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September 4, 2015 / 20 Elul, 5775
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Redefining Progress


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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent passionate address to the United Nations was very powerful and long overdue. Netanyahu’s words came the day after Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s most recent senseless anti-Semitic rant, in which he once again dusted off the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to accuse the Jews of holding the international community within its nefarious clutches, while also recalling the infamous 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with racism.

[The Jews as a] small minority would dominate the politics, economy and culture of major parts of the world by its complicated networks, and establish a new form of slavery, and harm the reputation of other nations, even European nations and the U.S., to attain its racist ambitions.

Ahmadinejad’s UN diatribe took place just days after he again publicly denied the Holocaust, telling an anti-Israel rally in Tehran that “The Holocaust is a false claim, a fairy tale, used as a pretext for crimes against humanity.”

Netanyahu wasted little time getting right after Ahmadinejad. He challenged the Iranian president’s earlier Holocaust claim, and provided the General Assembly with one piece of evidence after another (including minutes from the 1942 Wannsee Conference and the original construction plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp), leaving the assembled delegates with little doubt of the atrocity that was the Holocaust.

I applaud Netanyahu for speaking so firmly on the issue. As a grandchild of survivors, whose grandmother’s left arm was permanently scarred by the infamous numerical tattoo that Netanyahu referenced, I can only begin to imagine the pain that Holocaust deniers bring to the Nazis’ victims.

That these survivors had to endure such unimaginable trauma is bad enough. That they have to hear others flippantly dismiss their life-shattering experiences as “a lie and a mythical claim” is almost too painful to bear. I thank Netanyahu for staring down the terrorist bully and calling his obscene bluff.

I also commend Netanyahu for calling out those delegates who gave Ahmadinejad an audience to spew his convoluted venom. (In addition to Israel and Canada, which had boycotted the speech entirely, only the delegations from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, Argentina, Hungary, Costa Rica and Denmark left the hall during Ahmadinejad’s remarks. All others remained.)

More significantly, he challenged the very essence of the United Nations, a political entity that has failed miserably in its stated mission of fostering peace, respect and understanding among nations.

Netanyahu correctly declared that the jury was “still out” in that regard, that the UN has been far too passive in tolerating a “systematic assault on the truth,” with some members having time and again chastised victims of terror “rather than condemning the terrorists and their Iranian patrons.”

Despite the many positives Netanyahu generated with his speech at the United Nations, there were some aspects of his talk that troubled me deeply.

In his eagerness to frame the current Iranian regime as savage and backward, Netanyahu contrasted 21st century “civilization” (i.e., “those who sanctify life”) with 9th century “barbarism” (“those who glorify death”). He extolled the “exponential growth” of 21st century “progress,” with its inherent freedoms and technological advances, and declared that “the past [as represented by Iran] cannot triumph over the future.”

While I share Netanyahu’s optimism about the benefits of continued social and technological advancement, I strongly question his assumed connection between this form of “progress” and the civility that it automatically engenders.

One need not look any further than the aforementioned Holocaust and its Nazi perpetrators to see the potential outgrowth of misused “advancement.”

During the early part of the 20th century there was no country in the world more culturally advanced than Germany. Germany was a world leader in the arts and sciences; German universities and centers of learning were world renowned. Nevertheless, the nation collectively bought into Hitler’s hateful message and began down a path of terror and destruction never before known to man.

Of course, death, destruction and heinous behavior during the 20th century were far from the exclusive domain of the Nazis. Never before had humanity witnessed such a bloody era. Despite achieving its greatest strides in the areas of education, technology and scientific knowhow, humanity managed to inflict more damage on itself than ever before.

Rather than “sanctifying life,” world leaders caused the unnecessary deaths of tens of millions because they failed to combine the potential of their progress with a sincere concern for humanity.

About the Author: Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach and president of Impactful Coaching and Consulting (ImpactfulCoaching.com). He can be reached at 212-470-6139 or at president@impactfulcoaching.com.


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