What did we learn?
Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism
! �•תמים א�•רים (Urim V-Tumim!) Yale University’s motto -- Light and Truth -- has guided it through more than three centuries of education and scholarship. And light and truth are essential when commemorating Yom Hashoah, for how can one remember the Holocaust without shining light on its horrors and seeking truth from its victims and survivors?
I am deeply honored to be on the same panel as Stella Bengel. Although Mrs. Bengel and I have never met before, I feel as if we are joined together by an invisible bond – she as a Holocaust survivor, I as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. My father was at Buchenwald, her mother was at Auschwitz – where many members of my own family perished. She came to the United States in 1940; my father also arrived here in that tumultuous year. About 20 years ago, Mrs. Bengel made a brave decision to speak out about the Holocaust. Through her efforts to educate others, she is shining Light and Truth on a dark and painful period, striving to ensure that there will never again be another Holocaust.
I also want to thank Charles Small, Lauren Clark, and their colleagues at the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism for convening this important gathering and inviting me to address the crucial issue of global anti-Semitism and what lessons we’ve learned – or not – since 1945. Congratulations, Dr. Small, on being honored by the Yeshiva Ateres Shmuel of Waterbury, Connecticut at its 10th anniversary celebration next month. The Jewish Heritage Award you will receive is recognition of the light and truth your work here at Yale brings to the interdisciplinary study of Anti-Semitism.
Programs and institutions such as this one are occasions for a new burst of energy, dedication and determination to honor the memory of six million Jewish victims and millions of others who died at the hands of the Nazi regime. The Holocaust was not only the greatest genocide in world history, but also the greatest theft in history of a people’s entire possessions and cultural and religious heritage -- a theft of Jewish movable and immovable property, financial assets, insurance benefits, art, Judaica, and Jewish cultural property. The Nazis didn’t just steal people’s lives, they attempted to obliterate an entire culture.
We cannot bring back the dead from the gas chambers, extermination camps, and mass graves, but what we can do is recommit ourselves to remember them, to do justice to their heirs and survivors, and to educate future generations about the Holocaust. Commemorations such as this one cannot be merely events at which we use sterling words to try to show the world that we care. We also need concrete actions. To quote Elie Wiesel, we must “create sparks in our hearts out of the ashes.”
As the President’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, I am charged with both monitoring anti-Semitic incidents and combating such intolerance, with creating sparks in our hearts out of the ashes. My approach to this challenging mandate includes inter-faith and inter-group engagement, coupled with community relations and civil society outreach.
As a child of a Holocaust survivor, anti-Semitism is something very personal to me. When I was old enough to somewhat understand what my father went through as the only member of his family to survive, I asked him how he handled his guilt and kept his sanity. He didn’t miss a beat and said: “I survived to have you, Hannele!” – so took that guilt off his shoulders and put it squarely on mine – and I have dedicated my life to eradicating anti-Semitism and intolerance with a sense of urgency and passion that only Dad could give me.
That path led me on January 27th to walk -- voluntarily -- through the gates of Auschwitz – under the infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign (recently stolen by a Neo-Nazi and now recovered). I went to Auschwitz as a member of the official U.S. delegation to mark an anniversary we all wish never had any reason to exist – the 65th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. As President Obama said in his televised remarks at the commemoration, the survivors of Auschwitz “are living memorials. Living memorials to the spirit we must strive to uphold in our time—not simply to bear witness, but to bear a burden. The burden of seeing our common humanity; of resisting anti-Semitism and ignorance in all its forms; of refusing to become bystanders to evil, whenever and wherever it rears its ugly face.”
As I left Auschwitz to news of more anti-Semitic statements by religious leaders and anti-Semitic vandalism elsewhere in the world, I couldn’t help but ask, “Did we learn anything?” This past year was again marked by disturbing anti-Semitic incidents in Europe. It’s easy to feel discouraged that this issue continues to plague our societies, but it underscores the importance of the need to work even harder. Our job will not be finished until anti-Semitism is a distant memory. And yet the memory itself has profound value as it continues to teach us – that is the importance of today’s program.
