Reflections on turbulent Times

November 25, 2016


From the Desk of Avi Benlolo

I stood on the very podium Hitler spoke from at the Nazi Rally Grounds in Nuremberg, Germany two weeks ago. Those same grounds where thousands of ordinary, especially young Germans were easily motivated to shake hands with the devil are featured in a white supremacist pamphlet published in Toronto.  A caption under a picture of a parade on those grounds reads, "One Million Germans Attended the 1937 Nuremberg Rally. Help us beat Hitler's Record."  

Messengers of hate who have long since World War Two lurked in the shadows have been emboldened by the US election - in America and in Canada. In Ottawa and Toronto, a spate of antisemitic and racist graffiti attacks has targeted synagogues, mosques and churches. This week, a white supremacist meeting was held in downtown Toronto. And in Washington, communities were shocked to see a video gone viral of a white supremacist meeting in which participants call out "Heil Trump" and perform the Nazi salute.  The students we teach daily are pleading with us - "Where are we heading? Is this World War Three? Will we all be deported or put into concentration camps? How could everything be going so wrong?"

And while Hitler's infamous podium and rally grounds are breaking apart and the stands are overgrown with grass and weeds - a testament to the demise of the Nazi ideology for over seventy years - are we in North America witnessing a dangerous resurrection and a growing movement of white supremacy? 

Nazi rally grounds, Nuremberg

Nazi rally grounds, Nuremberg

Apparently so.  

To make matters worse, the re-emergence of white supremacists on the 'alt-right' is only a counterweight to the growth of antisemitism we have been experiencing for over a decade on the 'alt-left'. That antisemitism has come from academia, student organizations, unions and church groups who have adopted politicized positions pushing boycotts and defamation campaigns against Israel - a cover for antisemitism. And thus we are seeing an alignment of hate between the extreme right and the extreme left - who must each be undergoing an identity crisis, having realized their common cause: antisemitism.

Germany has learned from its dreadful past that it must curtail hateful speech to ensure no one stands again on Hitler's podium. In Germany, there are serious legal consequences to wearing or displaying Nazi insignia or promoting antisemitism or racism in general. Free speech is sacrosanct in western democracies. But without a vibrant civil society partnered with educators, governments at all levels and the legal community - all working together to combat hate and expose bigots - humanity's unfortunate habit of hating the 'other' is unleashed. Even today, the world is in turmoil and people are displaced because of hateful ideologies. 

Just this morning I received word that an Imam from London Ontario, speaking about the wildfires raging in Israel said, "May Allah cause the winds to increase and the fires to spread far and wide and burn their illegitimate properties and all their beloved belongings to ashes." 

Hitler is gone. His monuments sit idle in the cold damp shiver-provoking rain of Nuremberg. As we witness events unfold around us, I am hopeful that sanity will prevail - that people will speak out righteously. None of us can afford to let our guard down - to give even one inch to those who wish to discriminate. When I reflect upon the Holocaust, my greatest disappointment is the silence of the millions across Europe who permitted such a travesty to occur through their mute acquiescence. Now is the time to double our efforts, fortify our communities and inoculate our youth against hate propaganda. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

Here is what I do know after reviewing the "Final Solution" documents to the so-called "Jewish question" at the Wannsee House in Berlin, where the fate of 11.5 million Jews was decided over breakfast overlooking a beautiful lake by some of Germany's leading intellectuals in 1942: that antisemitism, no matter from which ideology it arises, is always life threatening.  We should do everything possible to counter it and to promote tolerance and human rights. 

But just in case others don't share those values and accept the olive branch, it was sweet walking through the Israel Air Force hangar last week with an F15 being primed to defend the Jewish state, if necessary. The Jewish people will never again walk through those gas chambers helplessly, but we will do everything we can to save the world from the hate that threatens to engulf us all. 


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