Hannah Rosenthal
Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism
Afternoon Keynote Address - Polish-Jewish Dialog: New Opening
Georgetown Conference Center - Salon H in Leavy Hall, Washington, DC
December 7, 2011

Good afternoon, and thank you, Professor Wroblewski, for inviting me to participate in this conference. It is a pleasure to be here with Ambassador Kupiecki of Poland and Ambassador Oren of Israel as well as other distinguished guests and speakers.

In my role as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, I share on my Facebook page a weekly compilation of news items about anti-Semitism throughout the world called “What We’re Hearing.” And from what I’m hearing, this conference is aptly titled. There have been many indications that Polish-Jewish dialogue has entered a truly mature stage, marked by openness, seriousness, and readiness to address even the most painful and sensitive aspects of Polish relations with Jewish groups both inside and outside of Poland. I will not sugar-coat the troubling incidents of anti-Semitism that continue to be reported in Poland, as well as in other European countries and other regions of the world. However, with all the forward-leaning activities taking place in Poland in recent years around Jewish relations and combating anti-Semitism, this conference is an excellent way to exchange views and continue the constructive engagement. And I am pleased to see many potential partners here today.

The Obama Administration has an unwavering commitment to combat hate and promote tolerance in the world. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have honored me with this appointment and I bring you greetings from the Secretary of State for a successful and productive conference.

We are attempting – through traditional diplomacy, public messaging and grassroots programs all over the world -- to confront and combat hatred in all its ugly forms, whether it is hatred directed against people on account of their religion, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation or differences of political opinion or due to their country of origin. Anti-Semitism is one such form of hatred rooted in historical forces that go far beyond any current policy debate. If we want to change this trend, we need to stand together in our efforts to promote tolerance, acceptance and compassion.

I have been on the job for two years now. Last week I testified before the Congress’s Helsinki Commission about anti-Semitism in Europe. I must admit, there are troubling signs of renewed anti-Semitism throughout Poland and Europe. But I am pleased to be able to point to several positive examples in Poland, from the highest levels of government to individual citizens, where action is being taken to eradicate decades-old canards and stereotypes.

This September, Poland, which currently holds the European Union Presidency, declined to attend the commemoration of the Durban Conference. We have seen Poland’s government, including President Bronisław Komorowski and Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski respond strongly to anti-Semitic statements and acts, including the desecration of the Jedwabne Holocaust memorial with the words “they were flammable,” and the rearranging of bushes which formed the Star of David into a swastika at a memorial in Białystok. Speaking of these incidents as well as other forms of assault against Jews and other minorities, Foreign Minister Sikorski said, “There is no room for such behavior in Polish society -- even if it is the work of but a small group of extremists. We stand in solidarity with all those who feel personally affected by these despicable acts.”

The trivialization, and in some cases even glorification, of the Holocaust is one of the trends I’ve tracked around the world. One of the most visible places it surfaces in Europe is at soccer – football – matches, where anti-Semitic and other racist slogans, signs, and chants have become an all-too-common phenomenon. Here, again, Poland is taking a stand against anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. Established in 1996, “Never Again” is a monitoring and educational organization which publishes material on hate crimes and racism in Poland. Marcin Kornak, co-founder and chairman, was honored earlier this year with an award -- the Officer’s Cross of the Order Polonia Restituta -- from Polish President Bronisław Komorowski. The Polish Football Association also honored him with the 2010 UEFA-backed European Football Supporters Award. He has organized several campaigns against manifestations of racism during Polish football events and hosted a conference, which launched the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) program, a new anti-racism initiative. Government ministers, activists and former football stars were all in attendance. This program aims to confront racism at the UEFA European Championships in Poland and Ukraine next year, two countries where we have seen a prevalence of anti-Semitism among football fans.

There is equal interest in improving Polish-Jewish relations here in the United States. The Jan Karski U.S. National Centennial Campaign was established in late May, with an inaugural dinner at the Polish Consulate in New York. It’s appropriate that we are here at Georgetown University, Professor Karski’s home for 40 years, to honor his heroism. He was a courier of the Polish Underground in Nazi German-occupied Poland and was the first credible witness to inform the Allies about the Holocaust when there was still time to act, and – after the war -- one of the earliest Polish proponents of the Polish-Jewish dialogue. As Holocaust survivors, death camp liberators, and righteous Gentiles reach their eighties and nineties, the window is closing on those able to provide eyewitness accounts. Thus, we have a heightened sense of urgency to promote Holocaust education, create museums and memorials, and carry the memory and lessons of the Holocaust forward.

A native of Poland, a naturalized American, and an honorary citizen of Israel, Karski was a great humanitarian. In recognition of his lifetime achievement, a campaign is underway to honor him, on what would be his 100th birthday in 2014, with the Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian honor. In addition, the American Jewish Committee has created an award in Karski’s name, signifying the high esteem in which the Jewish community holds his actions.

In July 2010, Secretary Clinton visited the Schindler Factory Museum in Krakow and announced a U.S. contribution to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation’s endowment, in order to preserve this site for posterity. There she commented how “the courage of Oskar Schindler and Minister Bartoszewski gives us proof that, in the face of the worst that humanity is capable of, there are among us individuals who are defiant, and who are unwilling to accept that alternative reality.” Minister Władysław Bartoszewski, who advises Polish Prime Minister Tusk on International Dialogue, was a prisoner in Auschwitz and is the chairman of the International Auschwitz Council. During the Nazi occupation of Poland he was a key member of “Zegota,” a Polish resistance organization dedicated to saving the Jews. He noted his “duty and commitment to work for, to commemorate” the Holocaust. In fact, there already exist in Poland several monuments and sites commemorating the suffering of Polish Jews.

