CEO and Dir. of U.N. Affairs Op-ed in Newsweek: Holocaust Comparisons Are Holocaust Denial. It Has to Stop.
The Holocaust is once again being trivialized in the name of the politics. On Wednesday, Ohio Congressman Warren Davidson compared COVID restrictions to the Nazis' treatment of Jews. "This has been done before. #DoNotComply," he tweeted.
The Congressman joins a long list of those reaching for the Holocaust for such cheap political points. In June, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene compared wearing a mask to wearing a yellow star and had to apologize. In November, Lara Logan compared Dr. Anthony Fauci to Joseph Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor who did cruel experiments on Jews in concentration camps.
Across the globe, things are even worse; outright Holocaust denial is spreading like a virus. Earlier this week, outside a church in central Rome, a funeral concluded with a coffin draped in a Nazi flag, surrounded by participants giving Nazi salutes. In Iran, the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, often tweets things like "why is it a crime to raise doubts about the Holocaust?" and "#Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain." In 2019, right before attempting a mass-carnage attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany, on Yom Kippur, a gunman livestreamed a video in which he said, "I think the Holocaust never happened."
The Holocaust—the most documented and systematic genocide in history—took the lives of two-thirds of European Jews. Among our own family members, in Poland and Lithuania, most were wiped out: innocent men, women and children.
Of the Jews who managed to survive, all are now at least 77 years old, and thousands are dying each year. That trend has likely been accelerated by the ongoing pandemic. And if Holocaust-denial can persist even as first-hand witnesses to the atrocities are among us, we can only imagine how malignant these pathologies will become once the survivors pass on.
The correlation between denial of past atrocities and indifference to new atrocities is clear. Whether it comes from the extreme right or radical Islamists, antisemites uniquely belittle or justify the Holocaust while also belittling or justifying current and prospective violence against Jews.
Of course, distortion or instrumentalization of the Holocaust is not new. Among white supremacists, denial of the Nazi gas chambers' existence has been an article of faith. Even in America, certain local legislators or educators were recently found to have urged "neutrality" in teaching about Nazism. In parts of the Baltics, the whitewashing and lionizing of Nazi collaborators has been commonplace. And through much of the Middle East, the Holocaust has long been tarred as a "Zionist myth" alongside a false narrative that Palestinians paid the price for Germans' misdeeds with the invention of a "colonial" Israel by foreigners.
And whether at the United Nations or street demonstrations, bigots wholly rejecting the history and legitimacy of a Jewish minority presence in the Middle East have sought to add insult to injury by weaponizing the Holocaust, saying Hitler hadn't gone far enough or that Israel is guilty of Nazi-like practices.
At a 2001 U.N. conference against racism in Durban, South Africa, activists asserted both. A decade later, Iran's president hosted Holocaust-denial conferences and cartoon competitions, attracting such luminaries as former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, a newfound champion of Palestinian nationalism.
A few years later, Malaysia's then-prime minister—a self-identified antisemite who had called Jews "hook-nosed" and said they "rule the world by proxy"—questioned the number of Holocaust victims. And during outbreaks of Hamas or Hezbollah hostilities with Israel, social media platforms have facilitated an unprecedented spread of hateful lies concerning Israelis, Jews and the Holocaust, with negligible intervention by those profiting from them.
Next week, the U.N. will have an opportunity to help more seriously address the scourge of historical revisionism. 15 years after the U.N. began marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a resolution on Holocaust-denial and distortion will come up for a vote. We hope member states will join in adopting an important working definition of Holocaust-denial, as well as, ultimately, an equally vital working definition of antisemitism.
While combating trivialization of the Holocaust is only one element of strengthening basic societal norms, it is a critical one. Let it be said once more: those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.
Read the op-ed in Newsweek.
CEO Op-ed in The Portuguese News: Working Together to Face Challenges to the Portuguese and European Jewish Communities
Over 40 years ago, on a visit to Israel, I learned from my cousin Chaya that our forebears may have originated in Portugal.
My mother was born in Lithuania, as was Chaya, her first cousin. They came from a small shtetl not far from Vilna, and frankly, most of our relatives had probably not given too much thought as to where our family might have originated. After all, the first Jews are believed to have arrived in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the late 14th century. That was pretty far back in time.
Many in my mother’s family came to America decades before the Holocaust. Chaya made her way to pre-state Israel in 1934. We know of only one relative who survived the Shoah, who later made his way to Israel after the war. All of our other family in Lithuania was killed.
