Stemming a global wave of anti-Semitism

Stemming a global wave of anti-Semitism

As a Vienna-born Holocaust survivor, I recently accepted the invitation of the Austrian Parliament President, Wolfgang Sobotka, to give the keynote address on the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht. It was an emotional return to my boyhood hometown, where I first experienced the horrors of anti-Semitism. But it was also painful, knowing that this cancer has reappeared and become widespread.

It brought back memories of November 10, 1938, when I watched indifferent police and firefighters stand by as my synagogue, the Polnische Tempel in Vienna, burned to the ground. Heinrich Heine, the German-Jewish poet, spoke as a prophet when he said, “Where books are burned, in the end humans will be burned, too.” My experience taught me that those who burn books, dehumanize Jews, and burn synagogues would burn human beings in the crematoria of Auschwitz, my family’s graveyard.

I witnessed SS and SA troops vandalize and plunder the apartments in our building. The next morning, on my way to school, I saw Jewish men lined up in front of the Ministry of Defense building, waiting for their deportation to the concentration camps at Dachau and Buchenwald. Some never returned.

With the Anschluss on March 12, 1938, a few days before my eighth birthday, my beautiful Viennese childhood world collapsed. Soon, the city was decked out in swastika flags. Seemingly overnight, I had become an outsider. Most of my Christian classmates shunned me. I became an “Unerwünschter,” an unwanted person in the classroom, on the football field, in the pastry shop, where “Jews and dogs are not wanted.”

I learned, for the first time, that children are not born with hatred –they are taught to hate.

After the Holocaust, I did not think that we would have to talk about anti-Semitism again. The cancer of anti-Semitism seemed to be in remission – it was no longer socially acceptable.

But now the cancer is back, and it has metastasized in Europe and in the United States, the latest manifestation in Pittsburgh. The internet has turned into a borderless space for anti-Semites to find and encourage one another.

Europe has had a tragic history for Jews: inquisition, persecution, ghettoization, pogroms, and the Holocaust. After emancipation, wherever Jews were welcome, they made a contribution to culture, science, music, medicine, and the arts, as well as to the welfare of their host country. Jews always fared better in times of stability and suffered during periods of turbulence and instability.

The current upheaval in the European Union, including the integration of immigrants, some of whom have been indoctrinated with hatred for Jews, threatens the safety and security of Jews in many European countries and has stimulated the rise of anti-Semitism.

Europe’s peaceful and prosperous future is linked to a Europe free of anti-Semitism and camouflaged anti-Zionism.  In an encouraging sign, some world leaders recognize that and are no longer silent. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently stood in a Berlin synagogue and condemned a troubling resurgence of anti-Semitism in her country. She warned that even a subtle erosion of vigilance against hatred can allow it to take root anew. The same day, French Prime Minister Edouard Phillippe cautioned that anti-Semitic incidents had increased nearly 70 percent this year.

It is also encouraging to see the youngest European Head of State making it a priority to combat this plague. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, currently serving as the President of the Council of the European Union, convened a high-level conference this month to explore how to combat an alarming rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism across Europe.  The conference is a clarion call to action.

The scourge of anti-Semitism is like a genie out of the bottle: we can’t undo it, but we can hope to contain it while we try to prevent the poisoning of the current generation.

Let’s be clear: anti-Semitism not only victimizes Jews, it’s an indicator of how a society treats other religious, ethnic and racial minorities. Anti-Semitism is a hate crime perpetrated by those who want to erase the dignity and values of each and every human being. It is the fodder for violence against humanity, culminating in crimes of racism and xenophobia, its natural mutations.

In the Book of Leviticus it is said: “neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.” Silence is not the answer. It only encourages the perpetrators and demands a high toll in the end. We must isolate the perpetrators who incite hatred and conflict and reject peaceful co-existence.

We can learn from this that disunity and division, hatred and discord are the false answers to the many questions that living together in a society ask from us.  We have to win over the silent majority – and shake them awake. I am convinced that the silent majority wants peaceful coexistence in mutual respect.

