By Walter Reich
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Dozens of cities held ceremonies last week to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The good news is that the dead were remembered. The bad news is that even as the Holocaust is becoming a fixture in the world's memory, it is also being increasingly used as a weapon against the Jews and the Jewish state.
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?
But as some people who don't like Jews have found, it's worth acknowledging the Holocaust if you can then turn it into a cudgel against the Jews. And that they've done, in spades. According to this crowd, the Jews today have become Nazis. The Jewish state is now supposedly carrying out a Holocaust against the Palestinians. Jews, the haters say, have always been evil, and their evil is only growing.
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.
The Anti-Defamation League has documented the way this weapon was used during the recent war with Hamas. Here are a few of the placards spotted at rallies: In Times Square, the group reported such signs as, "Israel: The Fourth Reich," "Stop Israel's Holocaust," "Holocaust by Holocaust Survivors," "Stop the Nazi Genocide in Gaza" and "Nazi Genocide, Israeli Genocide." In Chicago: "Palestinian Holocaust in Gaza Now." In a Los Angeles demonstration, the Star of David in an Israeli flag was said to have been replaced by a swastika, accompanied by the words, "Upgrade to Holocaust Version 2.0." In San Diego: "Stop the Israeli Holocaust on Gaza." And the league reported that one rally in Washington included an effigy of the Israeli prime minister wearing a swastika armband and holding a dead baby.
The Gaza war provoked similar attacks from some world leaders and people of influence. "The Holocaust, that is what is happening right now in Gaza," Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said in televised comments, according to Reuters. The New York Times quoted a Catholic cardinal who argued that Gaza increasingly "resembled a big concentration camp." And according to the Jerusalem Post, a Norwegian diplomat based in Saudi Arabia sent out an e-mail from her Foreign Ministry account in which she wrote, "The grandchildren of Holocaust survivors from World War II are doing to the Palestinians exactly what was done to them by Nazi Germany." She reportedly also attached paired photos designed to suggest that Gaza was equivalent to the Holocaust: Next to the iconic photo of the Jewish child in the Warsaw Ghetto being menaced by a rifle-toting Nazi soldier, the diplomat is said to have placed an "image of an Israeli soldier aiming his weapon at a Palestinian boy."
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.
In designating an International Holocaust Remembrance Day back in 2005, the U.N. General Assembly acted with noble intentions, even if parts of the world body still aim to delegitimize Israel. Such commemorations help the world understand that the goal of the Holocaust was the annihilation of an entire people -- and help them appreciate the vast differences between that event and, for example, the war in Gaza. But even as the Holocaust has been increasingly acknowledged and explained, it also has been increasingly used as a cudgel to beat Jews and the Jewish state.
Walter Reich, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University, is a former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.