Center Field: Fight antisemitism, resist blue-and-white-washing, human-rights-washing

It’s easy to see the self-pitying, moral rot motivating Poland’s see-no-evil-speak-no-evil Death Camps Law; it’s hard to scrutinize ourselves for own moral sloppiness.

Visitors gather on the grounds of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau (photo credit: REUTERS)
Visitors gather on the grounds of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Conservative and liberal partisans take note: Benjamin Netanyahu’s government just showed how to confront allies if they soften on antisemitism, even risking the friendship to preserve your integrity.
Foolishly coinciding with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, forgetting how oppressive communist thought-control was, the Polish Parliament’s lower house tried outlawing the phrase “Polish death camps.”
This Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau – the worst of the Polish death... er, death camps the Nazis ran in a neighboring country which had no antisemitism, no collaborators, no citizens cheering the murderers, no peasants robbing the Jews, no Jew-hating massacres, and, clearly, no pogroms including one in Kielce that murdered 50, tell Jewish survivors: stay away.
(Future legislation worldwide should ban the demonizing phrases New Orleans Hurricane, My Lai Massacre, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Hadassah Medical Convoy Massacre, Columbine Shooting, Netanya Seder Suicide Attack, and French Surrender).
Israel’s government condemned this absurd attempt at “whitewashing” Poland’s past – and criminalizing historical discussions about an ugly history which many young Poles are bravely confronting.
Responding ambivalently, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Moraweiecki and President Andrzej Duda first promised to reexamine the bill, then doubled down, positioning Poland, in my Polish tour guide’s words, as the all-suffering “Jesus of Europe.”
Clearly, this mafia-like muzzle-mania reflects political dynamics in Poland – and the West. But, it pains me to say, future historians will partially blame some Jewish conservatives for the politicizing and relativizing of antisemitism that spawned this legislation – just as historians will partially blame some Jewish liberals for collaborating in making Israel the progressive punching bag.
The only valid moral stance regarding antisemitism – especially for Israel’s government – is zero tolerance for Jew hatred. In fact, the only valid moral stance for any Israeli government regarding any bigotry is zero tolerance for intolerance (including when it comes to African asylum seekers).
Unfortunately, some right-wingers indulge right-wing antisemitism – especially if it’s blue-and-white-washed by pro-Israel posturing, just as some left-wingers excuse left-wing Jew-hatred, especially if it’s human-rights-washed by denouncing Israeli settlements.
This myopia, Left and Right, is crisscrossed and cowardly. Liberals must challenge left-wingers; conservatives must challenge right-wingers. Bashing your enemies takes no courage; you need clear vision and a moral backbone to confront friends – especially when you want something from them.
I note Israel’s diplomatic isolation in Europe and many Europeans’ unfair anti-Zionism. And I appreciate the temptation when right-wing, anti-Islamist politicians in Austria, Holland, France, Hungary, or Poland blue-and-whitewash their antisemitism with pro-Israel platitudes.
But who are we? Are we so insecure we’ll embrace the vice chancellor of Austria-the-irrelevant, Heinz-Christian Strache, who just five years ago distributed a cartoon of a banker with a big-obviously-Jewish-schnoz and still sees Austrians as Hitler’s victims, not Hitler’s happy collaborators? Bravo to the Foreign Ministry for boycotting Strache’s Freedom Party, FPOe – with its neo-Nazi roots. MK Yehudah Glick erred by saying “we should definitely fight any racism and any antisemitism. But we should also definitely support anybody who expresses support for Israel.”
Glick should follow his prime minister, who wouldn’t tolerate Poles “distorting the truth, rewriting history, or denying the Holocaust.”
You cannot hate Jews and befriend the Jewish state.
Similarly, the Netanyahu government should beware Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz Party. Israel blew it with the Hungarian billboard campaign caricaturing George Soros. Here was a chance to fight antisemitism nobly, consistently, saying, “We detest Soros’s politics, but we detest old-fashioned antisemitic stereotypes even more.” Alas, that time, Netanyahu dithered.
For years, many liberals have enabled casual antisemites, those sniveling slimeballs who pretend to “only” be anti-Israel but are as obsessed with Israel as any Jew-hating medieval cardinal was and exaggerate any Israeli imperfections with the zeal of an Islamist or communist propagandist. All bigotry, Left or Right, is equally unkosher.
Hitler’s lethal antisemitism didn’t emerge fully formed, it evolved.
It festered in the swamps of German frustration. It grew in mistrust of strangers, which then glommed onto Europe’s favorite scapegoat, the Jew.
It fed off the coward’s unwillingness to confront clean-cut bullies and the cynic’s willingness to ally with useful brutes. And it metastasized thanks to reasonable people who just knew that “those Nazis” were reasonable too, for they couldn’t really be serious.
By the time Nazis emerged from the swamp as full-blown, mass-murdering monsters, they were too strong to be stopped.
Such toadying to European hate-mongers is unnecessary – and betrays Zionism. Thanks to Netanyahu, Israel’s friendships with India, China and Japan are flourishing – making Israel far less dependent on the kindness of every piddling European nation.
And, as Netanyahu has written, in refusing “to succumb to history’s horrors,” in the Jewish people’s “incomparable quest... at the end of an unending march, to assume its rightful place among the nations,” we need not shuffle around European devils any more.
I don’t really fear Hitlerian evil returning to Europe. But remember Zionism’s essential teaching about Jewish self-respect: there’s no such thing as a little humiliation. Swallowing minor slights does major damage to a people’s self-esteem. And remember the Holocaust’s essential teaching: there’s no such thing as a little hatred, a tad bigoted, a bit demagogic; tolerating minor offenses inflicts major damage on a people’s moral compass.
It’s easy to see the self-pitying, moral rot motivating Poland’s see-no-evil-speak-no-evil Death Camps Law; it’s hard to scrutinize ourselves for own moral sloppiness.
Today, with a strong Israel, we can worry less about external monsters destroying our people, but must beware of the inner demons menacing our souls.
The writer is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.
His forthcoming book, The Zionist Ideas, which updates Arthur Hertzberg’s classic work, will be published by The Jewish Publication Society in Spring 2018. He is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.