I was excited to hear that Chaya had done some research at one of Israel’s universities and was convinced that our origins were in Portugal. Her maiden name, and my mother’s, was “Berzak.” Chaya concluded that a Portuguese rabbi, Elkanah Bar Zera Kodesh, had been among those who left Portugal in the expulsion of the Jews at the end of the 15th century. The acronym for the rabbi’s name became “Berzak.” It is likely he or his descendants made their way to Hamburg, which was a jumping off point for many who arrived in Lithuania in the late Middle Ages.
I tell you all of this because I take a special pride both in the rich history of the Jews in Portugal, and today, in the rebirth of the Portuguese Jewish community. In Porto, which I had the opportunity to visit some months ago, the beautifully maintained Kedoorie Synagogue, the establishment of two excellent museums, a kosher restaurant and an active local community are all to be admired at a time when Jewish communities everywhere are debating the best way to ensure Jewish continuity and communal life in the still-new century.
But that is not the only challenge Portuguese, and by extension European Jewry, is facing. We have seen, over the past two decades, a tremendous spike in anti-Semitism—some of it emanating from the populist right or ultra-nationalist quarters, and some from the left and Islamic extremists. This perfect storm of Jew hatred has spread throughout Europe at viral speed, energized by social media and its “influencers.”
That anti-Semitism is present in Europe comes as no surprise to anyone. That it remains ensconced in country after country within the living memory of those who were victims of and witnessed Hitler’s barbarity, and with it the worst crimes ever perpetrated on the Jewish people, is reprehensible.
B’nai B’rith, founded in the United States in 1843, but which has been present on the European continent since the last quarter of the 19th century, knows of this hatred firsthand. We confronted and battled anti-Semitism wherever it manifested itself here in the United States and in those places where we established a presence abroad.
In 1933, on the eve of Hitler’s coming to power, our organization had more than 100 branches in Germany alone, and in many other countries throughout the continent. At the war’s end, and as a result of the Holocaust, we had to re-build on the ashes of the devastation that befell European Jewry in Germany, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, former Yugoslavia and so many other places.
Anti-Semitism is the world’s oldest, most persistent and resistant form of hatred. It sprouts and flourishes where there are substantial Jewish populations—or no Jewish communities at all. It thrives on lies and distortions, on envy and a perverse taste for inflicting harm—mental and physical. And it often operates with the approbation of public figures and some in the media, who use it for political gain or to attract new followers, readers or viewers.
B’nai B’rith itself has been on the receiving end of this malicious, hateful behavior. In days past, it might be like that which used to appear in the Soviet press, when we were called “the first violin in the Zionist orchestra.” Today, you’ll see it on websites, even those which claim to be legitimate press outlets. Some continue to ply old, shopworn and outrageous tropes about us, and Jews generally, suggesting “secretive” powers of manipulation and control over the media, banks and everyone else.
Clearly, when it comes to anti-Semitism in Europe, the more things change, the more they stay in the same.
What can we do about all of this? Years ago, B’nai B’rith opened an EU Affairs office in Brussels, to create awareness of anti-Semitism on the continent at the European Commission, the European Parliament and other bodies (including the Council of Europe in Strasbourg). We work closely with the very able Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission Coordinator on Combating Anti-Semitism and Fostering Jewish Life, and with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions (ODIHR) to create new approaches to confronting Jew hatred Europe-wide.
In recent years, in several countries in Europe, there has been an assault--in the name of animal rights-- on the right of Jews to engage in the practice of shechita, or kosher slaughter, abrogating our right to freely exercise our religion. Bans and restrictions have been imposed in a number of countries in Europe, most recently in the Belgian regions of Wallonia and Flanders, and in Greece. Other initiatives have been afoot to ban circumcision, or brit milah. B’nai B’rith has been in the forefront of those speaking out loudly against attempts to roll back freedom of religion in a democratic Europe.
B’nai B’rith was among the earliest advocates for a standard working definition of anti-Semitism that could be used to clearly identify its manifestations, and not allow political leaders, the media, judges and others to either deny it or to nuance it away. That definition was adopted in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a consortium of 35 countries committed to Holocaust research and remembrance. Portugal is a member of IHRA and in 2019 adopted the working definition. A growing number of countries, provinces, municipalities, universities, sports federations and others are joining the list of those who endorse it.
Additionally, we have pressed various governments in Europe to facilitate Holocaust-era restitution to survivors and their families, and promoted Holocaust remembrance and education initiatives.
