Passover. This week we will all eat more matzo then we ever thought possible, hear more commentary about the Haggadah and its multiple messages for our time, and sit back in awe and (hopefully) love at the site at of our extended family circle.
But this Pesach, let’s leave some space for one young Muslim who deserves the world’s attention and support. He is not a martyr and desperately wants to avoid becoming one. But as of now, he and his family are in hiding in an undisclosed location in the Netherlands, because of death threats.
His name is Mehmet Sahin, a doctoral student, who has volunteered to reach out to street youth in the city of Arnhem. A few weeks ago he interviewed a group of Dutch-Turkish youth on Nederlands TV2 during which several declared their unabashed hatred of Jews and open admiration of Hitler. “What Hitler did to the Jews is fine with me,” said one. “Hitler should have killed all the Jews,” said another.
While these teens knew all about the fate of iconic Holocaust child victim, Anne Frank, that knowledge did nothing to deter them from expressing their outright hatred of Jews over and over again, and insisting that everyone at their school harbored similar views. When you view the clip you will see that their smirks and body language confirm a deeply-embedded hatred. Watch the video as one boy smiles as he declares: “What Hitler said about Jews is that there will be one day when you see that I am right that I killed all the Jews. And that day will come.”
From where does such bigotry emanate? Here’s a hint. When Mehmet Sahin reprimanded the youngsters and committed to spend however much time it would take to debunk and remove their ignorance and hate, here is how his neighbors reacted: They collected signatures to demand he leave the area. When Mehmet began to receive death threats, the Mayor of Arnhem, Pauline Krikke, urged him to go into hiding.
And that is where he and his family are today.
Is this the best solution that democratic Netherlands can come up with? A Witness Protection Program for a man guilty of fighting anti-Semitism and standing up for the truth? Are there no consequences for the hate and threats emanating from adults? Are authorities going to question the student’s parents or teachers?
One member of the Dutch Parliament, Ahmed Marcouch says he will raise the scandal in Parliament. “It is horrible that someone has to be afraid because he has done something that we all should do – teach children not to hate.”
Against the backdrop of Anne Frank’s legacy, how today’s Netherlands deals with such deeply embedded hatred of Jews will impact not only on the future of Dutch Jewry but also on the future of Dutch society. SimonWiesenthal, the late Nazi hunter was much revered by the post-WWII generation in the Netherlands. In the 21st century some have forgotten his oft-repeated warning: warned: “Hate often begins with Jews, but history proves, it never ends with the Jews.”
Mehmet Sahin has written these words; “Within a couple of days, I will move to another city of the Netherlands. My personal situation/story is a shame of the European civilization because it is inconceivable that such barbarism can occur in this country. After what happened in the last three weeks, I understood the eternal loneliness and pain of the Jewish population. In the rest of my life, I will tell the whole world that we all must resist this aggression…”
Dayenu – enough good guys being martyred. We don’t need another martyr. Those kids in the Netherlands and their peers in Europe need Mehmet Sahin and other heroic messengers of truth, peace and tolerance. While me may not be able to guarantee his future we can let him know today, he is not forgotten. Push the pause button on our Matzoth marathon and take a moment to send a message of solidarity to Mehmet c/o email@example.com and together we will let him know he is not alone.
Rabbi Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.