Watchdog sees hope in fighting bigotry
Steps are being taken to counter the anti-Semitism that is on the march again through much of Europe, said the director of government affairs for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“There is no need for panic,” Mark Weitzman told an audience at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft on Oct. 20. “We are not powerless when it comes to combating anti-Semitism, but we must work together in order to be effective.”
More than 130 people turned out for the event, which was organized by The Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education, or Chhange.
Weitzman reminded his audience of events in Paris this past July when pro-Palestinian activists clashed with Jewish residents three times in a single week. Chants of “Gas the Jews” and “Kill the Jews” resounded while rioters attacked businesses in the Sarcelles district, sometimes called “little Jerusalem.”
He also told of the popularity of a gesture called the quenelle, which is suggestive of a would-be Nazi salute that is being suppressed by the saluter’s other arm.
Weitzman said the quenelle, originated by French comedian and Holocaust denier Dieudonne M’Bala, has been seen frequently on television, the Internet, and at public gatherings.
“Soccer players have done it, and Tony Parker of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs admitted to making the gesture at a party, only to apologize later, saying that he didn’t realize what it meant,” said Weitzman.
“It’s really scary that this salute has become so commonplace some people are doing it unconsciously,” he added. “There were even photographs of people doing it on the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz.”
Weitzman said that more than 3,000 Jews left France last year and that there could be as many as 5,000 Jewish emigres this year.
“There has also been anti-Jewish graffiti in Berlin and posters in England depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a vampire with bloody fangs,” Weitzman said.
Although only a few thousand Jews remain in Hungary, Weitzman said, it is one of the most anti-Semitic nations in Europe. In 2012, he said, Prime Minister Viktor Orban led a movement to amend the constitution, adding clauses to absolve the country’s government from any guilt for the organized murder of some 600,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
Those efforts ignored murders and persecutions carried out by the Hungarian Arrow Cross, a homegrown political party that controlled the nation in the waning days of the war, Weitzman said.
Weitzman also cited activities of the far-right, neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece and reported on a recent poll in Turkey, once one of Israel’s staunchest allies. Over 30 percent of the respondents said they supported the destruction of the Jewish state because of its actions in the recent Gaza War.
In the United States, said Weitzman, incidents have included a swastika on a historically Jewish fraternity house at Atlanta’s Emory University and, at the University of Illinois, wide support for Steven Salaita, a Palestinian-American professor whose contract was not renewed after he posted numerous anti-Semitic tweets.
Weitzman closed on an upbeat note. There are now more than 30 signers to the Stockholm Declaration compared with just five in 2000. This document pledges to strengthen “efforts to promote education, remembrance, and research about the Holocaust” and commits signers “to plant the seeds of a better future amidst the soil of a bitter past.”
He also noted that President Obama met with Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the NATO summit in Wales and urged the Turkish president to combat anti-Semitism in his country.
Asked what can be done to interest young people in combating intolerance, Weitzman said, “I’m not pessimistic about the future. I see many youths on campuses who are very involved in these issues — even in Europe, where it is much more difficult to organize and speak out than it is in the United States.
“I believe that kids learn young; if tolerance is seen as important in the home, in the schools, and in the community, they will grow up in the right way.”