Opinion |

International Holocaust Remembrance Day: An Israeli Hypocrisy

If a racism survey were held in Western countries like the one on anti-Semitism, Israel would be near the top of the list

Daniel Blatman
Daniel Blatman
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Eritrean migrants demonstrate against Israel's policy of forcibly deporting African refugees and asylum seekers outside Rwanda's embassy in Herzliya, January 22, 2018.
Eritrean migrants demonstrate against Israel's policy of forcibly deporting African refugees and asylum seekers outside Rwanda's embassy in Herzliya, January 22, 2018.Credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP
Daniel Blatman
Daniel Blatman

As happens every year, a few days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27), the Diaspora Affairs Ministry releases a report on the state of anti-Semitism in the world. This is a fixed ritual.

The report details the number of cases in which gravestones in some remote Jewish cemetery in Ukraine or Germany were vandalized and how many hooligans spat in the faces of Jews wearing kippot in London or Munich, as if they were a threat to Jewish existence, almost like an SS unit operating in Lithuania in 1942.

On Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, wearing his other hat as diaspora affairs minister, presented the report, whose data – as Ofer Aderet showed in this paper – answer the accepted description of fake news, to say the very least. Worried, Bennett pointed out the rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain – 30 percent more than last year! – and stated, based on the figures from the French police, that one out of every three hate crimes in France targeted Jews. The other two out of three of course targeted Muslims and blacks, but that is less important.

"Anti-Semitism is the dangerous fuel that has inflamed our enemies forever," said Bennett. "We must ensure that every Jew everywhere in the world can live their lives in safety and pride. We must act in every way we can to fight modern anti-Semitism in order to guarantee the safety of the Jewish people, in Israel and in the Diaspora."

Since the UN General Assembly unanimously passed Resolution 60/7 in 2005, which designates January 27 – the date the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp was liberated – as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it provides another opportunity for the chorus of hypocrites and the self-righteous in Israel, who get another day to spread their regular messages on anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the security of the Jewish people.

The winter Holocaust Remembrance Day has been added to the one in the spring – Israel’s “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day” – as an occasion to blather on and cover up the injustice Israel is carrying out here and now. Israel opens its commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2018 with a breathtaking campaign of racist expulsion of African refugees.

It would be appropriate to go back to the wording of the resolution and examine how much of the General Assembly’s decision is upheld in Israel. In its very first section, Resolution 60/7 mentions the connection between the resolution and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “which proclaims that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, such as race, religion or other status.”

Resolution 60/7 continues: “Recalling article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person; Recalling also article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which state that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

“Bearing in mind that the founding principle of the Charter of the United Nations, ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,’ is testimony to the indelible link between the United Nations and the unique tragedy of the Second World War.”

The resolution mentions explicitly, in this context, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was adopted in 1948 “in order to avoid repetition of genocides such as those committed by the Nazi regime.”

Later, Resolution 60/7 mentions the Jewish tragedy, but here too the distance is great between the resolution and Israel’s manipulation of what it says: “Reaffirming that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice.”

The resolution then calls on the UN member countries to “develop educational programs that will inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide; rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or part; condemns without reserve all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur.”

Israel, which is about to send tens of thousands of African refugees on a long journey of wandering that will put their lives at risk, is the least appropriate country to speak in the name of the principles of UN General Assembly Resolution 60/7.

An endless number of examples prove that the debate in Israel is based on hypocrisy, ignorance and evil, and completely contradicts the principles set down in Resolution 60/7. Remember, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev described the Sudanese refugees as “a cancer in the body of the nation.” This is explicit incitement on an ethnic basis, the type that the UN resolution explicitly comes out against.

Deputy Knesset Speaker MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) presented his phased plan, according to which the Palestinians in the occupied territories (and possibly Israeli citizens, too) would become, in the best case, subjects without rights with a status that reminds us of German Jews after the passage of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. To the extent that they do not agree to the plan, they will simply be cleansed from here. If they refuse to leave, they will be uprooted violently, which would lead to genocide.

Another elected official from the ruling coalition, Likud's Miki Zohar, did not hesitate to state that the Arabs have a problem that has no solution – they are not Jews and therefore their fate in this land cannot be the same as that of the Jews. Where is Resolution 60/7 and where are Smotrich and Zohar? Prof. Zeev Sternhell wrote in this paper earlier this month that this racism is “akin to Nazism in its early stages.” I think it is Nazism in every way and fashion, even if comes from the school of the victims of historical Nazism.

But this is not just a dialogue between minor political figures. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dehumanizes his own citizens and treats them as if they are the “huge quantities” flocking to the polls to bring down the right-wing government, he loses the right to speak in the name of Resolution 60/7. Of course, we must not forget the statements and comments of the religious leadership, which are a symbol and example for large parts of the national religious community in Israel.

This community has turned the Holocaust into one of the central components of its identity, but its treatment of its lessons is the most hypocritical and disgusting. There are hundreds of examples of this, if not thousands. One is Rabbi David Batzri, who in 2006 came out against the establishment of an Arab-Jewish school, saying the “establishment of such a school is an act of impurity and contamination. It is impossible to mix the impure with the pure. They are a blight, an evil Satan, a plague. The Arabs are donkeys so the question must be asked as to why God did not create them walking on four legs? So the answer is they must build and clean.”

Rabbi Dov Lior, one of the most important rabbis of religious Zionism, whose racist teachings are followed by thousands, said in 2013 that he did “not know how to get rid of [the Arabs]. We believe the day is not far off when we will achieve the cleaning of our entire land from the terrorists and their supporters, and they should go to Saudi Arabia.”

Books and pamphlets praising the murderers of Arabs or permitting the shedding of their blood, such as “Baruch Hagever” and “Torat Hamelech,” are legitimate literature among a number of those who wear knitted kippot. Many other Jews agree with the opinions appearing in these books, even if they have not read them or do not even know of their existence.

More than anything else, the thundering silence of the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem is disappointing and embarrassing. Precisely now, in the face of the beginning of the deportation campaign for asylum seekers, the institution entrusted with preserving the lessons of the Holocaust should have come out loudly in the name of the principles of Resolution 60/7.

It should stand at the head of the campaign being organized in various circles in an attempt to revoke the decree, which casts a great stain on Israel’s right to speak in the name of the victims of the terrible disaster that befell the Jewish people and the human race in general. But it seems this is not going to happen. Yad Vashem is known for its silence on moral questions, unless they touch on what happened during the Holocaust.

And this is how Israel has become the Western country in which the most extreme, racist discourse is being conducted against ethnic minorities, whether they are refugees from Africa or Arabs. If a racism survey was conducted in the West, similar to the report on anti-Semitism that the local chorus of hypocrites bandies about every January 27, Israel would find itself near the top of the list.

Daniel Blatman is a professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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