In Europe, government alone cannot stem the scourge of anti-Semitism; this work requires coalitions of business and religious leaders, intellectuals and educators. Every nation should be encouraged to designate an official whose sole task is to coordinate efforts to stem hatred and encourage a sense of common humanity.

In education, we should adopt policies on Holocaust education and curricula that includes not just tolerance of the “other,” but mutual understanding, respect, and acceptance of the “other.”

“And you shall teach them to your children and speak of them,” says Deuteronomy 6:7. Teaching “love your neighbor as yourself,” and a transmission of the democratic values are the cornerstone of the civilized world. Maybe, in classrooms of diverse peers, the children and grandchildren of those subsumed by hate will learn why hate leads nowhere. Hate has never built anything.

Let us work together with clear commitment: Never again.

Let us resist man’s inhumanity to man. Our common destiny requires us to develop bonds of common humanity. United we prevail, divided we fail. We cannot change the past, we must remember and learn from it; today, we can shape the future for our children and grandchildren, a future of peace, freedom and democracy.

BY RABBI ARTHUR SCHNEIER, for The Hill — 

Rabbi Arthur Schneier is president and founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and senior rabbi of Park East Synagogue in New York.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD PDF

31 October 2018

António Guterres Remarks at Interfaith Gathering: “United Against Hate”

Dear friends, all protocol observed,

I am here to express horror and solidarity. Horror in relation to the most abject act of anti-Semitism that has happened in the history of the United [States]. Something that makes us feel totally horrified but solidarity – solidarity with the victims, solidarity with the family, solidarity with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and worldwide, and solidarity also with the people of Pittsburgh and the people of the United States of America who overwhelmingly reject this horrendous act.

Since I became Secretary-General, I have been raising my voice against what I believe is the rise of anti-Semitism in many of our societies and namely my part in the world in Europe but also unfortunately, here also in North America. It is not only anti-Semitism that we are witnessing rising. We see other forms of anti-religious hatred be it against Muslims. We have seen Christians and Yazidis being persecuted in the Middle East. We have seen so many situations where migrants and refugees become the scapegoat of the problems of societies. We see xenophobia and racism developing in many parts of the world. But it is true that anti-Semitism is the oldest and [most] permanent form of hatred against a people in the history of humankind. Jews are discriminated and persecuted for the simple reason that they are Jews.

With the climate of persecution and discrimination in the Roman empire, with everything that happened in the Middle Ages, I will never forget the history of my country, the discrimination and persecution of Jews in the Middle Ages and then culminating with the most stupid crime of Portuguese history, the expulsion of the Jews in the beginning of the 16th century. Criminal because of the suffering endured by the Jewish people, stupid because it had a very negative perspective in the prosperity of my own country. Then, as centuries went on with different manifestations in different parts of the world with more violence and more subtle, culminating in the horror of the Nazi Holocaust.

I must say, that probably with some naïve approach, that I always felt the Holocaust had been so horrible that rejection of what happened would be so universal that it would really make us feel so angry – with that total abjection, that anti-Semitism would tend to disappear in modern societies. It was with a certain amount of surprise that I have seen that progressively anti-Semitism is again on the rise. It’s on the rise especially in the developed world in ways that I find particularly intolerable.

Jews being again persecuted or discriminated or attacked for the simple reason that they are who they are. We see it in the internet, in hate speech, we see it in the way cemeteries are desecrated.  We now see it in this horrendous attack on a synagogue.

I believe it is important not only to denounce, not only to condemn these acts as any other act of xenophobia or racism, but it’s necessary to try to understand why this is happening.

Indeed, if one looks at our societies, we see seeds of division. We see people worried, afraid, insecure. Some because they were left behind by technological progress. Some because they don’t understand the movement of people and they don’t understand the richness of diversity.  Some because they are the victims of the negative impacts of globalization.

I believe that it is important to recognize that diversity is a richness not a threat.  Diversity will not necessarily be spontaneously harmonious. To make diversity harmonious we need to have a strong investment in the social cohesion of societies. In making sure that not only people tolerate each other, I know the rabbi and I dislike the word tolerance because the question is not that we tolerate each other, it’s that we respect each other and that we love each other.

