Never Again?

Next week is the International Commemoration Day of the Holocaust. In 2005 the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution (A/RES/60/7), by consensus, declaring that the UN would designate January 27th as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. This specific date was chosen, as it is the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. The resolution also urges Member States to develop educational programmes to instill the memory of the tragedy in future generations to prevent genocide from occurring again: remembrance of the past, with an eye towards preventing history from repeating itself!

So why am I not reassured?

The Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) Global 100 Index of anti-Semitism is a survey of attitudes toward Jews in Over 100 Countries around the world. According to the 2015-updated index, after surveying 88.4% of the world's adult population, it was found that 26% (!) of them, a quarter of all respondents, harbor anti-Semitic attitudes: that is over 1 billion people, and this is only 70 years after the end of the Second World War and the atrocities committed by the Nazis against Jews, Gypsies, gays, political prisoners and many others.

Indeed, the Nazi machine annihilating Jews was unique in its malice and evil: an industrialized extermination of the worst kind, pre-meditated ideological genocide, which was not a by-product of war, but a foundation of belief and pillar of existence for its perpetrators. Incomprehensible. Unbelievable. It is like we almost wish for it to be nothing more than a frightening tale; only it is far from it. It happened, and not too long ago.

Could history repeat itself?

Only in the last few weeks, a discussion erupted in France, after Zvi Ammar, head of Marseille's Jewish community, suggested it might be better if Jews stopped wearing the yarmulke, also known as a kippah, "for the time being". This statement was made after a Kurdish immigrant from Turkey attacked a Jewish teacher with a butcher knife, claiming to be inspired by ISIS.

In the Middle East, the Persecution of Yazidis, Christians and other minorities by ISIS continues with some - but not too much - interruption by the free world. This is a genocidal persecution leading to exile, which includes the abduction of Yazidi women, massacres of innocent civilians and forced conversion campaigns. This, my friends, is happening here and now, as we are reading these lines. It is not - yet - a passage in the history books.

Closer to home, the situation does not look too encouraging: Jews on some of the college campuses around the country express fear to reveal their Judaism for fear of anti-Semitic attacks. Simply put, they are there to study and build a future, and not to be a moving target just because they are Jewish. The heated debate around Israel and Mideast politics plays a significant part in this updated manifestation of anti-Semitism: the Boycott movement, which opposes a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians and negates the right of the Jewish people for self determination, is becoming visible and unpleasantly vocal on more and more campuses. Their agenda of dehumanizing Israel and delegitimizing it is pushed onto student government bodies, without any real reason, and poisons the atmosphere on campus. Suddenly Israel, the Jew among the nations, is the face of all evil on Earth (as is the Jew in anti-Semitic propaganda), and being Jewish means an immediate implication with that evil, no matter what political views one might espouse. At Connecticut College, a Jewish professor dared to stand by Israel when it was attacked by Hamas in the summer of 2014, and was exposed to a smear campaign, with none of his colleagues standing up for him, and an administration keeping a deafening silence. Elsewhere, swastikas appear on Jewish fraternity houses and physical and verbal violence becomes an almost daily threat, which needs to be addressed.

The issue of anti-Semitism is a deep and troubling problem and it needs to be faced and countered head-on, whether it is manifested in its "classic" mode or whether it applies the same techniques only switching the word "Jew" for "Israel". But it also has political implications: just imagine what might happen to Jews in the Middle East, had there been no Israel. The probability is that Jews would have faced the same fate as other minorities there today, literally fighting for their lives in a region so steeped in hatred and violence. This is an all too familiar scenario for us: Jews had to fight for their existence and suffer for being Jewish all throughout Jewish history, since expelled from the Land of Israel by the Roman Empire some 2000 years ago. As we suffered through it for thousands of years, in places from Hungary to Yemen, from Russia to Morocco, we continuously yearned to come back home, to our ancestral Land, and live as an independent nation, capable of defending herself, not needing the mercy of others and we have achieved just that. We also yearned for peace. Dreamt of the day we will be able to live life side by side with our neighbors, Palestinians and Arab nations, each recognizing each other's right for self-determination, accepting and respecting one another as equal human beings. We still do.

We yearn, we dream, but we are also realistic. In Ethics of the Fathers we read the words of Hillel the wise:

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?".

That is the only guarantee of Never Again.