|Abraham H. Foxman
Now that a settlement has been reached between the Swiss banks and Holocaust
survivors, it is worth reflecting on some of the lessons of this two-year
What We Have Learned
- Political pressure is necessary to achieve success: Let us not forget
that it took the Swiss fifty years to address the question of their behavior during the
war and it only happened because Jewish organizations, led by Edgar Bronfman and the World
and American politicians and officials, led by Undersecretary of State
Stuart Eizenstat and Senator Alfonse DAmato made it clear that the Swiss would pay a
heavy price if they did not address the problem. Unfortunately, too many nations
and individuals dont do the right thing on their own and pressure becomes necessary.
|...too many nations and individuals dont do the right thing on their own and
pressure becomes necessary.|
- Justice must be achieved, but never at the expense of the central moral issues
of the Holocaust: As we move forward in educating future generations about the
destruction of European Jewry, we must continue to seek way to make the increasingly
distant events relevant to their lives. It will take creativity and each generation must
be taught in a different way. What must remain constant is that the Holocaust was,
above all, the triumph of evil in the form of an effort to wipe out a people simply
because of who they were, not what they owned. Any effort to recover the funds
that rightfully belonged to Jews and their families but were stolen during and after the
war must not obscure what the Holocaust was about for new generations.
- Anti-Semitism is still alive and well, and all parties to such disputes must
find ways to mitigate these manifestations: We have always believed that
anti-Semitism is a phenomenon that has little to do with Jews and more to do with the
fears, prejudices, and insecurities of other groups and nations. The surge of
Switzerland these troubled two years including anti-Jewish phone
calls, letters, comments indicates that Switzerland has a major challenge before
it. Its leaders ought to examine what they could have done and what they
have to do to deal with residual public prejudices against Jews.
|...the Holocaust was, above all, the triumph of evil in the form of an effort to wipe out
a people simply because of who they were, not what they owned |
Lessons for the American Jewish Community
At the same time, American Jews must look at the way they conducted their campaign.
While acknowledging that pressure was needed and that burgeoning anti-Semitism reflects an
internal Swiss problem, we must examine our own behavior to see if at certain
points we could have worked toward our goals but in a way that would ameliorate an
anti-Semitic backlash. This is not a theoretical exercise because other
situations will surely arise when political pressure may be required. Two areas to
consider are closer consultation with the local Jewish community which
will be the party directly affected by resurgent anti-Semitism; and setting goals
and sticking to them, i.e., keep the pressure on to achieve those goals, but
dont move the goal posts which might lead to cynicism in a public susceptible to the
message of anti-Semites.
- The importance of Jewish unity through a healthy consultative process: Keeping
in mind that the most important objectives are not to lose sight of the tragedy of the
Holocaust and to make sure that funds go to those survivors who have claims and those who
are neediest, it is vital that Jewish organizations and representatives work in unison.
The process has been most successful when Jewish representatives reached agreed upon goals
and presented a united front. If, at this point, some will break rank and go out on their
own and squabbling will emerge concerning the allocation of funds, then we will end up
undoing some of the good that was achieved in this complicated process. The memory
of six million and the future ability to keep that memory alive demand a united community.
- The American government once again demonstrates its unique ability to be of
assistance in protecting the rights of Jewish in the world: With certain tensions
arising in US-Israeli relations these days, the Swiss gold issue reminds us what a unique
friend American Jews have in our own government. Whether it has been the issue of Soviet
Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Syrian Jews, the well-being of Israel, and now, justice from
Switzerland, it has been the willingness of one presidential administration and Congress
after another to work with American Jewry that has helped achieve great things. In dealing
with issues related to the Holocaust, the stark difference of America today as compared to
the 1930s and 1940s can never be overestimated. The American factor should
never be taken for granted; we should express our gratitude and continue to
encourage American policies that lead the effort towards justice, human rights, and
democratic values in the world.