Good morning! Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an honor to have the opportunity to join you today. I was very fond of Tom Lantos and his good work. As the child of a Holocaust survivor, I always admired his vigilance and leadership on tolerance issues. Thank you for the important work you do in MEMRI and in the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice. And thank you to Speaker Boehner for sponsoring this event.
As the President’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, I am charged with both monitoring anti-Semitic incidents and combating such intolerance. In this role, I have been tracking anti-Semitism around the world, and have witnessed its alarming presence and growth.
Anti-Semitism is something very personal to me. My father, Rabbi Franz Rosenthal, was arrested – on Kristalnacht, the unofficial pogrom that many think started the Holocaust – and sent with many of his congregants to prison and then to Buchenwald. He was the lucky one – every other person in his family perished at Auschwitz. I have dedicated my life to eradicating anti-Semitism and intolerance with a sense of urgency and passion that only my father could give me.
No government should produce materials that are intolerant of members of any religious, racial, or ethnic group, or teach such intolerance as part of its educational curriculum. The Department of State continues to focus on this important issue and express its concern to governments that use such hateful lessons and textbooks, which call Jews the children of apes and pigs and promote the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
It is necessary to recognize the efforts of individuals, government officials, religious leaders, and organizations who speak out against such intolerance. Just as the Tom Lantos Archives encourages Muslims to speak out against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, I have sought to work with all members of society, regardless of religious affiliation, to promote inter-religious dialogue and tolerance. And I believe having non-Jews condemning anti-Semitism is more powerful, as it is when I, a Jew, condemn hatred of Muslims, Christians, or other vulnerable religious groups.
To combat Holocaust denial, I went with eight leading imams, two of whom had been deniers, to Dachau and Auschwitz last summer. My goal was to have them issue a statement condemning Holocaust denial.
When we arrived at Dachau, Germany’s first concentration camp, the imams were overcome with the pictures they saw and immediately went to the ground in prayer at the sculpture commemorating the six million Jews exterminated. At that moment, I knew I was watching history being made. All of the passers-by, tourists, and docents stopped in their tracks to witness the spontaneous prayer of these leading imams. Auschwitz was even more overwhelming for them, and – for some it was – transformational. We were walking amidst ash and bone fragments from the 1.5 million Jews exterminated there – solely because of who they were. We were facing the fact that unfettered and unanswered hatred can indeed create an Auschwitz. All the imams had their own catharsis there, and together, they produced a statement strongly condemning Holocaust denial and all other forms of anti-Semitism.
They are now urging colleagues and schools to join their statement. Some are planning to take their youth on the same trip, to become witnesses to history, to teach the power of hatred, and the power that condemnation can have to stop hatred. This MEMRI report will serve as an effective tool for religious leaders and educators to address that hatred and condemn it. It will also be useful for me in my work as the Special Envoy.
One of my primary goals this year is to address the issue of intolerance in textbooks and in the media in the Middle East. It is critical to educate youth about the Holocaust – teaching lessons of history, teaching tolerance, combating hatred. Most national curricula in Middle East countries unfortunately do not teach about the Holocaust. Some even include verses from the Quran that they use to justify intolerance and violence against non-Muslims, primarily Jews and Christians.
On my recent trip to the Middle East, 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. We talked about the need to combat hatred and intolerance on all levels.
In Saudi Arabia, I discussed with the Minister of Education and Minister of Culture and Information my concerns with the intolerance in Saudi textbooks – I got their commitments that they were ready to work with the United States. The Minister of Culture and Information said he hoped we could continue to work towards an educational system that is free of passages that highlight intolerance. I also spoke with Saudi religious and education scholars about education reforms and the vital need to teach history accurately. We, as a people, cannot learn the lessons of the Holocaust if the Holocaust is not taught.
In Jordan, I met with government and religious leaders. At the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies, for example, they are creating curriculum and strategies to mix students of different religions and cultures. One Melkite Catholic priest has worked with our Embassy against hatred of Muslims and Jews by bringing religious leaders to the United States on an exchange program.
In Lebanon, I met with non-governmental organizations and students working on Christian-Muslim dialogue. One professor is trying to fight sectarianism among the youths of Lebanon who came of age during the Lebanese civil war when differences among religious groups caused such grave divisions in society. In my meetings, I noted that promoting and furthering tolerance is important, and the inclusion of Jewish voices is also necessary.
My trip highlighted the continuing need, recognizing the efforts already underway, to combat intolerance in education and society in the Middle East. MEMRI’s Annual Report is a valuable resource for identifying Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism – I believe it will be a useful tool for raising awareness about the need to fight this type of anti-Semitism.
Tom Lantos was a strong advocate against hate. I identify with his resolve to promote acceptance, respect and tolerance, which I incorporate into my efforts as the Special Envoy. MEMRI has produced outstanding documentation that is critical to my work every day. Thank you to the Lantos Foundation and MEMRI for all of your hard work to make this world a better place for us all.