Antisemitism is a hatred that knows no boundaries and has been adopted by multiple ideologies.
According to Dr. Moshe Kantor, who initiated the idea of holding the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem on January 23, its message will be clear: “antisemitism has no place in our global society.”
In an exclusive interview, Kantor says he is “trying to do something extraordinary for the future of the Jewish people” by gathering more than 45 world leaders to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The event, titled “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism,” is being hosted by Yad Vashem at the invitation of President Reuven Rivlin.
“We are building a global coalition of leaders who can send a strong message that will resonate around the world that antisemitism, in all its forms, is absolutely unacceptable,” says Kantor, who is both the president of the World Holocaust Forum Foundation and the European Jewish Congress. “It is essential that there be a holistic roadmap to combat hate against Jews, which is at its highest levels since the Holocaust and is causing many Jewish communities to fear for their future.”
Kantor, 66, who lives with his wife, Anna, in London and has four sons and a daughter, has served at the helm of the European Jewish Congress since 2007, reelected most recently in 2016. His battle against antisemitism has won him numerous awards from European heads of state, including the French Officer of the National Order of the Legion of Honor (2014) and the Italian Knight’s Grand Cross of the Order of Merit (2013).
“The pledge ‘to remember and never forget’ should be a pledge for all of humanity, and not just for the Jewish people,” Kantor says. “The pledge to fight antisemitism and to ensure ‘never again’ should be an international pledge, not a Jewish one.”
Jewish life is once again under threat in Europe, he notes. “It is under threat from the day-to-day harassment and attacks on the streets, in schools, at universities, online and even in their own homes. It has become so bad that the overwhelming majority of Jews in Europe no longer feel safe.”
Antisemitism, Kantor says, is a hatred that knows no boundaries, and has been adopted by multiple ideologies. “Jews are relentlessly attacked by the Left, the Right and is now in the mainstream,” he says. “This is a pivotal point in history where the leaders of the world have to stand up and act. Words are not enough, and I conceived of the World Holocaust Forum to be a place where we can create an action plan to aggressively fight back against antisemitism.”
Founded in 2005 by Kantor, the World Holocaust Forum Foundation is an international organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and its lessons for all of humanity, including the battle against rising antisemitism. Past World Holocaust Forum events have taken place at Auschwitz, Babi Yar and Terezin, in cooperation with Yad Vashem, with the highest-level political and diplomatic representation.
Among the leaders who have confirmed their attendance at this year’s event are Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen and Britain’s Prince Charles. US Vice President Mike Pence will be a guest of honor, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi will lead a delegation of Democratic members of the House of Representatives.
“It is a great honor for us that all of these important leaders will be attending the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem,” Kantor says. “They are figures representing strong moral authority and many have long been recognized as leading voices against intolerance, hate and antisemitism.”
Also attending will be the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, and David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, along with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The program comprises speeches by select heads of state, a Holocaust survivor and the event hosts, including Rivlin, Kantor and Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev as well as video clips and musical interludes performed by an orchestra and an international choir.
Asked what prompted him to convene the event, Kantor says “we need a place to reflect on the situation regarding global morality and how it manifests itself in our societies.”
He explains, “With the alarming rise of antisemitism over the past years, and the 75th anniversary milestone, I thought that Israel, the Jewish State and Yad Vashem in particular would be the most suitable place to hold it. Especially as we connect it not only to Holocaust remembrance, but also to the urgent need to fight antisemitism.”
He says his message to world leaders attending the event and to the world at large is that one of the lessons of the Holocaust is that “inaction (by the international community) left Europe’s Jews to their fate.”
“The crisis of antisemitism is a slippery slope towards a global catastrophe and to tolerate the crisis of antisemitism is to normalize extremism. What was true in Nazi Germany is true today. Extremist leaders seek to gain executive power by democratic means.”
Asked what impact he hopes the Yad Vashem gathering will have, Kantor says, “We hope that this event will be the beginning of an international effort to confront antisemitism. We need a moral majority of leaders to come to Jerusalem and say that it is enough and now is the time to stand united and fight antisemitism.
“We need every country to adopt and implement strong educational and legislative measures. We also need tougher punishments for incitement and hate-speech, even from the early stage of words, online and offline. Because as we know, words lead to action and action could quickly lead to bloodshed and death.”
Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, I ask Kantor if he thinks the world has learned its lesson. “Clearly, the world has not learned the lesson well enough,” he replies. “Today we see rising antisemitism on our streets almost every day. For the first time since the Holocaust, Jews are being forced to hide their Jewish symbols.
“The world’s moral status is the greatest risk to a global catastrophe, and that is why the level of antisemitism in the world should serve as a moral barometer and the Holocaust should be remembered as a lesson that should never be forgotten.”
Asked how he views the phenomenon of rising antisemitism in Europe, the US and across the world, Kantor says, “As the president of the European Jewish Congress, I can sadly inform you that today, 75 years after the end of the Holocaust, Jewish life in Europe is under threat. Today, for the 2.5 million Jews of Europe, antisemitism is a very significant issue. It’s the reality of our daily lives. More than 80% of Jews feel unsafe in Europe. Jews are being targeted with hate and violence every single day, on the streets, in schools, universities, synagogues and on the Internet and social media.
“Fifteen years ago when we started the World Holocaust Forum there was antisemitism everywhere. However, it was latent. Now we face a real crisis of antisemitism! Every year, antisemitic attacks become more violent. Society enables antisemitism and it penetrates the halls of governments.
“We see the extremists from the Right and the Left and radical Islam – seeking to take over the executive power in many countries. We see it spreading to the United States, with the mass killing at synagogues and Jews feeling unsafe and singled out on the streets and on university campuses.”
The recent spate of attacks on Jews in the US in general, and New York in particular, show that antisemitism is now a global pandemic, he says. “Unfortunately, we are witnessing how identifiable Jews and Jewish institutions are open targets for anti-Semites from all backgrounds and ideologies,” he says. “We have learned the hard way in Europe that extremism, whether Left or Right, is connected in its disdain for Jews and one continually feeds off the other. We call on all leaders of the world to take the fight against antisemitism more seriously and clamp down on those who spread hate because eventually it becomes a problem for society as a whole.”
Asked how Israel can help in the fight against antisemitism, Kantor says,
“Israel gives strength to the Jews of the Diaspora. The State of Israel continues to see itself as responsible for the Jewish people and this is a good thing. If in the past, Israel fought its wars in its own backyard, today, the frontlines of those who seek to destroy the Jewish state are in our backyards – in our schools, universities, online and in the streets.
“Together, as a united people we will win over our enemies. We have seen that when the Jewish people are united we overcome all adversities.
We must keep up an open and honest dialogue for a positive Jewish future. In the past, it was mainly a two-way dialogue between Israel and the US; I am proud that in recent years there has been greater understanding that European Jewry is once again standing strong as an equal partner.”
Kantor concludes with a warning and a plea.
“To live as a Jew today, almost anywhere in the world, is a daily reminder that you are a target,” he says. “This means that if nothing will be done, some Jewish communities will slowly disappear, and Jewish life could come to an end in places where it flourished for hundreds and thousands of years. So, we need the silent majority to stand up and stop antisemitism, not only for the Jews, but for their own society’s moral and physical wellbeing.
“We need to stop the threat of antisemitism which is affecting every Jewish community and our societies as a whole. Because as we saw eight decades ago, the alternative is unthinkable. Just as the threat of antisemitism knows no borders, our response must be an international effort.”