Obsessive-compulsive Commemoration

Many Germans and Europeans take the path of least resistance by indulging a fetish with commemorative events and deceased Jews. Living Diaspora Jews and Israelis, however, are inconvenient.

BERLIN - The end of each January is punctuated by Holocaust commemoration events across Europe, and this year, the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, should be no different. Yet in recent years, Shoah remembrance has come to resemble a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), where people perform numbing rituals instead of undertaking the uncomfortable and dirty business of combating contemporary anti-Semitism.

The fear of contamination underlies the obsessive-compulsive's ritual of repeatedly washing hands, and in the same way, many participants and organizers of Holocaust memorial events immerse themselves in a feel-good compulsion devoid of a connection to reality. The OCD sufferer, however, often knows his repetitive behavior is nonsensical and irrational, even if he cannot resist it.

The fluffy exercises intended to preserve the memory of the victims of Nazism - and to symbolize an anti-fascist attitude - are not limited to the events surrounding International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. Many policy makers, academics and politicians in Germany seem to be consumed year-round with preventing harm to dead Jews, but one wonders if this doesn't come at the expense of focusing on threats to living ones. Petra Pau, a Left Party MP in the Bundestag, frequently reports on her parliamentary investigations into vandalized Jewish cemeteries in Germany. Yet Pau avoids criticizing members of her party who equate Israel with Nazi Germany, or attended pro-Hamas and pro-Hezbollah rallies during Operation Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War. Wolfgang Gehrcke, for example, her party's spokesman on foreign policy matters, is a frequent participant in such Israel hate festivals.

Gehrcke is hardly alone. When more than 100,000 Germans participated in rallies organized by German Muslim organizations a year ago during Israel's incursion into Gaza - demonstrations that included incitement to the crowds to chant "Kill, kill Jews" and "Kill, kill Israelis" - not a single German MP was willing to initiate a parliamentary investigation.

The pressing problem is that mainstream German society has an obsolete understanding of anti-Semitism. As long as you do not subscribe to the eliminationist views of Hitler's inner circle, it seems, you are exonerated from being considered anti-Jewish. Yet mushrooming anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiments are confirmed by statistical reality.

A 2009 study by Bielefeld University showed a spike in Jew-hatred in Germany and unsettlingly high rates across Europe of contemporary anti-Semitism - an intense loathing of the Jewish state coupled with a guilty-defensive reaction to the crimes of the Shoah that throws the blame back onto the Jews. According to the study, 41.2 percent of Europeans agreed with the statement that Jews are exploiting the Holocaust to advance their own interests, and 45.7 percent of respondents supported the contention that Israel in general "is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians."

To further compound the disconnect between the compulsion toward empty ceremonies and the authentic need to combat contemporary anti-Semitism, the Bundestag passed a resolution in November 2008, during the 70th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom, to create a governmental commission to monitor anti-Semitic crimes.

Perhaps the commission should begin by examining its own members' attitudes. One member, Elke Gryglewski, from the House of the Wannsee Conference museum (the site where the Nazis planned the extermination of European Jewry), reportedly said at a recent meeting that Holocaust survivors are "not objective and too emotional" to help in the fight against anti-Semitism.

Juliane Wetzel, another commission member and a scholar at the controversial Berlin Center for Research on Anti-Semitism, blasted Jewish critics of the panel and of her work, arguing that she would not allow herself "to be blackmailed by lobby groups." "Lobby group" is code for pro-Israel organizations here, and is considered pejorative.

Many Germans and Europeans take the path of least resistance by indulging a fetish with commemorative events and deceased Jews. Living Diaspora Jews and Israelis, however, are inconvenient: They are a reminder of the horrors of the extermination camps and are frequently willing to flex their muscles regarding new manifestations of anti-Semitism and to draw connections from the political and moral lessons of the Nazi era for the here and now.

The therapeutic gold standard for treating OCD is a therapy called "exposure and response prevention." A healthy dose of confrontation with Islamic anti-Semitism and mainstream European anti-Semites would do more to advance the security of Diaspora Jews and Israelis than the ubiquitous Holocaust remembrance events. That would also entail response prevention - namely, a shift away from ritualized commemoration. Shoah remembrance that also inspires Europeans to name Jew-haters as anti-Semites, as well as criticize the double standards that routinely single Israel out as the punching bag of the United Nations, is the first step in a prudent therapy.

Benjamin Weinthal is a journalist working in Berlin.