Simon says, but doesn’t rescind

Joseph Aaron

Words are nice but actions are even nicer. And actions that show you put principle before money, honor before honors are even nicer.

Which brings me to Harvey and Simon. Harvey as in Weinstein and Simon as in the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

When the world found out what those in Hollywood had long known, it was very telling to see how people and places reacted. I was most interested in how one Jewish organization reacted, the only one which has won two Academy Awards.

Based in Los Angeles, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is the only Jewish organization that has its own movie arm, Moriah Films. Wiesenthal has produced a number of documentaries, featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and two have won Oscars.

Wiesenthal and its dean Rabbi Marvin Hier are very much a part of the Hollywood scene. Which means it is very unlikely they did not know about what Harvey has been doing to women the last 30 years. And if they didn’t know the facts, they most certainly had heard the rumors. Everyone in Hollywood had.

But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume Wiesenthal knew nothing about Harvey’s abusive bullying of countless people and his sexual harassment of hundreds of women, when in 2015 they presented their Humanitarian Award to Weinstein.

Because they had given him that award, after the news of Harvey’s sexual harassment became known to the world, the question asked of Wiesenthal was would they rescind the honor they had bestowed on him?

Their response was swift, firm and disgraceful. Wiesenthal spokesman Marcial Lavina reacted defensively and morally tone deaf. “We honored Harvey Weinstein because he and his company, like many other leaders in the entertainment world, have been longtime supporters of the Wiesenthal Center and its work.” Asked whether the group would withdraw the award, Lavina said, “That hasn’t been up for discussion.”

That’s right, they would not even consider withdrawing the award. Wouldn’t think about it, wouldn’t even put it up for discussion.

I wrote a column about that a couple weeks ago. The director of Wiesenthal’s Chicago office was not happy. She sent me an email that began with “We demand you correct your depiction of how the Simon Wiesenthal Center handled the issue regarding Mr. Harvey Weinstein.”

We demand? Not “we ask you to please consider correcting…” But I guess Wiesenthal doesn’t understand the concept of considering something, and, like most Jewish organizations, has no sense of media relations. Demand? Charming.

Anyway, the head of Wiesenthal’s Chicago office was angry because she said I failed to note that soon after we learned of Harvey’s behavior, Rabbi Hier put out a statement saying “Obviously, we can’t go back in time, but had we known then what we know now, we would have never honored him, because such egregious behavior is against everything the Museum of Tolerance and the Wiesenthal Center stands for.”

So yes, Hier did issue a statement, though it was less about criticizing Harvey then about defending Wiesenthal. But telling me Wiesenthal had issued a statement completely missed the point of why I criticized Wiesenthal in the first place. It doesn’t take a whole lot of courage to issue a statement about Harvey’s ‘egregious behavior’ after we learned that Harvey raped some women while subjecting dozens of others to the most demeaning of abuse. What I had criticized Wiesenthal for, and still criticize them for, is that they did not rescind the award they gave Harvey – indeed they didn’t even consider doing so.

The director of the Chicago office doesn’t address, let alone try to justify, why Wiesenthal has not rescinded its award. She just notes that Hier made his statement and so she said, my “description of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s ‘lax’ response to this heinous offense was completely false and misleading.” Really? What was completely false and misleading? Has Wiesenthal rescinded the award? No. That’s what I wrote.

Please know that rescinding an award to Harvey is something several organizations have done. Harvard University has rescinded the W.E.B. Du Bois award, which it gave to Weinstein in 2014. The University at Buffalo said it plans to rescind the honorary doctorate it awarded him in 2000. The British Film Institute has rescinded the BFI Fellowship Award it gave him in 2002, saying “A BFI Fellowship is the highest honour we can bestow … The serious and widespread allegations about Harvey Weinstein’s appalling conduct are in direct opposition to the BFI’s values.” You didn’t see Wiesenthal do that or say that about the highest honor it can bestow. France announced that it plans to rescind the Legion of Honor award it gave to Weinstein in 2012. French president Emmanuel Macron said he was doing that because Weinstein’s “actions lack honor.” You didn’t see Wiesenthal do that or say that. Showing how much it lacks honor.

I find it very telling that the head of Wiesenthal’s Chicago office does try to rationalize why Wiesenthal is not returning the nearly $100,000 in donations it has received from Weinstein,  unlike several politicians who announced they were donating any contributions Harvey gave them to charity.

