International Conference on Hate Studies
Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism
Congratulations on this conference. I am intrigued by hate studies as a discipline – something that didn’t exist when I was in school. Thank you for all your thoughtful analyses, research and explanations. What you are doing is important and I hope to partner with you as together we work to combat hate and promote tolerance in our world.
I am here today to share with you the strong commitment of the Obama Administration to this cause. The President began his Administration speaking out against intolerance as a global ill. In his historic speech in Cairo, he talked about a new beginning and a vision of a world based on mutual interest and mutual respect, a world that honors the dignity of all human beings.
We are attempting through diplomacy, public messaging and on-the-ground programs all over the world to confront and combat hatred in all its ugly forms -- whether it’s hatred directed against people on account of their religion, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation or differences of political opinion or due to their country of origin. Anti-Semitism is one such form of hatred. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, anti-Semitism is something very personal to me. My father was arrested – on Kristalnacht, the unofficial pogrom that many think started the Holocaust – and sent with many of his congregants to prison and then to Buchenwald. He was the lucky one – every other person in his family perished at Auschwitz. I have dedicated my life to eradicating anti-Semitism and intolerance with a sense of urgency and passion that only my father could give me.
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. While my mandate is to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, I share your conviction that hate is hate, and it must be resisted and rejected in all of its manifestations. Time and again, the horrors of history have shown that where there is anti-Semitism, there also is likely hatred of others as well.
I have been on the job for almost a year now – and I have seen six significant trends in anti-Semitism around the world:
First of all, anti-Semitism is not History it is News. I run into people who think anti-Semitism ended when Hitler killed himself. More than six decades after the end of the Second World War, anti-Semitism is still alive and well, and evolving into new, contemporary forms of religious hatred, racism, and political, social and cultural bigotry.
Traditional forms of anti-Semitism persist in societies worldwide, passed from one generation to the next, and updated to reflect current events. We are all familiar with ongoing hostile acts such as the defacing of property, desecration of cemeteries, and even accusations of blood libel, which are morphing from the centuries old Church accusations that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood for rituals to accusations that 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 Jews 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.
A second phenomenon is Holocaust denial. It is coming from religious leaders in some places, including some heads of State, such as in Iran, in academic institutions in some places, and is a standard on hateful websites and other media outlets. As the generation of Holocaust survivors and death camp liberators reaches their eighties and nineties, the window is closing on those able to provide live, eyewitness accounts and a heightened urgency to promote Holocaust education, create museums and memorials, and carry the memory and lessons of the Holocaust forward.
A third, disturbing trend is Holocaust glorification – which can be seen in parades honoring the Waffen SS, in the growth of neo-Nazi groups, and is especially virulent in Middle East media – some that is state owned and operated - calling for a new Holocaust to finish the job. Truly bone-chilling.
A fourth concern is Holocaust relativism – where some governments, museums, academic research and the like are conflating the Holocaust with other terrible events that entailed great human suffering. No one wants to get into dueling atrocities. But to lump together these horrific chapters of history is not only historically inaccurate, it also misses opportunities to learn important lessons from each historic event even as we reflect on universal truths about the need to defend human rights and combat hatred in all of its forms. History must be precise – it must instruct, it must warn, and it must inspire us to learn the particular and universal values as we prepare to mend this fractured world.
The fifth trend is the increasing tendency of opposition to the policies of the State of Israel to cross the line into anti-Semitism. What I hear from our diplomatic missions around the world, and from our close relationship with NGOs in the US and in other nations, is that this happens easily and often. We record huge increases in anti-Semitism whenever there are hostilities in the Middle East. This form of anti-Semitism is more difficult for many to identify – but if all Jews are held responsible for the decisions of the sovereign State of Israel, when governments 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 “Three Ds” test for identifying when someone or a government crosses the line from criticizing Israeli policies into anti-Semitism – when Israel is demonized, when Israel is held to different standards than the rest of the countries, and when Israel is delegitimized. The US is often the only “no” vote in international bodies where countries seem to have an obsession with singling out Israel for disproportionate condemnation.
The sixth trend is the growing nationalistic movements which target ‘the other’ – be they immigrants, or religious and ethnic minorities in the name of protecting the identity and ‘purity’ of their nation. When this fear or hatred of the ‘other’ occurs or when people try to find a scapegoat for the instability around them, it is never good for the Jews. And when government officials talk about protecting a country’s purity, we’ve seen that movie before.
The State Department monitors these trends and activities and reports 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 developing a major training initiative for State Department employees so they can better monitor what is happening in their countries, and sensitize them to the various forms of anti-Semitism – this will make our annual reports more comprehensive, and allow us to do an even better job of monitoring and confronting anti-Semitism in all its forms. If we don’t chronicle it, if we don’t name it, we can’t fight it.
