English Montreal School Board (EMSB) Michael Cohen appearing alongside Holocaust investigator Steven Rambam in an EMSB video.
English Montreal School Board (EMSB) Michael Cohen appearing alongside Holocaust investigator Steven Rambam in an EMSB video. Credit: EMSB / YouTube Credit: EMSB / YouTube

Late last year, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) invited Steven Rambam to speak to a class of grade 10 students at Westmount High School. The idea was to educate the kids on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Rambam was introduced to the class as a “Nazi hunter” and a “hero”.

Rambam is an American private investigator, who spent some of his time tracking down suspected Holocaust war criminals and collaborators living in North America. He tried to get confessions out of them and then handed them to local law enforcement.

A worthy goal for sure, but this P.I. is in no position to teach Canadian kids about mid-twentieth century antisemitism and the complexities of the Holocaust.

As explained by UNESCO, Holocaust education is “primarily the historical study of the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.” UNESCO goes on to explain how Holocaust education should help people identify the warning signs of a mass atrocity, and prompt discussions around attempts to divide communities.

One would assume that if the EMSB thought it wise to invite Rambam as a Holocaust speaker, he would hold eminent credentials qualifying him for such a sensitive task.  Presumably Holocaust educators should be historians, anthropologists, sociologists – holding advanced academic credentials in such fields.

Alas, the only connection Rambam seems to have with academia is his long-standing relationship with EMSB’s marketing and communications manager, Michael J. Cohen.

Rambam’s amateurism regarding the holocaust and the EMCB’s lack of proper vetting of its “expert” speaker inevitably led to a disastrous class. An event where young minds were fed demonstrably false and harmful assertions.

For example, halfway through his online presentation, Rambam used his platform to push his own political views on the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to this “hero” (as presented by Cohen), allegations of Palestinian abuse at the hands of Israelis are “a bunch of crap,” and “big fat lies.” In fact, asserts Rambam, Israel is “doing everything but abusing the Palestinians.”

Rambam seems unaware or unwilling to mention that virtually all of the major human rights organizations of the world, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Israel-based B’Tselem have recently issued reports detailing how Israel is practicing apartheid against Palestinians.

This fiasco led to a parent complaint and even a CBC Montreal news segment.

The irony, of course, is that this so-called hunter of past war criminals is denying current war crimes. And if Holocaust education is supposed to prompt constructive discussions around attempts to divide communities, Rambam’s rant against Palestinians seems to do the exact opposite. Just as appalling is the fact that Cohen fails to intervene to provide proper context and stress that Rambam’s claims are not fact-based, nor the opinion of the EMSB, nor those of the most prominent and respected human rights organizations in the world. Only weeks later, when being questioned by a CBC journalist, does Cohen address the blunder, dismissing it as simply the “opinion of the speaker.”

Although the EMSB did add a boilerplate disclaimer on the relevant YouTube page, the latter is not included in the video itself, nor is it easily visible. Worse, on a one-hour video, the EMSB’s vague disclaimer does not specify which of Rambam’s comment might be objectionable.

“Objectionable” may be an understatement as the American P.I. was just as unhinged regarding his opinion on elected officials.  His words of wisdom to Montreal’s youth included saying that “everybody running for office is a mental patient” and that all liberals and conservatives believe some crazy conspiracy theory that involves the Jews.

Beyond his odd rants, Rambam is also no role model for teenage children. He has clearly nurtured the “rough and tumble cop” image he projects to the media, and projects attitudes and behaviours that needn’t be glorified. For example, in a “What I’ve Learned” piece by Esquire magazine, Rambam is quoted saying, among other things:

“Privacy is dead. Get over it.”

“Don’t keep your nose clean. Get in the middle of everything. Be in the trenches.”

“Don’t be a well-rounded person. Be a jaggedy-edged, pointy, acute-angled person.”

“Never complain, never explain.”

Holocaust education is too important to be left to such boorish, unqualified, and insensitive individuals who have an axe to grind.

“Education holds the key to fostering the spirit of tolerance,” says Jack Kowarsky, Vancouver holocaust survivor.  But in contrast to Rambam, Kowarsky says, “The true way of living is found in being compassionate, learning from each other’s differences, accepting the individuality of those around us and creating a harmonious co-existence.” 

Maybe it’s time for Rambam to attend a Holocaust education session.

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Thomas Woodley

Thomas Woodley is the president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME, https://www.cjpme.org.) Tom has a BS EE from Carnegie-Mellon University and an MS EE from Stevens Institute...