The importance of Catholic-Jewish partnerships and the crucial need for tolerance education
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I am glad to be here tonight. I value my partnership with the Anti-Defamation League and support the work they do to combat anti-Semitism. Thank you Ambassador Terzi di Sant ‘Agata and the Italian Embassy community for hosting us tonight. I welcome the occasion to celebrate Catholic-Jewish relations.
Over the past several decades, various Catholic leaders and organizations have assisted Jews and Jewish causes. For example, in 2002, Milan’s then-Archbishop Carlo Maria Martini created a Holocaust memorial at the site of a secret track connected to Milan’s Central Train Station which was used to deport Italian Jews to Auschwitz during World War II. The Catholic organization, Sant’Edidio, discovered this site, which is now called Memoriale della Shoah di Milano. This act symbolizes good deeds Catholics have done for Jews.
Catholics and Jews have, and continue to, cooperate to improve relations. I commend the Catholic Church for decrying anti-Semitism. Since the Second Vatican Council in 1965, which officially declared that Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus, there has been more positive discourse between Catholics and Jews. Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed this claim when he recently stated that there was no basis for the accusation that Jews were responsible for Jesus' death. Last year, the United States Embassy to the Holy See organized an international conference on interfaith action to address global challenges, featuring panelists from each of the Abrahamic faiths. The ADL has also recently hosted an interfaith conference between Jews and Catholics to identify ways to end anti-Semitic statements from religious leaders, primarily in Eastern Catholic Churches. These efforts encourage people to take action, and form partnerships.
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. 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 – government, civil society, international institutions, business leaders, labor unions, and media. I believe it is more effective when a non-Jew condemns anti-Semitism as it is when I, a Jew, condemn hatred of Christians, Muslims, or other vulnerable religious groups.
A few months ago I had the privilege to honor Father Patrick Desbois, president of the Yahad-In Unum Association of France. He has dedicated his life to identifying previously unknown, Holocaust-era mass graves of Jews in Eastern Europe, countering anti-Semitism, and advancing Catholic-Jewish relations. His unwavering dedication, perseverance, and diplomatic efforts have strengthened the mission of the United States in the international community to fight hate and anti-Semitism and to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are reinforced and will never be forgotten.
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.
In my role at the State Department, I have been tracking the rise in anti-Semitism around the world, and have witnessed its alarming presence and growth.
I want to emphasize that anti-Semitism is not History, it is News. I run into people who think anti-Semitism ended when Hitler killed himself. 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, 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 individuals that Jews killed children to use their blood for rituals, to accusations that Jews kidnap children to steal their organs. Conspiracy theories continue to flourish, such as supposed Jewish control of the U.S. media and the world banking system, or that Jews were involved in executing the September 11 attacks. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” continue to be best sellers in many, many countries, and taught to religious students as truth. The ‘old fashioned’ anti-Semitism is alive and well.
One way to combat anti-Semitism is through education. It is critical to teach lessons of history and lessons of tolerance. Efforts to teach about Judaism in Catholic institutions have opened lines of communication and increased dialogue between our two groups. Catholic textbooks have changed significantly in the post-Vatican II era, promoting a positive view of Jews and Judaism.
We all have a duty to speak out against those who promote anti-Semitism and intolerance. As Special Envoy, I highlight initiatives that promote interethnic and interreligious tolerance, especially among youths, such as 2011 Hours Against Hate, a campaign I initiated with the Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Farah Pandith.
Last summer, Secretary Clinton launched an initiative to strengthen civil society across the globe. She instructed all of us in the State Department here in Washington and overseas to treat civil society as strategic partners. Partnering with opinion leaders from civil society as well as government -- as well as building bridges among ethnic and religious groups, is the way to change a culture – from fear and negative stereotyping to acceptance and understanding, from narrow mindedness to an embrace of diversity, from hate to tolerance.
I am a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue and action. We can affect change by working together to combat hatred and promote acceptance, respect and tolerance among all people. The ADL initiatives in Catholic-Jewish relations should serve as an example for both groups to join together. I look forward to partnering with Italy and with Catholic organizations to fight anti-Semitism and hatred of all kinds.