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Confront Hate on Holocaust Remembrance Day

In a 2005 resolution, the U.N. designated January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day—and condemned without reserve all manifestations of religious violence.  Today, our remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust is unavoidably followed by more recent memories—of Jersey City, of Halle, of Pittsburgh—but also a convicting desire to combat their source.  In a recent evening of our “Courageous Conversations” series, we applied a variety of perspectives—religion, media, ideology, politics—to reach the same conclusive response: a key way to confront anti-Semitism is to start with a conversation.

A bigotry as pervasive as anti-Semitism requires a multi-layered analysis to grasp—and even then, its roots go much deeper than many realize. But the panelists for our Confronting Hate event provided helpful insights to begin this process of understanding.

Georgette Bennett, our President and Founder, opened with a moving speech on the new biography of Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum[1] and how Marc’s work fighting hate is relevant to this critical moment in history.

For example, Georgette described Marc’s emphasis on the link between verbal violence and physical violence. She also denounced silence in the face of atrocity as implicit permission for these kinds of hate crimes, and challenged the audience to imitate Marc’s practice of engaging with people holding opposite viewpoints in open—and respectful—conversation. She noted, Marc was slow to call someone an “anti-Semite” but quick to condemn “anti-Semitism.”

A stimulating panel discussion followed. Judy Banki, an expert in Jewish-Catholic relations, discussed her work with Rabbi Tanenbaum including Nostra Aetate at Vatican Council II. TM Garret shared his personal story as a former white supremacist, and Muslim investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed explained how the far-right white supremacist movement affects politics around the world.

Judy spoke of her encounters with Catholic anti-Semitism, both personally and professionally, from pre-Vatican II to now.  She explained how it was present in textbooks, films and even prayers, and how Nostre Aetate helped start a process of changes. She detailed how this has changed, how it has not—and the work it took to get here.

TM’s powerful sharing revealed how he progressed from hateful jokes, to hate speech, to white supremacy, and into full-blown anti-Semitism. He made the distinction between leaving a hate group and leaving hate—how his bigotry did not end fully for over a decade after resigning as a leader of a KKK group and leaving the white supremacy community behind. It was only then, that he was finally able to confront his anti-Semitism.

Nafeez discussed how he investigated the shift in far-right movements on both sides of the Atlantic from their traditional anti-Semitism to their adoption of Islamophobic positions as well. He explained that far-right political groups often make a point of publicly denouncing anti-Semitism and Nazism (i.e., publicly disassociating from their historical, anti-Semitic roots), but then continue to support neo-Nazi groups and anti-Semitic stereotypes. Nafeez thus concludes that contemporary prejudice against racial and religious minorities, no matter what is said on the surface, is still deeply rooted in anti-Semitism.

[1] Confronting Hate: The Untold Story of the Rabbi Who Stood Up for Human Rights, Racial Justice, and Religious Reconciliation is sold by Tanenbaum at a discounted price, to make it available to people who wish to read it.