In his address to the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said antisemitism isn’t just hatred of Jews. “The antisemites weren’t only in the Budapest Ghetto,” he said. “Antisemites were also slave traders who threw people bound together with chains into the sea. Antisemites were the extremist Hutu in Rwanda who massacred Tutsis.” He is right, and it’s good that he said it. The right-wing attacks he has suffered over these remarks merely underscore their validity.
The Holocaust was a unique event in human history. There was no precedent for a program of genocide so systematic and satanic. Nevertheless, we have to recognize the fact that hatred of Jews is essentially no different than hatreds of other nationalities and races – and history is full of such hatreds. The fact that the Jewish people was the victim of the cruelest, most systematic manifestation of all these hatreds doesn’t make Jew-hatred different from displays of hatred toward other peoples.
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The nationalist right in Israel was outraged that Lapid dared to compare antisemitism to its sister hatreds. But the claim that antisemitism is unique conceals another claim that is much worse: Jews are the chosen people, an exalted people, and therefore, hatred of Jews is worse than any other national hatred, perish the comparison. This is an outrageous nationalist claim that puts the Jewish people at the center of human existence and downgrades all other victims of racism to secondary importance.
Yes, victims of the Armenian genocide and the massacre in Rwanda were victims of national hatreds similar to antisemitism. Jews’ blood is no redder, and attacks on them are no worse than other hate crimes. Islamophobia in the West is no less ugly than antisemitism, and it must be fought with the same determination. None of this has any connection to the uniqueness of the Holocaust.
It’s also impossible to avoid another discussion that’s no less important, about the use Israel makes of antisemitism to repulse criticism of its policy of occupation. All such criticism is automatically labeled antisemitic. Israel thereby not only rejects legitimate and necessary criticism of the occupation, but also criminalizes it. This strategy has so far been crowned with success. In Europe, it’s much harder than it used to be to criticize the Israeli occupation due to Europeans’ fear of being accused of antisemitism. The attacks on Lapid also conceal a desire not to lose this useful tool, which silences all criticism of Israel.
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Antisemitism is indeed similar to other forms of racism, as Lapid rightly said. The world must mobilize for a shared and determined battle against all these ugly manifestations. And Israel, which arose from the ashes of the Holocaust, must participate in every front of this battle.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.