My Word: Holocaust reminders, memories and commemorations

Denying Israel’s right to exist – or to defend itself – is just the modern world’s version of what has been called “the oldest hatred.”

January 25, 2019 03:27
A World War Two memorial of mass killings on the banks of the Danube River is seen in Budapest, Febr

A World War Two memorial of mass killings on the banks of the Danube River is seen in Budapest, February 11, 2014. A main Jewish group in Hungary has recently voted to boycott official Holocaust commemorations this year unless they more clearly show the role of local citizens in the Nazi deportation. (photo credit: REUTERS/BERNADETT SZABO)

 There was a period when it was fashionable to believe that the existence of television could have prevented the Holocaust. Had people seen the horrors being perpetrated, they would have taken action to stop it, the argument went. But given the number of atrocities in recent decades that have impinged on the comfort of our own living rooms courtesy of footage from places as distant as Rwanda, Cambodia, Serbia, Syria and Yemen, I suspect that much of the world would have sat back, tut-tutting at best, and simply watched the show.

With the advent of social media, the situation is even worse. Social media platforms not only fail to prevent horrors from taking place, they are used to polarize populations and fan the flames. There’s a reason a video clip that enjoys global success is said to be “viral.” It spreads its message – right or wrong – swiftly. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the forgery of lies about Jewish global domination that was first published in Russia in 1905, no longer needs to be printed to survive. Social media use catchy memes to effectively dish out the poison a few bytes at a time.
On Sunday, January 27, much of the world will mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day with moving ceremonies, calming speeches and a universal message of “learning the lessons” and “Never again!” The date was chosen by the UN because it marks the day that Auschwitz- Birkenau was liberated.

Recent polls, however, show that much of today’s youth don’t recognize the name of the Nazi concentration camp, let alone know what took place there and what it symbolizes.

This week the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) and the Azrieli Foundation jointly announced the results of a comprehensive Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey of adults in Canada. Among its disturbing findings: “52% of millennials cannot name even one concentration camp or ghetto and 62% of millennials did not know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.”

Even worse, “22% of millennials haven’t heard or are not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust.” The results were similar to the findings of survey carried out last April in the US.

It’s not as if antisemitism is something new. Arguably, it has existed from biblical times. Certainly it reared its ugly head in the Roman era; manifested itself during the Crusades, the blood libels of the Middle Ages, the Inquisition, the Italian ghettos, and in European pogroms and persecution. By the time Hitler’s Third Reich was formulating its Final Solution to rid the world of every last Jew and vestige of Jewish culture and religion, the ground was already fertile and well-washed with Jewish blood.

The creation of the State of Israel did not put an end to Jew-hatred, it just gave it a new form: anti-Zionism become traditional antisemitism’s successor. At its most twisted, it equates Zionism with Nazism, a way to both demonize Israel and to try to remove responsibility for the events of the Holocaust. Jews are no longer victims but perpetrators. It’s a double sin: Equating Jews and Nazis combines trivialization and perversion of the truth. It’s a perfect fit for the echo chambers of cyber space.

With a worldwide population of fewer than 15 million, the Jews are a minority wherever they live, other than Israel, which some 6.5 million Jews call home. But antisemitism can be found even in countries where there are no Jews.

When Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad refuses to permit the Israeli paralympic swimming team to take part in the competitions there, he is in effect putting up a sign saying “No entry to Jews!” Those who don’t condemn it are complicit. Any country unwilling to host an Israeli team at a sporting event clearly does not foster a sporting spirit. The other competing countries should do the right thing and refuse to participate until Israel – recognized as a sovereign state by the United Nations more than 70 years ago – is given an equal chance to compete.

When the Islamic Republic of Iran openly states its goal is to wipe Israel off the map, the answer isn’t to allow it to develop weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads or rushing to strengthen its economy to appease it.

The war against the Jews is not confined to cyberspace. It is taking place in the real world, with every rocket launched on Israel from Gaza or Syria, with every attack on Jews and their supporters around the world, and with every statement of delegitimization.

Antisemitism targets the Jews. The only way to avoid seeing it as an infringement of human rights is to deny that the Jews (or Israelis) are human.

In too many places Jews find it uncomfortable to openly wear signs of their religious identity – a skullcap or a star of David. Jewish schools, community centers and synagogues have had to add layer upon layer of security. Jews in Europe need no reminder that antisemitism is deadly.

There have been lethal attacks on Jews in France, Belgium, and Denmark in recent years. Meanwhile, the bullets fired by white supremacist Robert Bowers at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in October 2018 killed 11 people, wounded many more and pierced holes in the sense of security of Jewish communities everywhere.

Sometimes it feels the only thing that can unite the far-Left and far- Right is Jew-hatred. The accusations that Jews – or Zionists – control the world through the banks and media can, and do, come from both extremes.

In Charlottesville in 2017, white nationalists shouted “Jews will not replace us!” In the name of intersectionality, members of Black Lives Matter have drawn up anti-Israel platform, supporting the BDS movement, and the leaders of the Women’s March which took place in Washington, DC last weekend are proud of their anti-Israel stance and support for Louis Farrakhan whose rhetoric includes talk about the “satanic Jew.”

The radical Left has absurdly pulled back the sheets to allow Islamists and jihadists to hop into bed and keep warm. The image of British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn laying wreaths at the graves of Arab terrorists involved in the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered is an obvious, outrageous, example.

The situation has become so serious that in September 2018 Britain’s former chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks addressed a debate in the House of Lords on antisemitism and steered away from traditional understatement, saying: “Antisemitism is the hardest of all hatreds to defeat because, like a virus, it mutates, but one thing stays the same. Jews, whether as a religion or a race or as the State of Israel, are made the scapegoat for problems for which all sides are responsible. That is how the road to tragedy begins.

“Antisemitism, or any hate, become dangerous when three things happen.

First: when it moves from the fringes of politics to a mainstream party and its leadership. Second: when the party sees that its popularity with the general public is not harmed thereby. And three: when those who stand up and protest are vilified and abused for doing so. All three factors exist in Britain now. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. That is why I cannot stay silent. For it is not only Jews who are at risk. So too is our humanity.”

The speech itself was widely shared but words are not enough.

No matter how many times the phrase “Never again!” is repeated on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it will mean nothing if speakers at those events fail to recognize that the victims were Jews.

If the UN spends one day a year preaching against the horrors of Jew-hatred, but continues to single out Israel for condemnation during the rest of the year, it achieves nothing.

That is the lesson that needs to be learned. Denying Israel’s right to exist – or to defend itself – is just the modern world’s version of what has been called “the oldest hatred.”

“Never again” must start now. And it can’t be for one day only.

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