideas are history as well.
So when we went to a place like Turkey that has such a rich and extraordinary culture, you talk to young people who are proud of the many different chapters of Turkish history in which pluralism is a key component, as you said, in terms of the idea and the values that are put forward. Bilateral issues shift and change in time, but the values of people and what a culture means and who they are was very important. Even in Azerbaijan, when we went to the synagogue and we looked at what was happening with a minority – Jews are a minority in Azerbaijan – and how proud they were of being able to live side by side because Azerbaijan had that history.
MS. ROSENTHAL: They’ve been continuously – the Jewish community has continuously been active in Azerbaijan for 2,600 years. And the people we met with that weren’t the Mountain Jews – we were the first two officials to go into the new synagogue of the Mountain Jews – but when we met with young people, they’re very proud of that history, very proud of it. And we’re actually hearing that from a lot of the youth. In Spain, since 1492, the Jews and the Muslims were expelled. Well, they’re interested in finding out a little more about that and who was left behind that really might be Jewish and might be Muslim, but –
MS. PANDITH: And it’s the –
MS. ROSENTHAL: — it was secret.
MS. PANDITH: Yeah, and it’s the long view. I mean, I really want to hit that hard because I think if you look at things in the short-term perspective and you react to everything that’s happening on the planet, you aren’t taking the long view of the generation, Generation Y and Generation V, that are the people who are going to redefine.
This is a – these are generations that are digital natives. This is a – these are generations that are learning from each other and sharing ideas around the world. So the young kid in Ankara who has a profound sense of what it means to be Turkish and what they want to do will, in fact, impact that young kid in Azerbaijan. This campaign is actually a way, too, for young people to come together on things that they find in common, which is we may have differences vis-à-vis foreign policy, bilateral issues, but human values over the long term is how are we defining the next generation and what is it that we want to become.
And that’s why I go back to this issue of – sorry –
MS. ROSENTHAL: No, no, no.
MS. PANDITH: — of mutual respect and building a world that they want to see.
MS. ROSENTHAL: They view global – the globalization of the world very differently. I’m much older than Farah, but I won’t tell you how old. (Laughter.) I remember when the word “globalization” was first out. It was an economic term. It became a political term. To them, it’s a life term. They can get on their little phones and tweet to – or talk to people in another part of the world like they were sitting next to them, and it’s natural for them. So their vision of a world where people are all trying to improve the world, and their vision of tomorrow is not the vision that – I’ll tell you – that I was raised with. We were much more compartmentalized. They are not.
While we were traveling, Farah, who knows this technology, and Sarah, our travel mate, taught me how to tweet. Now, if you tweet, then you know what this is about, but I sure didn’t. And so she taught me to tweet, and my handle is Hannah@State – (laughter) – @ — Hannah@State. And I tweeted something and then we went into a program, and I came back and a hundred people were following me. I have no idea how they found me. I don’t know any of them. They write me – I get their tweets all the time. Their names are not familiar to me. They are clearly, from the names, from all over the world. This is how the young people are relating to the world. I’m, like, laughing at all these strangers finding me. To them, it’s second nature. It’s a pretty exciting time. It’s a pretty exciting time.
And I want to just say we started this campaign before the Arab Spring, so that was not a surprise to us, that through those kind of communications people were going to be able to organize and become activists, because we were seeing it already.
MODERATOR: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Tolga Tanis from Hurriyet. Actually, I am confused a little bit, because a few months ago, the State Department has released the latest report about human rights, world Human Rights Report, according to (inaudible) from embassies. And maybe you are too optimistic about the case in Turkey because, according to the report, anti-Semitism is increasing in Turkey.
MS. PANDITH: Increasing all over the world, and that is a really important fact to put on the table. The fact of the matter is we made this ours because in our own jobs, we were seeing an increase of hate speech around the world.
QUESTION: So who did organize your trip in Turkey?
MS. ROSENTHAL: Excuse me?
MS. PANDITH: We do.
QUESTION: Government people, or NGOs – what?
MS. PANDITH: Well, several things happened. When we went to the OSCE, the ambassador there was very excited about Turkey. When we talked to NGOs around the world, Turkey clearly has a history.
I want to be very clear, though, this isn’t about which country is doing it best. Please be clear. What we were doing was highlighting moments in time and global history where there are places on this planet in which humans have lived side by side and have done things to – and made prosperous communities. Turkey is one such wonderful example; Spain is another; Azerbaijan is another; Albania is another. We could go on and on with many countries around the world. We could spend our jobs all day, every day, going to different parts of the world highlighting different things.
