It has been over 70 years since the end of the Shoah, and one would think that things should have changed for the better since that horrible time. But anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial have seen an uptick of 30 percent in 2018, partly due to social media and by virtue of the fact that those feelings that were once suppressed from public view have become openly acceptable. It is apparent that hatred of Jews is now the new cool in Europe. Of course anti-Semitism is not new. It has been part of the European culture for centuries. After World War II, it wasn’t advantageous to spew out those feelings for fear of retribution and possibly out of guilt. But those days are gone.
As we commemorate Yom HaShoah, I cannot help but think about how the anti-Semitic climate in the various European countries is frighteningly similar to what it was before World War II. Six million k’doshim did not die solely by the hands of the German Nazis. They had a lot of help from the complicit Europeans living in the occupied areas. Of course, if you speak to any of them, they will tell you that their relatives had nothing to do with the slaughter of the Jews; their people fought on the Eastern Front and were nowhere near the ghettos or the concentration camps. If that were true, then how come so many of our brothers and sisters perished? The Germans did not have enough manpower to do those ghastly deeds alone. Furthermore, how come the Nazis lost the war; for historians say that the Battle of Stalingrad was the turning point of the European theatre that led to Germany’s defeat? If every single person who said that he was in Russia at the time was actually there instead of being busy murdering Jews, it would have been highly unlikely that the German army would not have been able to overpower the Russian allies on the Eastern Front. It is all convenient revisionist history.
Hitler understood the deep-rooted anti-Jewish feelings that festered among the gentiles of Europe. He knew that they would readily cooperate with him to rid the world of their common enemy – the Jews. The Holocaust came about because Nazi sympathizers and collaborators aided and abetted the Germans. It was not just the Poles, the Lithuanians, and the Ukrainians who we usually think of as being the worst of the worst. (If you had asked my father who were the most egregious anti-Semites in the war, he would have emphatically said the “Polaken”; but if you asked my mother, she would have said the “Litvaks.”) But the truth was that even in more “sophisticated” European countries, the same hatred of Jews existed. The French had the Vichy, the Norwegians supported Quisling, the Swiss exploited Jewish money, England had its issues (with Palestine refusing to allow Jewish entry to escape the gas chambers, even turning ships back to Nazi Europe), and Ireland had some of the most virulent anti-Israel rhetoric of all the countries.
Opposing the existence of the Jewish state and denying its citizens the right to self-determination is blatant anti-Semitism
But it has always been this way in Europe. Anti-Semitism has been an integral part of the European culture for centuries. All through history, Jews have been discriminated on that continent in one way or another. Today things are no better. Recently, closeted anti-Semitism that has permeated for hundreds of years has moved out of the backroom and into the open throughout Europe. All aspects of Jewish life are now under assault. For Europe’s cosmopolitan elite, anti-Zionism has become the anti-Semitism of choice. The rise of the Far Right parties (for example: Jobbik in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, and Marine Le Pen’s National Front are gaining in popularity and have highlighted the problem) and the growing Islamic radical movements in the various countries create a serious anti-Jewish environment all over the continent.
In the United Kingdom, there has been a substantial increase in anti-Jewish hate incidents. Sweden, Belgium, and France have also seen a spike. Social media is being attributed to some of the anti-Semitism. According to the Community Security Trust, the British charity established in 1994 to ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community in the UK, “Social media has become an essential tool for coordinated campaigns of anti-Semitic harassment, abuse, and threats directed at Jewish politicians, student activists, and other individuals, perpetrated by transnational networks of online anti-Semites. Things are so bad that nearly one-third of European Jews are considering emigrating because of the rise of anti-Semitism, and 25 percent are afraid to appear in public with yarmulkes or anything else that would identify them as being Jewish.
Many try to justify their overt negative actions by saying that they don’t hate Jews per se; their issues are political with Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians. Let’s not fall for that. Opposing the existence of the Jewish state and denying its citizens the right to self-determination and blatant anti-Semitism, whether it be against the basic tenets of our faith, especially Jewish ritual observance, or animosity towards Jews in general, are one in the same. There are no differentiations. Just as a tiger cannot change its stripes, the same is true of Europe. It will never change its animus towards Jews, but we must redefine our reaction to it.
As we commemorate Yom HaShoah and reiterate the outcry of “Never Again,” we must resolve to never allow the Europeans to get away with their anti-Semitic inclinations in any shape or form. We must not be afraid to respond to the injustices and the malice. Anti-Semitism is anti-Israel and vice versa. The fact is clear that we must stand firm in our opposition of all forms of anti-Semitism, including the demonization and delegitimization of Israel. Israel is depending on us. Ask any Holocaust survivor about the importance of the Jewish state and, inevitably, the response would be, “If only there had been an Israel during the Shoah, millions of Jews would have had a chance to be spared.
Cynthia Zalisky is the Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org