“The financial crisis is causing significant civil and ethnic tensions. Demographic changes in Europe and the growing immigrant population add to this situation.
As usual in such times, anti-Semitism is on the rise, showing its face around Europe.
Extreme right-wing parties are gaining power and their representatives are gaining more seats in European parliaments.
Europeans are more interested in day-to-day problems than global threats posed by a nearby dictatorship.”
These words could have been taken from a newspaper in the mid 1930s, but I am afraid they could also have been taken from yesterday’s newspaper.
As we stand here today, commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we should reflect on the true meaning of these events and their lessons. This becomes ever more important as events recede into memory and the people who experienced them directly, pass away.
The greatest lesson for the good people of the world, represented by many leaders and ambassadors here in this room, is not to tolerate the intolerant.
Tolerance is no easy thing to master in this world. We must allow for nonconforming and contrasting views and attitudes. However, we must never become tolerant towards the intolerant.
As in the past, the Jewish people are a barometer for European tolerance. When the Jewish people do not feel safe and secure, it usually does not bode well for Europe.
As history has proven on many occasions, what starts with the Jews rarely ends there and engulfs others.
In the past few years we have witnessed a dramatic escalation in anti-Semitism in Europe. For the first time since the Holocaust, Jews in Europe are feeling unsafe and are migrating en masse from communities like Malmo, Sweden.
This should be intolerable for the European Union, which needs to send a clear message of zero tolerance for xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism. The EU should immediately bolster legislation against these forms of hate.
Within these worrying trends I would include the new anti-Semitism. The old anti-Semitism, depriving the Jew of all human rights, even the right to life, is tied to the new anti-Semitism, depriving the Jewish People of the right to live in a sovereign state.
After the Holocaust, the only place many Jews felt they could go was Israel.
Hanna Bar Yesha, a survivor of Auschwitz who lost her whole family in the Holocaust said, “On May 8, 1945, the last day of the war, I thought to myself, ‘Lord, I am now free. I am actually free to do whatever I want. But I have nowhere to go, where could I go?’ I had no one. There was no one to guide me. I was completely detached, I belonged to no one, I had just turned thirteen and at that moment I decided to come to Israel, because I wanted to belong to someone, but also to belong to my nation.”
Israel became the only sanctuary for Jews fleeing barbarism and extermination. Today, there are those who call for boycotts against Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and one of the most free and open societies in the world.
These calls for boycotts and the assault on Israel’s legitimacy are an assault on the legitimacy of Hanna, other Holocaust survivors, their descendants and their sanctuary.
The Jewish right to self-determination should be unquestioned and unflinchingly supported, especially in Europe.
Those who question its legitimacy and call for a boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel should similarly be seen by the European Union as unacceptable.
Any call from an official body or organization for a boycott against Israel should be outlawed. Anything less is immoral and illegitimate.
Another lesson of the Holocaust is that the Jewish people should have a ‘place under the sun,’ and that place is their historical homeland.
However, only 65 years after the end of the Holocaust the Jewish People face another dire and potentially catastrophic threat. We must learn from the past that when evil and hate rear their ugly heads we cannot react with tolerance and understanding, because intolerance will take advantage of our tolerance.
Today, the Iranian leadership denies the Holocaust openly while preparing the means to perpetrate another. The Iranians have made their goals clear; the question that remains is what the international community will do to prevent it?
Almost 73 years ago, at Évian-les-Bains in France, the good, decent nations of the world met to discuss the situation of the Jews under Nazism.
The Nuremberg Laws had already been depriving Jews of many basic rights for three years.
Those nations who met at the Evian Conference sent a weak and feeble message to Hitler and the Nazis as they began building their plans for the final solution.
Some have even gone so far as to describe the Evian Conference as Hitler’s ‘Green Light for Genocide.’ As proof, only a few weeks later came the deadly and disastrous Kristallnacht. This was Hitler’s answer to the decent nations of the world who did not dare to act against him.
The West needs to learn from Evian and send strong messages followed by the threat of action to let Ahmadinejad and his cohorts know that their behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
Anything less merely looks like encouragement in the eyes of the Iranian leaders.
What we need today is unity against the intolerant. We need to learn from Evian that our actions are being watched and assessed.
Any weakness in this unity will be scrutinized and abused. The global unity against evil must be absolute to face the dangers of today and defeat the intolerant. We cannot repeat past mistakes.
This year let us take another look at history and learn its lessons as we face a looming threat.
Tolerance and acceptance are extremely desirable qualities for an individual, but if not understood correctly, they can prove disastrous in the battle against evil and those intent on destruction.
Let this day of remembrance serve not just as a commemoration of the past but also as a lesson for the future, so that in the future we can once again proudly say the words ‘Never Again.’