Category Archive: Human Rights

Controversial antisemitism bill dies in House

controversial-antisemitism-bill-dies-in-house-620x350(JTA) — The House of Representatives ended this congressional session without taking action on a bill targeting campus anti-semitism, a measure that had been backed by mainstream Jewish groups, criticized by civil libertarians and passed unanimously by the Senate on Dec. 1. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, did not advance the bill through his committee, a congressional staffer told JTA. Congress formally ends its session on Monday afternoon, but the session is pro forma and most members are already back in their districts for a Christmas break. With the end of the session, bills still in committee lapse. The vast majority of bills don’t make it through Congress because of time considerations, although Jewish Insider reported Friday that Goodlatte opposed “rushing” the bill through the House without adequate study. The antisemitism bill’s sponsors likely will reintroduce a version of the bill in 2017, their staffers told JTA.

The bill outlined when criticism of Israel crosses into antisemitism, citing the “three D’s” first advanced by Natan Sharansky, the Israeli politician and former prisoner of the Soviet gulag: demonization, double standards and delegitimization. The act billed itself as a tool “to help identify contemporary manifestations of antisemitism, and includes useful examples of discriminatory anti-Israel conduct that crosses the line into anti-Semitism.”

The Anti-Defamation League, which led lobbying for the legislation, said the bill, should it become law, “addresses a core concern of Jewish and pro-Israel students and parents: When does the expression of antisemitism, anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Zionist beliefs cross the line from First Amendment-protected free expression to unlawful discriminatory conduct?”

Critics of the bill included Michael Macleod-Ball, chief of staff of the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative office in Washington, who told The Forward that the bill could impinge on the free-speech rights of critics of Israel. The act “opens the door to considering anti-Israel political statements and activities as possible grounds for civil rights investigations,” he said. Kenneth Stern, who as the American Jewish Committee’s former specialist on antisemitism and extremism wrote a similar definition of antisemitism later adopted by the Department of State, told The Forward that the congressional version is “both unconstitutional and unwise.” A number of left-wing and pro-Palestinian groups had criticized the legislation.


Germany threatens to fine Facebook over hate speech

Justice Ministry checking whether it would be possible to make social networking sites legally liable for illegal posts

000_j6456-e1481833104676-635x357BERLIN, Germany (AP) — German officials are stepping up their criticism of Facebook, saying the social network is doing too little to stop hate speech and could face stiff fines unless it deletes illegal content faster.

In an interview published Friday, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said his ministry was checking whether it would be possible to make social networking sites legally liable for illegal posts.

“Of course in the end, we also have to think about fines, if other measures fail to work,” Maas told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “That would be a strong incentive to act quickly.”

Germany has seen a sharp increase in vitriolic posts on social media in recent years amid a heated public debate over the influx of more than a million migrants since the start of 2015.

The country has laws against speech deemed to be racist, defamatory or inciting violence — a response to Germany’s Nazi legacy. But authorities have struggled with the deluge of often anonymous postings on foreign-owned websites.

Facebook, based in California, says it takes the issue seriously and has hundreds of contractors reviewing posts at a Berlin office. But Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Friday that staff members there complain of inconsistent rules and overwork.

Thomas Oppermann, a senior lawmaker in Maas’ Social Democratic Party, told German weekly Der Spiegel that dominant social media sites like Facebook could be required to delete illegal posts within 24 hours or face fines up to 500,000 euros ($522,000).

Facebook also could be compelled to distribute corrections that reach the same number of people as the original post, Oppermann suggested, something traditional media companies in Germany are already required to do.

The proposals come as German officials warn that the country’s upcoming general election is likely to be heavily affected by hate speech and fake news spread on social media.

The nationalist Alternative for Germany party, which has a strong presence on Facebook, criticized the government’s proposals as an attempt to limit free speech.


