Rabbi Marc Schneier: World Leaders’ Silence After Kristallnacht a ‘Shameful Monument … to Moral Indifference’ (AUDIO INTERVIEW)
In Bahrain, which is participating in global Kristallnacht commemoration, ‘a tolerant society is very much part of the social fabric,’ says rabbi
In an exclusive interview, The Media Line’s Felice Friedson speaks with Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and founding rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue in New York.
The Media Line: Rabbi Schneier, thank you so much for joining me at The Media Line.
Rabbi Schneier: My pleasure!
TML: November 9th and 10th, 1938, the Night of the Broken Glass, known as Kristallnacht, marked the eve when the Third Reich carried out pogroms throughout Germany, destroying Jewish owned stores and synagogues. Thirty thousand Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Amidst the rise of anti-Semites and anti-Semitic incidents, particularly in Europe, could Kristallnacht happen again?
Rabbi Schneier: Well, thank you for having me, and regarding your question, we must always remain vigilant. When the lesson of Kristallnacht that we recall the deafening silence, the moral laryngitis on the part of world leaders, on the part of global faith leaders in 1938 – to this day, we ask the question, why weren’t these voices raised in screaming protests to the atrocities that were being perpetrated against the Jews. Kristallnacht, that became a precursor to the Holocaust, and their silence is a shameful monument and testament to a moral indifference in the face of a lurking disaster.
TML: Commemorations are taking place around the globe, but Bahrain certainly wasn’t the country you’d expect participating in such an event, marking Kristallnacht, let alone with the ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain to the United States and head of the March of the Living. Are you surprised?
Rabbi Schneier: I’m not surprised because I’m very familiar with the track record of His Majesty Hamad [bin Isa Al Khalifa] of Bahrain, who has been the only Gulf leader to direct members of his diplomatic corps, these past several years, to participate in Holocaust commemorations, particularly in Europe. So, when I reached out to the ambassador, to my dear friend, His Excellency Ambassador Sheikh Abdullah [bin Rashad Al Khalifah] here in Washington, it was a resounding yes, in wanting to participate in this global commemoration and to also invite the members of the Bahraini Jewish community, the only indigenous Jewish community in the Gulf, to participate. So, not only will the head of the community, Ebrahim Nonoo, [be] participating, but the Bahrainian synagogue, the synagogue in Manama, will be illuminated that evening, to join in solidarity with the many, many synagogues around the world that will be lit to recall the destruction of more than 1,400 synagogues – all synagogues in Germany and Austria – during Kristallnacht.
TML: I witnessed that synagogue this year, and obviously it’s a small synagogue. Do you anticipate a larger one opening up, being built? And do you see these events as more than a one-off, but something that would become a regular [event]?
Rabbi Schneier: I see these events becoming a regular type of event in terms of participation on, you know, by the Bahrainians; I do not see this as a one-off. The synagogue is currently going through a refurbishing in anticipation of many Jews, in particular Israelis, now visiting Bahrain in the aftermath of the Abraham Accords. And in the foreseeable future, I don’t see one, I see many synagogues, kosher restaurants and other necessary elements of the Jewish infrastructure beginning to develop in Bahrain with the support of the Bahrain officials.
TML: Rabbi Schneier, as special adviser to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, when you have a conversation with the king, what is it that he wants to know about Israel and the Jewish world?
Rabbi Schneier: I think that His Majesty has a tremendous commitment to interreligious and intercultural dialogue. If anything, Bahrain is the paradigm of that kind of orientation in the Gulf. There are some Gulf leaders that need to declare their tolerance, [but] not from the Kingdom of Bahrain. A tolerant society is very much part of the social fabric of Bahrain for hundreds of years even before the modern-day kingdom was established. It’s part of the culture and social fabric there. And His Majesty is, since I met with him at the palace in 2011, has always expressed genuine desire and willingness to establish relations with Israel and wanting to further relations with the Jewish community at large. I think that it is very fitting that Bahrain is at the vanguard of establishing and normalizing relations with Israel, and should also be the Arab Gulf state to be participating in this global Kristallnacht commemoration with world Jewry.
TML: Is the removal of President Trump from the picture damaging whatever has been done or impeding further progress?
Rabbi Schneier: First of all, Biden has made it clear and so has his team that they will not roll back any of the great accomplishments that we’ve seen in terms of strengthening relations in the Gulf and Israel. If anything, I think there is great opportunity ahead with President-elect Biden in terms of continuing to expand relations between Israel and other Gulf states.
TML: Well, speaking about the Israel normalization game, what country do you think is next in line?
Rabbi Schneier: Look, it could be… Most people believe it’s Oman. I would never count out Qatar. My friends in Qatar are very much the dark horse in this race to normalization of ties to Israel, so it’s Qatar who in the last several years has been the only Gulf state, probably, to cooperate with the State of Israel. The bringing of humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, resulted in not only the blessing of the Israelis, but at the request of the Israelis, so I could see Qatar also being one more of the next countries.
With Saudi Arabia, I only think it’s a question about when. We haven’t gotten out of the starting gate yet but I do see tremendous possibilities. You must also remember that Joe Biden’s position on the Palestinians is more aligned with the Gulf states than what has been the position of Donald Trump, and that’s why I can see that there can be some real opportunities here in terms of President Biden’s alignment with the objectives of the Gulf states as well.
TML: Have you had any personal interaction with the Palestinian side?
Rabbi Schneier: Oh, of course! I’ve met with Abbas several times, but history, I think, will come into play during the Biden Administration.
TML: What is your personal thought, in having spent time in Qatar and in Bahrain and numerous Gulf countries in the last years, that struck you as most important in terms of the relationship between the United States and the Gulf countries and beyond, and Israel as well?
Rabbi Schneier: I’ll tell you the greatest change I witnessed in the Gulf since I first entered that region under the patronage of the late king of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, more than 12 years ago, that Gulf leaders, Muslim faith leaders today understand that Israel for the Jewish people is not a political issue; it’s a religious issue. When I first entered the Gulf, I would always hear comments, that “Rabbi, we have nothing against Jews. Our issues are with Israelis and Zionists. And for more than a dozen years, myself and a few others, we’ve hammered away in terms of enlightening and educating leaders in the Gulf that Israel, for the Jewish people, is not a 72-year-old political issue. If anything, it’s at the very core of Judaism. It’s at the very center of Judaism. It’s been the core of Judaism for over 3,500 years, so that if you want to enter into an authentic dialogue with the Jewish people, one most recognize Israel as being part of the Jewish religion. And I’ve gone so far as to say, not only in one-on-one meetings with different leaders but at large interreligious conferences as well, that you’re asking me as a Jew to bifurcate, break out Israel from Judaism, is liking my asking a Muslim cleric to break out halal and Shariah from Islam.
So, I think today the number one, key change has been a recognition as to where Israel is in terms of the Jewish people and a greater understanding that Israel is at the very core of our religion. It’s not a question of politics for the Jewish people but it’s part of our religion and faith.
TML: Rabbi Mark Schneier, on that note, thank you so much for taking time and having you on The Media Line today. Thank You!
Rabbi Schneier: Thank you so much! All the best!