“We have a glorious history and one, my dear friends that lasted a lot longer than those damn 12 years…yes, we plead guilty to our responsibility for the 12 years. But, dear friends, Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird poop in over one thousand years of successful German history,” Alexander Gauland, leader of the German right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD), said during his party’s youth congress a few weeks ago.
Is this just a misunderstanding and quote taken out of context, as claimed by Gauland himself, or another consciously and carefully coded provocation?
The outcry among German media, politicians and Jewish communities was large, also because Gauland is a repeat offender, in line with many of his party colleagues, and has engaged in such belittling of the Holocaust and German Nazi past multiple times before. Among other things, he has claimed that, “We have the right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in the two world wars” and “the right, to not only taking back our homeland, but also our past…which does not relate to our identity nowadays anymore.”
Gauland and his party colleagues are engaging in the latter. It is a form of brinksmanship — a conscious strategy to corrode and alter our perception and position toward the Nazi genocide, and the 60 million people that died during the World War II era through calculated provocations. The aim is to gradually shift society’s off-limit taboo of belittling or even denying our historic responsibility in order to ultimately rewrite history, thereby reshaping German identity and national pride.
The aggressive and provocative rhetoric might be a rather new phenomenon, but the receptiveness among German voters — which amounts to a staggering 16 percent for the AfD according to recent polls — is pointing to a deeply rooted issue within German society: A long existing resentment and frustration towards the unbearable shame over the German crimes against humanity and the preposterous urge to finally be liberated from this overwhelming burden of history.
That is what Gauland is propagating with his provocative remarks. The urge to brush off the darkest time of history like bird poop.
A lack of German identity and a confused sense of nationality and belonging have been exacerbated by fear of the unknown and foreign that the turmoil resulting from the refugee crisis starting 2015 has created, and that, according to AfD’s far-right voices, will undermine the country’s democratic values, prosperity and security.
The AfD rhetoric is a direct reaction to these developments, fueling dangerous stereotypes and contributing to the new aggressive political climate.
Whether we like it or not, the AfD is a democratically elected political party, acting within the limits and by the rules of our constitution, at least until proven otherwise; the platform and space for it is being provided by our society at large and, since the last election, also by the German Bundestag, hosting 92 AfD Members as its third largest group, representing almost 6 million voters.
We must not continue the mistake of discounting all of them as a bunch of protest voters and Nazi ideologists. This would only be adding further fuel to the fire and play into their distorted victim self-perception.
Fighting right-wing tendencies that were deemed obsolete will demand an exhaustive reiterated reprocessing of our past and the identity built on that history.
The refusal until now of the mainstream political parties and a majority of German society to adequately confront our national past through drawing sustainable and inclusive lessons from it, has ultimately led to the vacuum that was filled by the AfD and their climate of hate. Instead of facilitating meaningful reflection, German Holocaust commemoration has solidified into annual rituals that silence the conscience without eliciting substantive change.
Yes, speeches such as Gauland’s are unbearable, especially for the Jewish communities in Germany, but at the same time provide a chance to reestablish basic societal norms and redefine the fundamental values that our democracy and society at large are built on and that we have mistakenly taken for granted.
We must address the fears and issues of AfD voters and provide better and, most importantly, constructive alternatives to the right-wing propaganda, conspiracy myths and Holocaust trivializing that are fueling racist and anti-Semitic hate speech in our society.
Refusing to address the underlying issues and only reacting to these trends with affected indignation does not solve the problem. But at the same time we must draw a clear line. Everyone has the right to one’s own opinion, but nobody has the right to deny or distort facts. Whoever is doing this is discouraging any foundation for discussion and debate, and has rightfully disqualified himself from the debate.
Especially the Jewish communities must not make the mistake of falling for the deceptive propaganda, that the fight against immigration and Islam, as well as the Islamization of our society, is the best protection for Jewish life in Germany. We must publicly denounce the instrumentalization of Jewish communities for anti-Muslim racism, parts of the AfD have tried to do.
Holocaust Remembrance and combating any form of discrimination and xenophobia is a responsibility of both the state institutions and civil society.
