A chilling rise in anti-Semitism is erupting around the world, exacerbated by deniers who claim the Holocaust never happened and fueled by the ease of spreading hate speech on the Internet.
The gloomy assessment came Monday as close to 400 people — including about a dozen Holocaust survivors and another dozen family members of survivors — gathered to consider how to combat anti-Semitism as survivors age and die.
It's a problem around the world, said Hannah Rosenthal, the U.S. State Department's special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.
"We are seeing old-fashioned anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories, blood libel, age-old stereotypes continuing, like the Holocaust never happened," she said. "We're seeing Holocaust glorification, where people are calling for a new Holocaust to finish the job."
It's especially prevalent on the Internet, said Howard Berger, senior adviser for external affairs at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. "You go on the Internet today and put in the word 'Holocaust' and come up with not just a few, but with thousands and thousands of websites that push hate against Jews," he said.
The Internet is "used to promulgate hate to an alarming degree," Rosenthal said.
Many websites even deny basic Holocaust facts, that Nazi Germany exterminated an estimated 6 million Jews and thousands of others Nazis considered undesirable, such as gays and gypsies.
South Florida is home to one of the nation's largest concentrations of Holocaust survivors, along with Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, Berger said. But with the youngest — who were children at the time of the Holocaust and World War II — in their 70s, their numbers are declining.
As a result, new ways must be found to educate people, even though Berger said nothing comes close to hearing about the genocide from someone who lived through it. "When you watch a survivor's testimony on film, it's not the same as touching a human being and feeling what they went through."
At the same time, experts and audience members who gathered at Lynn University for the panel, sponsored by the Sun Sentinel and the Jewish Journal, said there are some reasons for optimism.
"The positive message is lots of people are interested," said Andrew Rosenkranz, Florida regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, the organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism.
Rosenkranz said polling done by the ADL shows anti-Semitic beliefs are strongly held in about 15 percent of the U.S. population — a decrease from 25 to 30 percent decades ago. Yet, he said, while the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Florida is steady, they are getting more serious.
Audience members were troubled by the phenomenon. "There is definitely an increase in anti-Semitism," said Buddy Hurley, a retiree who lives west of Delray Beach.
"I think it's a real concern," said audience member Eleanor Lipman, a retired teacher who lives part time west of Boca Raton and part time in Montreal. "I'm energized by what I heard. Some people are trying to combat this plague."
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