Shortly before his death in 2005, Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal expressed a deep foreboding about the resurgent anti-Semitism spreading across the world. But even Wiesenthal, a man who helped track down Nazi war criminals, would have been surprised to learn that some teachers in Britain are dropping Holocaust lessons because they fear the anti-Semitic sentiments of their Muslim students. Stories like this prove the importance of Holocaust remembrance and countering anti-Semitism, both of which were goals of the Simon Wiesenthal Center this month when the human rights organization observed Holocaust Remembrance Week at its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
Not only is anti-Semitism a historical fact, it’s a current event. That’s what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the 2006 swearing-in ceremony of Gregg Rickman as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Speaking at the Museum of Tolerance on April 19, Rickman claimed that anti-Semitism is on the rise and is manifested in many forms ranging from physical attacks against Jews to bizarre conspiracy theories. For example, Jews have been blamed for the attacks of September 11, the spread of AIDS and the Asian tsunami of 2004. Rickman told of his experience last year at a Cairo bookstore, where he found copies of the forged, anti-Semitic tract “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in English, French and Arabic. When he turned the books over he found the Franklin Prophecy printed on the back covers. This hoax falsely ascribes to Benjamin Franklin a dire warning about the threat Jews posed to America. The lie doesn’t stop there: Franklin is referred to as an American president. As Rickman pointed out often throughout his talk, “truth is but a trifle to those who spread anti-Semitism.”
Nowhere is truth more disregarded than in Iran. After Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the Holocaust “a myth” last year, he sponsored a Holocaust denial conference in Tehran, at which scholars called for the elimination of Israel and concluded that the Holocaust did not occur. Rickman reminded his audience that neither survivors of the Holocaust nor mainstream scholars were invited to attend the conference, which followed an international Holocaust cartoon contest in Tehran. A Moroccan won that event for his cartoon depicting Israel’s security wall adorned with a picture of Nazi Germany's Auschwitz concentration camp.
Rickman told of how Iranian children learn from cereal boxes that Israelis harvest Palestinian children in order to use their organs. Meanwhile, Iran requires Jewish schools to remain open on the Jewish Sabbath and limits the distribution of Hebrew texts. Anti-Semitism is also featured prominently on Iranian television. A sci-fi film titled “The Land of Wishes” aired on Iranian Channel 1 in 2006. The ubiquitous symbol in the film is the Star of David, which marks an evil queen, the “Black House” where the queen lives, and a “medal” the queen’s technicians try to rescue.
Such programming is not limited to Iran. Muslims throughout Europe are able to watch this propaganda in the many “dish cities” that have sprung up across the Continent. Satellite television and the Internet teach young Muslims that Jews are apes and pigs and allow them to remain connected to the countries where their parents were born. Indeed, Jews are increasingly facing as much danger in European cites as they do in Middle Eastern countries.
Consider the case of the 12-year-old Jewish girl who was beaten unconscious last year on a public bus in London. Her attackers, a group of three girls and four boys, assaulted her after asking whether she was Jewish. Bystanders who witnessed the event did not call the police or attempt to stop the perpetrators. Rickman, who met with the girl and her family on his last visit to Britain, played an important role in the case. Unfortunately, the rush in Britain is to condemn—not defend—Jews and Israel, as this month’s vote by Britain’s National Union of Journalists to boycott Israel revealed. It took Rickman’s intervention to force the bus company to finally release close-circuit television footage of the attackers, two of whom were later convicted.
Rickman also told the story of the murder of Ilan Halimi, a Parisian Jew who last year was kidnapped and held hostage for three weeks by a gang of Muslims. Halimi’s naked and handcuffed body was found on February 13; he had been tortured and stabbed in the neck. Just as Halimi was chosen for being Jewish, dozens of gravestones in the Jewish section of a cemetery in Northern France were smashed during Passover of this year. Violence against Jews once led former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to urge French Jews to move to Israel.
A recent study by Tel Aviv University revealed that anti-Semitic attacks were up 50% in 2006. Remarkably, 54% of anti-Semitic incidents worldwide were in Western Europe. Rickman said that anti-Semitism is only declining in the United States, which saw a 12% decline in incidents. This statistic means very little to the seven women (one of whom died) shot by a Muslim man at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle in 2006. Earlier this year “Death to Israel” and “Free Palestine” were spray painted on the Ner Tamid Ezra Ha-Bonim Synagogue in Chicago. In 2006, a synagogue in Tarzana, California was vandalized and set on fire. These attacks are sobering reminders that anti-Semitism can be encountered anywhere.
Indeed, anti-Semitism is actually quite common at American universities. Radical student groups like the Muslim Student Union (MSU) attempt to justify their hatred for Jews by claiming that they are simply anti-Zionist. Rickman explained that this was a convenient way to express anti-Semitism because it enables people to claim that their problem is with Israel, not Jews in particular. But calling for the destruction of the Jewish state and supporting terrorist groups that slaughter Israelis are unambiguous expressions of hatred toward Jews.
While free speech laws often enable radical students and professors to get away with spouting venom against Jews and Israel, Rickman reminded the audience that they can use their own free speech to counter such hatred and stop the spreading of lies. (The Terrorism Awareness Project, a program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, is an example of the power of confronting lies with truth.)
Simon Wiesenthal dedicated his life to ensuring that the horrors he experienced would never be repeated. On the eve of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, a poll showed that 37 percent of Israelis feel another Holocaust is possible. It’s hard to label their fear irrational when the Iranian president is vowing to wipe Israel off the map and students in Europe aren’t being taught about the Holocaust.
Soon the world will lose the last survivors of the Holocaust. The words of these witnesses to the greatest evil of the 20th century have a power that can not be quantified. Indeed, the most powerful remarks on April 19 came from a survivor in the audience. She bluntly summarized what Special Envoy Rickman had been expressing all evening: the world is once again aligning against the Jews.
Aaron Hanscom is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.