A memorial candle for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Lessons for today International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorated today, is an occasion not just to reflect on the past but to marvel at the persistence and adaptability of Jew-hatred.
The day falls on the anniversary of the liberation by Soviet troops of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest German death camp. But Holocaust remembrance ceremonies – particularly in Europe – tend to focus as much on current events as on the horrors of Nazi genocide.
It is no secret that Jew-hatred is rampant in Europe.
The number of anti-Semitic incidents in London rose more than 60 percent during the 12-months ending November 15 over the same period a year earlier. Incidents in France were up 84 percent in the first quarter of 2015, compared to the same period in 2014.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke this week of the dangers of Jew-hatred, particularly among “youth [from] countries where hatred of Israel and Jews is widespread.”
A new book based on surveys of 724 French Jews called L’an prochain à Jérusalem? (“Next Year in Jerusalem?”) found the French-Jewish community is “living with a strong feeling of insecurity.” Sixty-three percent of those polled reported being insulted for being Jews, and more than half reported being subjected to anti-Semitic threats.
Europeans have struggled to combat anti-Semitism but have met with little success. Why? Part of the answer has to do with longstanding, deep-rooted anti-Semitism.
But exacerbating the situation is the tendency in our world of hyper-political correctness to attribute inordinate moral weight to those minorities considered to be the most oppressed or disenfranchised.
Also known as “intersectionality,” this voguish social theory, spawned in university gender studies departments, posits that power is inherently linked to one’s identity.
Race, gender, religion and sexual orientation determine the extent of one’s “marginalization.” And the more one’s identity is marginalized, the likelier one’s arguments will be celebrated and embraced by the politically correct. It is not the power of a person’s reasoning that matters, it is who he or she is.
This explains, for instance, how champions of LGBT rights join forces with Muslim extremists against Israel, the only country in the Middle East where gays’ rights are respected. Israel’s respect for the rights of LGBT people is turned on its head and seen as a “pinkwashing,” a smokescreen for supposed oppression of the Palestinians.
Similarly, emphasizing the uniqueness of the Holocaust – on days such as International Holocaust Remembrance Day – is portrayed as a Jewish ploy to stifle criticism of Israel or its policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
In this scale of identity-based values, Jewishness as an identity is ranked very low on the value totem-pole, because Jews are perceived to be part of the establishment; tend to be well-off economically; and their state – Israel – is powerful and aligned with America.
In contrast, other identities – Palestinians, refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, Europeans of Muslim faith – are perceived as far more marginalized and oppressed and, therefore, are more likely to receive sympathy.
When prejudice and anti-Semitism is spouted by white, far-right nationalists, Europeans find little trouble fighting it. When the virus of Jew-hatred is found in the Muslim community, moral clarity is lost in a morass of political correctness, identity politics and “intersectionality.”
Few have the morality clarity of the prominent British journalist Mehdi Hasan, a Muslim who had the courage to note in a 2013 op-ed in the New Statesman that the British- Muslim community has a “dirty little secret” which he referred to as “the banality of Muslim anti-Semitism.”
Yet a British politician, particularly of the white, Christian variety, would be loath to publicly criticize a minority population, particularly one perceived as oppressed or that is itself targeted by the far Right.
The only way to fight this form of Jew-hatred is to deconstruct the premise of identity politics and intersectionality.
“Crimes” perpetrated by the Israeli government do not make the murder of Jews in Israel, the West Bank or Paris different from the murder of Europeans. The suffering of Arabs – including the Palestinians – do not negate the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is a time to relearn lessons of the past. No less important, however, it is an opportunity to confront challenges of the present.