Today is March 13. Exactly 77 years ago – on March 13, 1938 – Hitler announced the Anschluss (union) with Austria, following which the Nazis began a brutal crackdown on Austrian Jews, arresting and publicly humiliating them.
A few months later, in November of the same year, Jews in Germany (of whom my husband was one) witnessed Kristallnacht – the burning of the synagogues and destruction of Jewish-owned businesses throughout the country.
This year marks 70 years since the end of World War II. The United Nations was founded on October 24, 1945, in the aftermath of war and on the ashes of the Holocaust. The premise was that never again would the world allow the brutal destruction of a people. It is therefore frightening to witness what is now occurring, especially in Europe.
There was a period of “quiet” for some 50-plus years; could it be that the world had a sense of guilt for the loss of six million of our brothers and sisters? There can be little doubt that while Hitler was responsible for the actual physical massacre of those six million Jews, the free world’s passive collaboration played its part. We know about the quota systems and closed gates that systematically operated in most countries, preventing the possibility of European Jews finding an alternative refuge when they could still escape. We also know about Britain’s “White Paper,” which prevented Jews from entering Palestine. One could justifiably argue that if only Jews had been allowed to enter the United States, Australia, Canada, Britain, etc., many more would have survived.
At what point did anti-Semitism raise its ugly head once more, and were we prepared to recognize it when it did? Was it with the passing of the UN’s General Assembly Resolution 3379 on November 10, 1975, equating Zionism with racism? This resolution was adopted approximately one year after the PLO received “observer status” at the UN (today Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is running round the world persuading countries to recognize Palestine as a full UN member).
Or did anti-Semitism gain speed in 2001 at the infamous so-called UN Conference against Racism? While I had the privilege of leading the WIZO delegation to Durban I, as it was called – both to the NGO conference and the governmental one that followed – it most certainly was no pleasure.
The Jewish NGOs represented there included among their participants such eminent spokespeople as former Canadian justice minister and attorney-general Irwin Cotler – a world expert on incitement to genocide – and Anne Bayevsky, a human rights scholar and activist.
The bottom line, as we Jewish participants discovered, was that these two UN conferences turned out to be racist jamborees against Israel and the Jewish people. It was here that we witnessed no difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
As WIZO was the only Jewish organization that had the “Z” for “Zionism” in its name, the members of the press who were keen to interview a Zionist sought me out.
There was little interest in what we did to improve the status of women, or the projects we supported for both Jews and Arabs in Israel – the questions focused on Zionism and how I would define it. Inevitably the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism came up in the conversation.
On the first day of the NGO conference, we were confronted with a poster showing a picture of Hitler, with a caption beneath that said, “What if I had won – there would be no Israel and no Palestinian blood would have been spilt.”
The Jewish delegation attempted to hold a session on the Holocaust; however, we had to give up, as we were overwhelmed by members of pro-Palestinian factions (including those supported by Jewish Israeli NGOs) shouting and pushing the session’s participants. It was an exceedingly frightening experience.
During the conference, Israeli-born academic Uri Davis was distributing his book Israel: An Apartheid State. He was the flavor of the month, being invited to speak on TV and radio throughout South Africa. As far as our enemies were concerned – and this still applies today as campuses worldwide hold “Israel Apartheid Week” during February and March, with Israeli academics among the launch speakers – what could be better than having an Israeli Jew speak out against Israel? I will never forget the final session of the Durban conference, in which we, the Jewish contingent, decided we would walk out once they began passing resolutions against Israel. What we did not expect was that at a conference against racism, the one resolution on the Holocaust would be thrown out before it even came to a vote.
Fast forward to July 2014, when Israel was bombarded with Hamas rockets from Gaza and our citizens in the South were once again traumatized with having to seek refuge within 15 seconds. Operation Protective Edge was launched to protect our citizens. What followed were mass anti- Israel and anti-Semitic demonstrations worldwide, with the most virulent taking place in Europe. “Kill the Jews” and “Death to the Jews” appeared on banners and were shouted in the major European capitals.
Just two weeks ago, I watched an interview on the BBC with Israeli Ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub. The interviewer was completely hostile in his questions and body language. The main thrust of his questions was to suggest that Israel had achieved nothing by going into Gaza except the death of over 2,000 civilian adults and 500 children. The ambassador explained that we had no alternative but to go into Gaza, because of the thousands of rockets fired on our citizens. He added that it was not Israel but Hamas that was responsible for the killing of the Gaza civilians, because they placed their rocket launchers in civilian-populated areas and utilized the UN schools for storing and launching their rockets. This entire interview took place in front of a screen showing the wounded and dead in Gaza and the destroyed buildings.
The United Kingdom’s Community Security Trust was established in 1994 to monitor anti-Semitism and endeavor to ensure the safety of the Jewish community and its facilities (schools, synagogues, etc.).
In 2014, for the first time since records began over 30 years ago, CST reported more than 1,000 anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, largely related to the war in Gaza. The barbaric murder of Jews at the beginning of this year in Paris and Copenhagen has resulted in the UK community’s intensified fear for its own safety. CST’s resources are being stretched to cope with the huge increase in demand for its services.
Just last week, a UK relative phoned to say she and her husband were coming to Israel to buy a home – initially as a holiday apartment, but to quote her, “With everything that is happening now in the UK, we really want a base in Israel for us and our children.” Another family will no longer allow their son to wear a kippa when he travels to school on public transportation.
There can be no doubt that these are frightening times for Israel and the Jewish people. Should we compare today’s anti-Semitism with yesterday’s? Yes, there are similarities, with synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, Jewish schools, Jewish businesses and Jews themselves under attack. However, Hitler’s anti-Semitism was state-promoted; today’s is media-promoted.
The constant barrage of anti-Israel projection on the television screen plays a major role in the anti-Semitic incitement seen on the streets of European capitals.
There is also no doubt that Israel’s years of neglecting the battle of the word have contributed to a world in which it is all too easy to blame Israel. When Israel becomes the whipping boy consistently, in spite of the daily horrors that surround us in neighboring states, we witness how simple it is to substitute “Jew” for “Israel.”
That said, it would not be right to end this opinion piece without saying that the greatest difference between the 1930s and now is that we have our own state, and those of us living here are blessed and exceedingly fortunate. The writer is chairwoman of ESRA, and has been active in public affairs and status- of-women issues.