By ROBERT HORENSTEINExtract from an article in Issue 24, March 16, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Reportclick here.
Growing up in the 1970s, when I was first
exposed to chilling Holocaust documentaries showing emaciated corpses being heaved into mass graves, I could never have imagined that as time passed, some people would actually deny that the most documented genocide in history ever took place - or equally repugnant, acknowledge that it happened, but then use spurious and odious comparisons with it to demonize Jews and the Jewish state.
Yet, that's precisely what has happened. In dozens of demonstrations against this winter's war in Gaza held throughout the United States, Holocaust language and imagery were invoked to express outrage against Israeli military actions. Placards at rallies in Times Square, Chicago and San Francisco declared, inter alia: "Israel: The Fourth Reich," "Stop the Nazi Genocide," and "Stop Israel's Holocaust." Swastikas superimposed on Israeli flags were also seen.
And astonishingly, deniers still have a platform. Last summer, for example, David Irving, declared by British and Austrian courts to be an unrepentant denier and anti-Semite, lectured in New York, Washington and Atlanta, as well as on the campus of the University of Oregon.
If these abhorrent activities were confined only to hypocritical left-wing radicals and discredited Holocaust-denying historians, that would be troubling enough. But what about a Catholic bishop who claims "there were no gas chambers" during the Holocaust? How alarmed should we be when a European diplomat, a Vatican representative and the United Methodist Church in America all equate Israeli policies to those of the Nazis?
Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI triggered an outcry from world Jewry when he reinstated Bishop Richard Williamson, a Holocaust-denying British-born cleric who had been excommunicated in 1988 as a member of a radical ultraconservative breakaway sect. During an interview on Swedish television last November, Williamson asserted that "the historical evidence is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler."
In response to Jewish anger, the pontiff is now demanding that Williamson recant his preposterous views. Nevertheless, as Rabbi Eric Yoffie, leader of the Union for Reform Judaism, noted: "For any pope, especially a German pope, to take a step that seems to mitigate Holocaust denial is ominous, especially at a moment when outbursts of anti-Semitism are on the rise throughout Europe."
Whereas hardcore Jew-haters have engaged in Holocaust denial for decades, the use of the Holocaust to malign Israel is a newer and growing phenomenon, according to George Washington University's Walter Reich, a former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. "For some," Reich says, "the acknowledgment of the Holocaust's reality has become a screen behind which anti-Semitism has gathered new force."
Robert Horenstein is Community Relations Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.
Extract from an article in Issue 24, March 16, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Reportclick here.
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