Thursday 29 January 2015

Anti-Semitism has never gone away

It's easy to make accusations of anti-Semitism. In fact, it's so easy, that I am going to do it right here and right now:

Anti-Semitism is continuing to grow and if anyone, for a minute, thinks we have learnt the lessons of the Holocaust then they are sorely misguided, ignorant, perhaps wilfully so, and/or anti-Semitic themselves.

The reason, however, it is so easy to level charges of anti-Semitism is not because Jews have some sort of victim mentality and choose to dismiss anything as anti-Semitism, whether it is or not, but rather because anti-Semitism remains prevalent. Before I even make any substantial claims, someone may dismiss my blog as misusing the term anti-Semitism and somehow devaluing it maybe because it should only be applied to "real" anti-Semitism such as the horrors of 1930's Europe (or maybe because it just doesn't exist now in the first place). Wrong. Jews, almost unique in their historic persecution, are equally unique in their inability to define what constitutes anti-Semitism. For some reason Jews have no say in what is anti-Semitism, rather forced to sit idly by as non-Jews, many of whom will never experience any form of discrimination in their lives, tell us to get over ourselves, suggest it isn't as bad as Hitler's Germany (as if this somehow makes it okay) or suggest it is basically all fair game because, you know, Israel.

This is the first type of anti-Semitism: ridding Jews the ability of any attempt at defining what may/may not constitute anti-Semitism. If your first instinct at reading the first few paragraphs is to suggest I am exaggerating/devaluing anti-Semitism/just wrong then you may be an anti-Semite. Or at the very least, wilfully ignorant of anti-Semitism. 

One of the problems Jews today face is the very fact that the Holocaust happened. Its sheer scale and the unimaginable horror inflicted on the Jews and other undesirable groups such as gypsies and homosexuals makes it very difficult to believe any form of anti-Semitism could ever be as bad as the institutionalised mass murder carried out under Hitler. In fact, it makes it very easy to dismiss any claims of anti-Semitism because whatever occurs right now, it cannot be as bad as the ghettoisation and murder of millions of Jews. As if somehow the gas chambers renders any anti-Semitism now irrelevant or somehow not that bad. This is to fundamentally ignore the lessons of the Holocaust. It is precisely because of the Holocaust that we should be so vigilant against anti-Semitism now. To learn the lessons of the Holocaust does not mean to claim the worst has happened and declare anti-Semitism a non-issue as a result. Rather it means to be even more cautious in the face of anti-Semitism and aware of what unabated incitement against Jews can and has led to. Instead, we bury our heads in the sand, convinced that another Holocaust couldn't happen on our watch unaware it was precisely that attitude that allowed Hitler to kill the millions that he did. There is plaque at Auschwitz that reads: "Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to Humanity..." A warning to Humanity. A warning that humanity refuses to heed. A cry of despair Humanity refuses to hear. 

This is a unique form of anti-Semitism. It rests on complete knowledge of the horrors of the Holocaust and complete acceptance of the extreme anti-Semitism in Europe at the time. It is precisely because it was so horrific and the anti-Semitism so extreme that people believe modern day anti-Semitism doesn't come close and is not worthy of mention. Quiet Jews. You had your time. It isn't as bad. Shush. 

Another lesson of the Holocaust is that Jews should rely on no one but themselves for their very survival. Faced with a systematic attempt to rid Europe of every single Jew, world leaders did nothing. Don't try and kid yourselves into believing somehow that the West didn't know. They did. They ignored it. (CF Jan Karski if you are interested). Jews learnt the hard way, not to rely on anyone but themselves for their very survival. This is why Israel is so important. Attacks against Jews only serve to prove why Israel needs to exist (ironically). The world has stood idly by throughout history. It continues to stand idly by now. This is not a blog about Israel or the Palestinians or even attempting to defend Israel's actions. Regular readers know my opinions. Rather, all I attempted here is to defend the very idea of an Israel, in some form, existing as a Jewish state. If we had learnt lessons of the Holocaust Israel wouldn't necessarily need to exist. The very fact that we have not merely continues to confirm that it does. It may be easy to assert anti-Semitism. It is easier to dismiss the very real danger that Jews live in across the world - and is anti-Semitic to do so. It is easy when looking in to assert that things aren't that bad. When you are not the target of the attacks you are shielded from them. It is Jewish schools that have armed guards. It is the El Al check-in desk that has armed guards. Sooner or later, they all come for the Jews - and they never stopped coming for the Jews. 

