Antisemitism and Islamophobia summits: Side-by-side commitment comparisons

For reference, the side-by-side comparison, showing a common approach.

I don’t understand why opposition leaders were not provided speaking opportunities, the Harper government did so when it hosted the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (ICCA) in 2009:

Ottawa is holding separate summits on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Should it have tackled them together?

Yes, they should have given some of the commonalities and the need for all Canadians, whatever their origins, religions or other characteristic have to work on reducing bias, discrimination and prejudice together.

Otherwise, more for show and signalling than the longer-term work required:

As two anti-hate summits grappling with a rising tide of hatred against Canada’s Jewish and Muslim communities get underway, could both groups forge a stronger path forward if they were to convene as one?

That’s a question being posed by Bernie Farber, the chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, who will be attending both events.

“These are two groups, two faith communities, that have travelled parallel roads but have rarely intersected. And they are two communities that face the same form of hateful, violent targeting,” Farber told the Star.

“Wouldn’t it have made maybe a little bit more sense, in my view, to have had a summit … that would focus on both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia instead of having two separate ones, which has a tendency to not bring us together but to keep us apart?”

On Wednesday, the federal government will host a virtual summit on anti-Semitism, bringing together municipal and provincial political leaders to hear how the Jewish community would like to see hate, discrimination and harassment stamped out on a national scale. Former justice minister Irwin Cotler, now Canada’s special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism, will take part in the event.

Just one day later, the same task will befall members of Canada’s Muslim community, many of whom are still reeling from a targeted attack in June that killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., as they were out for an evening walk. MPs unanimously voted in favour of a motion to hold a national summit on Islamophobia in the aftermath of the violent incident. 

But as political tensions over the conflict in the Middle East began to boil over earlier this year — leading to clashes and police intervention at several rallies between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators across the country — so did hateful acts targeting Jews and Muslims.

“Once you’ve targeted people here in Canada for something that may have happened in the Middle East … it is either Islamophobia or anti-Semitism,” Farber said.

The tensions also trickled down to two leading Jewish and Muslim groups in Canada.

In May, the Centre of Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) sent an email to members of the federal government laying out the groundwork for an emergency summit to combat “a shocking wave of anti-Semitism” in Canada.

In one paragraph of the email, which was viewed by the Star, the organization called on Ottawa to “engage directly — and privately” with the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), to “challenge them to recalibrate their rhetoric and activities in a way that ensures the safety of the public square for all.”

NCCM, which released its list of priority policy recommendations on Monday ahead of Thursday’s summit, would not comment on the email.

The remarks referred to NCCM’s call to the federal government to “denounce in no uncertain terms Israel’s deliberate attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” a compound in Jerusalem’s Old City that is part of a site revered in both Islam and Judaism. 

In a statement to the Star, CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogler said such language has been used to “foment anger” and violence against Jews in the past.

“We have communicated these concerns — in particular, the need for all civil society groups to engage with the issues in a constructive and respectful manner — directly to the NCCM as well as our government,” the statement read.

Farber, who has worked closely with Jewish and Muslim groups in Canada, told the Star he has worked “for years” to bring the groups together to jointly tackle hate.

“We can’t battle hatred from different outposts. There is strength in numbers. And I would say eventually, wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually bring all these targeted groups together under one umbrella, to share ideas, to share strategies?”

Mustafa Farooq, CEO of NCCM, said he would be happy to “work towards a broader summit” in Canada for all groups facing an upswing in hate.

“The reality is, we are facing a unique time where it’s all on the rise,” he said. 

But first, Farooq is focused on harms plaguing his own community.

“We are committed to working with all communities to solve Islamophobia and all forms of hate, but we do need to address the specific problems facing the Muslim community,” he said.

In an interview with the Star last Friday, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Bardish Chagger said it’s still clear there is “a lot more work to do” to eradicate hate in this country.

Chagger acknowledged that there is a “sense of urgency” in addressing these issues at the upcoming summits, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic exposed even more inequities in Canadian society.

“It is important that the government listen and hear the ideas and suggestions and try to put them into actionable items,” she said. 


Poland, Israel in diplomatic spat over Poland’s property law

Ongoing Polish government denial:

Poland and Israel have summoned each other’s diplomats in a growing dispute over Poland’s planned changes to property restitution rules that Israel and Jewish organizations say would prevent Jewish claims for compensation or property seized during the Holocaust and communist times.

On Monday, Israeli charge d ’affaires ​Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon met with Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski, who insisted the new regulations do not bar any property claims, which should be made through courts. Poland also says it mustn’t be made responsible for property seizures by Nazi Germany during its World War II occupation of Poland.

“These regulations are not directed against anyone,” Jablonski said, adding that there is a lot of misunderstanding of their aim as they give the law a steady framework.

Jablonski later said Ben-Ari Yaalon repeated the embassy’s statement from last week, which called the new regulations “immoral” and said they “will have a serious impact” on bilateral relations.

Poland’s ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, was at the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Sunday, explaining the new regulations made to align with a 2015 ruling by the top constitutional court.