Wrote the head of Wiesenthal’s Chicago office “what good would it do to return his money? Isn’t his donation far more worthwhile being used to fund programs and exhibits around the globe that teach children about how to fight against hate, educate them on the events of the Holocaust, and provide the resources to teach the next generation how to advocate on behalf of worldwide Jewry and the state of Israel?”

Nice self-serving commercial for Wiesenthal, but I’ll tell you what good it would do. It would make a statement far stronger than issuing the boilerplate words that Hier put out, which was easy to do. Refusing to keep Harvey’s money would say Wiesenthal will not be used to give cover to a creep.

My father was a Holocaust survivor, spent time in Auschwitz. I always wondered why my father never applied for reparations or any of the various survivor funds that he clearly was more than entitled do. He told me he did not want a penny of what he considered ‘blood money.’

That’s why Wiesenthal should not keep Harvey’s money. Because it is ‘pervert money’ and because by keeping the money it sends a single to other sleazes that they can give Wiesenthal a donation as a means of clearing themselves. Case in point — the slimy Anthony Scaramucci. After being ousted after all of 10 days as Trump’s communications director, The Mooch started his own website, which every day features a quiz. The quiz it featured recently asked “How many Jews were killed in the Holocaust?” and offered multiple choices: “Less than one million, between 1-2 million, between 2-3 million, more than 5 million.” The historical figure, 6 million, was not offered.

Appropriately The Mooch caught hell for that, was widely criticized for his insensitivity and cheapening of the Holocaust. And so how did he respond? By pledging a donation of $25,000 to the Wiesenthal Center. Money they were only too happy to accept, did not even consider not accepting.

If the Wiesenthal Center has any honor, is as good at living Jewish values as it is at hobnobbing with Hollywood celebrities, it would donate all the money Harvey gave it to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, a place that has always treated the memory of the six million with dignity and acted dignified in doing so, a shining example of how the Holocaust is to be remembered and how today’s dangers are to be combatted.

Finally, let us consider that number of six million. That’s six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. The fact that the entire aim of the Holocaust was to kill every Jewish man and woman and child possible, seems to be getting lost, and that should scare the hell out of all of us.

In January, when Trump issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, he did not mention the Jews. Did not mention the Jews. When Canada recently opened a National Holocaust Monument, the memorial plague on it did not mention the Jews. Did not mention the Jews.

The excuse both Trump and Canada gave was that eleven million people died in the Holocaust, not just six million Jews, but also five million non-Jews, and so a Holocaust memorial should not single out the Jews but should, as the White House put it, be “inclusive of all those who suffered.”

Here’s the problem with that — the number of eleven million is total baloney. A made up figure, a lie. Six million Jews were victims of the Holocaust, indeed the very word Holocaust was coined to indicate that the only ones who were targeted for complete annihilation, the only ones who were hunted down for the sole purpose of murdering them, were the Jews.

The lie about eleven million was told by none other than Simon Wiesenthal. Yes, the Simon Wiesenthal for whom the Simon Wiesenthal Center is named. According to Holocaust historian Rafael Medoff, Wiesenthal said he invented the idea of “five million non-Jewish victims because he thought it would help get non-Jews more interested in the Holocaust.”

But Walter Reich, former executive director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, has written that, thanks to Wiesenthal’s made up number,  more and more the Holocaust is being defined “as an event in which eleven million people, six million Jews and 5 million non-Jews, had been killed, and the crucial distinction between the planned and systematic extermination of all Jews on racial grounds, and the killing of civilian non-Jews on, say, political grounds, in response to resistance, or because of acts of collective reprisal or brutality, is being lost.”

Writes Medoff, “Simon Wiesenthal picked a number of non-Jewish victims that was high enough to seem substantial, but still a little less than the number of Jewish victims. He thought that formulation would still keep Jews as the primary focus. Evidently he didn’t realize how easy it would be for someone — even an American or Canadian government official — to slide down the slippery slope from “a Holocaust of Jews and non-Jews,” to a Holocaust without Jews at all. It’s just not that far from a Holocaust of everybody to a Holocaust of nobody in particular.”

Perhaps the head of Wiesenthal’s Chicago office can issue a statement about that, even as her organization refuses to rescind their honor to Harvey Weinstein, even as her organization holds on to his ‘pervert money’ donation.

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