This week is one in which the United States is absorbed in Holocaust remembrance.
The House of Representatives unanimously voted to grant the Congressional Gold Medal to Raoul Wallenberg for saving tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust; the legislative effort now moves on to the Senate. In New York, the UN will for the first time observe Holocaust Remembrance Day on the same date that Israel does.
An exhibition from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority opens today at the UN General Assembly building and will run for the next two months. On Monday, President Barack Obama will give a speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington which, according to the White House, will deal with"how the United States is honoring the pledge of "never again" by developing a comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to mass atrocities." The same day in New York, hundreds of diplomats and UN officials are expected to take part in a special conference on the history and influence of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Israel. "The initiative is one of the instruments to learn the lessons of the Holocaust and make sure it never happens again," said the Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor.
All of which makes it all the more bizarre that on the same week as all these events, the American Nazi Party registered its first lobbyist on Capitol Hill. He is John Taylor Bowles, the same guy who celebrated Hitler's birthday in front of the South Carolina State House five years ago. While running for President in 2008, as the American Nazi Party candidate, he pledged to sign an emergency executive order transferring "all non-whites" to their own racial homelands" and purging the army from any non-whites.
A true neo-Nazi
I doubt many, if any, members of Congress will be willing to meet with Mr. Bowles, and hear his views about civil rights, health issues, the Constitution, immigration, agriculture and retirement. Interestingly, American Jewish organizations have been mum about the appearance of the new lobbyist.
Even Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman, who rarely hesitates to issue a statement on any troubling issue, has kept silent.
"I think some of the Jewish groups take cues from us, because it's our expertise. Sometimes the most effective response is to ignore them", explained Deborah Lauter, director of civil rights at the Anti-Defamation League. "To be honest, even if we knew about his lobbying plans before they got to press and major blogs we'd still ignore him.
"John Bowles is a true neo-Nazi, very adept at publicity stunts that give him attention. He tried to run for president in the past, but he has very little if any real following in the neo-Nazi movement. He obviously uses democratic processes and vehicles to promote his anti-democratic ideology. But he is not someone to be taken seriously. With neo-Nazis, you always should be concerned over whether they might act upon their ideology, but he is not considered dangerous," said Lauter.
According to experts at the ADL Center on Extremism, there are currently only about two dozen members of the American Nazi Party, while the largest group, the National Socialist Movement, has approximately 300 members.
"They are clearly anti-Semitic, they are racist, they have anti-immigrant philosophy, and they are linking to issues such as immigration in order to recruit new members," says Lauter. "They can be very sophisticated in their techniques of reaching out, particularly to youth; they have power music concerts, they use video games. It's a hate industry."
But Lauter adds that they are able to spread hate because free speech is protected under the First Amendment. "At ADL we fight hate speech by exposing it. In the case of Bowles, we want to make sure people understand who he is...and help members of Congress exercise their right to reject to meet with him."
Neo-Nazis at Auschwitz
A couple of years ago, I saw a neo-Nazi group on a "courage trip" to Auschwitz, "bravely" taking pictures near the "Arbeit macht frei" gate, posing with a Nazi salute. Witnessing Ku Klux Klan events in the United States, frequently attended by the neo-Nazis, can be no less shocking. Police guard the men walking with "white pride" signs and selling souvenir figurines in white robes and books such as "The Talmud unmasked," "Who really brought the slaves to America?" and "America: free, white and Christian." The American Nazi Party website offers you a chance to buy the comicbook "Hitler was right" for 10 cents, swastika armbands for $15 dollars and swastika flags for $25 dollars.
One of the participants at the annual Klan parade in Pulaski, Tennessee, wearing a swastika button, told me he wears it in order "to scare immigrants." He added that he has "nothing personal against Obama, but blacks are a dangerous race, and if we won't protest now, America will end up like South Africa, because whites will turn into a minority."
Thomas Robb, the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, stressed at the event that the Klan's rituals have "nothing to do with hate - it's our cultural heritage and we are proud of it." If the economic situation was better, he is convinced that "about 2000 would be attending the parade" instead of three dozen people.
Any Israeli, any Jew and any decent human being would feel deeply uncomfortable by this proud display of racism. But local authorities assured me that the event is so marginal it doesn't deserve attention. In fact it was barely covered by the press. I personally met only foreign reporters, from Russia and Italy.
One can surely raise questions about this thin line between freedom of speech and freedom of hate in America. Particularly, in light of incidents like the one in which a Florida pastor burned the Koran, knowing that in less than a week you'll have at least dozen protesters dead in a Muslim country somewhere.
Israel took different approach, preventing hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists from entering the country, and declaring German author Gunter Grass persona non grata following his poem, accusing Israel of having genocidal intentions against Iran.
Headlines in the world press have not lauded Israel as a proud democracy trying to protect itself from sinister troublemakers. Thousands of Israeli students are visiting Auschwitz, in order to learn history but also in order to define their identity as Jews and Israelis. You can hardly call an identity based on national trauma a positive and constructive one. When my son was in first grade, he returned from the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at school and asked: "Why does the whole world hate us?"
I can't imagine going so far with freedom of speech as to allow "Mein Kampf" or "Hitler was right" to be sold in Israel. But such vitriol can hardly be compared to the criticism of Gunter Grass or the European pro-Palestinian activists "fly-in." It's an extreme example, but maybe Israel actually has something to learn from the American Jewish community's reaction to the first Nazi lobbyist on the Capitol Hill.
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