Poland’s parliament is processing the changes to prevent ownership and other administrative decisions from being declared void after 30 years. It says this is a response to fraud and irregularities that have emerged in the restitution process. The changes still require approval from the Senate and the president.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization said it was “deeply disappointed” by Poland’s response to the concerns.

“The house or shop or factory in a town in Poland affected by this legislation was not taken by Germany, it was taken by Poland. It sits today in Poland and its use has benefited Poland for over 70 years. It is time to recognize this fact and for Poland to do justice for those who suffered so much,” said the group’s chief, Gideon Taylor.

Last week, the U.S. State Department weighed in, with spokesperson Ned Price tweeting that the changes were a “step in the wrong direction” and urged Poland “not to move this legislation forward.”

Before World War II, Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community of some 3.5 million people. Most were killed in the Holocaust under Nazi Germany’s occupation and their property was confiscated. Poland’s post-war communist authorities seized those properties, along with the property of non-Jewish owners in Warsaw and other cities. The end of communism in 1989 opened the door to restitution claims, most of which would be coming from Poles.

The still unresolved matter has been a constant source of bitterness and political tension between Poland and Israel.

In 2001, a draft law foreseeing compensation for seized private property was approved in parliament but vetoed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski. He claimed it violated social equality principles and would hurt Poland’s economic development, implying that compensation claims would result in large payouts. He also said individual claims should be made through the courts.

Poland is the only European country that has not offered any compensation for private property seized by the state in its recent history. Only the remaining communal Jewish property, like some synagogues, prayer houses and cemeteries, mostly in disrepair, have been returned where possible or compensated for.

Source: Poland, Israel in diplomatic spat over Poland’s property law

British Jews’ fear and defiance amid record monthly anti-Semitism reports

Of note:

A monthly record number of reports of anti-Semitic incidents were recorded following the 11-day conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in May, a charity says. So how does it feel to be Jewish in the UK?

Rabbi Nicky Liss had been preparing to give a midnight talk at a north London synagogue last month, when he began to feel nervous.

A rabbi of 13 years, he was used to giving speeches. This one, to mark the start of the Jewish festival of Shavuot on 16 May, should not, on the face of it, have been any different.

But that afternoon, events built to what he describes as a “crescendo”.

He’d learned that his good friend and fellow rabbi, Rafi Goodwin, had been attacked outside his synagogue in Chigwell, in Essex – allegedly struck over the head with a brick.

Two men have denied causing grievous bodily harm, robbery and religiously aggravated criminal damage and are due to appear at Chelmsford Crown Court for trial in November.

In a separate incident that afternoon, a man was filmed apparently using a megaphone to shout anti-Semitic abuse from a convoy of cars with Palestinian flags that travelled through St John’s Wood in north-west London – an area that is home to a Jewish community. Four men were arrested and remain on bail until mid-July.

Over the next few hours, worried phone calls and messages buzzed through Mr Liss’s community. Some feared the situation in north London could become “very threatening” by the evening.

Orthodox Jews do not use cars on religious holidays or the Sabbath, so Mr Liss had planned to walk the 25 minutes from his home on-site at Highgate synagogue to the synagogue in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

But the day’s events left Mr Liss with an agonising dilemma over whether he should go ahead with his talk – and what, as chair of United Synagogue’s rabbinical council, he should advise concerned colleagues to do.

Advice was sought from the Community Security Trust (CST), a Jewish charity that provides security support and monitors reports of anti-Semitic incidents.

Mr Liss says the advice was to go ahead with the events – but with increased vigilance and precautions, including local patrols being stepped up.

“This is the first time I’ve felt physically threatened,” he tells the BBC.

“I can’t believe that in 2021, I was thinking, was it safe for me to go on the street and walk to another synagogue to give a talk. It was incredibly worrying.”

A record number of anti-Semitic incidents have been recorded in the UK since the start of last month’s violence between Israel and the Palestinians, the CST says.

From 8 May to 7 June, 460 incidents were reported to the charity – the highest monthly total since records began in 1984 – with 316 happening offline and 144 online.

The previous record was 317 in July 2014 – coinciding with the last major eruption of violence between Israel and the Palestinians as part of a decades-long conflict.

In the month before 8 May, 119 anti-Semitic incidents were reported to the CST.

On 17 May, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told the House of Commons that there had been a “deeply disturbing” upsurge in anti-Semitism in recent years, particularly on social media.

Police forces in London, Greater Manchester and Hertfordshire did not have readily available data on the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported to them in May.

Last month, Greater Manchester Police’s Det Ch Insp Paul Coburn said that “following recent tensions in the Middle East”, officers had seen a “rise in hate crime directed towards members of specific communities” – which he told the BBC has since “stabilised” since the force launched a dedicated response, Operation Wildflower.

Dave Rich, CST’s head of policy, says 416 of the 460 incidents “used language or some other evidence” related to Israel. He adds that generally, most incidents involve verbal abuse, with a “relatively small” number involving violence.

“Every time Israel is at war… 2014, 2009, 2006 being the main ones, we’ve seen record totals each year, each time, [that are] always higher than the last,” he tells the BBC.

Mr Rich says the current trends that have “stood out” are the car convoys that have driven through areas where Jewish people live – as well as the “disproportionate impact” on school pupils, teachers, and university students – with 30% of all reports recorded linked to the educational sector.

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not the only global event to spark a backlash against minority groups in the UK.

Whether it is the targeting of East Asian and South East Asian people at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic; or Islamophobic attacks following terrorist incidents, major news events have real-life consequences for ordinary people.

Tell Mama UK, which monitors anti-Muslim hate incidents, says it received a “rise in reports both online and offline” after last month’s violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

From 8 May to 31 May, it says it recorded 131 incidents – up from 59 in April. Of the 131, Tell Mama says 93 were directly linked to the conflict.

Iman Atta, the organisation’s director, says the majority of cases involved “abusive behaviour” – with some including threatening behaviour, and others mentioning assault.

“Although the political conflict in the region can stir up a lot of emotions, there is absolutely no room for anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic rhetoric,” she says.

“We fear that such behaviour threatens to harm social cohesions between Muslim and Jewish communities here in the UK.”

From 8 May to 15 June, around 50 anti-Semitic incidents were reported that were related to university campuses, according to the Union of Jewish Students.

Rebecca Lyons, vice-president of the UCL Jewish Society, says “threats of death and physical violence” have been sent to the social media accounts of the Jewish and Israel societies.

In one private message, an Instagram user told the student-run Jewish society: “See you on campus. We’ll be waiting to say hello to you, Arab style.”

Rebecca, 21, says initially she feared the online threats and comments “might be actualised,” adding that the abuse had left her feeling a “loss of identity” as a British Jew.

“I was born and raised in London, I worked hard to achieve highly in a British academic curriculum and yet I’ve been made startlingly aware of how clearly unwelcome I am in my own university space.”

She says the “memory of how intense and bloodthirsty” those weeks were was “embedded” in her mind – and has added to her uncertainty over her future in London.

Despite the abuse, Rebecca adds that “we as a Jewish student community remain very much Jewish and proud… and no amount of harassment will deter that”.

Jonny Eintracht, a 26-year-old PhD student from London, says there are always going to be pockets of anti-Semitism – and the best way to tackle them is by staying true to your own values.

“As long as I can behave in a way that… if people looked at me, or my friends and family, and think ‘my experience of observant Jews, or Jews is general, is different to what I thought,’ or ‘that’s someone that I would like to emulate one day’ – I think that’s the best way to combat anti-Semitism.

“It’s a kind of responsibility that I feel. We stay proud, and we stay true to what we believe in and we continue to contribute to the world however we can.”

Jonny, who wears a kippah, the head covering traditionally worn by male Jews, says since moving to London from Australia three years ago he has never felt unsafe or that he needs to change his behaviour – even after facing recent verbal anti-Semitic abuse in the street.

He says when events have become more volatile, he has felt a “large sense of unity” as Jewish people around the world come together – adding that he’s also had support from people who aren’t Jewish.

“I’ve had non-Jewish colleagues ask me if I’m OK or if I want to talk about the situation… I think when you’re able to sit down and talk about it in a calm way, and out of concern for one another, then that’s the first step to having any sort of constructive way forward.

“It gives me hope for the future.”

Jenny Tamari, a mother-of-three from north-west London, says she is reconsidering her family’s future in the UK, as she feels it has become “open season on the British Jews”.

The former marketing consultant says she has “been feeling anti-Semitism for a while” in Britain, but with every “flare-up” of tensions in the Middle East, “people always see how far they can go… to let out their hatred for the Jews”.

After watching the widely-circulated video of the car convoy that travelled through north London, Jenny thought of her six-year-old daughter.

“At the time, I heard cars beeping and I didn’t actually know what was happening. But then I saw the video and went to my kitchen away from my kids and just cried.”

Jenny, 40, admits recent events have left her increasingly scared for her family’s safety.

She says she even took off her son’s kippah as they walked to a friend’s house for a recent Sabbath lunch.

“I told my son he had to take his kippah off. And he said, ‘why Mummy, I don’t want to’, and I got really frustrated and said, ‘you can’t wear it in the streets’. I got really scared and he felt that, as a four-and-a-half-year-old child, and just said ‘It’s OK Mummy, I’ll take it off’.

“I just feel so disappointed in myself, so sad for him, so sad for my grandfather who came from Vienna and escaped the Holocaust, so that he could be actively, outwardly Jewish in Britain – the country that took him in.”

Jenny has recently started a podcast called Jewish in the City, which despite being “born out of” anti-Semitism, is designed to “uplift, inspire and encourage” Jews; and to highlight their “positive contributions” to communities.

In Essex, Lindsay Shure, the chair of the Chigwell and Hainault synagogue, is “determined that something good” will follow the attack on their own Rabbi Goodwin.

Lindsay, 70, says the Jewish community and the residents of Chigwell’s Limes Farm estate – where the synagogue sits – had never had “terribly much to do with each other”, but the support from non-Jewish people has been “incredible”.

He says people have left flowers and cards outside the synagogue and others have left kind messages on social media, including one which said: “Your community is our community”.

For him, the outpouring of support “emphasises that it’s the people on the extremes who show the hatred… generally, people are very supportive and treat each person on their merits”.

He says he is meeting the local residents’ committee soon to discuss how they and the Jewish community can work together on future social projects. They are hoping to do some work in a care home later this year.

“If we get closer, we get a better understanding of people as human beings… I hope this will lay the foundations for something even more important and longer-lasting.”

Source: British Jews’ fear and defiance amid record monthly anti-Semitism reports

Museum exhibits works by Polish artist confronting Holocaust

Of note:

Warsaw’s Jewish history museum opened an exhibition Thursday featuring works by a renowned Polish artist that confront the lingering and melancholy presence of the Holocaust in Poland, where Nazi German forces carried out their destruction of Europe’s Jews and other atrocities.

“Wilhem Sasnal: Such a Landscape” opened Thursday at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The dozens of paintings and drawings on display confront the Holocaust in the nation’s physical and mental landscape and the difficulty in addressing an unsettled past.

Sasnal, who is not Jewish, has for two decades been grappling with this history. The 48-year-old described a generational need to confront the past, also because parts of Polish society refuse to acknowledge that while Poland was victimized by Nazi Germany, there were also some Poles who joined in the despoliation and murder of the nation’s Jews.

For decades after World War II, such discussions were taboo, with the themes of Polish sacrifice and honor dominating historical memory. But with the new openness that came with the fall of communism in 1989, scholars and artists began studying and speaking openly of anti-Semitism and the participation by some Poles in the German crimes. Each new book or film has touched a raw nerve.

“The history of the Second World War was obscured until 1989,” Sasnal said.

It was then “extremely shocking,” he said, when scholars began to reveal wartime wrongdoing by Poles, including the 1941 killing of hundreds of Jews by Poles in the town of Jedwabne.

“At the beginning I felt anger and shame,” he told The Associated Press.

“And it’s still so difficult to see that people don’t want to acknowledge it. People totally refuse, and this is the mainstream Polish government attitude.”

Sasnal is one of Poland’s most prominent living artists. His works are included in collections at the Museum of Modern Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Tate Modern in London and Centre Pompidou in Paris, among others.

Sasnal also acknowledged that Poland is often unfairly judged — that sometimes those outside of Poland lose sight of the bigger picture.

Poland was occupied by German forces who killed millions of Polish citizens — some 2 million Christian Poles as well as 3 million Jews. Many Poles fought the Germans at home and abroad and the state never collaborated with Nazi Germany. Thousands of Poles have also been recognized by Yad Vashem for risking their own lives to save Jews.

Yet Sasnal believes that Poles must acknowledge the bad along with the good.

“Unless we accept such a complex past, we will be judged and we will be misjudged,” he said.

The exhibition comprises two decades of works that touch in some way on the Holocaust — works that Sasnal did while also dealing with other topics.

The oldest ones were inspired by cartoonist Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust cartoon stories in his “Maus” books. The newest ones were created this year especially for the exhibition.

There are paintings of former death camps, but they are always contextualized, with Sasnal’s bike or his wife looking from inside a car at the gates of Auschwitz — because to depict the death camps alone would be too banal and brutal, he said.

The Auschwitz paintings were produced after he and his wife passed by the memorial site on their way home from a New Year’s Eve party on Jan. 1. Millions travel to the site from around the world. But for many Poles — including Sasnal, who lives in nearby Krakow — the presence of genocide memorial sites are part of the landscape of daily life.

A painting of an imagined map of Poland bordering Israel recalls the long co-existence of Jews with Poles in Poland, a Jewish homeland for centuries.

A portrait of Hitler has been covered in black paint and crossed out with a wooden bar, an evil too extreme to depict figuratively.

Paintings that draw on images first created by French painter Edgar Degas, an antisemite, are reminders of the antisemitism pervasive across Europe that created fertile soil for the Holocaust. One evokes a bathing women modeled on a Degas work superimposed with a swastika.

Paintings of Gypsies or stereotypical images of Africans in the popular imagination show how other groups, along with Jews, have long been considered the “other” in society.

Ahead of the opening, the curator, Adam Szymczyk, braced for the possibility that this exhibition, too, might spark anger from nationalists and right-wingers.

But now that a right-wing party runs the country — and is a co-partner in the museum, which is a public-private partnership — he said he expected the reaction to be more muted.

He said both he and Sasnal were driven by a need to express remorse.

“I think this is our way of saying sorry on behalf of others,” he said. “The others don’t say ‘I’m sorry’ so we have to. It’s a duty.”

The exhibition runs until January 10.