In addition to righteous individuals, past and present, people around the country are expressing renewed interest in the rich history and culture of Polish Jews. Last year, I enjoyed the wonderful Jewish heritage Festival in Krakow. This year, I understand that the Jewish community of Krakow has adopted a new slogan, "Never Better," referring to the good relations among all communities in the city. Jewish heritage festivals in Krakow, Warsaw, and other Polish cities are celebrations of the shared history of Poles of all religions. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which will celebrate and educate future generations about the centuries-long history of Jewish contributions to Polish culture, is being constructed, adjacent to the Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. During his May 2011 visit to Warsaw, President Obama visited the Monument and the museum construction site. In one of the most moving events of his Warsaw visit, President Obama met with Holocaust survivors and promised them to return for the Museum’s opening in 2013. And it’s not just major cities in Poland where curiosity about the Jewish past has been piqued. I hear there is an interest among Polish youth in their genealogy, curious to see if they have Jewish ancestry.

Last summer, Secretary Clinton launched an initiative to strengthen civil society across the globe and she instructed all of us in the State Department and all our overseas posts to treat civil society as strategic partners. Partnering with opinion leaders from civil society as well as government -- and building bridges among ethnic and religious groups -- is the only way to move from a culture of fear and negative stereotyping to one of acceptance and understanding; from narrow mindedness to an embrace of diversity; from hate to tolerance and mutual respect.

Educating our youth is a priority – one of my priorities. They are our future. Their values and opinions form at a very early age.

In October, members of my staff met with a group of highly motivated and creative Polish educators for a roundtable discussion on Holocaust education. This group explained how they initiate programs in their classrooms as well as provide often free training on both the regional and national level in Poland. In addition, they actively encourage interaction between Polish and Israeli students and teachers, hosting exchanges and visiting students.

The United States, through its participation in organizations such as UNESCO and the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research, which has just changed its name to the International Holocaust Remembrance Organization, helps to train educators to teach about the Holocaust. The Department of State, jointly with the Task Force, for instance, has given a grant to Centropa, an American-run non-governmental organization based in Vienna that both documents Jewish life in Central Europe and works with educators to create unique and creative Holocaust education programming. In this effort Centropa will focus in part on Poland. The State Department has also given UNESCO a grant to expand its Holocaust Education program and teach education ministries about using Holocaust Education as a tool to prevent hate-based violence targeting religious, racial, and ethnic groups. In a similar fashion the Department of State, together with the Task Force, provided a grant that has enabled experts from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to train teachers in neighboring Lithuania.

No government should produce materials that spread intolerance of members of any religious, racial, or ethnic group, or teach such intolerance as part of its educational curriculum. We use old and new technologies to communicate with the public about human rights, respect and democracy. We strongly support the freedom for all people to express their views, even distasteful ones, both offline and online – but we also work to promote respect and to eradicate ignorance. We are enhancing our cultural and educational exchanges to showcase our civil society organizations, and to learn from the successes of other countries in confronting and combating hate in all of its forms.

I want to note an example of efforts I am engaged in to combat anti-Semitism.

My colleague Farah Pandith, the Special Representative to Muslims Communities, and I have launched a virtual campaign called “2011 Hours Against Hate,” using Facebook. We are asking young people around the world to pledge a number of hours to volunteer to help or serve a population different than their own. We ask them to work with people who may look different, or pray differently or live differently. For example, a young Jew might volunteer time to read books at a Muslim pre-school, or a Roman Catholic at a Hindu clinic, or a Muslim at a Baha’i food pantry. We want to encourage them to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

Farah and I began meeting with hundreds of young people earlier this year – students and young professionals – in Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Spain – countries that in their past celebrated Jews and Muslims co-existing and thriving together. They want to DO something. They expressed strong interest in the campaign – and we have already surpassed our goal of 2011 hours pledged against hate; 16,000 hours have been volunteered! More recently, Farah and I met with youth and interfaith leaders in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon, discussing reaching out to others and increasing respect and understanding among different religious groups. Really, we have just begun.

My approach to combating anti-Semitism is not just to preach to the choir, so to speak, but to join in partnership with non-Jews in condemning it – government, civil society, international institutions, business leaders, labor unions, and media. I am pleased that the government of Poland has taken a strong and serious interest in combating anti-Semitism, and I am pleased to see many potential partners here today.

So while I fight anti-Semitism, I am also aware that hate is hate. Nothing justifies it – not economic instability, not international events, not an isolated pastor burning a Koran.

When history records this chapter, I hope it will reflect our efforts to build a peaceful, fair, just, free world where people defend universal human rights and dignity. This is not a vision to be dismissed as naïve idealism – it is a real goal that should never be far from our thoughts.

Since the beginning of humankind, hate has been around, but since then too, good people of all faiths and backgrounds have striven to combat it. The Jewish tradition tells us that “you are not required to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

Together, we must confront and combat the many forms of hatred in our world today. Where there is hatred born of ignorance, we must teach and inspire. Where there is hatred born of blindness, we must expose people to a larger world of ideas and reach out, especially to youth, so they can see beyond their immediate circumstances. Where there is hatred whipped up by irresponsible leaders, we must call them out and answer as strongly as we can – and make their message totally unacceptable to all people of conscience.

As I noted when I began, I believe this conference reflects the times we live in. Together, we are building bridges, creating partnerships, eradicating stereotypes, teaching respect, and speaking out against anti-Semitism not only in Poland but around the world. Let us continue to make progress in the role of Jews in Poland, using today’s conference as a springboard.