Scientists and doctors are working feverishly to fight the COVID-19 plague around the world. Their tools include quarantines, intubation, and the search for a vaccine. But flourishing simultaneously is another dangerous virus – a social one — called anti-Semitism. If history is an indicator, the financial and economic disasters that await the world are the ideal Petri dishes for that virus’ exponential growth.
American political and social leaders are remiss in fighting the anti-Semitic wave. Alarmingly, when they do not call out the perpetrators, they encourage the racists. In some cases, they even abet incidents of Holocaust denial.
Threats of violence against Jews and their institutions were accompanied in New York in recent years by physical assaults against individual Jews. The attacks were ominously followed by bombs and gunfire attacks. The threats come from both sides of the social war zone – from white supremacists (as in the Charlottesville march, in 2017, and followed by shootings in the 2018 Pittsburg Tree of Life and the 2019 Poway synagogue), to the anti-Semitism spewed forth from the Left by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the Women’s March leaders,1 and two Congresswomen (which were followed by fatal attacks in 2019 by Black radicals on a Jersey City kosher market and the Hanukkah attack on a rabbi’ home in Monsey, N.Y.). By no means do I suggest a causal relationship between the “free speech” incitement and the deadly attacks, but they all occur in the virulent, dangerous environment.
Now, the anti-Semitic rhetoric has become a cacophonous chorus blaming Jews and Israel for the Coronavirus’ inception and spread. The Middle Ages’ blood libel of Jews poisoning the wells of Europe and causing the Black Plague has returned and is echoed today by the propaganda machines of China, Russia, Turkey, the Palestinian territories, and Iran.
Don’t be mistaken: The authors of these canards claim that their accusations are not against Jews, and therefore not anti-Semitic. But many of the allegations against Israel or Zionism are genuinely anti-Semitic in their origin and motives. The fraudulent anti-Semitic screed, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, written in Czarist Russia a century ago, helped to fuel Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Focus on the fact that the “Elders” were from Zion.
How ironic that the cooperation of Israeli scientists and bio-tech researchers with their counterparts around the world may lead to better treatment or inoculation against the disease. How hypocritical of the founder of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement, Omar Barghouti, to tell an Arab audience, “If Israel finds a cure for cancer, for example, or any other virus, then there is no problem in cooperating with Israel to save millions of lives.”2
Barghouti’s BDS movement embodies what Jerusalem Center Fellow Dan Diker labels “Israelophobia” – the violent “anti-Semitic attacks against Jews in Europe and the United States [under the guise of anti-Zionism] and the simultaneous and intensifying defamation, delegitimization, and demonization of Israel – the Jewish collective.”3
Political Leaders Have Not Protested Anti-Semitism Enough
Holocaust Memorial Day is commemorated internationally on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. In Israel, Yom HaShoah [Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day] is commemorated on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, memorializing the Holocaust and the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. (This year, the day corresponded to April 21).
In recent years, the purpose of the international memorial day has understandably and tragically expanded. The British Holocaust Memorial Day Trust explains that the day’s intent is “to remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.”
But the Holocaust of the Six Million Jews stands first and alone because it is unique in human history. [See “Is the Holocaust Unique?” by Elly Dlin.]4 No other race, people, or religion was targeted to be eradicated in a systematic industrial extermination like a disease – down to its last member.
Distressing, therefore, is an April 21, 2020, tweet by Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who posted on Yom HaShoah a message that elides any mention of Jews.
This #HolocaustRemembranceDay—and every day—we pay tribute to the millions of lives lost and forever changed in one of the most horrific chapters of our world’s history. May we honor them by fighting to ensure hate and bigotry #neveragain prevail. #YomHaShoah
Sadly, other politicians have also forgotten to include “Jews” in their Holocaust Memorial Day declarations, including President Donald Trump in 20175 and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016.6 Their failures suggest inadvertent nonfeasance by new administrations, and their offices were quick to point out the centrality of the Jewish Holocaust.
Ms. Tlaib’s failure to include the Jews on “Yom HaShoa” smacks of willful malfeasance. No apology has been offered, apparently. Why would she leave out Jews in a carefully parsed missive? Her actions recall a statement by presidential candidate Jesse Jackson [“Hymietown”7] in the 1984 elections. He told a reporter who accompanied him to Israel, “I’m sick and tired of hearing about the Holocaust and having America being put in the position of a guilt trip. We have to get on with the issues of today and not talk about the Holocaust.”8
Tlaib’s omission of “Jews” from her Yom HaShoah tweet serves to “flatten the curve” of guilt over the Holocaust and sympathy for Jews and the Jewish state. Her message spreads the pain among all minorities, races, and religions. The actions by Tlaib and others represent an aspect of Holocaust denial – “everyone suffered, not just the Jews.”
The failure to identify and attack anti-Semitism was also evident after racist tweets were posted by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota when she accused American politicians of being pro-Israel because of “the Benjamins” (hundred-dollar bills) paid by AIPAC.9 Later, Omar publicly questioned “the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”10 The canard of dual loyalty led some members of the House of Representatives to consider a resolution rebuking the congresswoman for her anti-Semitism. But in the end, the House resolution was watered-down to meaninglessness. No rebuke of Omar was issued. House Resolution 183 condemned anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim discrimination. The Resolution warned of white supremacists’ hate and bigotry against “African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others.”
A policy of limited liability for anti-Semitic actions, rhetoric, or attacks is fraught with danger and will encourage the spread of the virus of hate.
George Washington’s Advice
In August 1790, President George Washington visited “New Port,” Rhode Island, and met a delegation of Jews from the Newport Hebrew Congregation, led by Moses Seixas. In response to Seixas’ appeal for respect and tolerance for all the United States’ citizens, Washington (and Jefferson, apparently) wrote a letter of assurance that declared
For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
….May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.11
Sign the Covenant of Tolerance
Before the National Democratic and Republican Conventions, which could be discordant and divisive, a document should be drafted by party leaders and circulated among all national, state, and local candidates pledging anew that Jewish Americans must be able to live their lives free of fear, threats, and discrimination. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden should be the first to sign.
Jews must not fear attacks for wearing identifiable headgear or jewelry in public. College students must be able to express their Jewish identity or pro-Israel opinions without harassment. Never again should Jewish congregations smuggle and hide away their Torah scrolls for fear of firebombs, as was done in Charlottesville. Anti-Semitic actions must be punished to the full extent of the law.
The drafters of such a Covenant of Tolerance should rely on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism,” which has been adopted by international organizations, member countries, and the U.S. State Department.12 The IHRA is the “only intergovernmental organization mandated to focus solely on Holocaust-related issues, so with evidence that the scourge of anti-Semitism is once again on the rise, we resolved to take a leading role in combatting it.”
According to the IHRA definition, “Manifestations [of anti-Semitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”
IHRA presents a list of actions it considers anti-Semitic, including “accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.”
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“The Nazis (Hitler and his cabal of true-believers) were fervently convinced that they were locked in a cosmic battle with the forces of Jewish evil for control over the whole world. They were totally convinced that Jews were the source of all of the evil in the world and that evil would exist as long as the Jew remained in the world. They knew that their struggle (Mein Kampf) was the battle to the death against the multi-faced Jewish enemy. Only one side could emerge victorious; the other would be totally eliminated.
“And only the Jew was seen in these terms; only the Jew was the total embodiment of evil; only the Jew was without any place in the world of the future; and only the Jew was to be totally murdered to the very last one. The final solution (die entloesung) applied to Jews and to Jews alone and it meant the death of each and every Jew.”