Source: Museum exhibits works by Polish artist confronting Holocaust

HASSAN: London tragedy exposes need to examine violence against Muslims

Of note on the need for precision when using terms such as Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hate, antisemitism:

The horrific deaths of a Muslim family in London on June 6 have sparked conversations about loosely, sometimes interchangeably, used terms like Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate. It would be worthwhile to examine these in detail. The ramifications for each term are different regarding freedom of speech issues, especially in the context of M-103, tabled by MP Iqra Khalid in 2018.

Islamophobia is a loaded word that can mean one of several things. It can mean fear of Islam, its practices, Islamic culture and fear of Muslims as its adherents. The last of these can sometimes translate into attacks on Muslims. When the term is used loosely, it can simply mean fear and hatred of Muslims. These have ramifications for Muslims in Canada when it comes to safety and security.

Anti-Muslim hate is specifically hatred toward the Muslim people, whether rooted in a dislike of Islam or not. This, too, can lead to violence against Muslims. In essence, both phenomena can lead to unfortunate results as we have seen a second time in Canada. The meanings tend to overlap.

Can these terms be compared to anti-Semitism? The latter term would correspond better to anti-Muslim hate, although the notion that criticism of the state of Israel is also anti-Semitism has wider ramifications. In the latter sense, we can also compare the term to the all-encompassing “Islamophobia.”

Anti-Muslim hate is utterly reprehensible and has no place in Canada. No community should be despised to the point of being denied the right to life, liberty, and property. Holding a negative opinion of Muslim practices or tenets of the Islamic faith should not automatically mean that Muslims should be wiped out or denied the same rights others take for granted.

But does this mean one has no right to criticize a world religion like Islam? After all, there is complete freedom to criticize other world faiths, including Christianity, followed by most Canadians. Most liberal democracies realize it is the fundamental right of citizens to question their own faith, to have the freedom to speak their minds on matters of faith, values, and ideologies and to scrutinize not only political philosophies but also religious dicta, especially when these have harmed society in general and women and marginalized groups in particular. Public discourse on Islam generally does not castigate an entire community. Often, an effort is made to separate a particular practice or belief from the larger body of believers in public discourse. Castigating an entire community would most certainly violate the rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Thus, since the meanings above overlap, it is crucial to examine how we can address violence against Muslims and still uphold freedom of speech as an inalienable right.

The overlap in meaning between Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate makes it that much harder to tread the fine line of criticism of Islam in public discourse and spare Muslims fallout. While public discourse is careful not to cross the boundaries of free speech, it is perhaps just as important for people in private gatherings not to paint all Muslims with the same brush.

Are these boundaries being crossed more often in private rather than public gatherings? Would they continue to generate the type of inordinate hate that translates into heinous crimes like the one we witnessed in London?

Source: HASSAN: London tragedy exposes need to examine violence against Muslims

Alarm as German anti-maskers co-opt Nazi resister Sophie Scholl

Of note:

Sophie Scholl, the German resistance figure executed by the Nazis who was born 100 years ago on Sunday, has become an emblem of courage and a national hero for many.

But the legacy of the young woman sentenced to a brutal death for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets has recently been co-opted by Germany’s anti-lockdown movement, to the dismay of historians and the Jewish community.

At a demonstration in April, one woman had a placard featuring a picture of Sophie Scholl draped on string around her shoulders.

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace,” it read — words famously pronounced by the resistance campaigner.

Even one of her nephews, Julian Aicher, has prominently spoken at corona skeptic demonstrations, including on a stage decorated with white roses — evoking the name of Scholl’s resistance group.

In a country where right-wing extremism is seen as the number one threat to security, and where a record number of xenophobic and anti-Semitic crimes were recorded in 2020, historians say the misappropriation of Scholl’s memory is deeply alarming.

Some also warn that democracy itself is being attacked at a time when living witnesses of World War II have dwindled significantly in numbers.

“By trivialising the Holocaust and dictatorship, these activists are endangering democracy,” said Ludwig Spaenle, Bavaria’s anti-Semitism commissioner.

– Fourth favourite German –

On February 22, 1943, Scholl and her older brother Hans, both members of a small resistance group called the White Rose, were beheaded in the Stadelheim prison in Bavaria following a summary trial.

They had been found guilty of distributing pamphlets on the grounds of Munich University, having converted to the resistance after being exposed to the horrors of the Third Reich as members of Nazi organisations in their teens.

Sophie Scholl, born on May 9, 1921, has become the most famous face of the resistance movement, with surviving photos showing her distinctive cropped hair and determined smile.

Hundreds of schools and streets now bear her name, and in 2003 she was named the nation’s fourth favourite German behind Konrad Adenauer, Martin Luther and Karl Marx.

The country’s political class also like to evoke the memory of the young biology student who stood up to the Nazis.

Annalena Baerbock, the Green party’s candidate to become Germany’s next chancellor after Angela Merkel retires in the autumn, has named Scholl as one of her “heroes”.

Carola Rackete, the former captain of the Sea-Watch 3 migrant rescue ship, has said if Scholl were still alive, she would be part of the Antifa left-wing political movement.