AmeriCorps launches recruitment drive for volunteers for Holocaust survivors

WASHINGTON (JTA) –AmeriCorps-VISTA, the federal anti-poverty volunteer program, launched its recruitment drive for volunteers who will assist Holocaust survivors.
The program is seeking volunteers for 14 agencies operating in seven states, according to a release Thursday from the Jewish Federations of North America, one of the partner agencies.
The states are: California, Illinois, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and New York and the year-long volunteer stints are expected to begin in the fall.
Vice President Joe Biden announced the partnership with AmeriCorps in December in outlining plans to assist impoverished Holocaust survivors.
According to JFNA, there are about 113,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States, of which about 25 percent live below the poverty line.
“In order to remain in their homes and communities, Holocaust survivors need home health care, assistance with transportation, help paying medical and dental bills, and rental assistance or affordable housing,” the JFNA said in its release.
Other partnering agencies include the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies; Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles; Jewish Child and Family Services and CJE Senior Life in Chicago; the Alpert Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Palm Beach County; the Ruth and Norman Rales Jewish Family Services of Boca Raton, Fla.; Jewish Family Service of Broward County; Jewish Community Services of South Florida; Jewish Family Services of Metropolitan Detroit; the Jewish Social Service Agency in Greater Washington; Samost Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern New Jersey; Selfhelp Community Services in New York and UJA-Federation of New York.

Holocaust Study Debunks Myth of ‘Ungrateful Jew’

Polish Letters Show Enduring Ties to Rescuers


(Haaretz) — In Poland, they were known as the ungrateful Jews. These were Jews who survived the Holocaust because of the selfless acts of thousands of Polish rescuers who put their lives on the line for them but were never properly thanked.
As soon as the war was over, these Jews headed out to greener pastures overseas, never again to establish contact with those who served as their guardian angels.
It’s one of the popular narratives that emerged in post-war Communist Poland, but according to Holocaust scholar Joanna Michlic, it’s a big myth.
“Yes, it’s true that many Jews broke off contact with their rescuers,” she says, “but that was done deliberately to protect them because anti-Semitism was so rampant at the time that had suspicions been raised that they had saved Jews, they would have been punished by their neighbors for being traitors. So while many Jews would have like to stay in contact with their rescuers after the war, they decided it was best to stay away.”
Michlic, a visiting Fulbright scholar this semester at the University of Haifa Strochlitz Institute for Holocaust Research, is currently working on a book about relations between Polish rescuers and the Jews they saved in the post-war period.
Her findings are based on a large cache of letters she discovered at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. It includes more than 500 letters written by Jewish survivors to Jewish organizations on behalf of their rescuers, and by Jewish survivors to their rescuers in the first several years after the war.
“We have letters from survivors who were already in Displaced Persons camps in Germany, survivors in kibbutzim in Italy who wanted to make sure that their rescuers would receive parcels of food for Christmas, clothes for the winter and basic necessities,” recounts Michlic, who is both founder and director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Project on Families, Children and the Holocaust and a history professor at the University of Bristol in England. “We know of many rescued who wrote to the Jewish aid committees at the time to ask for loans to repay their rescuers. These letters are absolutely essential for shattering the myth of the ungrateful Jew.”
The letters also reveal, she notes, that contrary to popular belief, many Jews continued to live with their rescuers after the war and did not immediately take off. “In some cases, especially when the survivors were small children, they could be found with their rescuers even in 1947,” she reports.

Read more:

Holocaust Museum Urges Ukraine To Examine Its History of Anti-Semitism

Holocaust Museum Urges Ukraine To Examine Its History of Anti-Semitism
On Trial: Menakhem Mendl Beilis, whose blood libel trial took place in Ukraine in 1913, with his family in the Russian Empire of the 1910’s.

As Ukraine grapples with political upheaval and threats to its territorial integrity, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is confronting the country’s post-revolution government with another, no less difficult challenge: contending with its past treatment of Jews.

The museum has urged the new government in Kiev to set up an international commission to examine its troubled relations throughout the 20th century with the country’s Jewish community.

