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Harper politicizes the Holocaust; ignores anti-Semitism of the European Right

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Parliament is back today.

Stephen Harper’s government will no longer be able to completely stage manage the political agenda, as it has during the long winter break.

It will have to deal, once again, with tough opposition questions, especially from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

Today is also International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Both Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair remind the media of that with official communiqués.

The NDP Leader keeps his brief and non-partisan.

He tries to draw a universal lesson from the utter horror of the 'rational' and systematic enslavement, torture and murder of millions of people.

"Today," the NDP leader says, "it is our duty to remember and teach our children our responsibility to combat racism, discrimination and anti-Semitism in all its forms, to prevent similar atrocities from ever happening again."

Mulcair does not try to reap political advantage from the fact that his wife, Catherine Pinhas, is from a family of Sephardic Jewish Holocaust survivors. Nor does the Opposition Leader make any reference to current politics, including the politics of the State of Israel.

Harper is not similarly circumspect. 

To the Prime Minister, the lesson of the Holocaust is not the universal one he himself enunciated in 2012.

Back then, Harper said that "anti-Semitism is a disease;" a disease that turns into more generalized "hatred" and becomes a "threat to us all."

The Prime Minister’s conclusion, in 2012, was -- like Mulcair’s today -- that we must always "defend the vulnerable and confront evil."

Now, in 2014, Harper’s Holocaust remembrance message makes no reference to the need to protect the vulnerable, nor to any universal truths about systematic race hatred and persecution.

Harper does not shy away from inserting his own recent visit to the Yad Vashem into his story -- fair enough, perhaps, though, maybe, just a tad self-centred? 

More remarkable is the Prime Minister’s conclusion: "That is why our government will remain steadfast in its commitment to fight anti-Semitism in all its forms, and will continue to stand up for the existence of a free and democratic Jewish State of Israel."

The Canadian Prime Minister makes no commitment to fight race hatred, bigotry, persecution and exploitation of people by people wherever they occur. That is not what he seems to have learned from the Holocaust. His lesson is all about unvarnished political support of the current Israeli State, illegal settlements and all.

Anti-Semitism and anti-Gypsyism are both still alive and well in Europe

While Harper attempts to twist solemn remembrance of the Holocaust into uncritical political support of Netanyahu’s policies, some European countries that participated in the Holocaust are now, finally and belatedly, owning up to their responsibility.

The Hungarian News Agency, MTI, reports that Hungary has finally apologized for the role the country played in the Holocaust.

The apology came last Thursday in a statement by Hungary’s UN Ambassador Csaba Körösi.

"We owe the victims an apology because the Hungarian state was guilty of the Holocaust, on the one hand because the state did not manage to protect its citizens from annihilation, and on the other hand because it aided their mass murder and provided financial resources for it," Körösi said during a press conference at the New York headquarters of the United Nations to launch a series of events dedicated to the Holocaust.

Hungary is commemorating the 70th anniversary this year of the transport of more than 430,000 Hungarian Jews to the Nazi death camps. Many thousands of Roma were also massacred at that time.

This apology rings a bit hollow, though, because the current nationalist-conservative Hungarian Fidesz Party government has been working hard to stop the openly racist and increasingly popular Jobbik party from luring away its voters.

The Fidesz government has revived and honoured the memory of Hungarian dictator and Nazi ally Admiral Miklos Horthy, who proudly declared himself an anti-Semite.

Horthy once said he was "ashamed" that so many Hungarians prominent in the arts, science and business were Jews.

Fidesz has aped the neo-Nazi policies of Jobbik in other ways. A year ago, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel gave these examples:

The Hungarian National Core Curriculum recommends the works of anti-Semitic writers from the interwar period. The media law requires journalists working for public media organizations to promote a national identity in their reporting. And the preamble of the constitution in force since 2012 evokes the spirit of the Horthy regime.

The rights of paramilitary militias have been bolstered. And, in a concession to Roma-haters, a right to use arms for self-protection on one's own property has been introduced.

Most egregious are the hateful words Fidesz co-founder Zsolt Bayer wrote last year about Hungary’s large Roma minority, words the governing regime has neither disavowed nor condemned:

"A significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence," Bayer wrote. "They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals, and they behave like animals…These animals shouldn't be allowed to exist. In no way. That needs to be solved -- immediately and regardless of the method."

Last year, using new powers conferred by the Conservatives’ refugee reform law, then-Immigration Minister Jason Kenney declared Hungary to be a "safe country of origin."

This "safe country" status allows the Canadian government to give asylum seekers from Hungary extremely short shrift. They have a few weeks to make their case, hardly time to find a lawyer, before facing deportation.

The new Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander, recently boasted that the Conservative refugee reforms are working. The new Conservative refugee law has not only almost completely cut off the flow of desperate Roma from Hungary, it has considerably reduced the total number of asylum seekers coming to Canada.

Alexander, however, is still not happy. He is vexed that Ontario has stepped up to the plate to provide health care for all refugee claimants -- after the Conservatives cut the federal funding for refugee health, with much xenophobic fanfare.

Keep that in mind when you listen to Harper and members of his cabinet intone piously on their abhorrence of anti-Semitism and commitment to human rights. 

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