Ron Lauder: Governments must prioritize the fight against antisemitism

#9 - Diaspora leader: Ronald S. Lauder

President of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder (photo credit: NOA GRAYEVSKY)
President of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder
(photo credit: NOA GRAYEVSKY)
Ronald S. Lauder has served as president of the World Jewish Congress since 2007. An international philanthropist, investor, art collector and former public servant, Lauder also demonstrates his deep commitment to his Judaism through a wide range of other philanthropic endeavors that reach around the world.
As president of the WJC, Lauder meets regularly with heads of state, prime ministers and government representatives to discuss and advance causes of concern to Jews and Jewish communities internationally. He advocates for the importance of supporting Israel, especially in times when the state or its citizens are under attack, and he encourages and aids the development of vibrant Jewish communities around the world.
Lauder serves as chairman of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation, which supports the preservation of the authentic remains of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp. In January 2020, the foundation brought a delegation of more than 100 Auschwitz-Birkenau Survivors and their families to the memorial site to participate in the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camp.

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From 1983 to 1986, Ronald S. Lauder served as United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Affairs. In 1986, he was appointed by President Reagan as US Ambassador to Austria. In that role, he built strong diplomatic bonds between the two countries.
Ambassador Lauder’s experience in Austria heightened his deep appreciation of, and his commitment to, his Jewish heritage. During that time, he initiated what has become a core personal mission – supporting the revitalization of Jewish life across central and eastern Europe in communities that had been devastated by the Holocaust, and remained suppressed under Communism. In 1987, he established The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which supports Jewish schools, camps and community centers in Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine. Ambassador Lauder’s efforts have facilitated thousands of members of the next generation in connecting with their Jewish heritage.
In 1997, Ambassador Lauder was elected as president of the Jewish National Fund and after a successful 10-year tenure, became chairman of the board. From 1999 until 2001, he served as chairman.
How do you advocate countering global antisemitism in the era of the coronavirus pandemic?
Today’s rising tide of antisemitism poses a real and present danger to Jews everywhere. Today’s world is small and interconnected, and that means that both hate and peace can travel quickly – in the case of hate, far too quickly.
It also means that there is opportunity for collaboration both within and among countries, as well as at the international organizational level. Last year, the World Jewish Congress initiated the Special Envoys and Coordinators Combating Antisemitism Forum, where local, national and international officials tasked with rooting out antisemitism exchange views, share best practices and evaluate progress in our shared fight.
Governments must prioritize the fight against antisemitism. Any national government that has not yet appointed a dedicated official as special envoy or coordinator on combating antisemitism should do so right away. Governments must develop comprehensive national strategies to combat antisemitism, with clear goals and plans for implementation, and make follow-up to these strategies a non-negotiable course of action. Governments must also do everything in their power to protect their Jewish citizens, whenever and wherever they choose to gather – be it in their homes, synagogues, community centers, or just walking in the streets.
We cannot let crisis tear us apart. The World Jewish Congress has been fighting antisemitism ever since the organization was established more than 80 years ago. We came into being in the shadow of the greatest and most lethal manifestation of antisemitism in history. We have dealt with it in every manifestation since.
Unfortunately, I do not expect antisemitic hatred to disappear from this earth anytime soon. So, we join with others of good will to fight and try to eradicate it and all other forms of xenophobia and racial, ethnic or religious hatred.
What do you see as the main challenges facing Israel and the Jewish world?
Fighting the scourge of antisemitism worldwide; ensuring that the younger generations of Jews feel connected to and supportive of Judaism and Israel; building and enhancing Jewish unity, including among Judaism’s different religious streams; protecting and preserving Holocaust memory and expanding and strengthening Holocaust education; defending Israel in the public arena and fighting all attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state; and doing everything all of us can to bring about and support peace in the Middle East.
Do you think Israel’s agreement with the UAE and Bahrain will lead to a historic change in the Arab world?
Yes. The agreements do not only normalize relations between Israel and the UAE as well as Israel and Bahrain, I believe they pave the way for region-wide peace. They are evidence that Jews and Muslims can find common ground in order to build a prosperous future together. These agreements will lead to new opportunities in economic cooperation, security, and advancements in business, science, education and the arts. New ideas will lead to new partnerships, and greater understanding and tolerance across borders and religions.
With the number of Holocaust survivors dwindling, how do you see the future of Holocaust remembrance and Holocaust education?
On January 27, International Holocaust Memorial Day, I had the incredible privilege to stand alongside more than 100 survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of that horrific extermination camp. We were there together just a couple of months before the world shut down. Given the pandemic, we almost missed the opportunity to bring the world’s attention to this pivotal anniversary that was a reminder to all of us of the horrors of the Holocaust, as well as of the perseverance and bravery of the survivors.
We must spend as much time as we can with these incredible survivors, to hear their stories and to safeguard the transmission of Holocaust memory from generation to generation. Their stories, their truths, cannot be forgotten and can never be lost. Universal Holocaust education is critical to ensuring that our children and grandchildren fully comprehend the depth of the greatest crime in history, so nothing like it ever happens again. An important component of the preservation of fact is the conservation of the physical evidence left behind by both the victims and the perpetrators, which is why institutions like the Conservation Laboratories at the memorial site at Auschwitz-Birkenau must be funded and supported in their important historical work.
The World Jewish Congress – and I personally – prioritize protecting Holocaust memory and promoting Holocaust awareness and education. Among our initiatives in doing so are a joint project with UNESCO – the online platform, AboutHolocaust.org, which provides Holocaust education – and our efforts to condemn Holocaust denial, trivialization and misrepresentation wherever it rears its ugly head.
EU nations such as Germany, Austria and France are leading the way in making it illegal to deny the Holocaust. The United Nations, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, the US Department of State, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Southern Poverty Law Center, among others, as well as Holocaust scholars – have made exceptionally clear that Holocaust denial and distortion is antisemitic hate speech.
In the United States, we have seen new legislation, including the Never Again Education Act, which is helping to fund and expand Holocaust education in school systems across the country. It was signed into law in May with virtually unanimous, bipartisan Congressional support.
It is critical that advocacy organizations, governments and social media platforms work together to rid the Internet of lies that demonize and dehumanize. Antisemitic myths that perpetuate lies about Holocaust denial pose great danger to Jews and must be discredited and eliminated. Through ongoing and productive conversations with Facebook and other social media platforms, including TikTok, the World Jewish Congress is working to do just that. In August, longtime WJC collaboration with Facebook resulted in the social media giant updating its community standards to focus on removing antisemitic content, as well as “blackface,” from Facebook and Instagram. And now, we are urging Facebook to similarly ban and remove Holocaust denial, another flagrant form of antisemitism.
What is your vision for the World Jewish Congress in the coming year?
The World Jewish Congress has spent the greater part of the last several months concentrating our efforts on supporting Jewish communities and organizations in more than 100 countries as we all have adapted to the challenging situation the coronavirus pandemic has created. We will continue to prioritize this level of community support and engagement in the year to come, as we look to the new year with hope and anticipation.
In my role leading this incredible organization, I commit to using this platform to exercise my responsibility to condemn antisemitism in every instance and to decry scapegoating of Jews and any other minority.
We will work to further Holocaust education – to disarm baseless stereotypes and to quell discriminatory rhetoric – online, offline, in the streets around the world and in the halls of government.
Alongside partners at Jewish organizations of all levels – in communities in countries with Jewish populations large and small, at Jewish institutions and museums, and with national-level advocacy organizations – we will work together to build Jewish unity and support for Israel and each other during what continues to be a time of global upheaval. This pandemic will come to an end and we must emerge stronger than before.