Rewriting history

Anti-Semitism has a long history. Scholars have pointed out that it pre-dates Christianity.

Anti-Semitism has a long history. Scholars have pointed out that it pre-dates Christianity. In responding to the story of the Exodus as told in the Torah, the Egyptians told a counterversion contending that because the Jews were unclean and were polluting and defiling the land of Egypt, they had been expelled. These stories were later used in political and military struggles between Antiochus Sidetes and John Hyrcanus (133 C.E.) and by pagans living in cities in the Land of Israel to prove that the Jews had no claim to the land. In the first century C.E. many Greek authors repeated these same stories - that the Jews were descended from lepers expelled by Egyptians who wanted to purify their land - and that they had settled in Judea and continued to live in their "degenerate and outcast state." History was being rewritten for a political, anti-Semitic purpose, a phenomenon that has been repeated many times since then. The famous Merneptah Stele from around 1220 BCE may be another example of rewriting history. It records Pharaoh Merneptah's victories, including the claim that "Israel is laid waste, his seed is not." Some scholars think this is the Egyptian propaganda ministry's account of the battle at the Sea of Reeds. Whatever it may refer to, this is certainly a case of "the report of our death is somewhat premature." History may be written in stone, but in this case it is propaganda rather than fact. Most recently we have seen this in Holocaust denial. The denial of the Holocaust currently being led forcefully and financed generously by the president of Iran is not an argument about history among distinguished scholars. It is not an argument about how to read certain documents, the exact way the Holocaust was performed or the exact numbers involved - legitimate discussions all. Holocaust denial is simply the distortion of historical facts for political purposes. In the words of Prof. Charles Fried of the Harvard Law School, "There is such a thing as truth: That is why Holocaust deniers are fools or liars." Even Jacques Chirac, the president of France, declared, "It is a crime against the truth, the absolute perversion of the soul and spirit." Whether or not Holocaust denial should be made a crime, as it is in certain countries and is currently being proposed for the entire European Union (and a case can be made on both sides), it should be clear to all that Holocaust denial is not a matter of academic debate - the evidence is too overwhelming for that. It is part of anti-Semitic propaganda and of the attempts of Iranian and Arab groups to deligitimize the Jewish state and to give further excuses for attempts to expel Jews from the Land of Israel and bring about the destruction of Israel. One cannot even say that it is a subtle attempt. In the case of Iran, it is blatant, since Iran openly calls for Israel's destruction. Regarding the Exodus, the Torah is replete with commands to tell the story - "And you shall explain to your son on that day..." (Exodus 13:8), "And when, in time to come, your son asks you, saying, 'What does this mean?' you shall say to him..." (Exodus 13:14). The emphasis there is on freedom rather than on suffering, but in our Seder the suffering is not forgotten, that is why maror is one of the three basic elements of the Seder. So too it is important that we tell our children about the Shoah - that's why we have Holocaust Remembrance Day - that it be part of their education. But it must be part of the education of all peoples. It is a hopeful sign that a resolution the US placed before the UN General Assembly condemning denial of the Holocaust was passed on January 27. The establishment in Great Britain and other places of a national Holocaust Memorial Day should serve as an example to other nations, and study of the Holocaust in schools and universities throughout the world should become the norm. If, as the Jewish Chronicle recently reported, 28 percent of 18-29 year olds in Britain do not know if the Holocaust was a myth or not, our educational system has failed miserably. We must not allow history to be rewritten, first of all because such rewriting is being done for an evil purpose and if it succeeds it can lead to the destruction of Jews everywhere and of the State of Israel. There is another reason, and that is truth. Truth must not be hidden. Those who died deserve that their memories not be desecrated in the foul mouths of the David Irvings and the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads of this world. The writer is the head of the Rabbinical Court of the Masorti Movement and the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel.