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What Role for the Jewish Media in a World of Growing Anti-Semitism?


Remarks
Hannah Rosenthal
Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism 
Opening Remarks to the Second Annual European Jewish Press Conference
Brussels, Belgium
June 20, 2011

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Good morning. Mazel tov on this conference – the second one of its kind – it’s encouraging to see that it has doubled in size from last year. I am pleased to be joined by members of the European Parliament, the Israeli Ambassador, leaders of Jewish communities throughout Europe, Jewish organizations and students, and, of course, media representatives.

The subject of this conference is timely as in the 21st century we are still regrettably faced with anti-Semitism. In a world that is increasingly connected, sharing ideas across borders adds to the growing global dialogue, be it constructively or intolerantly. Jewish media needs to be a part of that conversation.

People get their news from many sources these days. Studies by the Pew Research Center and Advertising Age tell us that 77% of adults use the internet – 90% of whom are 18 to 29 years old. When it comes to time spent online, Facebook tops its rivals, with a user base of 517 million people, 70% of whom live outside the U.S. Another trend is the increased use of mobile phones, because they are cheaper than the cost to access the internet in many places. In the developing world, mobile phone applications bring the news to people’s hands.

74% of U.S. adults read newspapers at least once a week in print or on-line; this tends to be an educated, affluent readership. However, despite the trend in the U.S. and Western Europe of decreasing newspaper circulation, the rest of the world is experiencing a boom in newspapers in terms of titles and circulation. But what about the others, those who are less educated and less affluent? TV dominates among the less educated, although the internet is gaining on TV as the public’s main news source. Even relatively poor populations now consider TV a necessity, especially in the developing world. All these trends point to more media consumed around the world, starting with the youth, whose time is mostly spent on social media. This next generation – our future—means that Jewish media needs to adapt to play the changing media game, not only in Europe, but across the developing world.

In my role as the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, I have been tracking the rise in anti-Semitism around the world, most notably in Europe. Let me assure you of the unwavering commitment of the Obama Administration to this cause. The President began his Administration speaking out against intolerance as a global ill. In his historic speech in Cairo, he signaled a new path that embraces a vision of a world based on mutual interest and mutual respect; a world that honors the dignity of all human beings. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have honored me with this appointment and have elevated my office and have fully integrated it into the State Department.

We are attempting -- through diplomacy, public messaging and grassroots programs all over the world -- to confront and combat hatred in all its ugly forms, whether it is hatred directed against people on account of their religion, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation or differences of political opinion or due to their country of origin. Anti-Semitism is one such form of hatred rooted in historical forces that go far beyond any current policy debate. If we want to change this trend, we need to stand together in our efforts to promote tolerance, acceptance and compassion. In that vein, we need to support and encourage Jewish and non-Jewish media outlets alike in their efforts to reveal the ignorance inherent in hateful ideologies like anti-Semitism.

I am here in Brussels on the tail end of a trip which began in Saudi Arabia. I have also visited Jordan, Lebanon and Lithuania. In Lithuania, I spoke to teachers in a Holocaust education program, co-sponsored by the Lithuanian and U.S. Governments. I saw first-hand the impact that social institutions, especially schools, can have on developing a sense of tolerance and responsibility in the minds of our children. These experiences remind me of the importance of the work that I have been charged with as the Special Envoy.

When this year began, I planned to focus my efforts on fighting anti-Semitism in the Arab media and Islamic textbooks. On my recent trip, I met with a range of government officials, women’s and youth groups, and interfaith and non-governmental organizations in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon. I also met members of the press and bloggers in the Middle East.

In meeting with press, I am so often inspired by the efforts of journalists, news correspondents, photographers and others in the field to bring to light the important issues we face every day. While I am encouraged by the endless opportunities offered by the media, I also feel a sense of anxiety about its potential for misuse. A phrase, image or sound bite can affect millions of people in an instant, especially where no counterweight is present. In a world of increasing anti-Semitism, it is crucial that we understand the power of the media to change the minds and hearts of those who hate. Likewise, it is crucial for us to work hand in hand with other groups in their struggle for tolerance through the media.

In many countries, restrictive laws and administrative measures constrain fundamental rights to freedom of expression. The United States recognizes that areas for improvement exist in combating religious intolerance; however, we believe that the best response to hateful speech is debate and dialogue that condemns it and fosters tolerance. Not only do we believe that particular restrictions on expression violate universal human rights, we are convinced that they are counterproductive and exacerbate the very problems they seek to address.

I firmly believe that the most effective way to counter hateful speech and forms of anti-Semitism is by raising voices and taking actions that counter it. Bringing these hateful ideas to light reveals them for what they are and allows people to speak out against them. As President Obama said in Cairo, “suppressing ideas does not make them go away.” The media acts not only as the vehicle to amplify a variety of ideas, but it can also help expose the negative aspects of discriminatory ideas and actions. It is for this reason that I make it a priority to meet with bloggers and journalists wherever I go. The Jewish community must use media to put the spotlight on anti-Semitism and other hate speech wherever and whenever it appears.