This requires a huge investment in the social cohesion of our societies. So, I believe there is an enormous responsibility for leaders. Leaders of international organizations like mine. Political leaders, leaders of religious communities, leaders in civil society. Leaders to be able to address the root causes that are undermining the cohesion of our societies and that are creating conditions for these forms of hatred to become more and more frequent and more and more negative in the way they are expressed.

We need to make sure that there is a massive investment in education. We need to make sure there are safety nets allowing those that are the ones left behind by technical progress or globalization not to feel desperate in relation to the future.

We need to provide hope for our youth that sometimes also feel that there is not a clear perspective for the way to develop their lives in our societies. We need to make a huge investment in bringing people together, in making people feel that at the same time their very identity is respected but that they belong to the community as a whole.

Let’s be clear. We also need to be very firm in speaking up and combatting these new forms that are not only anti-semitism, I even see the roots of neo-Nazism growing. I was amazed a few months ago when, when in a demonstration, there were people shouting, “blood and soil.” Now for many common citizens, some of these expressions that are used have no special meaning.  They look like not so adequate forms of expression of patriotism. But now more and more words, more and more concepts, more and more ideas that we see on the internet, in many demonstrations in the expression of people, are deeply rooted in Nazi thinking. They have a special meaning in the Nazi ideology.

This is something we need to be very attentive in our societies because one of the logics of extremist organizations is to, in a subtle way, try to penetrate the mainstream and make some of their idiot ideas being accepted as a new normal in our societies.

We have to condemn. We have to speak up. We have to be very firm in denouncing horrendous acts like the one in Pittsburgh, but we need to assume our responsibilities as leaders to prevent these things from happening and to address the root causes that help them to develop.

Allow me a personal note. In what I read about the criminal that has done these horrendous acts, there is a reference that he was particularly shocked by the action of a humanitarian organization – HIAS – the Hebrew [Immigrant] Aid [Society].

I want to give you a testimony. As High Commissioner for Refugees, I worked with HIAS for many years. It is the most fantastic humanitarian organization I have ever met. They are the true expression of humanitarianism, but also humanism and solidarity. What they have done, what apparently this man was accusing them to do was to bring to the United States people in search of protection and to allow them to have a better life. I was particularly shocked that this organization that is the symbol of everything I considered good in the world being used as a pretext to justify this horrendous act.

Allow me to end, because I think HIAS is the true expression of that sentence, with a sentence of Leviticus. The sentence is “when strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you and you shall love them as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

May the wisdom of these words of Leviticus help us all understand the need to be very firm fighting anti-Semitism, fighting xenophobia, fighting racism, islamophobia and other forms of hatred in our societies.

I pray our common God to keep us united in the fight against hatred, because if you are united … [applause]

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Mayor de Blasio and local leaders speak out to condemn Saturday’s mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier Statement at Press Conference in NYC Aftermath of Shooting at Synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday, October 27, 2018, 7:00pm

This is a very tragic day not only for the Jewish Community of Pittsburgh but for the United States, but particularly for me a Holocaust survivor. I never thought after the Nazi tyranny ended coming to this land of freedom, I would see anti-Semitism not only in Europe but even in our own country. So, Mayor your presence here, you’ve been here on happy occasions where we’ve welcomed the Chief Rabbi of France; your presence here is really reassuring the Jewish Community and Chief Moynihan, Borough President, Senator, you are reassuring the Jewish Community in New York that we are safe because any attack on a House of Worship is really going for the jugular of a faith community. If you want to attack a church, a mosque, a temple or synagogue those hate mongers are ready to kill regardless of who you are. So thank you for the protection, your commitment, safety and we are particularly proud of our neighbor. We are very fortunate that we have a 19th Precinct – not every Synagogue is so fortunate but again we cannot thank you enough. I am off to Pittsburgh to show our solidarity with an interfaith Appeal of Conscience Foundation delegation and I know all New Yorkers stand with our brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh as we pray for the freedom we’ve enjoyed in the blessed land; God Bless America and God Bless our great City and State of New York. Thank you all for joining us.