With all of this, so much more remains to be done. Much contemporary anti-Semitism emanates from various bodies of the United Nations, especially, but not only at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Israel is singled out continuously in resolution after resolution for carrying out the worst possible human rights violations. The lopsided votes against Israel often include many countries—some of them in Europe—who should know better. They often “go along to get along,” signing on to the annual festival of calumnies against the Jewish State. Recently, this activity has spilled over to agencies like the World Health Organization.
Which brings me back to Portugal. Our history there came to such an abrupt stop at the end of the 15th century. The thought has often crossed my mind, what if there had been no disputations, no expulsion, no Inquisition, no auto da fès and no burnings at the stake? Unfortunately, “what if’s” have no answers, just speculation. What we can imagine, with some certainty, is that the community would be one of the world’s largest and its contributions to Portuguese and Jewish life immense.
For the Jewish people, numbers don’t really speak to what we have contributed to civilization writ large, and to European culture, science, education and commerce over the centuries. That continues today. What we lack in size, we have been able to compensate by our solidarity, based on shared history, values, traditions, a common ancient—and modern—language and so many other intangibles that make us a justifiably proud and creative people.
B’nai B’rith is proud to be a partner in the renaissance of Jewish life in Portugal and an ally in the fight against anti-Semitism, one of the seminal challenges of the day. We’ll work together to find friends and allies who can join us in confronting it. We’ll continue to speak out in those fora in Europe to advance the message that anti-Semitism, in the 21st century, is totally unacceptable anywhere, anyhow. And we’ll be there together with you in support of Israel, our ancient homeland.
As we begin the new calendar year, let’s all pray that the year ahead is one of new accomplishments for your community, and for peace and security for Israel, and for each of us, wherever we call home—always in good health.
Read the op-ed in The Portuguese News.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
Dir. of Legislative Affairs Op-ed in the Algemeiner: Time for a New Chapter in German-Israeli Relations
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has taken office, becoming the first Social Democrat born after the end of World War II to head the federal government.
His rise to power comes during a year when thousands of protesters, many of them on the political left, demonstrated against Israel’s defensive operations in Gaza. Cities across Germany erupted in violence, as rioters burned Israeli flags, while flying Hamas banners.
Last year, Jusos, the Social Democratic Party’s youth wing, passed a resolution declaring its PLO-Fatah counterpart, which has called for Israel’s destruction, its “sister organization.”
Germany’s outgoing Chancellor, Christian Democrat Angela Merkel, repeatedly spoke about the crucial nature of Israel’s existence. But her statements were belied by Germany’s frequent votes in favor of one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations. In 2019, German UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen equated Hamas rockets with Israeli bulldozers at a time when Hamas was firing projectiles at Israeli civilians.
The growing normalization of anti-Israel activity in Germany tends to confirm the fears of Jews, who have long worried that the generational shift taking place in Germany works against the long-term German-Israeli relationship. With new leaders in power who neither lived through World War II nor its immediate aftermath, the lessons of the Holocaust might fade more easily — their resonance with a younger generation diminished or lost altogether.
The false perception of Israel as a colonial occupier in the Middle East, nurtured on the European left since the 1967 Six-Day War, has made German support for the Palestinian cause, and even open hostility toward Israel, increasingly palatable. Gone for some is the once bedrock assumption in German politics that Germany owned a special responsibility for maintaining Israel’s security.
The rise in Muslim immigration to Germany has helped shape this dynamic. Refugees and migrants from the Middle East often bring with them a viewpoint that is decidedly anti-Israel. They consequently resist the sense that they are integrating into a country with a historic responsibility to protect Israel.
Chancellor Scholz has said some encouraging things about the German-Israeli relationship. At an Israel solidarity rally near the Berlin Holocaust memorial in May, he affirmed Merkel’s famous pledge that Israel’s security is Germany’s “reason of state.”
But a look at the coalition agreement the Social Democrats have formed with their governing partners, the Free Democrats and the Greens, reveals some disturbing departures from former pacts. Israel is not referred to as a Jewish state in the document, while language critical of settlements and calling for a return to 1967 borders suggests the West Bank will be a sticking point in bilateral relations. Also, the agreement insists on negotiations with Iran, but does not decry the Iranian nuclear program.
The passage of time and the increasingly casual embrace of anti-Israel public attitudes in the country that gave rise to the Holocaust has hastened the need for the new left-of-center government to reassert Germany’s position as Israel’s leading defender in Europe. The German government should vote against anti-Israel resolutions at the UN, and persuade other European Union countries to follow suit. In a country that refuses nuclear weapons of its own, the government should insist that Iran be barred from acquiring nukes. And Germany should focus its attention on terror, incitement, and the Palestinian Authority’s consistent refusal to negotiate as the biggest obstacles to peace — not Israeli settlements.
