A Note from Michael Levitt
Calling Out Hate
This week saw a series of events that vividly highlights the importance of calling out hate when it raises its ugly head. Most notable was the latest disturbing antisemitic tirade from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In recent days, a video surfaced of a Fatah Revolutionary Council meeting a few weeks ago in Ramallah, during which, true to form, Abbas delivered a long Holocaust-distorting, conspiratorial rant. He made absurd claims that Adolf Hitler "fought" European Jews not because of antisemitism - since according to Abbas, Ashkenazi Jews are not Semites - but because of the "social role" Abbas attributed to them that included "usury" and dealing with "money." In short, he used age-old antisemitic tropes to blame Jews for the Holocaust.
Abbas has previously promoted other antisemitic conspiracy theories and greatly minimized the Holocaust. In 2018, he said the Holocaust happened because of Jewish "social behaviour" and "financial matters," not antisemitism. Decades earlier, he wrote a doctoral dissertation on what he falsely claimed was "the secret relationship between Nazism and Zionism," and just last year, he accused Israel of committing "50 Holocausts" against Palestinians. Instead of taking steps toward peace, his incendiary, lie-filled rhetoric further fuels division between Israelis and Palestinians and the ongoing conflict.
Given that Abbas is a repeat offender, his latest diatribe should surprise nobody. Nevertheless, it's encouraging to see leaders worldwide denounce his speech. Officials in the US, Canada, European Union and beyond sharply condemned the Palestinian leader’s remarks, with the EU declaring, "Such historical distortions are inflammatory, deeply offensive, can only serve to exacerbate tensions in the region and serve no-one’s interests."
While public condemnations are important, actions make a bigger difference in the fight against hate. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, took a particularly strong stand against Abbas’s rewriting of history, stripping him of the Grand Vermeil medal, the French capital’s highest honour. "The comments you made are contrary to our universal values and the historical truth of the Shoah," she stated in a letter to Abbas. “You can therefore no longer hold this distinction.”
Another laudable example of raising one's voice against hate is Alexander Zverev, a German professional tennis player. As you may have seen earlier this week, Zverev, representing Germany in the US Open tennis championships in Queens, New York, paused his late-night match to express disgust when he overheard a fan singing a former German national anthem phrase associated with the Nazi regime. "It's not acceptable," he yelled out, explaining after the match that "me being German and not really proud of that history," not reacting would be "bad from my side." The fan was ultimately removed from the stadium, sending a message that hate won’t be tolerated at the US Open. Since FSWC shared a video of the incident, people around the world have reacted positively, with many applauding the tennis player for being an upstander.
In the face of hate, people must speak out and take a stand. Whether intended or not, silence amounts to complicity. It allows hate to fester, not holding the haters accountable for their vile actions. As the famous, time-honoured dictum says, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing."
P.S. On behalf of the entire team at FSWC, I send warmest wishes of Mazel Tov to my long-time friend and mentor, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler on his latest honour. On Wednesday, in an official ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem which was broadcast live on Israeli television, Irwin received Israel’s Presidential Medal of Honor for his decades of exemplary work fighting injustice and defending human rights around the world.
Community Update. FSWC joins Toronto mayor, city councillors for early Rosh Hashanah celebration
On Wednesday, FSWC’s Michael Levitt had the pleasure of attending a special early Rosh Hashanah reception at Toronto City Hill, hosted by Councillors James Pasternak and Mike Colle, with Rabbi Yirmi Cohen and his father in attendance to blow the shofar and guide the festivities. We’re thankful to Mayor Olivia Chow and all councillors who were in attendance to celebrate the Jewish New Year.
Red Deer Catholic school board trustee denounced for anti-LGBTQ+ post
This week, FSWC sent a letter to the chair of the Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools board in Alberta, offering Holocaust education to the entire board of trustees after one of them shared a social media post comparing the LGBTQ+ community to the Nazi regime. In the letter, FSWC Director of Education Melissa Mikel expressed the organization’s concerns, stating the post in question is a form of Holocaust distortion and minimization and feeds into rhetoric promoting anti-LGBTQ+ hate and discrimination. Moreover, making this post even more abhorrent is the fact that the Nazis persecuted members of the LGBTQ+ community.
