Saturday, May 21st | 21 Iyyar 5782

January 26, 2021 4:50 am

President Biden Takes Office Amid Rising Challenges

avatar by Avi Benlolo


US President Joe Biden delivers his speech after he was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

As Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches, it has new relevance for our times.

In this day and age, when we witness a rising tide of neo-Nazi ideology expressed as “white supremacism,” we need to react and reflect upon how easily ordinary people can be drawn into this movement. Many of the rioters on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 have since been discovered to have links to white nationalist groups. America is moving to designate such groups as “domestic terrorists” to investigate and condemn such groups, and bring the nation back from the brink.

We should not be surprised by the rising tide of white nationalism in general. An American survey released just a few months ago found that the level of ignorance about the Holocaust is shocking. Nationally, 48% could not name a single concentration camp; 63% of respondents did not know that six million Jews were murdered; and 49% have seen Holocaust denial or distortion on social media.

But a divided America is not only bad for our country; it’s especially bad for an American Jewish community that has seen a resurgence of antisemitism and Holocaust denial in the last two decades.

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Even as all this has been happening, a few leftist Jewish groups shockingly began taking aim at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s definition of antisemitism. A consortium of so-called left wing Jewish groups argued that it limits free speech and criticism of Israel.

Though those claims are absurd, some activists in Canada’s left-wing NDP Party began attacking the definition, saying it must be condemned at the party’s upcoming convention. But the IHRA definition, while imperfect, is the best tool the world has to counter hatred of the Jewish people. In fact, it has been accepted by some 34 nations and at least 27 British universities — setting a precedent for other universities to follow.

Canadian institutions should pay attention to recent developments — especially to the movement in Europe to create tools to fight antisemitism. Austria announced last week that it was moving on a national strategy against antisemitism. It will include further protection of synagogues, improved education on Judaism, and prosecution of hate crimes. It is a positive step in line with the recent news that the European Commission has published a booklet with recommendations on combating antisemitism.

On the heels of that development, Ukraine announced that it plans to construct the world’s largest Holocaust memorial at Babyn Yar, where some 100,000 people, mostly Jewish, were shot to death.

Even countries that signed the Abraham Accords have moved to denounce antisemitism and strengthen Holocaust remembrance. Bahrain has adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. And just a few days ago, an organization in Morocco signed a joint memorandum to combat antisemitism alongside the US State Department.

As the Biden administration takes hold, Israel and the international Jewish community are wondering how America will deal with rising antisemitism, and the threats of destruction coming from the Iranian regime. Twitter still refuses to remove Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s Holocaust denial postings or to delete his account completely.

Some say that with Anthony Blinken as Secretary of State, a harder line on Iran will be taken by the Biden administration. During the Senate confirmation hearing last week, Blinken confirmed that he views Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and would not move the embassy back to Tel Aviv.

He further agreed, when asked, that he considers Iran the world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism. He agreed that a Biden administration would be committed to Israel’s security and said that while he remained committed to a two-state solution, “realistically, its hard to see” a near-term solution with the Palestinians.

Blinken added that Biden “is committed to the proposition that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.” Nevertheless, we now know that Iran is working diligently for a possible nuclear breakout as soon as possible.

The Tehran Times, a mouthpiece for the regime, posted a warning to the Biden administration that Israel is trying to make it difficult for “any thaw in Iran-US relations.” It also said that Qatar is ready to mediate between Iran and the US.

We must strive every single day to right the wrongs of our world. We need to strive to eradicate hatred in all its forms and sideline regimes like Iran and others who profess hatred and intolerance. Our world needs so much work, and we must all pull together to recognize these needs.

Amid all this, I have one message for the new administration: President Biden, please don’t send Iran another plane load of cash.

Avi Benlolo is a Canadian human rights activist and the former president and CEO of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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