Back from a trip to Israel last week, Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer made a troubling observation while attending Holocaust memorial ceremonies in Atlanta: Attendance was down, and those who did turn out were generally older.
That was followed by an April 24 audit by the Anti-Defamation League noting that anti-Semitic attacks and threats in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama more than doubled in 2016.
Nationally, the organization counted 1,266 incidents — from bomb threats to harassment to outright attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions — an increase of 35 percent over 2015.
To Ms. Shorer, the daughter of Holocaust survivors and the top diplomat for Israel in the Southeast, the confluence of these issues presents a challenge: Only by presenting the lessons of history clearly to the younger generations can present-day discrimination be fought effectively.
“That’s my biggest fear — that remembrance somewhere will be cut.”
“That’s my biggest fear — that remembrance somewhere will be cut, not because it’s being planned ahead of time, but because that’s the nature of people,” she said during a Global Atlanta Consular Conversation luncheon interview Tuesday.
Ms. Shorer was clearly troubled after a recent visit to North Carolina, where government officials revealed accounts of college-student harassment other anti-Semitic incidents.
“It bothers me, because this area was considered the best for Israel and the Jews,” she said, referring to the Southeast U.S.
Based in Atlanta with responsibility for seven states, she recently visited North Carolina and is headed again to Tennessee soon.
So far in 2017, anti-semitic incidents around the U.S. are up 86 percent compared to the same period last year, and the South is no different.
“We have already seen a doubling of the number of incidents in just the first quarter of 2017 in our region, jumping from 16 incidents to 32,” said ADL Southeast Interim Regional Director Shelley Rose. “It is particularly disturbing to see the number of incidents directed toward Jewish youth. I have received several reports of Holocaust ‘jokes’ being shared and offensive comments directed at Jewish youth.”
Ms. Shorer wouldn’t venture a guess as to why such incidents are on the rise, but the ADL report had no problem pointing fingers.
The organization highlighted the 2016 elections as a contributing factor, citing multiple examples where aggressors cited Donald Trump, who won the presidency despite alienating many minorities.
Mr. Trump during the campaign was criticized for retweeting anti-Semitic messages circulated by white supremacist groups. He was also slow to disavow former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who endorsed him. Then, just after his inauguration in January, the new president failed to mention the Jewish people in a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
On Tuesday, however, Mr. Trump unequivocally denounced the systematic murder of 6 million Jews in Europe during a speech at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington attended by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer.
He labeled Holocaust deniers as “an accomplice to this horrible evil” while addressing other forms of anti-Semitism that he said must be rooted out.
Denying the Holocaust is only one of many forms of dangerous anti-Semitism that continues all around the world. We’ve seen anti-Semitism on university campuses, in the public square, and in threats against Jewish citizens. Even worse, it’s been on display in the most sinister manner when terrorists attack Jewish communities, or when aggressors threaten Israel with total and complete destruction.
This is my pledge to you: We will confront anti-Semitism We will stamp out prejudice. We will condemn hatred. We will bear witness. And we will act. As President of the United States, I will always stand with the Jewish people — and I will always stand with our great friend and partner, the State of Israel.
For Ms. Shorer, whose parents eventually made their way from wartime Hungary to Israel, these statements should be a promising sign. Speaking around the same time as Mr. Trump and unaware of his exact remarks, she said clear messages by American leaders are key to stamping out prejudice.
“The administration and Congress have to speak against the phenomenon,” said Ms. Shorer, who in one of her many jobs during a 40-year diplomatic career worked with U.S. Congress in the Israeli embassy.
Beyond official denouncements of the Holocaust, diplomats and civil society and citizens must continue raising the issue more and more, in hopes that it will never be forgotten or repeated, she said.
Ms. Shorer is no stranger to this kind of frank dialogue. As a Hungarian-speaking ambassador for her country to Hungary during the early 2000s, she remembered speaking openly about the way the country’s alliance with Nazi Germany directly affected her family.
“There is no drawing board, there is pushing awareness all the time — speaking and listening.”