Already 10 years ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her B’nai B’rith gold medal recipient speech, what holds even truer in today’s political climate:
“Whoever is not standing up against Anti-Semitism and extremism, is losing not only his own freedom but jeopardizes the freedom of others. If education is not being perceived as the promotion of an inner conduct, then education fails its aim. Education doesn’t mean only a collection of historic facts, but the existence of a conscience based on it.”
Such a conduct must be reestablished from generation to generation.
Every generation afresh has the responsibility to defend its values time and again, which are founded on and drawn from a meaningful commemoration of the past. Whenever we believe that these values can be taken for granted and have become common knowledge, we will grow weak; our democracy will become an empty shell that can be subverted by radical tendencies.
Education is the commemoration of our past, but equally as important, the development of our common future.
The quintessence of meaningful Holocaust commemoration lies in an old Jewish proverb, that was also quoted by then German President Richard von Weizsäcker in his groundbreaking speech 1985 on the 40th anniversary of the end of the War World II, and that defines German Holocaust commemoration and responsibility still today: “Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer; the secret of redemption lies in remembrance.”
In recent months, two prominent American historians, Ron Chernow and Jeffrey Rosen, have earned praise for presidential biographies that have revealed a new perspective on their subjects’ reputations. A journalist and specialist in economics whose first series of books focused on financial family dynasties, Chernow’s award-winning publications about the Morgans, Rockefellers and Warburgs were followed by surveys of the accomplishments of icons of the American Revolution: “Washington: A Life,” capturing the Pulitzer Prize in 2011, and “Alexander Hamilton,” selling unprecedented millions of copies as the source for the hit musical for which he served as historical advisor. Released in 2017, Chernow’s “Grant” was chosen as one of the best books of the year by The New York Times.
The product of six years of work, the 950 plus page chronicle offers a thoroughly sympathetic treatment of a man which repudiates the view that Grant was an inadequate president. To Chernow, this brilliant military strategist was also a superior political leader, capable of recognizing his flaws and rectifying them, but whose greatest personal demon was alcoholism. Addressing the accusation that Grant, suffering the ravages of cancer, had his civil war memoirs ghost written by others including Mark Twain, one of his great supporters, Chernow is one of just a few people alive to examine every page of the actual hand-written multi-volume manuscript. With his own eyes, he was able to verify the Grant’s actual handwriting, which deteriorated from the effects of the condition, and the administration of the cocaine which suppressed his pain. Chernow describes Grant’s progressive civil rights policies, including his creation of a civil service system that enabled him to atone for his infamous Civil War order banishing southern Jews from the territories conquered during his campaign. Regaining the trust and loyalty of American Jews, Grant named many of them, as well as African Americans, to government positions during his terms in office, 1869-1877. While acknowledging Grant’s efforts to maintain and protect former slaves in the South, Chernow notes that the failure of Reconstruction was due to many factors, not the least of which was economic. Extensively reviewed, “Grant” has been described by George Will as “ a gift to the nation” while The New Republic observed: “Chernow has given us a rare kind of popular history: one that forces readers to confront hard truths, not just revel in America’s all too fleeting triumphs.”
A legal scholar, George Washington University professor and media commentator who directs Philadelphia’s Center for Constitutional Law, Jeffrey Rosen has authored books about internet privacy, the justice system and the life of Louis Brandeis. Called one of the best contributions to The American Presidents Series published by Times Books, his brief, yet thorough biography of William Howard Taft characterizes him as “our most judicial president and presidential chief justice.” It places in context the political and legal agenda of the only man who was both elected the nation’s 27th president from 1909-1913, and who sat on the Supreme Court bench, his true calling.
From the beginning of his career, the Ohio-born Republican was adhered to the Constitution’s parameters, ones which constrained the powers of those who governed; his duty to both its letter and spirit cost him his relationship with his populist predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt and became a contributing factor in the election of the Democrat who became his successor, Woodrow Wilson. In his valuation of a president whose lot it was to be sandwiched in between two individuals remembered for their bold leadership, Rosen has imbued Taft with a heroism, longed for in our own times, saying that, “[his] devotion to free trade, low tariffs, corporate taxes, vigorous antitrust suits, environmental protection, and international arbitration persists in different wings of the Republican and Democratic parties. In this sense, his is truly a bipartisan legacy.”
Cheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B'nai B'rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.