FSWC denounced the post on social media, which was cited in several news articles, including by CTV News.
FSWC applauds German tennis player for speaking out, condemns Palestinian president for antisemitic remarks
In this week’s highlight post, FSWC applauded German professional tennis player Alexander Zverev, who paused a US Open match and spoke out against a fan for singing a former German national anthem phrase associated with the Nazi regime.
Yesterday, FSWC denounced the latest antisemitic tirade from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in which he claimed Hitler “fought” Jewish people not because of antisemitism, but because of “usury” and “money”, promoting an age-old conspiracy theory and Holocaust distortion. It’s one of several antisemitic falsehoods spewed by Abbas in the video shared by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
FSWC participates in anti-hate project for YRDSB
Yesterday, FSWC Director of Allyship and Community Engagement Dan Panneton met with the consulting firm ReiDefine Consultancy, which is developing a Dismantling Hate and Oppression Framework for the York Region District School Board. FSWC is participating as a Subject Matter Expert, and is currently on the "Knowledge Mobilization" phase of the project.
Education Update. FSWC offers educational programs to more than 2,500 Ontario schools
The FSWC education team is gearing up for the new school year ahead with our first sessions next week. In preparation, Tour for Humanity Director Daniella Lurion and Director of Education Melissa Mikel will be hosting an orientation program for the T4H drivers, preparing them for the school year ahead. The FSWC education team has just completed outreach to more than 2,500 Ontario schools, promoting our Tour for Humanity program, in-class workshops and our special education events including Freedom Day and Speaker’s Idol. We are looking forward to a very busy school year ahead!
School boards across Ontario have also ordered thousands of English and French copies of the newly published The Long Road to Justice: The Story of Simon Wiesenthal. This book was written and illustrated by FSWC education team members and was funded, in part, by the Government of Ontario.
Spotlight on New Books
Highlighting recently published non-fiction and fiction involving subjects related to the work of FSWC
The Long Road to Justice: The Story of Simon Wiesenthal
Written by Daniella Lurion and Melissa Mikel, illustrated by Elena Kingsbury
Published by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, 40 pages
The life of legendary Holocaust survivor, Nazi hunter and educator Simon Wiesenthal hits close to home for everyone at FSWC. As the namesake of our organization and whose legacy inspires much of our work, his story offers fundamental lessons about defending freedom, justice and human rights that our education team uses in their workshops and other programs for young people. As a tribute to Wiesenthal and a creative tool for teaching, several FSWC educators have created an excellent book for students that also serves as an age-appropriate introduction to a difficult chapter in history. In addition to helpful background information, it also includes definitions to relevant terms and a pronunciation guide to foreign language placenames.
Daniella Lurion and Melissa Mikel’s easy-to-understand text spotlights seminal, often poignant moments in Wiesenthal’s long, storied life, which involved overcoming tremendous tragedy and other adversity. The authors ably capture the essence of an extraordinary man and the basic values behind his tireless pursuit of justice and his unyielding commitment to help the world learn from the Holocaust. Making the book even more inviting are Elena Kingsbury’s beautiful, evocative illustrations spanning Wiesenthal’s childhood, youth and adulthood, including his excruciating, death-defying experience in Nazi concentration camps.
Published in separate English and French editions with support from the Ontario government, FSWC is distributing the book free of charge to schools for use in classrooms. For more information about The Long Road to Justice, please email the FSWC Education Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FSWC is looking forward to participating in the upcoming Antisemitism: Face It, Fight It conference in Ottawa next month, hosted by CIJA. FSWC President and CEO Michael Levitt will be moderating the United Against Antisemitism panel featuring international experts and multi-faith allies discussing why they have devoted their careers to ensuring their local Jewish communities are fully respected within society and supported to practice their faith safely and securely in any way they choose.
Simon Wiesenthal Center Around the World
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