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Anti-Defamation League leader will speak

Yom Hashoah addresses Holocaust denial

Hilary Bernstein, community director of the Pacific Northwest Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Seattle, sees Holocaust denial as one form of hate to confront and counter through education.

Speaking on “Holocaust Denial in the Northwest” at the Spokane Community Observance of the Holocaust at 7 p.m., Sunday, April 11, at Temple Beth Shalom, 1322 E. 30th Ave., she will discuss the ADL’s concern about efforts to stereotype, dehumanize or deny human rights to any group of people.

“Holocaust denial is real,” said Hilary, whose office in Seattle covers Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Alaska.  “We see it occurring around the world—expressed recently by a world leader, by white supremacists, at revisionists’ conferences and through internet chatter.

 “Some say the Holocaust didn’t happen, and others think it is blown out of proportion or that it is used to guilt the world,” Hilary said in a recent interview.

The Pacific Northwest Anti-Defamation League pays attention to pockets of denial in the region.

“If these opinions are taken as facts, it can influence and confuse people.  Nevertheless, hate speech is protected in this country, even though it is ugly and hurtful,” Hilary said, pointing out the need to recognize it and challenge it.

“Holocaust denial is related to hate that denies any group their dignity, history, humanity and rights,” she said.

The ADL is concerned about recent efforts on the internet and in media to stereotype and dehumanize Hispanics, immigrants, African Americans, Native Americans, gays and lesbians.

“Founded in 1913, this civil rights organization fights prejudice and bigotry of all kinds and seeks to secure fair treatment for all people in three ways,” Hilary said.

First, it investigates and monitors hate and extremist groups and individuals that seek to deny civil rights to others.

Second, it crafts and promotes legislation in the Northwest states and the federal government to ensure that hate crime laws protect victims who are targeted because of their race, religion, gender or sexual identity.

Third, it educates students and educators as a proactive way to fight bias, working with schools and colleges to give teachers and students tools and strategies to stand up against prejudice and create school environments that are inclusive and safe for learning regardless of ethnic background or ability levels.

“We help students and teachers recognize assumptions they make about each other and help them in non-threatening ways to examine their stereotypes and think about how that affects the learning environment,” said Hilary.

In late March, she took a group of diverse high school students to Washington, D.C., where they met students from Denver to discuss standing up to bigotry and toured the Holocaust Museum.

“We used lessons of that period to discuss what happens to people when they become bystanders and look the other way,” she said.  “We also asked students to consider how they can speak out and act, so they do not remain bystanders but become allies for each other.”

When students return to their hometowns, they will continue to meet for at least six months to develop community projects that promote diversity and convert their ideas into social action.

While in Spokane for Yom Hashoah, Hilary also plans on April 12 to visit Spokane schools to discuss bringing ADL workshops to the districts.

As part of the Yom Hashoah service, Perri Greeley, 10th grader at Lewis and Clark High School, will read her essay on “Holocaust Denial,” which was the winning entry in the annual creative writing contest.

Candle-lighters include James Mohr, interim director of Gonzaga University’s Institute for Action Against Hate, lighting the candle in honor of the righteous among the nations, and Tut Gai, a survivor of genocide in Sudan, lighting the candle in memory of victims of recent genocides.

For information, call 747-3304.