Holocaust Remembrance Day

February 1st, 2009

January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Created by the UN General Assembly by resolution in 2005, the commemoration has not been widely observed or taught and has not had any observable effect on the resurgence of anti-semitism in some quarters. To make the point, who reading this knew that International Holocaust Remembrance Day was last week?

Walter Reich is a professor of international affairs at George Washington University and a former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Writing in The Washington Post today, Reich comments on the recent tendency to recognize that the Holocaust happened while accusing Israel and Jews in general of being little different from the Nazis:

For some, ironically, the acknowledgment of the Holocaust’s reality has become a screen behind which anti-Semitism has gathered new force. The hard-core Jew-haters spent decades denying that the best-documented genocide in world history ever took place. That won them such derision that even many anti-Semites have begun to admit the reality of the Holocaust — and now are hoping that simply by doing so, they can immunize themselves from the charge that they’re anti-Semites in the first place. How can you be an anti-Semite, they figure, if you recognize the Holocaust? …

Of course, not all criticisms of Israel are the product of such bigoted logic. People of good will around the world are naturally shocked by the tragic and appalling deaths of Palestinian civilians, including those killed in the recent war in the Gaza Strip. Like any country, Israel can be criticized. But the massive and unceasing eruptions of outrage against the Jewish state — in a world in which other countries and groups have, often provoking barely any outrage, engaged in immensely more destructive and immoral behavior — can only be explained in a few ways. One is that attacking Israel has become a means of attacking Israel’s ally, the United States. Another is that over-the-top attacks on Israel, particularly those invoking Holocaust language, have become a means of once again attacking the Jews. … 

Are all those who have accused Israel of being a Nazi state anti-Semites? Hardly. There’s genuine anger in the Muslim world, as well as in Europe and elsewhere, about Israel’s actions in Gaza. The suffering is terrible. So are the images of devastation Israel left behind. And there are also plenty of people who are angry at Israel because it stands for the reviled United States.

But the reality is that much of the vitriol directed at Israel has indeed been spouted by anti-Semites. Not only have they hurled the Nazi canard at Israel, they’ve expressed clear anti-Semitism — some of it openly violent or even eliminationist. The pro-Israel but reliable Middle East Media and Research Institute has been documenting anti-Semitism on Palestinian television for years, including calls for the murder of Jews. It reports that, the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, one Egyptian cleric admitted on an Islamist TV channel that the Holocaust had happened — and added that he hoped that one day Muslims would do to the Jews what the Germans had done to them. To demonstrate what he had in mind, according to the institute, he showed footage of heaps of Jewish corpses being bulldozed into pits. 

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3 Responses to “Holocaust Remembrance Day”

  1. Kevin |

    There is a fundamental illogic to any direct comparison between the Nazis and the Israelis. One was a specific political/ideological party and the other is an entire country made up of numerous political/ideological parties from across the ideological spectrum.

    That said, regardless of being a Jew who has neither denied the Holocaust nor advocated anything even approaching the elimination of the Israeli state (much less genocide…), I’ve had the “anti-semite” label thrown at me by fellow Jews simply because I’ve had the audacity to disagree with Likud in general and Netanyahu in particular. I would argue that the very term/label “anti-semite” has been cheapened by such gratuitous misuse and that such misuse is itself racism roughly akin to African Americans calling each other ni&&er.

    All of that said… there is undeniably a very clear racial/ethnic component to Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. It’s unavoidable in the context of a state premised upon domination by a particular ethnic group as Israel is.

  2. Tom |

    I agree, Kevin. People who are by no means anti-semitic can criticize Israel, and they do. It does cheapen the serious meaning of the term when it’s thrown around indiscriminately. However, Reich’s point is valid that superficial acceptance of the Holocaust is used by some as a screen to cover attacks against Israel and Jews in ways that clearly are anti-semitic.

    I don’t see a racial/ethnic component to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. First, Israel would not attack Palestinians if they were not attacked first. Second, there are a very large number of Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel, and they enjoy civil and political rights that far exceed those of citizens of any Arab country. It’s true that Israel is a majority jewish state, and in order to survive in any meaningful sense it must stay that way. However, it’s nothing like the various islamic republics of the Arab world. Israeli law and policy are secular, and aside from a few extremists, that’s the way they want it.

  3. Kevin |

    Yes, Reich’s point is valid. However, that coin has two sides.

    Just as superficial acceptance of the Holocaust gives cover for some anti-semitism, so too does saddling the Holocaust with a disproportionate significance used to give cover for racism by Jews.

    The point of remembering the Holocaust isn’t to remind everyone of why Jews ought to be allowed to practice our own racism. It’s to remember not just the horrificness of the Holocaust but what led to it in the first place: relatively benign racism.

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