This week the ritual of question time in Britain’s House of Commons revolved around anti-Semitism. Prime Minister David Cameron hammered Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on the way the loyal opposition in the mother of parliaments has become tainted by its members’ indiscreet comments and actions as well as their embrace of terrorist movements that are advocates of violent Jew hatred. But while the Labour Party has become the main focus of worries about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, it is just the tip of the iceberg. In recent years, violence against Jews in France and the marginalization of Jewish communities throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia has become a routine story. When placed beside the growing virus of anti-Semitism emanating from the Middle East as Islamist movements gain traction, what is happening in Europe illustrates a historical trend. It demonstrates that the memory of what happens when Jew hatred is allowed to run amuck has faded.
That’s a sobering thought for any day, but as Israel and the Jewish world prepares to commemorate Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Memorial Day — it is especially troubling to realize that Europe and the world have failed to draw the right conclusions from that tragedy.
It’s not an accident that Israel and the Jews remember the Holocaust on a different date from the rest of the world. In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly voted to designate January 27 — the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz as International Holocaust Remembrance Day and that is the date used by the international community for such commemorations. But in Israel and in most Jewish communities, the Jewish state’s decision in 1953 to mark the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan as Yom HaShoah is respected.
The timing of that date places this memorial in the context of a cycle of days in which Israel remembers its fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism and the country’s independence day. This is crucial because it anchors the Holocaust in modern Jewish history. What happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s demonstrated the consequences both of the growth of Jew hatred and the danger of Jewish powerlessness. The subsequent rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the ancient homeland of the Jews was not so much a specific response to the Shoah as it was to a pattern of history in which Jews were perpetual victims.
That’s why the juxtaposition of all the platitudes about remembering the Holocaust that emanate from the United Nations and most of the West with Europe’s inability to free itself of that virus is so significant.
For most of the last few decades, those who care about the memory of the Holocaust have worried that the shrinking ranks of survivors as the years go by will diminish the world’s ability to grasp the truth about this great crime. But as much as we are right to worry about the ability of Holocaust deniers — among whose ranks the leaders of Iran are still numbered — to spread the myth that Six Million Jews were not murdered by the Nazis, what we are seeing in Europe and elsewhere is something that is even more troubling.
Contemporary anti-Semites aren’t so much succeeding in convincing gullible people to believe the Holocaust never happened as they are getting them to believe it doesn’t matter. More to the point, the slanders against Israel, the growth in support for anti-Zionism — the movement that seeks to deny Jews the right to a state or to defend themselves — is eclipsing the arguments about history.
Today Jew haters don’t laud Hitler so much or minimize his crimes as they have tried to give their creed a makeover in which hostility to Jews and support for violence against them can be portrayed as support for human rights and resistance against colonialism. The ability of the anti-Israel BDS — boycott, sanction, divest — movement to gain support throughout Europe and even on American college campuses and academic associations is a testament to this effort.
Let’s understand that this is not a matter of criticism of Israel’s government or its policies but a war being waged to eradicate the Jewish state, no matter how its borders might be drawn. Having idealized a Palestinian national movement that is inextricably tied to a war on the Jews, Israel’s foes have inevitably tapped into a powerful strain of anti-Semitism that many thought had died out after the Holocaust. The passion behind anti-Zionism is unmistakable. Without the vile anti-Jewish stereotypes and canards that anti-Semites have drawn upon, their efforts would not have attracted so much attention and support.
The only ethical way to think about Holocaust commemoration in 2016 is to realize that the contemporary movement to wipe out Israel is part of the same continuum of hate that gave us the Holocaust. It does no good to lament the crimes of the Germans and their collaborators from 1933 to 1945 and to cry, “Never Again,” if the same people paying lip service to the memory of the Holocaust are silent about the latest campaign to victimize the Jews.
The most dangerous form of denial today isn’t from those fever-swamp dwellers or from Islamists who promote the idea that the Holocaust is a fiction foisted upon the world by crafty Zionists. The really dangerous kind of denial comes from those who refuse to recognize that anti-Zionism is merely anti-Semitism with a different name. This new worldwide movement of hate cannot be separated from traditional anti-Semitic invective and violence. Those who refuse to recognize this are not only undermining Israel and its supporters but also allowing this form of hate to grow.
So Western and even Jewish figures who fill the airwaves with their sorrow over the fate of the Six Million — whether on January 27th or in the next 24 hours — should spare us their crocodile tears if they are not also prepared to stand up against the anti-Zionist engine of anti-Semitism in our own day. It must be understood that the only proper memorials to the Holocaust are not made of bricks and mortar or measured in condemnations of Hitler but to be found in a willingness to oppose the current war on the Jews. Anything else is an exercise in hypocrisy. Those who wish to demonstrate they truly remember the Holocaust and understand its meaning must redouble their efforts to oppose the anti-Zionists and the BDS crowd as well as the terror movements that continue to seek Jewish bloodshed every day of the year.