What it all adds up to is the very real need for Israel to exist. When you live in a world where you are safer to lie about your being a Jew (see recent attacks in the US), that world has not learnt any of the lessons of the Holocaust. 

Another type of anti-Semitism is a nuanced form of Holocaust denial. It is the Holocaust denial that compares Israel to the Nazis. It is the Holocaust denial that makes comparisons between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto. It is the Holocaust denial that says Jews must learn the lessons of the Holocaust. It is the Holocaust denial that covers up Holocaust denial behind the cloak of caring about other tragedies across the world. It is the Holocaust denial that suggests the time has come to 'lay the Holocaust to rest'. It is the Holocaust denial that doesn't deny the Holocaust happened but mitigates it awfulness, justifies it or suggests Jews 'use' it. This is much worse than simply denying it ever happened. The Holocaust was the systemised, institutionalised, state sponsored mass murder targeted at a specific race. Be very very careful when you compare anything to it. Not just because nothing compares to it but because in comparing things to it, no matter how serious, you mitigate the awfulness of the Holocaust, an event whose awfulness should never be mitigated.  When Sky News, for example, runs a piece on remembering the Holocaust and runs pictures of Gaza, there is a serious problem. As if somehow what is important to remember when dealing with the Holocaust is Gaza. There is no comparison between Israel and the Nazis. There is no comparison between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto. If you feel it necessary to include Gaza when talking about the Holocaust, you may be an anti-Semite. 

On a recent edition of the Big Questions on the BBC, the question, "Has the time come to lay the Holocaust to rest?" was asked. I only watched one response, so I can't comment on the programme itself, but such a question has no place being asked. Having not learnt the lessons of the Holocaust, we are already asking whether it is time to forget about it. Whether Jews should move on. Stop complaining. Stop 'milking it'. As if the murder of Six Million of our kind could be 'milked'. As if there is ever a time to lay such a tragedy to rest. If you think Jews go on about the Holocaust too much, use the Holocaust or milk it you may be an anti-Semite. 

The most prevalent type of Anti-Semitism, however, is Israel-related. It blames Jews collectively for the actions of the State of Israel. It attempts to justify anti-Semitism by arguing if Israel weren't so damn awful, Jews would be fine. It hides anti-Semitism behind anti-Zionism. Again, this is not a blog about Israel's actions. Whatever your opinion on them, they offer no justification for anti-Semitism. Jews are not responsible for Israel and Israel's actions, no matter how awful you perceive them, are no justification for attacks on Jews or anti-Semitism. This is remarkably prevalent. There is a common conception that Jews should take what they get because Israel. You hear it all the time. If Israel didn't kill Palestinians no one would attack Jews. If Israel didn't exist Jews would be just fine, anti-Semitism (if it even exists) would disappear overnight. Ironically, you'd be partly correct. If Israel didn't exist anti-Semitism may disappear but only because Jews would first. We've been there before. If you blame Israel for anti-Semitism or think you can understand anti-Semitism in terms of Israeli action you may be an anti-Semite. You may as well argue that if Jews hadn't have existed in the 1930's the Holocaust wouldn't have happened. I am not going to get into anti-Zionism. Suffice to say it is often a cloak of anti-Semitism. 

70 years on from the liberation of Auschwitz and we have not learnt a damn thing. Anti-Semitism never went away yet it remains denied, mitigated and justified whilst incitement against Jews remains, attacks against Jews remain and the threat to the Jewish people remains.