Over 45 world leaders will gather in Yad Vashem on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz for the event “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism”.
By Steve Linde
(January 15, 2020) More than 45 leaders from around the world are scheduled to attend the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020. The event, marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and titled “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism” is the brainchild of Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the World Holocaust Forum Foundation and President of the European Jewish Congress, who organized it in conjunction with Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, and at the invitation of President Reuven Rivlin.
The message of the historic event being held at Yad Vashem’s Warsaw Ghetto Square “will be clear – that antisemitism has no place in our global society,” Kantor tells The Jerusalem Report in an exclusive interview.
“We are trying to do something extraordinary for the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” he says. “On January 23, world leaders will meet in Jerusalem to attempt to put an end to the never-ending story of antisemitism. We are very enthusiastic about it. I am grateful first of all to President Rivlin, who agreed to lead this event, and to the leadership of Yad Vashem, which is hosting it.”
Kantor, 66, who lives with his wife, Anna, in London and has four sons and a daughter, has served at the helm of the European Jewish Congress since 2007, reelected most recently in 2016. His battle against antisemitism has won him numerous awards from European heads of state, including the French Officer of the National Order of the Legion of Honor (2014) and the Italian Knight’s Grand Cross of the Order of Merit (2013).
“The pledge ‘to remember and never forget’ should be a pledge for all of humanity, and not just for the Jewish people,” Kantor says. “Jewish life is once again under threat in Europe. It is under threat from the day-to-day harassment and attacks on the streets, in schools, at universities, online and even in their own homes. It has become so bad that the overwhelming majority of Jews in Europe no longer feel safe
“Antisemitism is a hatred that knows no boundaries, and has been adopted by multiple ideologies. Jews are relentlessly attacked by the Left, the Right and is now in the mainstream. This is another pivotal point in history where the leaders of the world have to stand up and act. Words are not enough, and I conceived of the World Holocaust Forum to be a place where we can create an action plan to aggressively fight back against antisemitism.
“We are building a global coalition of leaders who can send a strong message that will resonate around the world that antisemitism, in all its forms, is absolutely unacceptable. It is essential that there be a holistic roadmap to combat hate against Jews, which is at its highest levels since the Holocaust and is causing many Jewish communities to fear for their future.”
Founded in 2005 by Kantor, the World Holocaust Forum Foundation is an international organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and its lessons for all of humanity, including the battle against rising antisemitism. Past World Holocaust Forum events have taken place at Auschwitz, Babi Yar and Terezin, in cooperation with Yad Vashem, with the highest-level political and diplomatic representation.
Among the leaders who have confirmed their attendance at this year’s event are Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen and Britain’s Prince Charles.
“It is a great honor for us that Prince Charles will be attending the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem,” Kantor says. “Prince Charles is a figure of strong moral authority and has long been recognized as a leading voice against intolerance, hate and antisemitism.”
Also attending will be the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, and David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, along with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The program comprises speeches by select heads of state, a Holocaust survivor and the event hosts, including Rivlin, Kantor and Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev as well as video clips and musical interludes performed by an orchestra and an international choir.
What is the purpose of the January 23 event at Yad Vashem, “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism?”
Fifteen years ago, I founded the World Holocaust Forum based on a firm belief that through strong political leadership of the world we can create change.
Every year, world leaders convene in Davos to discuss the state of the global economy and in Munich to discuss global security, however, there is no event or forum to discuss global morality and to try and fix society’s problems and challenges.
We need a place to reflect on the situation regarding global morality and how it manifests itself in our societies.
With the alarming rise of antisemitism over the past years, and the 75th anniversary milestone, I thought that Israel, the Jewish state and Yad Vashem in particular would be the most suitable place to hold it. Especially as we connect it not only to Holocaust remembrance, but also to the urgent need to fight antisemitism.
What is your message to the world leaders attending the January 23 event and the world at large?