But at the other end of the political spectrum, the far-right AfD also claimed in 2017 that Scholl would have given them her vote.

And now the resistance campaigner’s image has been hijacked by protesters against coronavirus restrictions in Germany, who have often sought to compare themselves with victims of the Nazis.

– ‘Vaccination makes you free’ –

Some protesters have been seen wearing yellow stars similar to those Jews were forced to wear under the Nazis, carrying the words “not vaccinated”.

Others have worn concentration camp uniforms and carried placards with the words “Impfen macht frei” (“Vaccination makes you free”), a reference to the “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes you free”) inscription at the entrance to Auschwitz.

“I feel like Sophie Scholl, because I’ve been active in the resistance for months,” one protester told a rally against virus restrictions in Hanover in November, leading to widespread condemnation.

“Followers of conspiracy theories like to imagine themselves as victims, while demonising and delegitimising the democratic field,” Samuel Salzborn, the city of Berlin’s point man on anti-Semitism, told AFP.

According to Jens-Christian Wagner, a German historian who specialises in the Nazi era, the appropriation of Sophie Scholl by the anti-mask movement shows a loss of “historical awareness” among parts of the German population.

There are “almost no remaining witnesses” to the Nazi era, Wagner told AFP.

“They can no longer defend themselves when they are instrumentalised or when the far right rewrites history and the present by reversing guilt. It worries me,” he said.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has said it will monitor the “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) movement, a particularly vocal anti-lockdown group, over concerns it poses a threat to democracy and has ties to right-wing extremism.

Source: Alarm as German anti-maskers co-opt Nazi resister Sophie Scholl

Sarah Halimi: How killer on drugs escaped French trial for anti-Semitic murder

Good overview:

Sarah Halimi was a Jewish, 65-year-old, former kindergarten director, who in April 2017 was beaten, then thrown to her death from her flat in north-east Paris.

The killer was Kobili Traoré, a Muslim of Malian origin who was her neighbour. During the attack, which lasted between 20 and 30 minutes, he chanted verses from the Koran and shouted “Allahu Akbar” – God is greatest.

Loss of control

Two weeks ago, a decision by France’s highest court of appeal, the Cour de Cassation, triggered a storm of indignation, primarily but not solely in France’s Jewish community. Citing Article 122 of the Penal Code, the judges ruled that Traoré had been undergoing a “psychotic episode” at the time of the attack and that his “discernment” had been “abolished”.

The fact that this loss of control was linked to his voluntary smoking of cannabis over many years was, said the court, irrelevant. The root cause of a madness was not an issue in law, the judges said, as long as the madness was established; and it had been, by independent psychiatric analysis.

And so the Cour de Cassation ruled that Kobili Traoré should not stand trial, but remain in the secure hospital where he has been kept ever since the murder.

A dangerous precedent

A week ago thousands protested against the decision in Paris and other cities. There is both reason and emotion behind their fury.

The most obvious argument against the ruling is that it creates a dangerous precedent. As more than one lawyer has pointed out, what now is there to stop other killers from claiming an “abolition of discernment” due to long-term drug or alcohol use?

This is all the more relevant because of the prevalence of cannabis abuse among so many of those found guilty, not just of crimes designated as “anti-Semitic”, such as this one, but also of those designated as “terrorist”.

“Don’t ask me to explain the inexplicable,” said lawyer Aude Weill Raynal. “In most cases, taking drugs is an aggravating factor in a case – and yet here it is regarded as extenuating.”

‘In France we do not judge the mad’

It is true, of course, that in most cases the fact that a killer has taken drugs or drunk alcohol will not stop him or her going to trial – even if there is established a temporary loss of reason – and may even contribute to a stiffer sentence.

But the difference in the Traoré case is expert opinion. Of the three psychiatrists’ reports, two concluded that his discernment was not just “altered” (as it would be if he had just smoked a joint or got drunk) but outright “abolished”.

This was because of the permanent damage to his brain caused by more than 10 years of drug abuse. On the night in question, said the majority of the experts, he was in the grip of a full-scale psychotic attack in which he feared he was being chased by demons.

“The crime was the crime of a madman,” they said in a long justificatory piece this week in Le Monde. “And in France we do not judge the mad.”

But this leads to the second of the arguments against the ruling, which centres on the role of experts in the courts.

Writing in conservative newspaper Le Figaro, philosopher and former minister Luc Ferry said it was a “joke” to regard psychiatry as a “science” on which to base supposedly neutral decisions in law.

“The psychiatrists disagreed among themselves,” he wrote, “one of their reports speaking of ‘alteration’ of discernment, and the other two of ‘abolition.'”

Deciding to take drugs and then “going mad” shouldn’t, in my view, remove your criminal responsibility. I would like the justice minister to present a change in the law very fast
Emmanuel Macron
French President
Jack Broda, a judge from Nancy who has resigned in disgust over the Halimi ruling, said magistrates running the investigation accorded too much importance to psychiatry.
“When you call for an expert opinion, it’s not to nod blindly in agreement with the findings. You need to look at all sides, which can only be done in a trial. Justice is not the work of experts,” he said.