I am honored and humbled to serve as the United States’ new Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. The goal of fighting anti-Semitism is a high priority for the Obama Administration, and my office has an increasingly visible role. As part of elevating and integrating the Special Envoy’s mission, my office has moved into the main Department of State building and in the front office of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor -- on the same floor as Secretary of State Clinton’s office. I work closely with the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner to harmonize our priorities and our messages in a way that reflects our commitment to combating anti-Semitism and promoting tolerance.
Remembering our history, documenting what is going on in the world, brings us to a critical question -- how do we prevent history from repeating itself? I believe the answer is found in the two key words in my job description: to both Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism.
-- Monitoring - We vigilantly monitor anti-Semitic acts and discourse. I work with all regional bureaus within the Department of State, with the Bureau that manages our efforts at the UN and other international organizations, and with our diplomatic missions abroad to ensure timely and accurate reporting. I am forging partnerships with key offices across the U.S. government, including the National Security Council. And I am building on the powerful partnerships we have with so many scholars and non-governmental organizations that are active on this critical issue. As Secretary Clinton said in December in her Georgetown University speech on the Department of State’s human rights agenda, “to be successful, we need to work bottom up.” Our Bureau prepares several Congressionally-mandated reports every year, including the International Religious Freedom Report and the best-known of our reports, the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – released three weeks ago. These annual reports are widely considered the gold standards for many human rights groups, as well as interlocutors in government and academia. We seek to forge strong partnerships with academia and NGOs to help us document abuses and we welcome your insights and ideas on how most effectively to work to address such abuses.
-- Combating -- The word “combat” in my title strongly underscores the commitment of the United States to fight anti-Semitism wherever it is found. We must all join together to combat anti-Semitism actively in all its forms, including Holocaust denial and Holocaust revisionism, and to prevent future genocides and other crimes against humanity.
Importance of Combating Anti-Semitism for the Obama Administration
What steps am I pursuing in addressing this challenge? I hope to respond to anti-Semitism whenever and wherever it appears, and to work actively against intolerance through education and the promotion of inter-faith understanding. Anti-Semitism must finally be consigned to the dark annals of the past. We can do this by:
-- Diplomacy - We maintain as a top priority the raising of anti-Semitism in the context of our relationships with other countries. We encourage other governments to take steps against anti-Semitic manifestations within their own societies. We encourage appropriate outreach by governments to members of Jewish communities. We also encourage governments to partner with us in international institutions such as the UN, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to those same ends. Governments can be part of the problem or part of the solution. We are ready to work with governments that want to be part of the solution, and call out those that don’t.
Through our bilateral and our multilateral diplomacy, and through our assistance programs, we are working with other responsible governments to reverse disturbing anti-Semitic trends. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, with its path-breaking Berlin Declaration of 2004, has been a global pioneer in combating anti-Semitism, and is a major focus of our multilateral efforts. We play a leading role at the annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, which addresses anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, as well as at special meetings of the OSCE devoted to the subject. And we strongly support the work of the OSCE Special Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism Rabbi Andrew Baker. This year, Kazakhstan has assumed the OSCE Chair and will host a high-level conference on Tolerance and Non-Discrimination in June in Astana; we plan to attend and to launch a major initiative to advance Acceptance, Respect and Tolerance, The ART Initiative.
We work hard to advance civil discourse - We especially 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 civil society groups to foster thoughtful and problem-solving discussions.
- We don’t just call out intolerance, we actively promote tolerance.
- We work to advance education to opinion leaders and policy makers about the level of anti-Semitism and how it is becoming more widespread, working its way insidiously into mainstream media and public settings overseas. This includes the reemergence of anti-Semitism in western media, as well as in Arabic and Farsi-language regional media.