Of course, it isn’t enough to study and monitor these deeply troubling trends. It is critical that we act to reverse them,
My approach to combating anti-Semitism is not just to preach to the choir, so to speak, but to join in partnership with non-Jews in condemning it – government, civil society, international institutions, business leaders, labor unions, and media.
Last summer, Secretary Clinton launched an initiative to strengthen civil society across the globe and she instructed all of us in the State Department and all our overseas posts to treat civil society as strategic partners. Partnering with opinion leaders from civil society as well as government -- as well as building bridges among ethnic and religious groups, is the way to change a culture – from fear and negative stereotyping to acceptance and understanding, from narrow mindedness to an embrace of diversity, from hate to tolerance.
Educating our young is a priority - they are our future and your interdisciplinary work in hate studies is critical to our efforts.
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 commit hate crimes against Jews and others. We use old and new technologies to communicate with the public about human rights, tolerance and democracy. We strongly support the freedoms for all people to express their views, even distasteful ones, both offline and online – but we also work to promote tolerance and to eradicate ignorance. We are also enhancing our cultural and educational exchanges to showcase our civil society organizations, and to learn from the successes of other countries in confronting and combating hate in all of its forms.
I want to mention two examples of efforts I am engaged in to combat certain forms of anti-Semitism I have mentioned.
To combat the Holocaust denial, I went with 8 leading imams, two of which had been deniers, to Dachau and Auschwitz. My goal was to have them issue a statement condemning Holocaust denial.
When we arrived at Dachau, Germany’s first concentration camp, the imams were overcome with the pictures they saw and immediately went to the ground in prayer, at the sculpture commemorating the 6 million Jews exterminated. At that moment I knew I was watching history being made. All passers-by, tourists, docents, stopped in their tracks to witness this spontaneous prayer of these leading imams. And when we got to Auschwitz, it was overwhelming for them, and for some transformational. We were walking amidst ash and bone fragments from the 1.5 million Jews exterminated there – solely because of who they were. We were facing the fact that unfettered and unanswered hatred can indeed create an Auschwitz. All the imams had their own catharsis there, and together they produced a statement strongly condemning Holocaust denial and all other forms of anti-Semitism.
They are now urging colleagues and schools to join their statement. Some are planning to take their youth on the same trip, to become witness to history, to teach the power of hatred, and the power that condemnation can have to stop the hatred.
Also - my colleague Farah Pandith, the Special Representative to Muslims Communities, and I have just launched a virtual campaign called “2011 Hours Against Hate”. We are asking young people around the world to pledge a number of hours to volunteer to help or serve a population different than their own. We ask them to work with people who may look different, or pray differently or live differently. For example, a young Jew might volunteer time to read books at a Muslim pre-school, or a Russian Orthodox at a Jewish clinic, or a Muslim at a Baha’i food pantry. To walk in another person’s shoes.
We are using facebook (the third largest country in the world) and other social media to connect the youth globally, and to engage them to go beyond words, speeches, or even lectures – providing a vehicle to DO something to promote tolerance and practice mutual respect.
The EU just declared 2011 as a year of Volunteerism and the 2011 Hours Against Hate global campaign is a platform for the entire region – and beyond.
We began meeting with hundreds of young people – students and young professionals – in Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Spain – countries that in their histories celebrated Jews and Muslims co-existing and thriving together. These countries are seeing a different culture these days and the youth we met with don’t like the direction that things are going. They want to DO something. They embraced the campaign – and we have already reached our goal of 2011 hours pledged against hate. And we really have just begun.
So while I fight anti-Semitism, I am also aware that hate is hate. Nothing justifies it – not economic instability, not international events, not an isolated pastor burning a Koran.
This week we remembered the murder of Martin Luther King – and I always remember that he said “Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.”
I am not a scholar, I’m not an academic, not a historian, professor or author like all of you. I honor the important work you do to make sense of this transforming world and help students learn the particular and universal lessons of hate, as well as how to try to identify and reject the new forms it takes.
Together, we must confront and combat the many forms of hatred in our world today. Where there is hatred born of ignorance, we must teach and inspire. Where there is hatred born of blindness, we must expose people to a larger world of ideas and reach out, especially to youth, so they can see beyond their immediate circumstances. Where there is hatred whipped up by irresponsible leaders, we must call them out and answer as strongly as we can – and make their message totally unacceptable to all people of conscience.
When history records this chapter I hope it will reflect our efforts to build a peaceful, fair, just, free world where people defend universal human rights and dignity. This is not a vision to be dismissed as kumbaya or naïve idealism – it is a real goal that should never be far from our thoughts.
Since the beginning of humankind, hate has been around, but since then too, good people of all faiths and backgrounds have striven to combat it.
My tradition tells us that “you are not required to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
Thank you for all you are doing and I look forward to working with you. I wish this conference much success – we’re all counting on you!