This week Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released the findings of the most comprehensive survey on global anti-Semitic attitudes ever conducted in the history. The survey polled 53,100 adults in 102 countries. The report confirmes the prevalent anti-Semitic sentiments present throughout the world. The most disturbing aspect of the findings, for me personally, was the level of anti-Semitic attitudes found in Indian and particularly within the Hindu community.
According to the survey 19% of Hindus hold anti-Semitic beliefs. At least one-fourth of the Hindu respondents were aware of the Holocaust. Amongst those who had heard of the Holocaust, 48% considered the number of Jewish victims to be greatly exaggerated, and 11% considered the Holocaust to be a myth. The overall figure for India was just as damning, with 20% of Indians harboring anti-Semitic sentiments. Hindus constitute a significant demographic group. They make up for over 80% of India’s 1.2 billion population and about 14% of the entire world’s population. Though vast majority of Hindus reside in India, there are millions of Hindus living in North America and Western Europe.
Historically, Hindu-Jewish relations could fairly be described as very cordial. The Jewish communities have existed for centuries in India and did not face prosecution from the native Hindu population. The Jewish communities were welcomed and widely respected for their trading and seafaring skills.
The origin of today’s anti-Semitics sentiments lies in modern Indian history. The Congress Party, the dominant political force during the freedom struggle of India was historically opposed to the creation of the Jewish state. To make things worse, after independence from the Britain in 1947, the Congress Party decided to align India with the Soviet Bloc. The pre-existing ‘anti-colonialist’ stand against the Jewish State fitted very well with prevalent soviet attitudes during the Cold War.
Only after the end of the cold war in early 90s Congress Party shrugged the ideological baggage, paving the way for establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.
Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao’s decision to normalize relations with the State of Israel in 1991 was begrudged in many quarters of the establishment, including some prominent figures within the party. The most resilient opposition came from the left-dominated academic circles that were backed by the government during the Cold War. Since then two decades have passed. India-Israel ties have grown exponentially in commerce, defense and research. However, the academic establishment is still firm in the hands of the resilient old guard. It plays key role in writing educational curricula; and forming the attitudes of the future Indian leaders, civil servants and diplomats.
It is not only possible, but desirable to pass through the India school system without learn anything about the Holocaust – I speak from my own experience. For the Left-dominated academia any admission of the Holocaust and suffering of the Jewish people would strengthen the claim for a Jewish State. They would rather play ideological games with young minds, than to educate them.
Even in the institutions of Higher Learning the study of Holocaust outside the leftist paradigm is thoroughly discouraged. In 2000 when I approached my Professors at a leading Indian University with a research proposal based on Holocaust Literature (Works of Primo Levi), I was asked to change the topic. In subsequent discussions, I was cautioned about the omnipotent ‘Zionist lobby’ that discouraged any ‘honest’ study of the Holocaust. I was told about the ‘brave’ American academician Norman Finkelstein and his crusade against the ‘Zionist lobby’.
This ideologically biased education system has managed to produce a people void of historical understanding of the Holocaust. In the age Internet this void is readily filled by dubious online and social media content. Internet and social media are ripe with conspiracy theories pointing to sinister forces at work; and all sorts of quasi-scientific theories denying the Holocaust. Indian book stores and roadside kiosks are filled with anti-Semitics literature – most prominently the Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf.
…fact that the Indians and Hindus have not been infected with anti-Semitic tendencies doesn’t gurantee that they would be perpetually immune to this scourge.
Today, the leaders in the Hindu community could brush aside these findings or question the methodology; but these figures pose some serious questions. The historical fact that the Indians and Hindus have not been infected with anti-Semitic tendencies doesn’t guarantee that they would be perpetually immune to this scourge – unless we in Hindu community find new ways of educating and filling these dire deficits.