Anyone who believes that anti-Semitism is a thing of the past needs to consider the case of Bishop Richard Williamson, the cleric who denies that the Holocaust occurred and insists that the murder of six million Jews is "lies, lies, lies."
Williamson is a Jew-hater, pure and simple. Pope Benedict's support for him demonstrates that the current pontiff, who started out as a Hitler Youth, has a rather different attitude toward Jews than his revered predecessor, John Paul II, who started out in the Polish Resistance.
The whole phenomenon of Holocaust denial, of rejecting proven historical facts, is incredible.
My wife was born in a Displaced Persons (DP) camp in Germany a few years after the war. Her parents were survivors. But two of her mother's siblings were not.
They were from Poland. Her brother Abraham was a lawyer. Her sister Hannah was a teacher. When the Nazis invaded their town of Rozwadow in September 1939, they, and their parents, fled across the border to the nearby city of Lvov, which was then part of the Soviet Union. They settled there, thinking they were safe from the Nazis in Russia (now Ukraine).
Hannah, who was 27, met her future husband there. When he decided to return to Poland to help out his parents who had been left behind, Hannah insisted on going with him. Shortly afterwards, the young couple was apprehended and murdered by the Nazi occupiers.
Abraham stayed in Lvov and was there when the Germans invaded that part of the Soviet Union. Hiding behind his "Aryan" looks, he regularly smuggled bread from the gentile part of Lvov to the ghetto. It didn't take long before he was caught, shipped back to Poland, and executed.
I have to wonder. What do Holocaust deniers think happened to people like Hannah and Abraham Ellenbogen? Do they think they were on the lam like Bonnie and Clyde? Did they change their identities to escape an overbearing family? Are they still alive?
Of course, these aren't serious questions. They are dead. They were killed in the Holocaust. Most likely they were gassed at the camp at Maidanek or Birkenau and burned up in a crematorium.
Those who deny the Holocaust are in the same class as people who deny that dinosaurs once ruled the earth or that FDR presided over this country from a wheel chair. They are, politely put, nuts.
But the Holocaust deniers are not merely crazy. Their denial of historical facts is motivated by hate. Its specific purpose is to delegitimize Israel.
They believe that if there was no Holocaust, there would be no Jewish state either. So, eliminating the Holocaust is a means toward eliminating Israel.
Holocaust denial also allows the deniers to freely hate Jews who, they maintain, invented such a monstrous lie. Holocaust denial then not only intends to delegitimize Israel but also to legitimize anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is primarily a relic of the past, but it continues to exist. It thrives on the fringes of the far right and far left and ignites whenever the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flares up.
There are those who argue that anti-Semitism is unrelated to developments in the Middle East, that it is always around, and that its rise or fall is unrelated to actual events. They make a strong case, one that is probably true in most cases.
But the current spike is not simply the product of intrinsic anti-Semitism but a by-product of the Gaza war. That may not be fair but it's a fact.
Endless war does Israel no good on the public relations front, no matter whether the war is justifiable or not. Prime Minister Olmert's statement threatening more "disproportionate responses" did Israel the kind of harm that all the spin in the world will not undo.
Fortunately, the harm produced by war is undone when Israel is seen as pursuing peace. In fact, when Yitzhak Rabin was extending the hand of peace to the Palestinians, he was admired in the same quarters (particularly in Europe) where Israel is so widely disdained today. In fact, he was the most admired statesman in polls taken throughout the world.
If anti-Semitism was as permanent and deep-seated as some say, Rabin would have been no more admired than a Sharon or a Shamir. Real anti-Semites don't make exceptions, especially for Israeli war heroes. Israeli policies indeed affect how Jews are viewed worldwide, as does our penchant to take to the television screens to defend those policies, no matter what they are.
Of course, old-fashioned anti-Semitism--like that of Richard Williamson--is unrelated to the Middle East. It is race-based. He would hate Jews no matter what, like segregationists in the south hated African-Americans. But, fortunately, that kind of anti-Semitism is less common than ever before, much like the social anti-Semitism that kept Jews out of the "best" colleges, jobs, clubs and neighborhoods through the 1950's.
Jews today are better off than ever before. Abraham and Hannah Ellenbogen would laugh at the very idea that a professor who champions the Palestinians - and wishes Israel would go away - is tantamount to a pogrom. If they were here, and could witness the condition of American Jewry and the power and vitality of Israel, they would think the Messiah must have arrived.
And yet Israelis (and some of their American supporters) are running scared, as evidenced by the Avigdor Lieberman phenomenon.
Forty years of occupation, forty years of fighting stone throwing teenagers in the streets of the West Bank and Gaza, and ten years of defending Israel against lunatics who blow up buses have done terrible things to Israel.
And then there is Hamas.
Israelis look at all this and suddenly a Lieberman seems not quite so unreasonable. He did not arrive from nowhere. He is the creature of Hamas just as Hamas is the creature of the settler movement.
Not long ago, that would be a controversial statement. But no more.
Yesterday, Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Chair of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia convened a hearing on the Gaza situation.
Dr. Ziad J.Asali, President of the American Task Force on Palestine, delivered an eloquent statement explaining why it is morally wrong to punish the people of Gaza and also why it is naïve to believe that Hamas will ever change its terrorist stripes.
Naturally, he was attacked by several of the Representatives in Congress who, with the lobby's talking points in hand, struggled mightily to justify withholding United Nations-sponsored humanitarian aid from innocent people. It was the usual stuff from the usual suspects, one of whom was not Gary Ackerman.
Ackerman has long been Israel's most outspoken advocate in Congress. However, his idea of supporting Israel does not include punishing children. And, wonder of wonders, the Democrat from Queens blames both Palestinians and Israelis for the current horrors. In Congress, it is de rigeuer to insist that the Israelis are always innocent and the Palestinians always guilty.
But, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Ackerman said yesterday that Israeli hardliners and Palestinian terrorists are "all part of the same destructive dynamic."
The "downward spiral" in the region "comes from terrorism and the march of settlements. It comes from the firing of rockets and the perpetration of settler pogroms. It comes in daily images of destruction and the constant reiteration that 'they only understand the language of force.' It comes from tunnels in Gaza and, yes, from digging in Jerusalem as well."
Will Ackerman catch hell for his statement? Will he be sat down for some friendly warnings by the lobby? Will he be threatened by wealthy donors?
You bet he will. But he knew that before he opened his mouth and, rare on Capitol Hill, he concluded to "damn the consequences." (There won't be any anyway--none that matter--which will encourage his more timid colleagues to follow Ackerman's example).
It was a rare moment on Capitol Hill. A powerful pro-Israel Representative departed from the script and told his listeners that the current course is bad for America, bad for Israel, and bad for the Palestinians. It was, perhaps, the first such moment in a subcommittee that has always been rather predictable when it comes to Israel. But I suspect it won't be the last.
What can you do to help?
Why don't you give Congressman Ackerman a call and thank him? Believe me, the status quo lobby will be calling and reading Ackerman the riot act. Just call 202-225-2601 and tell whoever answers to give the Congressman a message. A hearty "way to go, Gary" will suffice.
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