The point is the global narrative is not one in which we push forward pluralism or we push forward a positive image of the world. The narrative that’s out there is a narrative defined by others – first of all, youth are not getting enough attention, and that’s something that’s very important. The second thing is, in my job and I know in Hannah’s, when you go around the world and you see that it is okay to say something hateful about somebody that isn’t like you, you begin to step back and say, “What’s happening globally?”
The fact that in Europe three are swastikas being spray-painted on things; the fact that in Europe, it’s becoming okay to say unbelievably horrifying things about Jews and Muslims and others; in our country, in America, the increase of hate speeches increase. Believe me, it’s not just us and them; it is all over the planet, whether we’re in – whether I have gone to Africa or I’ve gone to Southeast Asia or I have gone to Europe or I’ve gone to South America, I have seen that increase.
So you’re absolutely correct, sir, when you say that there is – there’s highlighting in the Human Rights Report of many countries around the world in which hate speak – speech has been highlighted. But it doesn’t mean you missed that moment to say, what does a young person want to build for themselves. Just because something bad is happening doesn’t mean that there isn’t an opportunity to work towards a more positive future.
QUESTION: So you think that hate speech is not really for the right young people in countries?
MS. ROSENTHAL: Well, I’m sure there are –
MS. PANDITH: Of course there is.
MS. ROSENTHAL: – some young people that are – who are very troubled by the rise of neo-Nazi parties who hate all immigrants or anybody who looks different than them, and that’s, in fact, happening throughout much of Europe. Yes, we see it. And I’m very active in the Human Rights Report. Seventy-five countries had increases in anti-Semitism, and it’s awful. And we, at a government level, talk to the government about it, and we say this is not okay. And in our relationships, we consider hate speech and – hate speech and incidents of hatred, hate crimes, as human rights abuses, fundamental human rights abuses. You can read them in the Human Rights Report.
QUESTION: Have there been any bad experience in – bad experiences in your trips to the three countries?
MS. PANDITH: What do you mean by a bad experience?
QUESTION: With young people?
MS. PANDITH: Look, we were in Cordoba, and a young man – we were in an auditorium of about 300 people, I’d say, at the University of Cordoba. It was a really great – it’s actually online if you’re interested in seeing, verifying. But he got up there and we’re talking a very positive story here, and I do believe in the future of this generation because I think that there’s a lot that they can do that generations before could not, okay? I mean –
MS. ROSENTHAL: We have to. We owe them that.
MS. PANDITH: But there’s skepticism out there. Of course there is. People say, “What do you know? Is this a gimmick? What are you guys trying to do over here?” And we said, “We are reacting to this because we’re seeing the increase.”
So this young kid gets up there and he raises his hand and he’s called on by the ambassador, Ambassador Alan Solomont, who was the moderator of the panel and he’s our Ambassador in Spain and doing a terrific job on pushing forward this campaign all across Spain. And as the young man said, “Look, I think it’s real — ” I’m paraphrasing – basically said, “While you guys are all talking about a great story out there, I don’t really believe that we can look at the data around the world and see positive. There’s a lot of negative that’s out there. What are you – what is the United States trying to do here? What is really – what’s the real deal? What are you trying to do?”
And so to quote you, you said a bad experience – I don’t call that a bad experience. I call that a great experience because you want to be able to talk to a person who says, “I’m skeptical about this,” and I say, “Fine, be skeptical, but let me show you the reaction of many out there.” There will be people who say nothing can be done, but I don’t believe that. I believe that every person has the ability to make change, and I know that for a fact. I don’t just believe it.
And I’ve seen communities change, and when you see the kind of momentum that we have with young people who, even in their small way, in their small neighborhood, are taking this on and making it theirs, my goodness, how will that spread and how will that change the way in which they think about somebody who’s different than them?
QUESTION: May I –
MODERATOR: Please go ahead.
QUESTION: The gentlemen –
MODERATOR: We’ll go to you and then we’ll go to you. I want to make sure we give everyone a chance.
QUESTION: Okay. This is Ali Akel with Yeni Safak (inaudible) television. So is the – one part, I mean, we talk about Turkey, Azerbaijan and Spain. So you have some observations. What is the responsibility of Israel? Are you going to share some of your findings with them? Are you going to take some concrete steps for solution? What are you going to do at end of this campaign?
MS. ROSENTHAL: At the end of the campaign, what are we going to do?