Building strong relationships across ethnic lines and with persons of other faith traditions is crucial to our success. As with any form of prejudice, anti-Semitism is often based in ignorance and fear. It is easy to criticize and even demonize people you’ve never met. Building relationships among different ethnic and religious communities is central to tearing down walls of hostility. With increased dialogue, there is less room for stereotypes to spread.
- Here is one example of the power of dialogue: the U.S. government’s International Visitor Leadership Program brings to this country every year, thousands of foreign experts from all over the world to meet and confer with their professional counterparts and to experience America and witness tolerance and pluralism here firsthand. Through this prestigious program, some religious leaders’ views of Jews have been transformed, replacing a negative stereotype with a positive view as American families hosted them on their visit. One recent visitor on a program about inter-faith dialogue commented, “There is freedom in the U.S. and now I am more tolerant. First comes tolerance, and then comes freedom.” After his experience in the United States, an imam from North Africa remarked, “Regarding religion in the U.S., from the East Coast to the West Coast and much in between, the link between peoples in these vast separated areas is love of country. Volunteerism was impressive. I am an Imam, but I saw in the churches models which would serve as examples for all of us.”
Traditional forms of anti-Semitism continue to plague societies across the globe. We are all familiar with ongoing hostile acts such as the defacing of property, desecration of cemeteries, and even physical assaults. 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.
Last December, we saw several disturbing acts of anti-Semitism in Europe. In Moldova’s capital, a priest led a mob in dismantling and removing a menorah from in front of an Orthodox church and left it at the feet of a statue of a medieval Moldovan prince. In January, Moldovan prosecutors --concluding that no violent crime had been committed -- fined the priest the maximum amount permitted under the law, just under fifty dollars. The Moldovan Ministry of Justice, after closely reviewing this case, has committed to continue to monitor the situation and may seek to apply hate crimes legislation if such incidents recur.
In the early morning hours of December 18, thieves stole the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign from above the entrance of the Auschwitz death camp site. The sign was found on December 20, cut into three pieces. Polish police have arrested five suspects. I am pleased at how seriously Polish authorities are prosecuting this case, and encourage them to keep up their efforts to ensure justice is done. On March 18, the Regional Court in Krakow convicted three Polish nationals who pled guilty to the charges. These convictions do not mark the end of the case; there are two more Polish nationals facing charges. The alleged ringleader, Swedish neo-Nazi Anders Hogstrom, reportedly intended to sell the sign to raise funds for neo-Nazi political activities. After Polish officials issued a Europe-wide arrest warrant, Hogstrom was arrested in Stockholm on February 11 and extradited to Poland April 9.
In Greece, two recent arson attacks struck the historic Etz-Hayyim Synagogue, the last Jewish monument on the island of Crete. The first attack on January 5 caused damage to the exterior of the synagogue, and a bar of soap was hurled against the synagogue walls as a provocation (evoking threats to ‘turn Jews into bars of soap’). The second attack on January 16 caused severe damage to the synagogue, destroying nearly 2,000 books and severely damaging the wooden roof, floor, and offices.
Government ministers and public figures in Greece have widely condemned the attacks. Our Ambassador is working with the Greek government and religious leaders to encourage greater understanding and to combat hatred. The Greek prime minister issued an open letter of apology to the Jewish community, the first time a prime minister has sent such a letter to the Greek Jewish community condemning an anti-Semitic incident. He stated, “The government, myself, and also the Greek people condemn in the strongest way the attacks and we are taking action to bring the perpetrators to justice… Anti-Semitism and racism do not have any place in Greek society.” But I must note that among those arrested was an American citizen, a chilling reminder that anti-Semitism is still a problem in our own society.
We also see troubling trends in anti-Semitic rhetoric. The brazen statements by Iranian President Ahmadinejad that the Holocaust never occurred and that Israel should be wiped off of the world map are more than anti-Israel rhetoric. After all, it is not land that would be driven into the sea, but Jewish people. The world community has been uncomfortably quiet on this issue, with a few notable exceptions like Chancellor Merkel of Germany.
