What Israeli youth know about the Holocaust

They don't experience 'in-your-face' Jew-hatred as do their Diaspora peers.

holocaust star 88 (photo credit: )
holocaust star 88
(photo credit: )
According to a national poll of Israeli teenagers conducted by the Anti-Defamation League last year, the overwhelming majority do not believe there could ever be another Holocaust. It's a belief based, perhaps, on their sabra mentality of self-confidence - possibly derived from considering their upcoming military service, and their sense of the invincibility of the Israel Defense Forces. Yet when asked if Israel is under threat of destruction, or if Israel could be wiped off the map, an equally overwhelming majority believe that it could. While maybe not a Holocaust in the classical sense, the annihilation of the Jewish state would actually be the ultimate Holocaust. As the world marked International Holocaust Day on January 27, two things came to mind. Firstly, that the Holocaust the world is marking is recognition of the ultimate evil of anti-Semitism. And secondly, the anti-Semitism that exists today, sometimes disguised as anti-Zionsim, is a powerful venom that could lead to genocide. The ADL poll found Israeli youth minimally aware of this new global anti-Semitism, yet hungry for more information. They live in a bubble. They don't experience "in-your-face" Jew-hatred as do their Diaspora peers. Occasionally events occur that remind them of anti-Semitism, such as the appearance of the so-called neo-Nazis in Petah Tikva. Suddenly it puts modern anti-Semitism into their minds for a while. But asking teenagers, as we did, what they think of when they hear the word "anti-Semitism," we found they mostly mentioned Nazis, Holocaust, Germany and Hitler. For them, anti-Semitism is a historical event - something related to the Second World War, and not necessarily a virulent demonization against Jews and Israelis around the world today. Still, the Holocaust is not seen as an historic event only. OUR POLL found that nine out of 10 Israeli teenagers said they had some kind of awareness of modern anti-Semitism in the world. In fact, about half consider foreign criticism on Israel to be anti-Semitism. (Among those aged 18, the figure was 63 percent.) Furthermore, the ADL survey also discovered that two out of three Israeli teenagers believe that the State of Israel has a responsibility for acting against anti-Semitism around the world. Surprisingly, the survey found that what the teenagers do know about anti-Semitism comes mainly from school, followed by television programs, Internet and the media. Down the list are parents, grandparents and a trip to Poland. Most of them said they wanted to learn more. There has been a lot of talk lately about a growing rift between Israeli and Diaspora Jewry. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni recently told the cabinet that youth here are becoming more "Israeli people" and less "the people of Israel." It is not unusual to find Israeli youth who see the country as a mere historical fact, removed from the emotional resurrection of a democratic sanctuary for the Jewish nation in its biblical homeland. It would help for Israeli youth to identify with the Jewish story and understand that they share a common narrative with their Diaspora counterparts. There is a lack of understanding of the perils facing Diaspora Jews, which we are reminded of around International Holocaust Day. ISRAELIS should have greater awareness of contemporary, global anti-Semitism. The whole world does not hate us, but there are those in the world who do hate us. Israelis should be able to recognize anti-Semitism and be prepared to confront it. So often, I have heard stories of people's first, face-to-face encounter with anti-Semitism. It usually happens during the de rigueur trip abroad after military service. After the initial shock, many have said they suffered a sense of helplessness by not knowing how to react. Since schools, according to our survey, are the main source of education about anti-Semitism, the Israeli educational system needs to enhance its programs by including contemporary concerns and use new tools, such as the Internet to engage Israeli youth on the subject. After all, anti-Semitism is not just a history lesson. It is a current event. The writer is the director of communications for the Anti-Defamation League in Israel.