MS. ROSENTHAL: Hopefully have a big celebration and take what we have – what people are giving to the Facebook page and put it together to share with the world so they can see and be inspired like we have been on what we’re hearing.
Will we solve hate by the end of 2011? No. But will we feel that we’ve energized a network of young people around the world – helped energize – they’ve got other things that are energizing them as well – and I – seeing how fast it’s gone and caught on, I’m quite sure we’ll have a great celebration at the end of 2011. We thought at the end of 2011, we’d – “Ding, ding, ding, ding, we hit 2011 hours,” that people – now, we’ve long past that. But we are going to have wonderful stories to tell.
QUESTION: On Israel? I mean, are you going to say something to them or not?
MS. PANDITH: Let me be really very clear with you. This is a campaign that is a global campaign – I want to go back to what I said to begin – this is not us talking about bilateral issues. This is not solving the issues between one country or another. This is a grassroots movement in which we’re trying to answer the call that civil society gave to us after we spoke in Kazakhstan where civil society said, “Can you, Hannnah, and can you, Farah, use your platform at the Department of State to do more than just give a U.S. statement,” which was really important at that time, “but can you do more?”
And I want to give this campaign back to the people. This is not us trying to chide one country against another and what – this is for us to all look internally and say, “How are communities building pluralism as a structural component of who they are? How are communities thinking about the values of mutual respect?” And most importantly, what we can be doing as governments – any government in the world, whether you’re the Government of the U.K. or you’re the Government of India or the Government of Malaysia or the Government of Jordan – if young people within your country want to do this campaign and are reaching out to say, “Can you join us in this campaign,” I would hope that governments all over the world would be in support of working with their civil society on doing as much as they can, whether that’s curriculum development, whether or not that’s viral campaigns within their country, whether that’s a day of volunteerism – whatever it happens to be, to take the example, by the way, of the mayor of Cordoba who said, “These are values that my city is about, and I’m going to make this real.”
Or, by the way, one of the mayors that we met in Istanbul, who is a absolute rock star – this guy is all about people and all about teaching young people who makes up his communities. He has a program, by the way, where young kids come to the mayor’s office every single day, and he gives them a fake passport, and he says, “Now go to the mosque, now go to the church, now go to the synagogue and get it stamped so that you can see – you can go visit the place and see the people who make up your community.” This kind of innovative thinking –
QUESTION: Who is that?
MS. PANDITH: I can give you the name of the mayor.
MS. ROSENTHAL: That was in Istanbul.
MS. PANDITH: It was in Istanbul and –
MS. ROSENTHAL: One of the communities in Istanbul.
MS. PANDITH: He was terrific, and people like him were – are our gemstones, really, because they are able to activate it in a way that makes sense for their own culture and to take it on. So a government, whether it is on a bilateral level with another country or it is a very small interaction that’s taking place neighborhood to neighborhood, a mayor or a governor of a state, a senator, an MP, anything can make a positive change.
MS. ROSENTHAL: But to try and get at what you’re asking at also, we are in the process of planning a trip to the Middle East –
MS. PANDITH: Oh yes, of course.
MS. ROSENTHAL: – where we will meet with young people throughout the Middle East.
QUESTION: I would like to follow up on that. It’s not going to be just about the religious faith, right?
MS. ROSENTHAL: Correct.
QUESTION: In the Middle East – because a big part of the problem is the sectarian or the ethnic hatred.
MS. PANDITH: So again, it’s not regional in terms of what we are saying –
MS. PANDITH: — across the world –
MS. ROSENTHAL: Yes.
MS. PANDITH: – the different kinds of communities, whether it is religious or it’s racial or it’s – I mean, if somebody who doesn’t look like you, pray like you, live like you, like that.
MODERATOR: We’ll go here, and then we’ll go here.
QUESTION: Thank you. I am Haykaram Nahapetyan with Armenian TV. So I understand you are mainly focused on anti-Semitism, but you also –
MS. ROSENTHAL: No, no, no.
MS. PANDITH: No, no, no. That’s not –
MS. ROSENTHAL: Well, my job is that – in fact, we have other jobs. We’re just doing this because of our history together.
QUESTION: (Inaudible ) –
MS. ROSENTHAL: Yes.
QUESTION: — (inaudible), that hate is hate no matter who is doing things. So I’d like to ask about the sentiment and feelings of Turkish and others (inaudible) with regard to Armenian society. I don’t know if you were in Turkey during April 24 when they had the commemoration of the Armenian genocide in Istanbul, which was a completely new happening, new development. So there is some dynamics in Turkey toward the Armenian people, liberals or human rights activists try to embrace the Armenian people and the genocide tragedy, and also some more nationalistic and (inaudible) forces that are still there.