Anti-Israel expressions are increasingly the vehicle for anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is often couched in demonstrations, cartoons, and speech against the state of Israel. In countries with a high incidence of anti-Semitism, there are few public attempts to distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment. The legitimate role of public expression criticizing government policy can quickly cross into hateful racial slurs and denunciations of the Jewish people themselves. This is unacceptable.
For example, when anti-Israel protestors gather outside a synagogue, a sacred place of worship for the Jewish faith, and then proceed to march to an Israeli Embassy, there is a dangerous blurring of lines between legitimate political expression and anti-Semitic opposition to people because of their Jewish faith.
Criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic, but it crosses the line when, for example, that criticism applies different double standards to Israel, or when comparing a current policy of Israel to that of the Nazis, or holding all Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel or denying Israel the right to exist. Natan Sharansky identified the “three D’s” that cross the line: “It is anti-Semitic when Israel is demonized, held to different standards or delegitimized.”
The UN can be a challenging forum, but it is one in which we feel it is critical to engage. At the UN, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment often, but not always, overlap. United Nations’ bodies long have shown a bias toward condemning Israel at a rate much higher than any other country. We documented this in the Combating Global Anti-Semitism report, published in 2008. For example, we compared UN resolutions from 2001 to 2007 that had negative country-specific references. Israel was in nearly 170 resolutions, whereas North Korea was mentioned in fewer than 10. There were more than 50 resolutions criticizing Israel's human rights record, with only five targeting North Korea, and eight targeting Sudan. (p. 51, Appendix A of CGAS report). This huge disproportionality in the treatment of Israel and holding Israel to different standards crosses the line from legitimate criticism to anti-Semitism.
We continue to do all we can to see that Israel is treated fairly at the UN and other international organizations. Last year, the United States joined the UN’s Human Rights Council, the UN’s intergovernmental body responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. We are assertively exercising our presence on the Council to press it to live up to its mandate. This mandate includes addressing human rights violations and making recommendations to strengthen adherence to human rights norms. This includes legitimate criticism of Israel, holding Israel to the same standard applied to other countries, and combating anti-Semitism.
We’re committed to advancing a strong human rights agenda, working with multiple partners from all regions of the world. We will support what the Council does well, but also will challenge those aspects of its work where we see the need for fundamental change. For example, Israel is the only country that is discussed under the Council’s permanent agenda as Item #7, signaling an unhelpful and institutionalized bias against Israel which the United States seeks to allay.
This is a long-term effort, one that will require many baby steps and few long strides, but one that we are committed to seeing through to success. The United States is committed to ensuring that all governments live up to the high standards set through the various international human rights conventions.
As part of this engagement with the international community on human rights implementation, in August 2010 the United States will take its turn to submit a report to the Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review or UPR process. We will then participate in an oral presentation in the HRC on November 22. This is a comprehensive and collaborative process through which every member state of the United Nations – including the United States -- undergoes reflection by itself and its peers on its human rights practices. The very act of presenting their human rights records to an international forum has led some countries to take positive steps to ensure progress on human rights. We look forward to participating in the UPR process and hope to demonstrate how an open, orderly, and serious review can and should take place. We are seeking input from the very active and effective non-governmental community in this country. We are holding public meetings around the country to allow these groups and community leaders to voice their concerns, and we will consult with other relevant U.S. agencies to coordinate outreach, report drafting, and approval.
As part of this process of examining our country’s human rights record, you should feel free to contact me directly if you have witnessed or experienced anti-Semitism or any other ism in your community. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and I will ensure that your comments get to my colleagues at the Department of State who are engaged in the UPR process.
I’d like to turn now to education, which is so important for promoting tolerance and combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, both in the United States and abroad. Education can be a force for good, but it can also be misused. By promoting research and education about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, we hope future generations can learn from past indifference and horrendous mistakes, and work toward creating a better future.
