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January 22, 2015

Bittersweet Freedom

“After Auschwitz, the human condition is not the same, nothing will be the same.”
– Elie Wiesel

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Credit: Yad Vashem

January 27th marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp by the Russian army at the end of World War II.  For those who were able to survive the horrors of Auschwitz, finally hearing the words “We’re free! We’re free!” echoing across the camp barracks must have seemed almost too good to be true. We often hear stories of the initial encounter between camp survivors and the liberating army, recounted by one child survivor, “They gave us hugs, cookies, and chocolate. Being so alone, a hug meant more than anybody could imagine because that replaced the human worth that we were starving for. We were not only starved for food but we were starved for human kindness.”

People rarely consider what happened to the anti-Semitism that was at the root of the Holocaust once the war ended. There is sometimes an assumption that anti-Semitism ended with the war or that it was greatly diminished. In fact, this is never the case when genocide occurs. The hatred and prejudice still exist, but their manifestation is not always blatantly obvious.  In the case of the Holocaust, the world felt a collective sense of shame in facing the images of survivors, which was a strong inhibiting force against the blatant expression of anti-Semitism. Today, decades later and with new generations rising, the erosion of that sense of shame has become a key factor in the surge of anti-Semitism. That’s why education is more important now than ever.

After liberation, the survivors of Auschwitz were free to walk out of the camp, and were essentially on their own to make their way back to their communities and learn if their former homes and valued possessions were still there.  Many of the young women who survived the camp travelled together in small groups, sometimes for long distances. Sleeping in barns, sheds or outside in the woods, they were frequent victims of violent sexual assaults from marauding soldiers, attacks from which some did not survive. They were targeted for two reasons – because they were women and because they were Jewish.

The liberation of Auschwitz is clearly a critically important event in the history of the Holocaust and one that should hold an important place in our collective memories.  But we also need to be mindful that anti-Semitism did not magically disappear with the liberation of the camps or the signing of the peace treaties.  Today, anti-Semitism has reached to all-time highs across Europe and our memories need to be tempered with a renewed vigilance to continue to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of prejudice, from subtle stereotypes and Holocaust “jokes” to violent hate crimes against people perpetrated because of who they are.  Only then, will the mandate of “Never Again” become a reality.

How do we bring the lessons of the Holocaust to students today in ways that are relevant to their lives?  The Anti-Defamation League provides programs and resources that help educators and students study the history of the Holocaust and apply its lessons to contemporary issues of responsible citizenship, moral decision making, prejudice, hate, and genocide.  Teachers can integrate multimedia curricula into their classrooms through Echoes and Reflections.

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October 2, 2014

Details Emerge On Anti-Semitic Gathering In Tehran

As Iran’s 2nd New Horizon Conference wraps up in Tehran, new information is emerging about conference attendees, who included U.S. and international anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and anti-war activists.

In his opening speech, Nader Talebzadeh, the director of the New Horizon Conference, explained the goal of the conference as, “distributing the articles and thoughts of top intellectuals and philosophers worldwide among Iranian universities and artists,” and that, “The emergence of ideology of criticizing the dominance of the Zionist lobby over the USA and EU, which is going to make some changes in the West, has made it an essential and attractive subject to learn.” Talebzadeh added in an interview on the sidelines of the conference to a Press TV correspondent that, “These are the people [the attendees] that are censored in the West” for their views, which include promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial.

Press TV also conducted an interview with Wayne Madsen, a U.S. anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, who claimed that the U.S. government and Congress are under Zionist control, “The Israeli agenda, which the Christian and Jewish Zionists adopt one hundred percent, is what is sold to members of Congress, and that develops into legislation, resolutions; no one votes against anything [the Zionists] put up as far as a resolution.”

Among the speakers on the first day of the conference was anti-Israel journalist Garth Porter. In his speech to the attendees, Porter leveled accusations against Israel, the Mossad and CIA for manufacturing the Iranian nuclear crisis. Brazilian journalist Pepe Escobar echoed Porter’s message and predicted that Iran will become more active in world affairs as its stature and influence in the region increases.

On the second day of the conference, Art Olivier, a U.S. 9/11 conspiracy theorist and filmmaker, promoted his upcoming film about the life of pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie. The film, Olivier said, will allow young Americans “to see the reality of Rachel’s life which happened 11 years ago and are going to realize the atrocity of Zionist actions against Palestinians and the people of Gaza.” Olivier also promoted the anti-Semitic canard that the U.S. film industry and Hollywood in particular are under the domination of Zionists.

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CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin interviewed on Iranian state media

Other U.S. participants also gave brief interviews to Farsi-language media during panel breaks, including CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin, who told IRIB Channel 1 that some of the topics at the conference addressed U.S. funding for war at expense of providing adequate healthcare for American citizens, and that, “These conferences should lift the pressure off of the Palestinian people.” Also present at the conference was Reverend Stephen Sizer, a vicar in the Church of England who, according to the UK-based Community Security Trust (CST), has been accused of promoting anti-Semitic links on his website.

Some of the notable panel discussions held during the three-day conference included “Zionist fingerprints on the 9/11 cover-up;” “The Gaza war & BDS Movement against the Zionist regime,” which Medea Benjamin was part of; “US-Israeli dual citizens working in the interest of Israel: the case for treachery;” and “The ‘Islamic’ State meme, its precursors, & the US-Israel-Saudi triangle.”

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May 22, 2014

Palestinians Welcome Pope Francis To Bethlehem With Anti-Semitism

On Sunday, when Pope Francis celebrates mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, he may be confronted with billboards depicting Jesus being attacked by Israeli soldiers.jesus-palestinian-pope-israel

This not-so-subtle modern day version of the deicide is transparent classical anti-Semitism in the guise of criticism of Israel.  The posters are a product of The Palestinian Museum, which announced that at the request of the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s Supreme Presidential Committee for Church Affairs, it had prepared special billboards to decorate Manger Square which “combine recent media photographs of the Palestinian landscape and its people with Western baroque paintings of biblical scenes.”

The posters, some of which depict Jesus suffering at the hands of Israeli soldiers, will highlight “the tension between the popular image of the Holy Land and Palestine’s ongoing history of suffering under occupation and oppression,”  according to the Museum.

Palestinian efforts to present themselves as the direct descendants of Jesus are nothing new.  Nor is the manipulative and anti-Semitic comparison of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Jews just as they claim Jews were responsible for suffering and death of Jesus.

The message carefully chosen by an official Palestinian body to publicly welcome Pope Francis demonstrates how deeply intermingled anti-Jewish and anti-Israel attitudes are in the Palestinian public sphere.

At the weekly meeting of Israel’s cabinet, Prime Minister Netanyahu decried Palestinian incitement, citing the ADL Global 100 Survey findings about the high level of anti-Semitic attitudes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

While the PA regularly complains that incitement is an Israeli-manufactured excuse, there is no denying that extreme anti-Israel and anti-Semitic messaging appears routinely in official Palestinian publications and institutions.

Earlier this week, the May 21st edition of the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, featured an op-ed by one of its frequent writers, Yahya Rabah, entitled “No One Believes Shylock,” featuring the denial of the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, comparisons of Israel to the Nazis and other outrages.   Rabah writes:

“… Israel lives on a broad and extensive system of laws from the British Mandate, on illusionary Torah maps, as well as on hallucinations from the Babylonian captivity or from the Roman, the existence of neither has no single evidence. (It also lives) on practices borrowed from the Nazis, currently imitated by the Israelis against the Palestinian people, as clearly established by a number of intellectuals, authors and historians in Israel these days.”

The issue of Palestinian incitement, and the PA’s chronic failure to prepare the Palestinian public for peace with Israel was on ongoing concern cited by Israeli officials during the recent cycle of US-brokered peace negotiations.

And with these egregious examples appearing almost-daily, it is certain to continue to alarm all those committed to true Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.

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