So I would like to ask about Turkey and also about Azerbaijan, what impression do you get from Baku?
MS. PANDITH: We had a great meeting with the imam in Azerbaijan, who was really very enthusiastic about this campaign. And he – and because we spent so much time both with the Jewish community and with the Muslim community, we heard a lot about the history in Azerbaijan, and it was a very positive trip, I thought.
MS. ROSENTHAL: Absolutely. And I would say, from the young people we met with both in Turkey and Azerbaijan, we heard the hope that the unresolved issues between Turkey and the Armenians and also in Azerbaijan, that it will be resolved. Because they’re not holding grudges, they’re not accepting the narrative that tells them that they have to hate the other.
The nationalism that is sweeping Europe right now is not missing these countries. There is a lot of nationalism that is – I will tell you personally – scary for me when I hear some of political parties actually running on hatred of others. And that is really disconcerting, considering Europe’s history. But when we talk to young people – as depressing as it is to see political parties and leaders of political parties spewing hatred, when we talk to young people, they’re rejecting it. They’re not happy with this nationalism “do or die” for their national identity at the expense of others.
QUESTION: Like this almost constant threats of Azerbaijani Government restart the military or still (inaudible) Nagorno-Karabakh and fight against Armenia – you didn’t feel the impact of this on the (inaudible) society or the army in Azerbaijan?
MS. PANDITH: Do you know, in every country we went into, there are definitely issues that are on the table in a foreign policy dimension, absolutely. And I want you to understand that we’re not living in a Pollyanna world over here where we don’t think that people don’t get what’s happening in real time; of course we do.
But what Hannah is saying is while there are some very difficult and challenging issues on the table, whether it is in Azerbaijan or it is in Turkey, or it’s in any other country we will go to, kids are also saying while people are working on these hard-end issues, we can, at the same time, talk about what’s happening peer to peer around the world and how we want to think about others. And I think that that nuance and that piece is very important for all of us to think about, because I think if you get structured into this place where you say, “Because X issue is taking place, that means we never can be friends with anybody else,” you’re failing to see, and failing, by the way, to listen to what this generation is talking about, which is to say, “What more can we do going forward, what are the positive steps we need to take going forward and not be anchored into the hate of the past.”
QUESTION: Well, that’s very nice. I mean, I don’t reject that, but how would you explain that it’s almost impossible to – not to see Azeri media, for example, this kind of positive or peaceful –
MS. PANDITH: You’ll have to talk to the Azeri media yourself. You’re a member of the Azeri media. I mean, I can’t speak for the Azeri media. I would hope that in everything that is taking place with young people on this campaign or any other issue that’s happening (inaudible), that media take a chance to actually do the hard work of taking the time to listen to what’s happening at the grassroots and not put everybody in a pigeonhole and assume everybody is the same, which is what has been happening for a long time.
MS. ROSENTHAL: There were cameras at –
MS. PANDITH: Yes.
MS. ROSENTHAL: — almost everything we did in Azerbaijan.
MS. PANDITH: Yeah.
MS. ROSENTHAL: There were cameras, television cameras, covering us. I don’t know what the outcome was, what was shown, because we went on and travelled. But there were – there was media interest on every step, every leg of our trip.
MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s go over here.
QUESTION: My name is Marco Bassets. I’m from the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia. I was wondering, why did you choose these three country? You explained that these countries share history a history of communities living side-by-side, but are you also worried that – specifically about these three countries in respect to anti-Semitism, or in the case of Spain, Islamophobia, which is an issue in the public debate and politically?
MS. ROSENTHAL: We did not pick it because there are special problems. We took – we picked the countries because they had done something right. Maybe not yesterday; maybe it was in their history.
But we talked about the part of the culture where coexistence occurred and diverse communities thrived because of that diversity. Cordoba – you know the President mentioned Cordoba by name in his landmark speech in Cairo. And Azerbaijan, as I mentioned, 2,600 years of Jews living there. There weren’t Muslims when they were there. But when the Muslims and the Orthodox and other Christians came, they lived very well together. And the same with Turkey. Turkey was – I think that some of the tension, if there is any in Turkey, it’s between secular and non-secular during this time of transition. But when they look at their culture and how they’ve behaved and what they teach, they’ve done something right. It’s not perfect.