Germany’s “reason of state” ethos demands that it take these proactive measures and embrace its historic role as Israel’s principal ally in Europe. With anti-Israel sentiment increasingly morphing into antisemitism, the urgency in rebuking anti-Israel activity — at the UN, within the EU, and among the German public — is greater than ever. Germany’s new government should infuse the German-Israeli relationship with new purpose and vitality. Seventy-six years after the Holocaust, history, and the future, demand it.
Read Fusfield's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
The idea of presenting “opposing views” with the Holocaust would be mortifying if the concept behind it weren’t so mind-boggling. The thought of such a ridiculous notion leaves me shocked, numb.
That a top educator in a School District in the Dallas-Fort Worth area would use the Holocaust as an example of desired balance in presenting history-relating racism reveals vast deficiencies in understanding, much less education.
What began as a debate over legislation addressing “critical race theory” ended with a bizarre comparison delivered before a stunned school board audience, prompting a swift and immediate apology from the superintendent of the Carroll Independent School District.
One of many teaching moments in this chapter of history is that revisionism is clearly becoming the embarrassing subplot to the torment that’s ripping apart the country. Are school districts across the most advanced country in the world really going to allow what should have been an Age of Re-enlightenment to become the Age of Reimagining Everything? Are generations of history, literature — not to mention our sanity — about to be gone with the wind?
“Opposing views” of the Holocaust are nothing but Holocaust denial. Such behavior is nothing new in today’s world of hate. In fact, this event only gains credence when Holocaust museums, commissions, and education diminish their importance by allowing the unvarnished history to be portrayed as just another genocide or just another violation of human rights. Now, anyone who can’t understand the reality of the Holocaust either believes people should still hail Hitler or that the earth is still flat. Two decades into the 21st century, is this the new direction of education?
Educators wishing to teach racism need to realize that too many people believe anti-Semitism began with Hitler and in Nazi Germany. In truth — the unequivocal variety — the history of anti-Semitism goes back thousands of years with Jews as slaves, inhabitants in ghettos, or scapegoats by empires over more than 100 generations. And despite such oppression, the Jewish people have not only survived but made a positive impact in many societies. In the face of great achievements, the Jewish people also understand that our values oblige us to dedicate ourselves to the freedom of others.
Today, Holocaust denial has a new partner — the denial of Israel as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. The history of Israel dates back thousands of years. The legal boundaries of Israel are more in evidence than in dispute, and any disputed territory is subject to negotiation. To that end, “Palestine” will exist when the Palestinians accept history, own up to the consequences of their own actions, and develop compromises within their ranks.
In truth, we have Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and an immense evil cast who not only participated in hatching, planning, and implementing the Final Solution, but meticulously and proudly documented the heinous crimes for the world to see. The irrefutable evidence is substantiated by voluminous eyewitness accounts of prosecuted war criminals, rescuers, physical evidence from labor and death camps; cans of Cyklon B, hair, bones, ashes, testimonies from survivors, miles of film, books.
And yet, the Holocaust deniers demand telling of their side of the story, their truth, the imagined “opposing views,” which basically is a collection of demonizing libels that don’t deserve repeating. Poland, which succumbed to the Nazis and was complicit in many ways to the brutality at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where 300,000 Poles also were victims, wants to criminalize tying Poland to its history of death to millions of Jews and others.
There’s no running away from history, particularly the evil of this human experience. Diminishing the truth is shameful. Back in Texas, with apologies rendered and, of course, the “opposing views” argument ascribed to either confusion or misapplication of a law that aims to keep people from spinning history, the incident undoubtedly will evaporate into the “wokesphere.”
Meanwhile, Jews continue to be targeted as scapegoats for the blood libels of the past or for no other reason beyond their religious identity. Make no mistake, there are many good people who respect the diverse culture and practices of the Jewish people. And for those who prefer not to do so, well, they will continue trying to reinvent the wheel, which remains, by all accounts, the same shape as the earth.
Read President Kaufman's analysis in Inside Sources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
(June 27, 2021 / JNS) Young adults fresh out of school understand the anxiety associated with taking a test. The amount of preparation can be daunting. But when it comes to taking a test about anti-Semitism, Judaism or Israel, how much do young adults really know these days? I framed this question at the first B’nai B’rith Portugal European Young Leaders Program on June 21 at the new Oporto Holocaust Museum, the first such institution in the country.