A few weeks ago, we commemorated 81 years since Kristallnacht, which many see as the beginning of the Holocaust. Only a few months before Kristallnacht in 1938, the leaders of the world met in Evian for a conference to try and find solutions for the Jews of Europe who faced a dangerous future.
Due to political and diplomatic differences the conference ended without agreement or a solution and no steps were taken. The Nazis, who would commit unimaginable horrors, understood that the world would not stand in their way. Inaction left Europe’s Jews to their fate.
This moment sealed the destiny of 6,000,000 Jews, beginning shortly after Kristallnacht.
Now, we know that many of those leaders used diplomatic disagreements as an excuse and secretly held their own antisemitic views. And while not on the level of the Nazis, they were not moral enough to stand up for the Jews of Europe.
Therefore, antisemitism has long been used as a barometer of moral behavior. When we, as a global community, stand against it, our morality as a society is in a healthy place.
Jews have lived in Europe for 2000 years and we have always been loyal to the countries where we live and remain a reliable part of our European family. We obey the rabbinic saying “Dina de’malkhuta dina” – “The law of the land is the law.” We respect the law of the land and we fully integrate into society and become one of the pillars of the foundation of the democratic societies we live in. We contribute to the nations we live in significantly, whether in culture, science, finance, innovation and politics. We became a symbol of a strong democratic society and when extremists seek to destroy the foundations of society, then Jews became the target.
This is why the Holocaust needs to be remembered also as a lesson for humanity. These lessons are not relevant just to Jews, but to the entire world.
We should remind the world that together with the six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust, there were 10 million non-Jewish Germans and more than 50 million non-Jews worldwide who were killed during World War II. Extremists in Germany came to power by democratic means, despite the strongest indication of an upcoming catastrophe – which was the crisis of antisemitism.
The crisis of antisemitism is a slippery slope towards a global catastrophe and to tolerate the crisis of antisemitism is to normalize extremism. What was true in Nazi Germany is true today. Extremist leaders seek to gain executive power by democratic means.
What impact do you expect it to have?
We hope that this event will be the beginning of an international effort to confront antisemitism.
We need a moral majority of leaders to come to Jerusalem and say that it is enough and now is the time to stand united and fight antisemitism.
At our Fifth World Holocaust Forum on the 23rd of January, we will not just be remembering the past, but taking the pulse of the present to create plans and strategies for the future. We will be conducting a self-examination to ensure that there will be a modification of the historic injustice that took place 81 years ago by the leaders of the world.
We will see where we are today as a society and the current state of our morality. We will hopefully be able to start to answer the question about where the world is with regard to its moral barometer. If world leaders will join us to defeat evil, to stand together and fight antisemitism, then we can promise a safe world for all mankind.
Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, do you think the world has learned its lesson?
Clearly, the world has not learned the lesson well enough. Today we see rising antisemitism on our streets almost every day. For the first time since the Holocaust, Jews are being forced to hide their Jewish symbols. Jewish communities are being closed due to threats, violence and fear, as we have seen in Malmö, Sweden.
The Holocaust marks the lowest point in modern human behavior. This lowest point and moral descent took place in what we thought was a modern and civilized world.
The world’s moral status is the greatest risk to a global catastrophe, and that is why the level of antisemitism in the world should serve as a moral barometer and the Holocaust should be remembered as a lesson that should never be forgotten.
The pledge – to remember and never forget – should be global and not just for Jews. The pledge to fight antisemitism and to ensure “never again” should be an international pledge, not a Jewish one.
How do you see the phenomenon of rising antisemitism in Europe, the US and around the world?
As the president of the European Jewish Congress, I can sadly inform you that today, 75 years after the end of the Holocaust, Jewish life in Europe is under threat. More than 80% of Jews feel unsafe in Europe. Jews are being targeted with hate and violence every single day, on the streets, in schools, universities, synagogues and on the Internet and social media.
Fifteen years ago when we started the World Holocaust Forum there was antisemitism everywhere. However, it was latent. Now we face a real crisis of antisemitism! Every year, antisemitic attacks become more violent. Society enables antisemitism and it penetrates the halls of governments.
