As I See It: How the West has created antisemitism denial

Judaism lies at the heart of western values. Yet it has been misrepresented and demonized by Christianity, Islam and secularism.

Participants carry Israeli flags at the 'Celebrate Israel'' parade along Fifth Avenue in New York City in 2017 (photo credit: STEPHANIE KEITH/REUTERS)
Participants carry Israeli flags at the 'Celebrate Israel'' parade along Fifth Avenue in New York City in 2017
Acute concern continues to grow about the antisemitism and Nazi imagery now on such rampant and brazen display in the West.
In America, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has spawned anti-Israel incitement on dozens of campuses, involving repeated accusations of Nazism and fascism along with virtually every other crime against humanity.
In Britain, some of the most egregious examples of this venom have surfaced in the Labour Party under the leadership of the ultra-leftist Jeremy Corbyn and his “Momentum” comrades.
Last week, Momentum joined other far-left and pro-Palestinian activists at a meeting in London as part of a national tour to build support for their Israel and Jew-bashing platform. Two Jewish women who went to protest Labour antisemitism were roughed up, with one of them hospitalized after being kicked in the head.
Jews who support Israel are increasingly being called Nazis and fascists, particularly if they draw attention to the disproportionate amount of antisemitism in the Muslim community. This obscene comparison is itself deemed antisemitic under the definition adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Many people are understandably aghast and bewildered that antisemitism and such abuse of the memory of the Holocaust and the Nazi nightmare could have returned in this way.
An even more painful question surely needs to be asked. For the West isn’t short of Holocaust memorials. Schoolchildren go in their thousands on supervised visits to Auschwitz. Holocaust education has been a feature of school curricula for some three decades.
All this has been done in the belief that, with proper education about what happened in Nazi Germany, those horrors will never be repeated. And yet here we are again with rampant antisemitism stalking the West.
Who, though, can be surprised given the way in which the Holocaust has been relativized? For one of the underlying messages of much Holocaust education and memorializing is that there was nothing unique about the Holocaust of the Jews. Children are taught instead that there have been many Holocausts.
And the message underlying that is that absolutely everyone is capable of becoming a Nazi. So for those who buy into the Palestinian narrative of victimization, it’s a small step to claim that in Israel the Jewish people whose state was recreated from the ashes of the Holocaust have turned into Nazis themselves.
A 2015 research study by the Centre for Holocaust Education at University College, London interviewed more than 8,000 pupils aged 11-18 in England, where the Holocaust is the only compulsory subject in the national history curriculum. This found that many children had no understanding of Nazis as a political movement and thought they were merely “Hitler’s minions.”
Some 32% of secondary school students believed that Britain declared war on Germany because of the Holocaust. In fact, of course, Britain declared war in 1939 in response to the German invasion of Poland.
The study found that while most students knew Jews were the primary victims, they had little understanding of why the Jews were persecuted. The students’ explanations often relied on misconceptions and stereotypes. A number of them referred to the Jews being “rich” or “having power” and being perceived as a threat as a result. They had no idea what antisemitism actually was.
SIMILARLY, WHILE other groups were often listed as victims of the Nazis, few students could explain why they too were targeted beyond a vague notion of hatred of people who were “different.”
In America, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany made a similar finding. Its study of 1,350 adults found two-thirds of American millennials could not identify Auschwitz, while 22% said they hadn’t heard of the Holocaust or weren’t sure whether they had or not.
Again, who can be surprised? The word “genocide” is now used to describe many mass killings. So the attempt to annihilate an entire people – the true meaning of the word – has been lost.
“Victim culture” encourages an ever-increasing range of racial, religious, sexual, gender groups and others to regard themselves as victims of oppression. But if everyone’s a victim, no-one’s a victim.
The very idea of victimhood has thus been devalued. Hatred has been made vacuous: a vague, ghostly, nightmarish shadow that now points an accusing finger at each and every one of us before dissolving before our eyes and vanishing out of sight.
“Social justice warriors” have not just produced a kind of victimhood fatigue within society in general. They have also helped obscure the unique significance of the Nazi Holocaust.
Politicians are also to blame. In America, both Republicans and Democrats use these comparisons to insult each other. Earlier this year, Donald Trump Jr. said the Democratic Party platform was similar to the 1930s Nazi party.
Among Democrats, it is commonplace to compare US President Donald Trump to Hitler and the Republicans to Nazis.
Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price produced an ad for the mid-term Congressional elections next month in which he compared Trump to Hitler.
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Democratic Representative Yvette Clarke stood in front of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Manhattan and declared: “We are standing in front of a building that has become the headquarters for the Gestapo of the United States of America.”
Even Jewish Democrats are guilty of this. Democratic Representative Stephen Cohen was forced to apologize after he likened the Republicans’ promotion of healthcare policy to the propaganda of Hitler’s henchman Joseph Goebbels.
If everyone’s a Nazi, the real Nazis stop being uniquely evil. They become instead Everyman. Thus the Holocaust is traduced, bad people get a free pass and the innocent are demonized.
The impulse behind Holocaust education and memorializing was noble and understandable. But it missed something crucial.
This was the need to teach the world about Jewish history in both the land of Israel and the Diaspora; to teach the world what it has done to the Jews over the course of recorded time; to teach the world how Judaism itself embodies a unique and unbreakable connection between the people, the religion and the land.
Judaism lies at the heart of western values. Yet it has been misrepresented and demonized by Christianity, Islam and secularism. It is that continuing ignorance and bigotry over Judaism itself which fuels the demonization of Israel, the misreading of the Holocaust and the return of open antisemitism.
In a culture framed by Holocaust memorializing, the West has itself become the avatar of antisemitism denial.
The author is a columnist for The Times (UK).