President, Human Rights First
Michael Posner has been at the center of the struggle for international human rights for thirty years. Today, Posner is pressuring governments to monitor hate crimes and enact legislation to protect vulnerable minorities.
With any issue that's chronic or endemic, I think there is a sense, well, this is just part of the way the world is. And we shouldn't accept that. The fact that it happened 60 years ago or 2,000 years ago doesn't make it right. People are being physically attacked in France or in Russia because they're Jews and that's something that is a human rights abuse, a violation that ought to be taken on.
For the past 30 years, Michael Posner has been at the center of the struggle for international human rights. His organization, Human Rights First, works to protect communities and individuals from abuses such as torture and crimes against humanity. Today, Posner is pressuring governments to monitor hate crimes and enact legislation to protect vulnerable minorities.
Welcome to Voices on Antisemitism, a free podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I'm Daniel Greene. Every other week, we invite a guest to reflect about the many ways that antisemitism and hatred influence our world today. Here's President of Human Rights First, Michael Posner.
It's apparent to anybody who's in Europe these days that there is growing intolerance and particularly as Europe becomes more racially integrated. Sometimes it's directed against Jews, and sometimes it's directed against African refugees, and sometimes it's directed against people from the Middle East. But it's all part of a very lethal cocktail, which is making those societies less secure, and less tolerant, and less respectful of human rights.
I don't think it's the 1930s but it is...there is a disturbing increase in the levels of violent attacks against Jewish people and institutions since the mid-1990s. And there's a corresponding escalation of violent attacks against a growing Islamic population in Europe. And so you have groups, you know, extremist groups that are gaining popularity, gaining forces. And there is in many cases a government ignoring of the problem, which allows the attacks to build. It's a disturbing time. It's a troubling time, and I think it's very important to take these issues on right now before it escalates to a major crisis.
Governments are not running to the table to be part of this discussion. They're hiding under the table. And we need to essentially, through public pressure and through media and other ways, make governments feel that this is an issue that's not going to go away and they have to address. It's not just the Jewish community in their society who's saying this is a problem. This is in fact part of the broader human rights debate, and governments that have a commitment to human rights need to take these issues on as part of what they're doing.
Governments, our own government included, are not a monolith. There are always people within a government who actually want to do the right thing. So you start by giving them the tools or the information that allows them to make the fights internally. But the other thing is that governments are susceptible to public pressure. Within their own diplomatic community they look at one another and they don't want to be the outsider. So we try to use all of those tools to put pressure on those that are reluctant and to make sure that they feel as much pressure externally and internally as they can from their diplomatic colleagues, from their own publics, from the world's media, and within their own governments, so that at some point those things come together, you reach a critical mass and you begin to see change.
People aspire to freedom and dignity and respect for human rights, and often there are forces preventing that, but there is a popular will that ultimately can prevail if they're given a chance. I've been working in this field for a long time and it's encouraging to me and often surprising that a relatively small group of people, very motivated, very focused, can get a result. You know, you can read the newspapers or look on the Web or on television and see outrageous behavior and be paralyzed, but I think, you know, you can't let that happen. I don't let that happen. I just think there's too many...there's too many ways that you can affect those things. And if there's even one way you can affect them, then you try to do it.
Voices on Antisemitism is a free podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Join us every other week to hear a new perspective on the continuing threat of antisemitism in our world today. To contribute your thoughts to our series, please call 888-70USHMM, or visit our Web site at www.ushmm.org. At that site, you can also listen to Voices on Genocide Prevention, a podcast series on contemporary genocide.