We left Azerbaijan – we had a wonderful meeting with human rights groups and we left Azerbaijan, and the next week, those organizations were closed down because of other things happening in Azerbaijan. We’re very aware. We’re not trying to be Pollyanna and everything’s wonderful and don’t believe the bad stuff you hear. But in Cordoba, for me, as a Jew, I’ve got to tell you I’m walking down the street in Cordoba and it’s Maimonides Street. I don’t know of anywhere else in the world where a Jew, a Jewish philosopher and doctor and historian, is honored with a street next to an incredible mosque.
They’re doing something right. And we picked them because of their history of doing something right, not because they’re special cases of doing something.
QUESTION: Well, something – you start this from the easy part?
MS. ROSENTHAL: Well, we started – when we rolled this out at the OSCE in February, many countries came to us and asked us, please come to our country, and these countries were some of the countries that asked us. We –
MS. PANDITH: And we will, over the course of the next few months as this year goes out, visit some other countries. You have to start somewhere. There’s always a first couple of countries that you go to, but believe me when I tell you the response at the OSCE really was tremendous, and we had many countries in Europe asking us to come because they were very proud, as I said earlier, of their history and of moments in time that they wanted to, quote-un-quote, sort of remember or show off to the rest of the world.
I think we all have to take a step back, I think all of us, and think about what it is that’s at the essence of this. And when you think about America, when you think about different parts of the world, there have been challenges that are on the table in 2011 that did not exist two years ago. And we are trying to do our best to be proactive and forward-thinking and harness the energy of these young people who are looking at their communities around them going, “Wow,” and you – I don’t know – if you go to the Facebook page, you’ll see the video that Hannah and I did. We talk about Albania because it has an incredible story to tell. But we could – and yes –
MS. ROSENTHAL: And Muslims don’t know the story –
MS. PANDITH: Right.
MS. ROSENTHAL: — that Albania saved – is the only Muslim-majority country during World War II – they saved every Jew, every single one. At the end of World War II, there were 10 times as many Jews in Albania than before. Nowhere else did that exist. When I share that with my friends that are Muslims, they’re shocked to hear this. There are these positive stories to tell and they’re coming out of the woodwork in this campaign.
MODERATOR: We’re almost out of time so let’s go to someone who hasn’t had a chance to ask.
QUESTION: Kasim Cindemir, Haberturk Daily. So do I understand it correctly that this whole thing is focused on young people?
MS. PANDITH: Yes.
MS. ROSENTHAL: Correct.
QUESTION: So when you went to Turkey, did you talk to young Jews or young Christians?
MS. PANDITH: Yes.
QUESTION: What did they say?
MS. ROSENTHAL: And Muslims. Yes.
QUESTION: I got that.
MS. ROSENTHAL: Yeah, you got that. (Laughter.) They were open, excited, wanting to work together, wanting to speak out on each other’s behalf. I’m sure I’m missing some of the sentiment, but it was all proactive. I look forward to being – I’d like to – one kid said, “I will pledge 2011 hours,” and we went, “Okay, we’re done,” “because I want to work on getting different faith and ethnic communities working together.”
MS. PANDITH: Look, if you go to the Facebook page and you look up what’s written on the wall, you see kids saying things like – young people, NGOs, whoever – “Why wasn’t this done earlier? Why can’t we live in a — ” I mean, that sounds very glossy and very sweet. We know that there are complex issues that are happening in the world. But who are we not to give a 20-year-old the opportunity to build a world that they want to live in? It is our responsibility as government to be the convener and the facilitator and the intellectual partner with the ideas that we hear on the ground. And this – going back to where we started, this is something that Secretary Clinton has asked us to do – to listen, to engage civil society, to be proactive in ways that we haven’t thought about before, to think out of the box.
And when the President of the United States starts his Administration by saying mutual respect is something that he puts forward, this is a campaign that does everything. It is one tool in a very large toolbox. It is not going to solve the world’s problems tomorrow, but it is one thing that we can do to move it forward.
And I would like to end there, on a positive note, to say while there are challenges – certainly, sir, no question about it – the vast majority of young people of any race, of any religion that we talk to, were very eager to do more on this aspect of volunteerism. As Hannah said earlier, many of these cultures don’t have a history of volunteerism. And two, which is the other piece that you talked about earlier, is coalition-building, that not one group can do anything alone, that you can work on an issue in a more magnified way if you’re working together. And who doesn’t want to work on the issue of building strong communities?
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MS. PANDITH: Thank you very much.
MS. ROSENTHAL: Thank you.
MS. PANDITH: Thank you.