We see the extremists from the Right and the Left and radical Islam – seeking to take over the executive power in each country. We see it spreading to the United States, with the mass killing at synagogues and Jews feeling unsafe and singled out on the streets and on university campuses.
The recent spate of attacks on Jews in the US in general, and New York in particular, show that antisemitism is now a global pandemic. Unfortunately, we are witnessing how identifiable Jews and Jewish institutions are open targets for antisemites from all backgrounds and ideologies.
We have learned the hard way in Europe that extremism, whether Left or Right, is connected in its disdain for Jews and one continually feeds off the other. We call on all leaders of the world to take the fight against antisemitism more seriously and clamp down on those who spread hate because eventually it becomes a problem for society as a whole.”
What do you think are the best ways to combat antisemitism?
First, through education. We need to teach tolerance in our educational systems. We need tougher laws and stronger punishments for antisemites. They need to know that their words and actions will have severe consequences.
Law enforcement agencies should be given greater powers to arrest those who incite, because we learn from the Holocaust, and throughout Jewish history, that what begins with words ends with blood.
So, we need to stop it at the level of words, before it leads to violent acts and even deaths. We need to equate the words and actions of antisemitism to those of extremism and terrorism – with the same corresponding legislation and punishments. and this should be pan-European, especially within the European Union.
We also would like to be practical and ask world leaders for concrete actions against antisemitism. Here are a few examples, which should be adopted by all countries:
- France adopted very strong legislation against Holocaust denial in the 1990s, and later added legislation against boycotts of people and products based on nationality. Recently, the French National Assembly passed a resolution equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism, confronting in this way the new type of antisemitism, the delegitimization of the Jewish state.
- Germany adopted a law two years ago against hate speech online, to address the biggest and most challenging platform of antisemitism and racism – the Internet.
- Great Britain is a model of how to effectively respond to antisemitism. It created a task force, which combines law enforcement agencies, legal institutions and civil society organizations to effectively coordinate information and actions against this phenomenon.
These are just a few examples of measures that should be adopted by all countries.
Do you think the new antisemitism often hides itself as being anti-Israel, such as the BDS movement?
Of course. BDS and anti-Zionism use all the ancient and medieval motifs of antisemitism. They are not even original; they are just adopting the same language and accusations that were made against Jewish communities in the past – against the Jewish state today.
It has been proven by researchers that in areas with strong anti-Israel activity, there is a greater frequency of antisemitic attacks. We saw it recently in Canada where Jewish students can’t have access to kosher food because of BDS. They target all Jews, and like antisemites of the past, they hate Jewish collectivity and the State of Israel is the greatest Jewish collectivity.
It is no coincidence that those involved in BDS boycott only one country in the world – the Jewish state. When BDS started, they were asked why they were targeting Israel and not any other nation, and they answered that they had to start somewhere. Well, the BDS movement was created at the Durban conference in 2001 – and 19 years later they have not targeted even a single other nation.
How do you see the future of Jews in Europe and throughout the Diaspora?
I am an optimist; I see that throughout history the Jewish people have been very strong in the face of threats and hardship. We should be allowed to live a normal life, to identify as Jews.
This is not currently the case in many places and the situation is getting worse every year. Jews have lived in Europe for 2000 years and we have always been loyal to the countries where we live and remain a reliable part of our European family.
How can Israel help in the fight against antisemitism?
Israel gives strength to the Jews of the Diaspora. The State of Israel continues to see itself as responsible for the Jewish people and this is a good thing. If in the past, Israel fought its wars in its own backyard, today, the frontlines of those who seek to destroy the Jewish state are in our backyards – in our schools, universities, online and in the streets.
Together, as a united people we will win over our enemies. We have seen that when the Jewish people are united we overcome all adversities.
We must keep up an open and honest dialogue for a positive Jewish future. In the past, it was mainly a two-way dialogue between Israel and the US; I am proud that in recent years there has been greater understanding that European Jewry is once again standing strong as an equal partner.