At the State Department, we use the full range of media outlets at our disposal to get our message out; we use our webpage, State.gov; our embassy webpages; our blog, DipNote; Twitter; Facebook; webchats; traveling speakers; You Tube; Flickr; and daily press briefings. We tweet in nine languages – Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu and have over a 100,000 followers. We have a daily press briefing with domestic and international journalists, issue press releases, place op-eds, make speeches and provide testimony to Congress, as well as post online the remarks of the Secretary of State and other Department principals. We also have briefings for foreign journalists through our Foreign Press Centers in New York and Washington, as well as in media hubs around the world, including here in Brussels. The State Department uses international media engagement to communicate our priorities. In the same way, it’s critical that Jewish media and non-Jewish media cover Jewish priorities, and work together to combat anti-Semitism and intolerance.

As the President’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, I am charged with both monitoring anti-Semitic incidents and combating intolerance. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, anti-Semitism is extremely personal. When I was old enough to begin to understand what my father went through as the only member of his family to survive World War II, I asked him how he handled his guilt and kept his sanity. He didn’t miss a beat and said: “I survived to have you, Hannele!” – thus taking that guilt off his shoulders and putting it squarely on mine – and, as a result, I have dedicated my life to eradicating anti-Semitism and intolerance with a sense of urgency and passion that only my dad could give me.

Our daily actions are of great import, and I hope this conference will help us create connections in partnering to combat intolerance and promote understanding in our world. In addition to the larger communications managed by the State Department’s bureau of Public Affairs and bureau of International Information Programs, one of the things I do is to compile a weekly summary of news articles from around the world – thanks to the Internet, we have access to many sources, including some of the publications represented here today. These items are subsequently posted on my Facebook page under the heading “What We Are Hearing” so that social media users are more aware of anti-Semitism around the world.

I have been on the job for over a year now – and I’ve been hearing about six significant trends in anti-Semitism around the world:

I meet people who think anti-Semitism ended when Hitler killed himself. However, anti-Semitism is not History, it is News. More than six decades after the end of the Second World War, anti-Semitism is still alive and well, and evolving into new, contemporary forms of religious hatred, racism, and political, social and cultural bigotry.

This stems from the fact that traditional forms of anti-Semitism are passed from one generation to the next, and updated to reflect current events. We are all familiar with ongoing hostile acts such as the defacing of property, and the desecration of cemeteries with anti-Semitic graffiti. There are still accusations of blood libel, which are morphing from the centuries-old accusations by the Church that Jews kill Christian children to use their blood for rituals, to accusations that Jews kidnap children to steal their organs. Conspiracy theories continue to flourish, and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” continue to be best sellers in many countries, often being taught to religious students as truth. For example, in April, the state-run radio in Venezuela urged everyone to buy and read “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” I asked my colleague, the Special Representative to Muslim Communities, to issue a statement condemning this action. Her voice, and those of others, helped lead to that official being fired in May.

A second phenomenon is Holocaust denial. It is being espoused by religious leaders, heads of State, such as in Iran, in academic institutions, and is a standard on hateful websites and other media outlets. As the generation of Holocaust survivors and death camp liberators reaches their eighties and nineties, the window is closing on those able to provide eyewitness accounts and thus we have a heightened sense of urgency to promote Holocaust education, create museums and memorials, and carry the memory and lessons of the Holocaust forward. I am happy to report that in Lithuania, and in other European countries, the U.S. and OSCE provide funding for teacher training in Holocaust education to battle this trend.

Ironically, we also see the antithesis of this as there is a third, disturbing, parallel trend of Holocaust glorification which can be seen in events that openly display Nazi symbols and in the growth of neo-Nazi groups. In Latvia recently, a notorious neo-Nazi made blatantly anti-Semitic statements, including incitements to violence against Jews, on a Latvian television talk show. Holocaust glorification and the growth of neo-Nazi groups is especially virulent in Middle Eastern media – some of which is state owned and operated - calling for a new Holocaust to finish the job. Truly bone-chilling.

A fourth concern is Holocaust relativism – where some governments, museums, academic research and the like are conflating the Holocaust with other terrible events that entailed great human suffering, like the Dirty War or the Soviet regime. No one, least of all myself, wants to weigh atrocities against each other, but to group these horrific chapters of history together is not only historically inaccurate, but also misses the opportunity to learn important lessons from each of these historic events, even as we reflect on universal truths about the need to defend human rights and combat hatred in all of its forms. History must be precise – it must instruct, it must warn, and it must inspire us to protect universal values as we strive to mend this fractured world.