Aware of the country’s current turmoil, a delegation of museum officials visiting Kiev presented the proposal as an idea, not necessarily as an immediate priority to be implemented quickly. But according to museum director Sara Bloomfield, the initial response from Ukrainian officials was positive.

“In this country — you can’t really separate communism, Nazism and anti-Semitism,” Bloomfield said in a June 8 phone interview from Kiev. She noted that discussing anti-Semitism and teaching about it in Ukraine should span from the early twentieth century, including the infamous 1913 blood libel trial of Menachem Mendel Beilis through the Stalinist persecution of Jews and the collaboration of some Ukrainian nationalists with the Nazis during the Third Reich’s occupation of the country.

Read more:

Audi Admits Using 3,700 Concentration Camp Workers

German Car Giant ‘Shocked’ by Extent of Slave Labor

A new report by German car company Audi shows that 3,700 concentration camp inmates were forced to work in its factories during World War II.

Audi had previously acknowledged its role in exploiting forced labor, paying millions of dollars into a fund set up by the German government to compensate victims, according to the Daily Mail. But Monday’s report shows the extent of Audi’s complicity with Nazi Germany.

In a deal brokered with the Nazi SS, Audi had a total of 20,000 forced laborers working in its factories. The SS had six labor camps built for the company, which was then known as Auto Union.

The company also used its factories to build tanks and aircraft engines for the Nazis, according to the report.

Audi follows BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen in commissioning a report on its activities under Nazi Germany.

“I’m very shocked by the scale of the involvement of the former Auto Union leadership in the system of forced and slave labor,” Audi works council head Peter Mosch told German magazine Wirtschaftswoche, according to the Times of Israel. “I was not aware of the extent.”

Read more

From the Archive: French anti-Semitism deja vu


Concern about anti-Semitism in France has been mounting in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the head of France’s Jewish umbrella organization, told a New York audience that French Jews are increasingly threatened by far-right parties, disaffected Arab and Muslim youth, and anti-Israel sentiment.

A few days later, a woman yelling anti-Semitic slurs assaulted a Jewish mother and her baby at a Paris bus stop. And a recent survey indicated that almost 75 percent of French Jews were considering emigrating.

In July 1934, A. Herenroth, JTA’s Paris correspondent published an essay in three installments detailing the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in France, a problem that the author said had been relatively dormant since the Dreyfus Affair, when a Jewish major was wrongly convicted of treason.

Herenroth wrote that anti-Semitic newspapers were proliferating and that while German Jewish refugees — who began arriving after Hitler’s rise to power — had initially been welcomed, they were starting to spur resentment. Numerous French leftists were accusing the new arrivals of trying to drag France into a war with Germany.

Read more

Auschwitz commandant grandson combats Europe’s neo-Nazis

Rainer Hoess, who sports a Star of David around his neck, is campaigning against right-wing extremism ahead of EU elections

Rainer Hoess was 12 years old when he learned he was the grandson of a man who oversaw the murder of a million people as commandant of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

Growing up in post-war Germany, Hoess failed to understand why his school gardener — a Holocaust survivor — was consistently harsh towards to him, until a teacher revealed the terrible truth.

“I knew nothing about Auschwitz, I knew nothing about my family, I only knew that my grandfather was in the war like thousands of other grandfathers were,” Hoess told AFP.

Rudolf Hoess was the longest-serving commandant of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in occupied Poland that became an enduring symbol of Nazi Germany’s genocide of European Jews.

“For a 12-year-old boy it’s huge information,” his grandson said.

Now aged 48, Hoess has turned his family burden into the driving force of a full-time commitment to fighting right-wing extremism.

He was in Sweden recently to promote a campaign against the rise of neo-Nazi movements across Europe, launched Wednesday ahead of the upcoming European elections.

“Right-wing extremists are not stupid,” he said. “They are growing, gaining ground, very slowly but very effectively.”

Read more