On a positive note, during my recent trip to Poland I attended a meeting in Krakow of education ministers from 29 countries. The conference focused on the preservation of Holocaust-related sites of memory and on tolerance education. The ministers represented countries that had pledged at the 60th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz in 2005 to undertake education and preservation projects to ensure that their countries’ youth understood the lessons of the Holocaust.
The OSCE has a dedicated office to develop Holocaust education and tolerance education materials in several languages. Another leading vehicle for Holocaust Education in Europe is the “Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research,” which was established nearly 11 years ago at the initiative of former Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson. Since its inception with only three member countries, the Task Force has grown to 27 nations encompassing most of Europe. The educational focus has been on Eastern Europe, where more than 100 projects have been funded for high school teachers. Because the Task Force relies largely on volunteer labor from education experts in various countries, this large number of projects was possible with the modest annual contributions of member countries. By way of example, while USD$ 675,000 has been spent over the past eight years to educate Polish teachers and in the most recent year for which we have statistics, twelve teaching seminars were conducted in 2008. In addition to teacher training seminars, educational websites have been established and memorial sites preserved by the Task Force, which, of course, are perhaps the best tools for educating contemporary society on the horrors of the Holocaust and the need for tolerance.
Education can, unfortunately, be misused and perverted to encourage anti-Semitism rather than to promote tolerance. A children’s book in South Korea written to teach about other countries included cartoons depicting Jewish conspiracies to control the U.S. media and to cause the September 11 attacks. This book sold 10 million copies before the publisher pulled it from the market in 2007 (p. 21 of CGAS report).
In secondary school textbooks published by the Saudi Arabian government, high school students are exposed to such intolerant statements as:
- “The pride of the Jews (is their) thinking of themselves as above others, and their claim that they are the chosen people of God even though God has proven them wrong and struck them with misery and humiliation.”
- "Jews' lives are ruled by materialism and usury consumes them."
- Even Freemasonry is described in these high school textbooks as being in the service of Jewish world domination, “And the goal concealed behind (Freemasonry’s) slogans is serving the Jews and securing their control over the world; they delude people that they have the control of the entire world in their hands.”
[Note: These examples were taken from secondary school curriculum that was freely offered on the Internet (2007-2008 academic year textbooks, published in Saudi Arabia).]
Children’s educational TV in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab Muslim countries depict Jews as descendants of apes and pigs, and urge children to shed their blood to kill Jews.
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 especially to the Saudi government.
We should acknowledge that Saudi leaders have taken positive steps on their own. King Abdullah has led a series of international interfaith summits that included the participation of Jewish leaders. The King Faisal International Prize for Medicine in 2009 was awarded to Stanford University cancer expert Dr. Ronald Levy, reportedly the first American Jewish scholar to win such a prize in Saudi Arabia. We welcome these opportunities to reach out to an Islamic society that has special symbolic significance for Muslims around the world.
The horror of the Holocaust is even used and abused. I mentioned Iranian President Ahmedinajad’s statements denying the Holocaust and, of course, we are all too familiar with the Iranian cartoon contest and conference to deny the Holocaust.
However, some are now taking anti-Semitism to a shocking new level, by celebrating the Holocaust and even calling for a new Holocaust against Jews, one that would be carried out this time by Muslims. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) recently translated two bone-chilling video clips of radical Islamist clerics on major international television networks in December 2009, including Al-Rahma in Egypt and Al Jazeera in Qatar, lauding the Holocaust. One program -- broadcast over the Al-Rahma television channel in Egypt -- shows actual footage of the concentration camp victims in their suffering and stages of death, while the program’s host repeatedly approves of what he called “their humiliation.” The clerics went on to conclude: “Allah willing, the next time it will be at the hand of us believers.” Al-Rahma is a private, Islamist-oriented media outlet, but these horrific statements did not meet with a critical response or rebuttal by the Egyptian government.