But the deepest source of anger is a feeling shared by many Jews that the court’s ruling was preordained. They believe that from the start the investigation failed to address the attack’s true nature – which for them was both anti-Semitic and, if not planned, then certainly springing naturally from Traoré’s known cultural and religious prejudices.

Changing the law

In the end the Cour de Cassation upheld the designation of the murder as “anti-Semitic”, but many campaigners felt it as a sop to allay their anger over the lack of a trial. Others question how a killing can be at the same time officially anti-Semitic – which implies intention – yet also be the work of a man who has lost his reason.

Underlying all these arguments is an assumption: that parts of the French justice system have a left-wing bias that pushes them to take the side of the poor, black Muslim, and downplays the crime against a Jew.

Which is, of course, fiercely disputed.

So, to go back to the original question: yes, in France a killer can be declared legally insane even if the drugs that destroyed his judgment were taken voluntarily. Why? Because the law says so.

If you want to change the judgement, change the law – which is precisely what the French government is now trying to do.

Too late, though, for the family of Sarah Halimi.

Source: Sarah Halimi: How killer on drugs escaped French trial for anti-Semitic murder

Auschwitz inmates’ families oppose ex-PM on museum council

Of note:

Relatives of former Auschwitz prisoners from Poland are protesting the appointment of a top member of the country’s right-wing ruling party to an advisory council at the state-run Auschwitz-Birkenau museum in Poland.

They argue that the former prime minster, Beata Szydlo, has tolerated “openly fascist” groups and supported attempts to stifle research into the Holocaust, among other complaints.

Szydlo was appointed in April to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Council, a body of experts that advises the museum director. That prompted three members of the nine-member panel of experts to resign, followed by a fourth resignation reported this week.

On Friday evening, the news portal Onet carried a letter signed by children and grandchildren of former Polish prisoners, as well as one Auschwitz survivor, addressed to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

They did not want Szydlo because of her and the ruling Law and Justice party’s strong opposition to accepting refugees and the conservative party’s attempts in the past to win over voters on the extreme right.

“We remember statements that excluded refugees, the undermining of achievements of Holocaust researchers, the toleration of openly fascist organizations, and finally denying European Union alliances,” they wrote to Morawiecki, according to the letter quoted by Onet. “We do not agree to this.”

Early on during World War II, the German forces operated Auschwitz as a camp for Polish prisoners, including Catholic clergy and members of the resistance. They later created nearby Birkenau for the mass killing of Jews from across Europe. In all, some 1.1 million people were murdered at the site located today in southern Poland.

Among those who signed the letter to Morawiecki were the son and two granddaughters of Capt. Witold Pilecki, one of the most notable heroes of the Polish resistance. Pilecki volunteered to be an Auschwitz inmate and smuggled out reports of atrocities there before fleeing. He was tortured and executed in a show trial by communists after the war.

There were no immediate reactions from the Polish government on Friday evening.

Culture Minister Piotr Glinski, who appointed Szydlo to the council, reacted after the first three resignations by denouncing them.

Glinski said it was an for the museum to have Szydlo on the council and said the resignations threatened to “politicize the discussion around the most important museum of martyrdom in Poland, a place of world heritage.”

Szydlo is now is a member of the European Parliament for the Law and Justice party. She has studied ethnography and history, and is from the area of Oswiecim, the Polish town where the site of the former Auschwitz death camp is located.

Source: Auschwitz inmates’ families oppose ex-PM on museum council

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism Is a Very Welcome Initiative

Of note, advocacy of alternative to IHRA working definition that has been increasing adapted by more jurisdictions and institutions:

On March 25, 2021, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) was presented by a group of over 200 eminent Jewish scholars of antisemitism studies and related fields, some of whom had been engaged in discussion since June 2020. They defined antisemitism as follows: “Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish,’ and made it clear that ‘while antisemitism has certain distinctive features, the fight against it is inseparable from the overall fight against all forms of racial, ethnic, cultural, religious and gender discrimination.”

The authors explain that the declaration is based on universal human rights principles, and is a response to two circumstances. One is the alarming resurgence of antisemitism by groups mobilising hatred and violence in politics, society and on the internet, which make it imperative to have a usable, concise and historically-informed core definition of antisemitism with a set of guidelines; and the other is the definition adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016, which they regard as unclear in key respects, widely open to different interpretations, and weakening the fight against antisemitism by causing confusion and generating controversy. They express particular concern that some of the ‘examples’ of antisemitism included in the IHRA exclude legitimate political speech and action concerning Zionism, Israel and Palestine. Thus, their aim is two-fold: “(1) to strengthen the fight against antisemitism by clarifying what it is and how it is manifested, (2) to protect a space for an open debate about the vexed question of the future of Israel/Palestine.”