The fifth trend is the increasing tendency of blurring the lines between opposition to the policies of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism. What I hear from our diplomatic missions, and from non-governmental organizations alike, is that this happens easily and often. I want to be clear – criticism of policies of the State of Israel is not anti-Semitism. But we record huge increases in anti-Semitism whenever there are hostilities in the Middle East. This form of anti-Semitism is more difficult for many to identify. But if all Jews are held responsible for the decisions of the sovereign State of Israel, when governments like Venezuela call upon and intimidate their Jewish communities to condemn Israeli actions – this is not objecting to a policy – this is anti-Semitism. When all academics and experts from Israel are effectively banned or their conferences boycotted, or individual Jews are held responsible for Israeli policy – this is not objecting to a policy – this is anti-Semitism.

Natan Sharansky identified the “three Ds” that cross the line: “It is anti-Semitic when Israel is demonized, held to different standards or delegitimized.” This is more readily illustrated by the fact that the U.S. is often the only “no” vote in international bodies where countries seem to have an obsession with singling out Israel for disproportionate condemnation.

The sixth trend is the growing nationalistic movements which target ‘the other’ – be they immigrants, or religious and ethnic minorities -- in the name of protecting the identity and ‘purity’ of their nation. When this fear or hatred of the ‘other’ occurs or when people try to find a scapegoat for the instability around them, it is rarely good for the Jews, or for that matter, other traditionally discriminated against minorities. The history of Europe, with Russian pogroms, Nazism and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans provides sufficient evidence. When government officials talk about protecting a country’s purity, we’ve seen that movie before. This is a good opportunity for Jewish media to reach out to other faith-based media to educate its counterparts on the problems we face and encourage them to report on these issues. We, in turn, should be prepared to reciprocate.

The State Department monitors these trends and activities and reports on them in all 194 countries in two major annual reports: The International Religious Freedom Report and the Human Rights Report. They are posted on the State Department website and on HumanRights.gov. I am now involved in developing a major training initiative for State Department employees so they can better monitor what is happening in the countries where they serve, and sensitize them to the various forms of anti-Semitism. This will make our annual reports more comprehensive, and allow us to do an even better job of monitoring and confronting anti-Semitism in all its forms. These reports tell us that many countries are pushing hard to advance human rights and fight discrimination. It also tells us that there is so much more work to do. If we don’t chronicle it, if we don’t name it, we can’t fight it.

My approach to combating anti-Semitism is not just to preach to the choir, so to speak, but to join in partnership with non-Jews in condemning it – partnerships with governments, civil society, international institutions, business leaders, labor unions, and media.

And I would encourage all of us here to reach out to our counterparts in non-Jewish media, be it secular or faith-based. Sometimes, the messenger is as important as the message. If the non-Jewish media speaks out against anti-Semitism, people will take notice.

Last summer, Secretary Clinton launched an initiative to strengthen civil society across the globe and she instructed the State Department, including all overseas posts, to treat civil society as strategic partners because such relationships help us to build bridges among ethnic and religious groups and to change a culture – from one steeped in fear and negative stereotyping to one of acceptance and understanding; from narrow mindedness to celebrated diversity; from hate to tolerance.

I have an official website on State.gov and I am using Facebook and other social media to connect with all people – especially youth -- globally, and to encourage them to go beyond words, speeches, or even lectures by providing a vehicle for them to DO something tangible to promote tolerance and practice mutual respect. In February, my colleague Farah Pandith, the Special Representative to Muslims Communities, and I launched a virtual campaign called 2011 Hours Against Hate. We are asking young people around the world to pledge an unspecified number of hours to volunteer to help or serve a population different than their own. We have a Facebook page for this initiative, as well as a page for it on State.gov. We ask them to work with people who may look different, or pray differently or live differently. For example, a young Jew might volunteer time to read books at a Muslim pre-school, or a Russian Orthodox at a Jewish clinic, or a Muslim at a Baha’i food pantry. We want to encourage them to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

Farah and I began meeting with hundreds of young people earlier this year – students and young professionals – in Azerbaijan, Spain and Turkey – countries that in their histories celebrated Jews and Muslims co-existing and thriving together. They want to DO something. They expressed strong interest in the campaign – and we have already surpassed our goal of 2011 hours pledged against hate. Really, we have just begun. Last week, Farah and I met with youth and interfaith leaders in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon.

These are just some examples of how I and the Department of State use media daily. Anti-Semitism has been around since the beginning of Judaism, but since then, too, good people of all faiths and backgrounds have striven to combat it. The Jewish tradition tells us that “you are not required to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Let’s all work together – let us, the Jewish, other faith and secular media representatives here today, use all forms of media at our disposal in our fight against anti-Semitism.



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