However, last month Egypt’s Culture Minister Farouk Hosny announced that the Egyptian government will fund the restoration of the remaining 11 synagogues in Egypt, commenting that his ministry “views Jewish sites as much a part of Egypt’s culture as Muslim mosques or Coptic churches and the restorations would not require any foreign funding.”
Just as education can be used for good or ill, so can the Internet. I commend to you Secretary Clinton’s January 21 speech at the Newseum in Washington in which she discussed Internet freedom and some of the tensions this evolving technology has created. Holocaust denial and promotion are not the only forms of hate speech in cyberspace, of course. As Secretary Clinton stated, “Hate speech that targets individuals on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation is reprehensible.” Tempting though it might be to call for certain websites to be shut down or chat rooms closed, I believe in the old adage that the best antidote to bad speech is more good speech.
Hate speech, of course, reflects societal attitudes. The Pew Global Attitudes Project released some survey results last year on unfavorable views of Jews and Muslims.
The survey found that negative opinions about Jews are on the rise in many countries, including most European countries. For example, 46 percent of people in Spain surveyed held negative opinions about Jews in 2008, up from 20 percent in 2004. And in a 2009 American Jewish Committee survey, 50 percent of Spanish high school students said they don’t want to sit next to a Jew in class or in the lunch room.
The French government recently appointed a special coordinator to deal with anti-Semitism and other forms of racism after a huge increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2009 – more than twice the number reported in 2008.
In Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, more than 95 percent of people hold a negative opinion of Jews.
This underscores the prevalence of anti-Semitic thought in the world that can often lead to anti-Semitic actions.
What have we learned in the last 65 years? That anti-Semitism is persistent; that we all must remain vigilant; that we can’t dismiss statements as crazy and not serious; that we must improve educational systems everywhere and that new and different strategies must be developed and employed to combat anti-Semitism.
- At the Department of State, we continue to fight anti-Semitism on all fronts. This is a multi-tiered struggle that utilizes multiple methods—from reporting to international diplomacy, law enforcement, education, multicultural relationships, and public engagement.
- We are challenging public figures who spread misinformation about the Jewish people. When acts of violence occur, we call upon governmental authorities to condemn them and investigate promptly and will help with training for judges and law enforcement to make sure there is accountability (from A/S Posner Hill testimony talking points).
- We continue to expose in detail anti-Semitic behavior in our annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and International Religious Freedom Reports.
- And we’ll work harder than ever at outreach across ethnic and religious lines, building our coalition of partners who will join us in this cause. Next week, I will travel to Lithuania, Ukraine and Tunisia to advance these efforts.
There is a tension with these issues between the universal and the particular. While the Jewish story is a unique one and anti-Semitism has unique aspects – and is a story that must be told – hate is hate and intolerance is intolerance. Jews cannot eradicate anti-Semitism alone. We condemn intolerance against any and all religious and ethnic groups. I work with other groups to condemn anti-Semitism. It is the right thing to do, it has greater impact, and it meets the needs of enlightened self-interest.
When I attend senior staff meetings in the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, I look around the room and see the rich diversity that is America, as it is in this room at Yale today. I am sobered by the thought that if this were Germany in 1939, many of us would be wearing yellow stars; others would have pink triangles due to their sexual orientation or black triangles due to their disabilities. Still others might have red triangles for political views, or purple triangles as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
But this is the United States in the 21st century, a country that promotes tolerance and inclusivity and recently passed enhanced anti-hate crime legislation. The Obama Administration as a whole, and the Department of State in particular, are strongly committed to partnering with Congress, the NGO community, religious groups, academia, foreign governments, and within international institutions to combat this virulent form of intolerance in all its manifestations across the globe. Together with my colleagues at the Department of State in Washington, at our embassies around the world, and with everyone in this room, we can combat anti-Semitism and promote tolerance so that in the 21st century this age-old scourge finally is relegated to the past.
I look forward to working with you all as we cast light and truth on the Holocaust and join together to combat anti-Semitism and all other hatreds in all their forms.