The 48th Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly, which took place in Washington, D.C. between June 3-5 had two main issues in the agenda: the un-humanitarian situation in Venezuela and the civil unrest in Nicaragua.
The country members understood the importance not only of the issues to deal with, but also the context of this meeting celebrating 70 years since the OAS was founded. Most of the countries sent to Washington their foreign ministers as heads of delegations. The United States sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to address the assembly and make it clear that the Venezuelan regime should be observed and sanctioned according to the rules of the Democratic Charter.
After two days of tough discussions and verbal confrontations between Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza and each one of the other foreign ministers (with very few exceptions)the General Assembly passed a resolution aimed at suspending Venezuela from the organization and not recognizing the legitimacy of the May 20 presidential elections.
There were 19 votes in favor, 4 against and 11 abstentions. Countries that abstained include Surinam, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Uruguay, Antigua and Barbuda, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Haiti and Nicaragua.
Ecuador and Nicaragua were very close to Venezuela in the last decade. But this time they gave a first step to separate from the old alliance.
Four countries rejected the measure: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Venezuela, Bolivia and Dominica. Venezuela may have observed for the first time in more than a decade that its predicament has no more allies than Bolivia and two tiny islands.
The approved resolution was called by the United States and 14 countries of the Lima Group, a bloc that amounts to 90 percent of the South American and Caribbean population which include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guyana, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia.
This is the first time a resolution on the Venezuelan crisis was approved during a General Assembly of the OAS. The resolution needed 18 votes to be approved and 19 voted in favor.
This resolution offers the possibility to suspend Venezuela from the regional organization. Suspension is the toughest sanction imposed by the OAS and only two nations have ever been suspended: Honduras in 2009, following the coup d’etat that threw Manuel Zelaya out of office and Cuba, following the victory of Fidel Castro’s resolution in 1959.
However, Venezuela started a process to withdraw from OAS on April 28, 2017, but due to administrative reasons the exit will not be effective until 2019.
The resolution condemns the elections of May 20 when Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro was re-elected president as well as a request for the government to allow the entry of humanitarian aid and to restore the full authority of the Venezuelan National Assembly. Venezuela´s regime denies that there is a humanitarian crisis in the country, but the facts speak by themselves: emigration of more than 2 million Venezuelan in the last three years and the lack of food and medicines inside the country make it very clear what is really going on in Venezuela.
Maduro, following the steps of his predecessor Hugo Chavez, has opened the doors of his country to Iran and Hezbollah and has put in danger the whole region letting a terrorist movement to move freely from north to south with Venezuelan passports.
It seems that time has finally come for the countries to the Americas to address the situation created by Maduro´s regime. Venezuelans are refugees in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Panama, and there is a refugee situation to address in a region that has never faced such a calamity. And it has to be addressed in all areas: diseases, hunger, poverty, education. Besides, the terrorist danger of having Hezbollah members in the region is a major threat.
Today, only Cuba and Bolivia step beside Maduro. The time of populism is gone, and it is time for the Americas to face the situation as it exists.
Unrest in Nicaragua is another outrageous situation to be addressed. Civil unrest due to the corrupt regime of Daniel Ortega is causing tens of students and other civilians to be shot dead in the streets. The OAS has severely urged for a dialogue, and Ortega will have to accept it shortly.
B´nai B´rith attended the OAS GA as it has done since the OAS was born. Representing B’nai B’rith were Sienna Girgenti, assistant director for the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy and this writer, Eduardo Kohn, director for Latin America Affairs. We both had meetings and conversations with foreign ministers of Argentina, Mexico, Honduras, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and with chiefs of mission of Uruguay and Nicaragua. We also met with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, and congratulated Dr. Ricardo Perez Manrique in his new capacity as member of the Inter American Human Rights Court. Perez Manrique has been president of the Supreme Court of Justice in Uruguay and was the keynote speaker of Kristallnacht commemorations organized by
B´nai B´rith Uruguay in 2016.
As the time of populism is fading in the Americas, authoritarian governments like Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba, are staying isolated from the other more than 30 members of the OAS. Not only the United States has decided to play a very active role in the main issues of OAS agenda but also very important and huge nations are following the same steps: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Chile.
