OTTAWA — Two days before Remembrance Day, and on the eve of the anniversary of Kristallnacht, veteran CBC reporter Joe Schlesinger urged Canadians to never forget the lessons of the Holocaust and argued that the uproar over Israel’s war in Gaza last winter is an example of the “new” anti-Semitism.
As keynote speaker at the launch of Ottawa’s Holocaust Education Week, Schlesinger described the events of his own life, both as a child survivor of the Holocaust whose parents both perished and as a witness to, and reporter of, the atrocities of many wars around the world.
For more than 40 years, Schlesinger’s award-winning reports for CBC News brought the world – and many of its horrors – into the living rooms of Canadians. Now officially retired, he still contributes occasional documentaries and reports, and it was obvious from the audience of more than 600 people that his name is still a tremendous draw.
The octogenarian walked onstage with the aid of a cane and preferred to sit during his presentation, yet once he began to speak, his voice filled the huge room, its familiar tones comforting yet authoritative, and the audience listened with rapt attention.
Schlesinger was very clear where he stands on the Israeli-Palestinian question.
“We needn’t approve of everything that Israel does, but we must try to understand… to put ourselves in their shoes,” he said.
“You and I are not in Israel, having to cope with the fact that we could be killed at any moment and having to deal with people that want to push us into the sea… let’s face it – the Palestinians are often their own worst enemies. Not only do they fight amongst themselves, but they often antagonize other Arabs. The Palestinians are certainly not loved by other Arabs.”
The Palestinians are supported by other Arabs only against Israel, Schlesinger said.
The world’s uproar about the supposedly “disproportionate” response of Israel during last winter’s hostilities in Gaza is, according to Schlesinger, an example of the “new” anti-Semitism, which is rampant around the world in institutions such as churches and universities.
“In the end, all the world loves an underdog,” he said, and Israel is no longer seen as an underdog. “This is no longer about Gaza, it is about Israel as a Jewish state.”
Schlesinger added: “We must never forget how the world stood by as defenceless Jews were slaughtered. For those of us who survived the Holocaust… our most important achievement is that we have multiplied. We have children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.”
Schlesinger was one of 669 Jewish children saved by Nicholas Winton, a 29-year old London stockbroker who organized eight rescue missions that took children from Prague to the safety of Great Britain. According to Schlesinger, those 669 children have grown to a “community” of 5,000.
“We must never forget the evil that happened, but for our own sakes, for the sake of our children and grandchildren and those after them, we must always remember, as Anne Frank did, that there is goodness in people…we don’t all have to love each other, but we can’t afford to go on hating each other.”