Thursday, May 28, 2020


Seventy-five years ago, this month, American soldiers entered a neighborhood of hell called Mauthausen Concentration Camp. Simon Wiesenthal was one of the prisoners whose life their arrival saved that day.

Too weak to even stand, Simon dragged his emaciated 90-pound body and fell into the arms of an American liberator. Less than three weeks later, Simon presented a typed list-of Nazi War criminals to the U.S. military authorities — the first formal act of the man who would spend the rest of life earning the title — “Nazi Hunter,” the conscience of the Holocaust; the unofficial ambassador of 6 million ghosts.

Decades later, he recounted how he was approached by a group of Jewish partisans who had escaped to the forests and sabotaged rail lines, killing Nazi soldiers. In the immediate aftermath of the Shoah, some partisans wanted to execute as many murderers of their loved ones and people as they could. They handed Simon a list of names — “just tell us where they are and we will do the rest.”

Incredibly, Wiesenthal, who had lost 89 members of his family to the Nazi genociders, refused. “Why Simon?” I asked him.

“First because I knew that the American and British authorities would quickly catch them and that they would-be put-on trial. The world would say ‘that between 1939 and 1945 the Nazis killed 6 million Jews and after WWII the Jews killed 60, 600, or 6 thousand Nazis.’ I believed that the victims of the Nazis deserved to be more than a footnote of history.

“I resolved that the world needed to deal with the Nazis differently. We needed trials to teach young people the truth, we needed convicted criminals — not martyrs — to warn those who might consider behaving in the future like the Nazis that they would be held accountable … . 

“You have to understand,” he added, “that beyond the destruction of the Jews, the Nazis almost succeeded in destroying the very concept of Justice. Through these trials I wasn’t only standing up for my murdered Jewish brothers and sisters, but helping to reconstruct a world that again could value and rely on the fundamentals of justice to secure a better future for all.”

In his later years, Wiesenthal took some solace that the international community, inspired in some measure by his tenaciousness in bringing 1,100 Nazi war criminals to justice, would take on latter-day tyrants through the rules of international law. 

If Simon were alive today, however, he would be appalled by the travesty of justice currently being orchestrated at International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC grew out the 1998 Rome Treaty with the high-minded focus of trying to bring tyrants like Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir to justice. In 2020, evildoers in North Korea, China and Iran can sleep soundly knowing their gross violations of human rights will never be the ICC target. 

The current suspects targeted for “war crimes” charges are officials of the state of Israel who allegedly committed crimes against the “state of Palestine.” Among the major crimes? Building Jewish communities in disputed “occupied territories.” All this despite that these facts:

• Along with the United States, Israel is not currently a member of the ICC, meaning it has no jurisdiction.

• “Palestine” is not now and has never been a member state of the U.N. Germany has said that the ICC has no jurisdiction in the Palestinian territories.

• No country other than Israel has ever been accused of committing “war crimes” by building homes for its citizens on disputed land.

• The ICC has shown absolutely no interest in investigating Bashar Assad and his henchmen who mass murdered their own people, even deploying chemical weapons. Suffering Muslims and Christians in China and the long-suffering people of Iran will find no help from the ICC.

In 2018, the ICC claimed universal jurisdiction — including over American military personnel in Afghanistan. President Trump denounced the move as a violation of U.S. sovereignty and the U.S. Constitution, declaring, “as far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority.”

For eight years, the ICC’s chief prosecutor has been Fatou Bensouda of Gambia. Her behavior in office, especially regarding Israel, against which she has a vendetta, and the United States, whose current administration she treats with contempt, calls to mind the villain of what was once a children’s book but isn’t any longer: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” The Red Queen interrupts the deliberations over the guilt of the Knave of Hearts for stealing tarts by ordering: “sentence first — verdict afterwards!”

Last December, Mrs. Bensouda did just that: “I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.”

The world is witness to an ICC judge barely masking her political agenda behind judicial robes. All advances in the name of human rights and international justice are being corroded by her outrageous behavior and her enablers.

Right now, Americans are seeing evidence that our own judicial system has been damaged by people in power who manipulated it for political purposes.

As a victim of the Nazis, Simon experienced the consequences of a world bereft of justice. As the longtime Nazi hunter, Simon always loved America for being the beacon of justice, equality under the law and individual freedoms.

But he also cautioned: “Freedom and justice are not gifts from heaven — they must be fought for every day.” If we don’t join that fight we will see the further debasement of these core values of civilization — at home and abroad.

• Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean and director of the Global Social Action Agenda of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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