I would like to quote to you a German Poet, Heinrich Heine in the 19th Century he wrote “those who burn books will burn human beings” and I changed that statement. Those who burn synagogues, and we are going to remember on November 9th Kristallnacht, I was there in Vienna when my synagogue burned and those who burned synagogues burned my and pokfamily in Auschwitz. So thank you Mayor and all elected officials, and the Police Department. In Vienna, I stood by when my synagogue was burning and the police and fire officials did not worry about saving the synagogue – they were worried about the neighboring buildings. So God Bless all of the men and women of the Police, FBI and State Troopers.

And I have a plea, yes we’re in safe hands under your leadership but synagogues, churches, temples and mosques also have to take security measures. We’re spending a fortune of money to protect our children, our congregations so there’s an allocation by Homeland Security, by the State of New York and I turn to you. I think it would be very important because of the time we are living in, to increase that financial support both on the Federal, the State and City governments so that churches and houses of worship will be able to carry jointly with law of enforcement the threat by the hate mongers. Thank you and God Bless you all.

The First Ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom ‘Sends a Message to the World’

Rabbi Arthur Schneier who witnessed the burning of his synagogue on Kristallnacht in Vienna, on November 10, 1938 met with Nicodemus Daoud Matti Sharaf, the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Mosul and Kirkuk who’s Church was devastated by ISIS.

 

Contact:
Park East Synagogue

Teresa deWilde
212.737.6900
pemedia@pesyn.org

For Immediate Release

Rabbi Arthur Schneier Addresses the U.S. State Department’s
First-Ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom


New York, N.Y. (July 27, 2018)
 – Rabbi Arthur Schneier; President and Founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Senior Rabbi of Park East Synagogue, addressed the U.S. State Department’s first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The Ministerial included participants from eighty countries including faith leaders, foreign ministers and ambassadors who addressed the need to combat religious persecution and discrimination and to respect religious freedom for all.

“Those who burn churches, mosques, synagogues and temples will also burn human beings,” said Rabbi Arthur Schneier. “Our aim should not be tolerance but mutual respect and acceptance of each other. I don’t want to be tolerated; I don’t want to be a second-class citizen.”

Rabbi Schneier who witnessed the burning of his synagogue on Kristallnacht in Vienna, on November 10, 1938 met with Nicodemus Daoud Matti Sharaf, the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of Mosul and Kirkuk who’s Church was devastated by ISIS.

Vice President Mike Pence warned of rising anti-Semitism in Europe, singling out Britain, France and Germany for increased incidents. “Last year, hate crimes against Jews hit a record high in the United Kingdom. In France and Germany, things have gotten so bad that Jewish religious leaders have warned their followers not to wear kippahs in public for fear that they could be violently attacked, and in too many cases, that’s exactly what’s happened.”

Rabbi Schneier lauded the United States efforts on behalf of Pastor Andrew Brunson, an Evangelical Presbyterian Pastor from North Carolina, who was arrested in 2016 during a government crackdown on journalists, academics, and Christian minorities.

###

About Rabbi Arthur Schneier: 
Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Senior Rabbi of Park East Synagogue in New York City and founder of its Day School, (Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School), has served this leading modern Orthodox congregation for over fifty years.  As Founder and President of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation (1965) he is internationally known for his leadership on behalf of religious freedom, human rights and tolerance was the first Rabbi to be awarded the U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal for “his service as an international envoy for four administrations” and “as a Holocaust survivor, devoting a lifetime to overcoming forces of hatred and intolerance,” and was recognized by the US Senate for his lifelong advocacy of inter-religious cooperation and peace.

About The Appeal of Conscience Foundation: 
The Appeal of Conscience Foundation, founded by Rabbi Arthur Schneier in 1965, has worked on behalf of religious freedom and human rights throughout the world. The Foundation believes that freedom, democracy and human rights are the fundamental values that give nations of the world their best hope for peace, security and shared prosperity. The Appeal of Conscience Foundation has long held that “a crime committed in the name of religion is the greatest crime against religion.” The struggle for human rights and religious freedom is ongoing and can be achieved by promoting open dialogue and mutual understanding.