Lessons unlearned

May 2, 2019 22:45
3 minute read.
The former concentration camp Auschwitz

The former concentration camp Auschwitz. (photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL / REUTERS)

Recordings of rabbis inciting against Arabs and making outlandish, racist claims were broadcast on Channel 13 this week. A rabbi from an academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli could be heard claiming that non-Jews “will want to be our slaves” and that slavery was preferable to the “stupid and violent” culture of their non-Jewish neighbors.

The rabbis in the recording spoke of “genetic traits” and “racism” as if they were positive elements. This is anathema to the modern values of Judaism. The concepts of race and genetics are modern ones that were promoted by European racists, and of which Jews have been the central victims. It is a tragic irony that these racist statements coincided with the lead-up to Holocaust Remembrance Day, but it also provides an important opportunity to draw a line between the righteousness of our cause in memorializing the Holocaust, and the shameful display of ignorance prior to the memorial.

Tragically, the rabbis’ words on the tapes broadcast this week show deep ignorance of the Holocaust and its lessons. In one speech, a lecturer appeared to contrast Hitler’s ideology with that of the “humanist and secular culture” and assert that humanism and secularism are a form of the Holocaust. This is a backwards reading of history.

The crimes of the Nazis against the Jews were systematic. Whatever issues secularism may have, even when it is discriminatory towards religious Jews or feeds antisemitism on the far Left, it is not the same as Nazism. It was the secular Soviet Red Army that liberated Auschwitz. Let us have a real reading of history, and praise those who fought the Nazis rather than slip into the false analogies of “double genocide” theories that claim that secular extremism is as bad as the gas chambers.

While Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg has called on the Education Ministry to cease funding for organizations linked to the racism on the tapes, there is a wider lesson here. First, the racism provides us an excellent opportunity to work more closely with the Diaspora. Jewish Americans are showing the way in tolerance and being supportive of other faith groups. A recent American Muslim Poll from January showed that 53% of Jewish Americans have positive views of Muslims. Jews in the US are among the most tolerant group. This provides a perfect opportunity for Israel to link up with the Diaspora in jointly fighting racism.

In Israel, we have shown the way in many sectors _ for instance, the country’s thriving Arab minority community, which often goes unrecognized abroad. Muslims, Christians, Druze and other groups in Israel are paving new paths in science as well as in entrepreneurship. But we can do better and we should do better.

The fight against instances of racism in Israel is also a message to the Muslim world that the Jewish state is a true partner in the Middle East. Dr. Mohammad Abdulkarim Al-Issa, secretary general of the Muslim World League, will go to Auschwitz with American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris for the 75 anniversary of the liberation. This is a unique time; Muslims are reaching out.

Israel faces some of the same challenges that neighboring states do in terms of confronting local extremism. We can learn how to use the same tools to confront it. We have our religious extremists and we will minimize them – and in so doing find a partnership with the Diaspora and the region.

The litany of abuse directed at others is a shameful example of an increasingly intolerant fringe in Israel that must be confronted. There have always been some racists in Israel, as in every society, but we have a responsibility to root them out – especially when they have access to youth and can potentially influence the next generation.

Let this be a line between the past and the future. Let us learn from this and the inspirational words of President Reuven Rivlin, speaking on Holocaust Remembrance Day about how we must have an “uncompromising voice” against racism.

“Ideas of superiority, national purity, xenophobia, blatant antisemitism from the left and right are hovering over Europe,” Rivlin eloquently said. “In a case like this, particularly Israel must speak in a clear and uncompromising voice.”

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