The adults in the audience, young and older, certainly could relate to the universal pressures of taking an important test, whether their subjects were marketing, management or dentistry. But in a time when young adults generally are far less knowledgeable or savvy about such matters as Judaism and the Jewish state, one wonders more broadly how prepared the next generation is to handle the challenges facing them on college campuses or in the workplace, where Jews have felt pressures heaped on them recently by antagonizing and attacking anti-Israel/anti-Semitic forces.
Sadly, most students are woefully ill-prepared or ill-informed about such matters, leaving them vulnerable to believing whatever they are told by peers, and fearful as to what attacker may lurk around the corner. Perhaps students, armed with the truth, would be able to defend themselves.
Clearly the Jewish people have been tested through time. They have survived adversity through great civilizations, tyrants, impossible circumstances, expulsions, pogroms and gas chambers. Amid all of their wondrous achievements and successes, they have faced inexorable pain. Portugal witnessed 20 percent of its population evaporate in 1497 from the Inquisition and expulsion of Jews, and Europe lost at least 33 percent of its Jews from 1933 to 1945.
For thousands of years, Jews have absorbed being demonized, persecuted and subjected to blood libels that stripped them of their humanity. The defense in common libel matters of American jurisprudence is the truth.
So, the young adults in Porto’s Holocaust museum this day were advised that the truth is readily available, and that they must pursue it to counter—and hopefully reduce—damaging falsehoods. The test for which they must prepare will require time and commitment for study. They must have the mentorship and guidance of an older generation, thus making this process something that is delivered from generation to generation.
The Porto conference taught them about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism from Ambassador Luis Barreiros, Portugal’s delegation head to the IHRA committee. The definition has been adopted by more than 30 countries, universities, organizations, large businesses, even premier sports leagues.
However, some groups, even Jewish groups, have considered it “not perfect,” as it is “misunderstood and misused” because of its support for the existence and defense of the State of Israel. “But it is the best tool,” Barreiros said, “to fight the scourges of anti-Semitism, so let’s use it.”
He added that the definition helps identify warning lights and signs against Jew-hatred. “Half-truths are more dangerous than a full lie,” he said.
Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, whose organization endorses and promotes the IHRA definition, praised the measure and actually participated in the earliest meetings in Stockholm during the late 1990s.
“Israel’s enemies and those who seek to undermine it consistently hide behind the “free speech” argument,” Mariaschin said. “Theirs is surely not critical opinion; it is the equivalent of shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater. Their language is that of incitement. When one says that Israel is an ‘apartheid state,’ that it engages in ‘state terror’ and that its security fence is akin to the Warsaw Ghetto, they are deliberately engaging in what amounts to anti-Semitic smear tactics.”
Other red lines crossed, Mariaschin said, included a U.N. resolution in 1975 equating Zionism with racism, suggesting that if you are a Zionist—someone who identifies Israel as the eternal homeland for the Jewish people—then you are a racist. The effects of that resolution are very much with us today. He said that Jews need to re-double efforts at educating ourselves about Jewish and Israeli history to counter the verbal assaults.
“We live in a time when historical context is deemed expendable,” Mariaschin said. “We mustn’t allow those who seek to delegitimize and demonize Israel to selectively put forth wildly biased narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s why it is vitally important to know our own history, if we are to push back effectively in a time when Israel is demeaned daily, especially on social media.”
Raphael Gamzou, Israel’s ambassador to Portugal, reminded the audience that Israel was bombarded mercilessly with “moral equivalency arguments” in assessing responses to thousands of missiles raining down on Israel from Gaza.
“I never claim Israel is a flawless country, but the missile attacks were such a flagrant violation, and to follow up with comments about moral equivalency is outrageous,” he said. “There is no more moral army in the world than the IDF. Our enemies are going to complain that we have a weapon that not only keeps rockets from falling on its own people, but keeps rockets from falling on Palestinians. We wish we didn’t have to protect ourselves from missile attacks, but we do. This is war.”
Asked about the prospects of another Holocaust against the Jews and the rise of anti-Semitism, he said, “With Israel as a thriving nation, I see no option for another Holocaust against the Jewish people,” he said. “We will have to continue developing Israel as a moral and democratic country to encourage additional agreements, such as the Abraham Accords. And we will need to continue building bridges between the Diaspora and a healthy Israel. As for anti-Semitism, we’ve faced it for thousands of years, and I’m afraid it is here for the long haul … unfortunately.”
Jews will continue to be tested, so you are urged to study Jewish and Israel history very diligently. Only with such preparation will today’s and tomorrow’s generations be able to survive.
The conference concluded the next day with roundtable discussions and congratulatory messages from Porto community benefactors Michael Kadoorie and Jacob Safra.
Read President Kaufman's analysis on JNS.org.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
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