Antisemitism, Holocaust denial: First they gassed us, now they gaslight us - opinion

There’s something about the Jews. We are a favorite target – enduring 58% of America’s hate crimes despite being only 2% of the population.

 US PRESIDENT Joe Biden speaks in Philadelphia, the following day, about the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. He first said it was too early to know ‘why’ the gunman ‘was using antisemitic and anti-Israeli comments.’  (photo credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Joe Biden speaks in Philadelphia, the following day, about the hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. He first said it was too early to know ‘why’ the gunman ‘was using antisemitic and anti-Israeli comments.’
(photo credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS)

“Gaslighting.” It’s a new word from an old movie. It means lying to make people doubt their own perceptions of reality. In the 1944 movie Gaslight, Ingrid Bergman’s evil husband tries driving her crazy by denying her reality. Gaslighting robs people of their stories, their experiences, of the truth. In so doing, gaslighting delegitimizes them. Rendering their experiences invisible makes them more visible as targets.

In the 1940s, what little reporting there was in America regarding the Holocaust rarely emphasized Jews as targets – listing dozens of other victimized groups, too. Yet, the scattered protests were covered as Jewish, not American, rallies.

Today, in gaslighting the Jewish people – and the world – Holocaust deniers swoop in after the crime and commit a clean-up crime. They say: “You’re crazy! Something that monstrous couldn’t happen!” So first they gassed us, now they gaslight us.

In rejecting what happened, these master-liars reject other truths, too. By denying the right historical story, Holocaust deniers also try denying our historical rights to live as Jews in our homeland.

Today’s gaslighting attempts have ballooned into phantom Jew-hatred. There’s something about the Jews. We are a favorite target – enduring 58% of America’s hate crimes despite being only 2% of the population.

 Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, where four hostages were held. (credit: JTA) Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, where four hostages were held. (credit: JTA)

But when a Jew-hating Islamist menaces a synagogue during Shabbat prayers, ranting that Jews control the world, while seeking to spring an even more flamboyant Jew-hater from jail, it’s not politically correct to label him a Jew-hater. The gunman “was singularly focused on one issue,” the lead FBI agent said, “and it was not specifically related to the Jewish community.” President Joe Biden, while at least using the t-word, “terror,” still first said it was too early to know “why” the gunman “was using antisemitic and anti-Israeli comments.”

Obviously, many today deny Jew-hatred to avoid confronting Islamist Jew-hatred. But this is an old story. This phantom hatred takes many forms. Some hate Jews for standing out, others hate Jews for fitting in; some hate from the Right, others from the Left. Amid this cacophony of bigotry, people pick convenient targets while dodging uncomfortable truths. They condemn the antisemites they hate anyway, overlooking any allies’ antisemitism. Amid such partisan-clouded confusion, evil flourishes.

Events earlier this month offered that all-too-familiar double whammy:  While a Jew-hater attacked Jews for being Jews, leading non-Jews instinctively denied that Jews were being targeted as Jews. Fighting hatred is hard enough; fighting phantom Jew-hatred is even harder because we must confront friends, not just enemies. We see it when allies overlook obvious facts, as they did in Texas. We see it when allies – and some non-Jews – buy into the “we’re not antisemitic, we’re just anti-Zionist” lie. And we see it with soft-core Holocaust denial, too, when the Holocaust is so universalized as a “crime against humanity” that people overlook the fact that it was a war against Jewry, or when people sloppily compare many minor evils to the Holocaust, thereby diminishing the monstrosity of that unprecedented evil.

STILL, WHILE fighting this fog, we should also see three points of light that shined through, so we Jews don’t gaslight others.

First, the attack in Texas says nothing about spiking antisemitism in America. The terrorist was a British Pakistani jihadist trying to free another Pakistani jihadist. True, it is dismaying that someone who had a criminal record for violence in England, who had been on an MI5 watch list, could enter America so easily. But this story says much more about the anti-Jewish obsessions of global Islamism – especially Islamists’ insane perceptions that Jews control America, if not the world – than about any homegrown American hatred.

In fact, second, once again, we witnessed a most welcome yet still historically unusual phenomenon: Most Americans don’t cheer Jew-hatred – they jeer it; Jewish victims are hugged, not shunned. I refuse to define America by one shooter in Pittsburgh or Poway, let alone one British-Pakistani criminal import. I do, however, define America by the support President Biden and so many American leaders showed; by the FBI and police heroes who ran toward the synagogue, not away from it; by White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, which hosted an interdenominational healing service for the community; and by millions of Americans who prayed for the four Jews held hostage for hours.

Finally, if last week began with all the fear jihadists stir and the venom they spew, it ended with a historic tikkun (redemption) in the most unlikely of places – the United Nations. There, 2,538 km. away from Colleyville, Texas, UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan pulled off an impressive coup. On January 20, the 18th anniversary of the Nazi Wannsee Conference, which green-lighted the “Final Solution,” Erdan succeeded in getting the UN to oppose the gaslighting of the Jewish people. The General Assembly passed a resolution rejecting and condemning “without any reservation any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part.” This resolution was only the second GA resolution Israel has successfully introduced in 72 years of UN membership.  

During these difficult times, we must pressure our enemies and appreciate our friends. We should challenge those who foolishly fail to see Jew-hatred in all its evil, and all its guises. But we also should salute those who bravely confront Jew-hatred and reflect the all-American decency most Jews experience day-to-day in what remains this vast, miraculous, experiment in running a continent-wide democracy, the USA.

The writer is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, the author of nine books on American history and three on Zionism, and the voluntary lay chairman of the Birthright-Israel International Education Committee. The views expressed here are his own.