Theodore Herzl would have been proud. The Jewish State is alive and well. Jewish people and their friends no longer must cower in fear of bullies, but are free to express outrage against antisemitism and to take action to counter it.
In an impassioned plea for such action, the President of the Conference of Imams in France, Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, accused Google and social networking sites of fueling hate and enabling the recruitment of extremists. Violence, said Chalghoumi, starts with words found on the internet, and this is a major cause of the massacres taking place today all over the Middle East.
Speaking this week on a panel at the 5th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Jerusalem, Chalghoumi, who is also an Imam of the City of Drancy, repeated Emile Zola’s famous cry against the government of France – “J’accuse.” Entire generations are listening to antisemitism in the mosques and on the internet, and no one cares, he lamented.
Similarly, Sheikh Dr. Usama Hasan of the Islamic Society of the United Kingdom courageously stood before the 1,000 Jewish and non Jewish leaders in the room and declared, “I used to be an antisemite.” He explained, “We were brought up with antisemitism because we distorted the Quran.” Imam Yahya Pallavicini of Milan confirmed this sentiment, stating that extremists are trying to warp one of the key principles of Islam – respect.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted the participants from around the world with a heartfelt call for more action to combat antisemitism. He expressed that “contemporary antisemitism doesn’t just slander, vilify and target the Jewish people. It first and foremost today targets the Jewish state. That’s the nexus, that’s the core, that’s the focus of antisemitism.”
Before speaking at the conference on behalf of the Canadian government, Canada’s Minister of State (Multiculturalism) Tim Uppal was given a private tour of the construction site of the new Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. His comments later that day at the forum echoed the leadership of the Harper government in combating antisemitism and defending Israel:
“Our Government’s commitment to fighting the rise of antisemitism in all its forms is rooted in increased education and interaction between different communities to counter the ignorance and bigotry that spreads this pernicious hatred. We will continue to work to ensure that the horrid atrocities that occurred in the past never happen again.”
The same sentiment was strongly expressed by a number of European leaders who appeared emotional about the history of antisemitism in their countries and the new tide of antisemitism they must now confront. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo strongly condemned antisemitism and expressed outrage over the terrorism that has enveloped France and Paris recently.
Similarly Heiko Maas, German Minister of Justice, noted that Germany has zero tolerance for antisemitism and there are criminal consequences for such action and behaviour. In one of the most powerful declarations of responsibility I have ever heard, Maas explained that German pupils are taught about the genocide “committed by the Germans against the Jews.”
Another impassioned speaker was Ambassador Szabolcs Takacs, representing Hungary as the incoming Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Acknowledging Hungary’s “shameful” past in abetting the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust, Takacs stated that “Hungary has an opportunity to prevent evil from returning.”
Conversely, I believe the most problematic speech was delivered by Nickolay Mladenov on behalf of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. In true UN form, Mladenov missed the opportunity to express the UN’s deep concern about antisemitism. Instead, he universalized the issue as racism and xenophobia and attempted to close the gap between antisemitism and Islamophobia.
I only hope that Mladenov listened carefully to the impassioned remarks given by the President of the Conference of American Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein. “We live in a world of denial; where no one believes anything,” he said. “Values have been ‘dumbed down’ and we live in an age of “superficiality.” Pleading for unity to confront the crisis of antisemitism, Hoenlein warned the greatest danger to the Jewish people is apathy, ignorance and indifference.
The Israel that Theodor Herzl helped dream into existence is, of course, the complete opposite of apathy, ignorance and indifference in the face of evil. Following these comforting words offered by European leaders at the Jerusalem Summit, it is now time for Jewish and non Jewish communities everywhere to act in the face of clearly acknowledged hatred, to defend our values and liberties, and to live up to the standards treasured by democratic nations.
Who is today’s Theodore Herzl? Maybe fifty, one hundred or three hundred years from now, our descendants will ask, “where were our ancestors and why didn’t they do something to stop the hate?” Future generations are counting on our wisdom and determination. Therefore, let it be known that we are here and we will never again be driven from our homes and murdered. Never again.