Still, there is a long way to go in order to end the suffering of the Venezuelan people. But this time, when the OAS is celebrating its 70th anniversary, a step forward has been taken. It is the beginning. And it opens a window of hope for those who are suffering.
Photos of b'nai b'rith International OAS Delegation:
Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D., has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International Director of Latin American Affairs since 1984. Before joining B'nai B'rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content, click here.
Last week, the American veto stopped yet another dangerously misguided U.N. Security Council resolution from passing. The resolution was tabled by Kuwait, the current non-permanent member of the council from the Arab states. The U.S. was the only state to vote against it, but the resolution was unbalanced enough that four other states (Ethiopia, the Netherlands, Poland and the U.K.) on the 15-member council also chose not to support it, and abstain. A resolution needs nine votes to pass, as long as none of the permanent member of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.) votes against it, so this resolution was close to failure on its own, but it did require a U.S. veto in the end.
The resolution was typical of what comes out of the U.N. whenever aggressive provocations by Palestinian terrorist groups lead to a crisis situation. Israel was roundly condemned for defending Israeli citizens and soldiers against Palestinian rioters — often Hamas fighters — trying to storm the border and murder Jews. Hamas was never mentioned by name in the resolution; neither was Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which only days earlier had launched a barrage of rockets toward Israeli communities near Gaza, a situation which could have easily spiraled into yet another war. The resolution does deplore rocket launches from Gaza, but the way it is worded it sounds as if the rockets are magically launching themselves. There is no actor responsible for the terrorism. Some states criticized this lack of naming-and-shaming terrorist groups, but shamefully voted for the resolution nonetheless.
The U.S. proposed a resolution that would have condemned Hamas by name at the same council session. Unfortunately, the U.S. stood alone in voting for it. Russia, Kuwait and Bolivia voted against and the rest of the council abstained, many complaining that enough time was not given to negotiate on the text to “balance” it. In U.N. terms, balance is only achieved when Israel is viciously criticized for defending itself and Palestinian terrorist groups are either ignored or are lumped in on calls for restraint by “both sides.”
Beyond this phenomenon, which — sadly — appears all too often at U.N. bodies, this resolution was notable for its efforts to create an international protection mechanism for Palestinians. The resolution would not have created the mechanism, but rather started the process: it called on the U.N. Secretary-General to report back on recommendations for such a mechanism. Such a mechanism would be unhelpful in the extreme, and Israel would never allow it, especially given the history of ineffectual international missions being stationed between Israel and its neighbors.
In Sinai, U.N. forces withdrew at Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser’s demand as Egypt and other Arab countries moved in on Israel in what turned out to be another failed attempt to annihilate Israel. In Syria, the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights fled early in the Syrian civil war. European Union observers on the Gaza border also fled after the Hamas coup in 2007. Finally, in Lebanon, the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has not lifted a finger to stop the growing Hezbollah arsenal of thousands of rockets pointing at Israel. Israel knows that in these sensitive areas, only Israel can provide for its own security. An “international mechanism” would only put Israeli (and, ultimately, Palestinian) lives in greater peril.
The Palestinians have been issuing calls for international protection for a while at the U.N. So, in essence what we have is the Palestinians asking for a certain policy, which is rightly ignored by the international community as unworkable. Palestinian terrorists then instigate violence and create a situation where the Security Council feels the need to respond, and the Arab states are there to offer a resolution with the solution that the Palestinians wanted all along. Some of the states on the council that voted in favor of the resolution fooled themselves into thinking that it was a balanced text (though, of course, it was not), and that they were voting to urge a stop to a terrible situation. In reality, they were only making the situation worse in the long run by encouraging Palestinian intransigence and, indirectly, violence.
Finally, there is a real question of whether or not the riots from Gaza warranted this much Security Council attention in the first place. When there are instances of actual peaceful protests being suppressed by authoritarian states, the council tends to ignore it (see, Iran, Venezuela, and most recently, Nicaragua). Palestinian protesters are only cared about if they appear as a violent riot rushing at Israel’s border; the right to protest against Hamas brutality in Gaza or the Palestinian Authority repression in the West Bank is not important to the international community. At the U.N., hypocrisy is the norm and the U.S. veto is the only check against double standards and delegitimization and demonization of Israel.
Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. Click here to view more of his additional content.
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