How not to fight anti-Semitism

"In eastern Europe, the uniqueness of the Holocaust has been blurred through a misleading equation of Nazism with Communist tyranny."

By ROBERT S. WISTRICH
May 21, 2013 22:02
4 minute read.
Greece's Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos

Greece's Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

Since 2007, I have actively participated in all three global forums held in Jerusalem to combat anti- Semitism. These are undoubtedly important and necessary gatherings which enable a wide variety of concerned, professional and committed people from around the world to meet, exchange ideas and energize themselves.

In these difficult times when Jews find themselves under attack from many different quarters, the need for such a forum is beyond question.

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Nevertheless, the concrete results from earlier meetings of the forum were somewhat disappointing. There have also been some disturbing political decisions made whose logic seems difficult to understand.

For example, already four years ago, I was astonished to note that the Lithuanian foreign minister had been given a prominent platform despite his country’s efforts to downplay the anti- Semitism and the pro-Nazi collaboration of many of its citizens during the Holocaust.

At the time, I hoped this was just an unfortunate aberration that would never be repeated. However, as Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel Office, has recently stressed, the upcoming Global Forum (set for the end of May 2013) has not only repeated but, worse still, greatly aggravated the blunder of 2009.

This time around, it is senior government officials from Greece, Ireland and Hungary, as well as Lithuania, who have been given the honor of addressing the forum – though these four countries have tainted records (to say the least) when it comes to the current struggle against anti-Semitism.

In Greece, for example, the European Union’s leading neo-Nazi parliamentary party, the Golden Dawn, openly espouses a vicious anti-Semitism as well as brazen Holocaust denial, yet the Greek government has failed to take any effective action against it. As for Ireland, it has adopted a fiercely anti- Israel policy within the EU and recently its teachers’ union openly advocated the boycott of Israel.

Lithuania, however, is a far worse case. For the past two decades, it has consistently omitted or minimized the massive scale of the nation’s complicity in the Holocaust, which greatly contributed to the barbaric slaughter of 95 percent of Lithuania’s 200,000 Jews 70 years ago. Rather than honestly confront this appalling record, the Lithuanian government has continuously stressed the Soviet “genocide” of Lithuanians, even insinuating that Jews were involved in these Communist war crimes.

As elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the uniqueness of the Holocaust has been blurred through a misleading equation of Nazism with Communist tyranny.

This, in itself, is a dangerous form of Holocaust revisionism, aggravated by willingness to tolerate open neo-Nazi parades in Lithuanian cities on major holidays. Is this the country that is supposed to provide a model for combating anti-Semitism? Worse still is the folly of granting a central role to an official representative of Hungary. Earlier this month, Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban addressed delegates of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) in Budapest, claiming that his government displayed “zero tolerance” for anti-Semitism.

Yet, the facts on the ground belie this assertion. Over the years, Orban’s ruling Fidesz party has played down or turned a blind eye to the activities of Jobbik – the aggressively anti-Semitic party which won 17% of the votes only three years ago in the Hungarian national elections. Moreover, Orban is known to be friendly with the writer Zsolt Bayer, whose appalling comments about Hungary’s Roma gypsies and obscene comparison of Jews to “stinking excrements” are well known.

Not long ago Orban and his party took their time before issuing a rather tepid condemnation of Jobbik’s deputy, Marton Gyongyosi, who had publicly described Hungary’s Jews as a “risk to national security.” For good measure, the day before the WJC event, Gyongyosi told demonstrators in Budapest that Hungary “has become subjugated by Zionism” and Jewish influence. It is also worth noting that nearly half of the parliamentarians belonging to the Hungarian-Iranian friendship committee (which Gyongyosi chairs) belong to Fidesz.

These are hardly friends of Israel.

Orban’s rather abstract remarks about anti-Semitism to the World Jewish Congress lack credibility. Unfortunately, they ignored the gravity of the real threat to Hungary’s Jews and the highly ambiguous role of his own Fidesz party in creating the ugly anti-Semitic climate existing in the land of the Magyars.

The facts are somber enough.

A recent ADL survey showed that more than 70% of Hungarians believe Jews have too much power in business and finance. In this context one has to ask why on earth any Hungarian official should be given a place of honor in the Global Forum in Jerusalem devoted to fighting anti-Semitism.

And so I wonder: Is this the best that the Israeli Foreign Ministry can do?

The author holds the Neuberger Chair of Modern European and Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is the director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA). His most recent books are From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel (University of Nebraska Press, 2012) and Holocaust Denial: The Politics of Perfidy (De Gruyter, 2012).


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