In the past two weeks, Jewish communities in the U.S. and around the world commemorated the first anniversary of the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, the worst massacre of American Jews in our country’s history, and the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht.
The latter was the prelude to the Holocaust, as the Nazis’ efforts to make Germany Judenrein — absent of Jews — was significantly behind schedule. As Northwestern Professor Peter Hayes recounted at the College of Saint Elizabeth’s annual Kristallnacht event on Nov. 4, relatively few German Jews fled the country. Why? They had nowhere to go.
Despite the west’s complaints directed toward the Nazis for their intolerable treatment of Jews, their rhetoric was not matched by action. At the Evian Refugee Conference in July 1938, to address the threats against German Jews, no nation agreed to take more than a small number of token Jewish refugees. In fact, the Australian delegate, representing an entire continent in need of populating, remarked that they didn’t want to import a Jewish problem.
Seeing this lack of interest in helping Jews emigrate, and noting how the world didn’t seem to care about the Armenian massacre more than 20 years earlier, Hitler deduced that the only way to rid his country of Jews was through violence. Kristallnacht occurred four months after Evian, leaving thousands of Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues looted and destroyed, and 30,000 Jews herded to concentration camps.
Today we are fortunate to witness great interfaith unity in Pittsburgh in support of the Jewish community, and laudable international efforts to include anti-Zionism in the definition of anti-Semitism. The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur, an independent entity contracted by the UN, defines the “objectives, activities, and effects of the BDS movement … as fundamentally anti-Semitic.” (Whether this will be approved by the UN’s governance bodies is another matter.) Moreover, our Department of State, thankfully, has been at the forefront of treating anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism.
Despite these hopeful signs, recent events raise questions about how much progress has actually been made.
The ADL reported 1,879 anti-Semitic instances in the U.S. in 2018, double the number cited just four years earlier. The Israel on Campus Coalition found that this year there have been 28 Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns directed against Israel on campuses, and 23 pro-Israel speakers who were prevented from speaking because of incessant disruptions. So much for academic freedom.
Students for Justice in Palestine, a rabidly anti-Zionist group, was given the NYU President’s Award, with the university’s president, Andrew Hamilton, conveniently excusing himself from the ceremony rather than acting to reverse this disgrace on behalf of his office. Also on campus, a non-tenured professor at Oberlin College in Ohio made vicious anti-Semitic remarks, including saying that Zionists bore responsibility for 9/11; the feckless administration did nothing for months until the board of trustees engineered her removal.
Why are there academic-sponsored symposia on the “One-State Solution,” at the University of Massachusetts and other campuses in effect calling for the genocidal dissolution of the only Jewish state among 21 Muslim ones?
The House of Representatives opted not to denounce Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for spewing anti-Semitic vitriol, opting instead to universalize a resolution to condemn all “isms,” effectively neutering any accountability for her hatred.
On the international front, Israel has been the target of more negative resolutions from the UN than all other countries combined. This while China herds over a million Muslim citizens into concentration camps and Pakistan alleges that India is occupying Kashmir. Why are there no BDS campaigns directed against India or China?
And, as Canada’s former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler asked, why is a member state of the UN — Iran — allowed to serve in good standing when it unabashedly seeks to destroy Israel, another member, in violation of the UN’s charter?
The above incidents are emblematic of many others. While the scourge of white nationalism and neo-Nazism are the main drivers of violent acts and desecrations of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, another form of anti-Jewish prejudice has the potential of inflicting even greater harm on the hearts and minds of future generations: The “original sin” of white privilege.
But that’s for next time.
In part two I will focus on how some efforts to combat racism have backfired, thereby minimizing sensitivity to anti-Semitism while increasing opportunities to demonize Israel.
Max L. Kleinman is president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation; from 1995 to 2014 he served as CEO/executive vice president of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.