According to the IHRA ‘working definition’ of antisemitism (WDA), “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” This is followed by 11 ‘contemporary examples’ of antisemitism, seven of which relate to Israel. A legal opinion by Hugh Tomlinson QC submitted to the UK House of Lords in March 2017 described this definition as “vague”, “unclear”, “confusing”, “too narrow”, and “a definition which lacks clarity and comprehensiveness’; moreover, ‘A number of the “contemporary examples” of antisemitism in public life included in the IHRA Definition might, if read literally, appear to condemn as antisemitic conduct which does not constitute or manifest hatred or intolerance against Jews”.

As Neve Gordon and Mark LeVine observe, according to this definition, Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt would be antisemitic because they sent an open letter to the New York Times in December 1948 describing the Israeli right-wing Herut party as ‘closely akin… to the Nazi and fascist parties’; Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz would fall into the same category because of his reference to ‘phenomena of Judeo-Nazism’ in 1982; and so would Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem for producing a report entitled ‘A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid’. Most damagingly, “Once criticism of Israel becomes the primary marker of anti-Semitism, then the unquestioned support of American evangelicals for Israel is considered a blessing, even as anti-Jewish stereotypes remain prevalent among members of their communities, while Israel’s alliance with Europe’s most illiberal and anti-Semitic governments (particularly Hungary’s and Poland’s) is considered ethically kosher.”

Indeed, it can be argued that by blurring the distinction between the Jewish people and the state of Israel, the IHRA definition is itself antisemitic, because it implies that all Jewish people are implicated in the crimes committed to establish and perpetuate the Israeli state. Those responsible for the aggressive campaign that has led to the widespread adoption of the IHRA definition are also guilty of promoting antisemitism by implying that all Jews – and not the Israeli state and its supporters – are responsible for the resulting assault on academic freedom and victimisation of students, faculty, universities and others who support the human rights of Palestinians and/or criticise the Israeli state.

Support for the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign has effectively been criminalised by this lobby. What are the demands of the BDS campaign? (1) Ending Israeli occupation and colonisation of the Palestinian Occupied Territories and dismantling the ‘apartheid’ wall that cuts deep into Palestinian land; (2) Recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; (3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194. Every one of the these demands is supported by international human rights law; to say that Palestinians are not entitled to these universal rights is racist.

The confusion and contention resulting from the IHRA WDA not only undermined struggles against antisemitism and for the human rights of Palestinians, but also divided and weakened antiracist struggles more generally, because “Enacting laws or adopting statements that potentially criminalise criticism of state violence and racism subverts the struggles of marginalised communities seeking social justice.” Concerned at the undermining of their moral standing and physical security by widespread adoption of the IHRA definition, numerous Jewish individuals and organisations explicitly rejected it. The Jerusalem Declaration grew out of this movement.

Because the Jerusalem Declaration presents itself as an alternative to the IHRA definition, it must necessarily grapple with the Palestine-Israel conflict. Of the fifteen guidelines it presents, five are general examples of antisemitism, and ten relate to Israel and Palestine. However, in stark contrast with the IHRA definition, five of these latter are “examples that, on the face of it, are not antisemitic (whether or not one approves of the view or action)” (emphasis added). These are “11. Supporting the Palestinian demand for justice and the full grant of their political, national, civil and human rights… 12. Criticising or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism… 13. Evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state. This includes its institutions and founding principles… Thus… it is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid… 14. Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic. 15. Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable to be protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… Criticism that some may see as excessive or contentious, or as reflecting a “double standard,” is not, in and of itself, antisemitic…”

The authors make the important clarification that each of the guidelines should be read in the light of the others, and they call for judgement and sensitivity to context in applying them to concrete situations; for example, hostility to Israel expressed as a reaction to a human rights violation, or as an emotional response by a Palestinian to an experience at the hands of the state, would not be antisemitic.

Progressive Jewish and other groups campaigning for Palestinian rights welcomed the JDA as a far superior alternative to the IHRA definition, although some had reservations. In the UK, Jewish Voice for Labour recommended that it be deployed in universities, political parties, local authorities and other institutions. In the US, Jewish Voice for Peace acknowledged that it “opens space for debate” and “champions freedom of speech”, but felt that the disproportionate emphasis on Israel-Palestine distracted from the danger faced from far-right white supremacists, and argued that the authors should have included Palestinian perspectives and analyses. These two criticisms had earlier been voiced more emphatically by the BDS National Committee, along with more detailed criticisms of some of the JDA formulations.

I agree with Mike Cushman that the involvement of pro-Palestinian groups in drafting the JDA would have resulted in improved formulations, but at the cost of drastically reducing its weight as a statement about antisemitism. I also feel that oppressed people are entitled to define their own oppression provided their vision of freedom from oppression doesn’t trample on the rights of others; for example, the authors of the JDA may feel that antisemitism predates white-supremacism, and therefore cannot be attributed to it. These criticisms misread the JDA as a statement about Palestine and Israel, whereas its real purpose is to draw the line demarcating antisemitic hate speech from protected freedom of expression and academic freedom. If it is read in the same nuanced manner as the manner in which it has been written, I believe it achieves this purpose.

Source: The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism Is a Very Welcome Initiative