Remembering Our Past, Whilst Safeguarding Our Future

Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress

On 26 and 27 January I will be attending the Fourth International Let My People Live! Forum.

Remembering and marking the Holocaust is one of the most important things that we as a society can do. If we fail to remember and learn from the past, then we are surely doomed to repeat past mistakes. Commemorating the Holocaust is essential to educating our children and others who may not know or be sufficiently familiar with the horrific, unique and unprecedented events of the 1930s and 1940s in Nazi Europe.

Educating society on the horrors of the Holocaust is perhaps now, 70 years on from the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and other concentration and death camps, more important than ever. We are seeing a re-emergence of hate and prejudice in Europe as has been demonstrated by incidents like the Charlie Hebdo attack, or the siege on the kosher supermarket in Paris. We also see the term “Nazi” and “Holocaust” banded around far too easily, not least by those ignorantly or cynically comparing Zionism to Nazism, which, apart from being a shameful slander and ludicrously ignorant, is also modern form of Holocaust denial.

Commemorations and symbolic gestures are important and certainly have their place. However, more needs to be done to focus on concrete measures to prevent Europe slipping again into intolerance, inequality and political disenchantment. Now is the time to take action.

The situation in Europe regarding anti-Semitism, wider intolerance and the rise in religious radicalism and hate cannot be allowed to continue. If we go on as we are with communities of all colours and creeds living in fear, it will endanger the mere existence of the European Jewish communities and the safety of Europe in general.

To address this worrying situation, the European Jewish Congress in conjunction with the European Parliament and the Czech Republic will host a two day event in Prague on 26th and 27th January to discuss practical solutions for tackling the rising anti-Semitism and intolerance in Europe. This will be The Fourth International Let My People Live! Forum and will take place on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Senior politicians, diplomats, global figures and experts from around the world will gather, not to talk, commemorate and make symbolic gestures, but to recommend practical solutions and concrete actions.

The aim of the Forum is to spread awareness of the need to act. Europe needs to treat the war on anti-Semitism, intolerance and hate in a clear, unambiguous and holistic manner. Moving away from political correctness and equivocation, to the moral clarity, vision and unity of purpose required to find and implement a solution.

The Forum will debate a new Model Law, sponsored by the European Council On Tolerance and Reconciliation, that we aim to incorporate into the judicial system of every European Member State. The Model European Statute for the Promotion of Tolerance is a pan-European law that was drafted together with a group of leading European experts and legislators, that for the first time deals not only with the general commitment to tolerance, but defines the values that we need to preserve, and defines the limitation of tolerance towards those groups who would seek to cause harm.

The sessions will include a panel focusing on the use and manipulation of various forms of traditional and social media to promote extremist political ideologies. The speakers will discuss dangers of incitement and hate speech and what freedom of expression enables today. The responsibility among media professionals and journalists to ensure that their platforms do not condone intolerance, hate or demonization of minorities, will also be addressed.

A second panel will explore the legislative measures that are and can be used by democratic societies to combat anti-Semitism, racism and hate speech. The panellists will discuss the efficiency of such legal tools and the difficult exercise of balancing rights, responsibilities and freedoms.

The Forum will also debate the role of politics, exploring how extremist political parties and movements have gained so much popular support in the last few years. This panel will focus on the responsibility of political leaders to combat the increasing representation of such parties and the spread of their ideologies.

The situation of European Jews and very soon Europe as a whole if we are not careful, demands from world leaders, lay leaders, religions leaders and ordinary citizens to unite around common goals and values. In the week leading up to Holocaust Memorial Day, I am mindful that the Allied victory in World War II was achieved through unity and a common bond that liberty must triumph over tyranny, that tolerance must prevail over hate. We must put aside political differences and cultural clashes, and work together to protect our citizens and our freedoms.

Commemoration alone is not enough. Powerful speeches about our terrible history are not what we need. We need to deal with the present. We need to safeguard our future and we need to do it with courage and with hope.