“Today’s Jews are the reincarnations of the souls who destroyed the ancient island kingdom of Atlantis.” This was the answer I received when I had asked a self-proclaimed anti-Semitic Romanian man whom I once met in Jerusalem why he disliked the Jewish people. While my encounter with this man lasted no longer than five minutes, my memory of his twisted theory about Jews is something I’ll never forget.
Looking back, I was sadly not at all surprised by the absurdity of the Romanian man’s theory. After all, Jews have tragically grown accustomed to hearing the most preposterous conspiracies leveled against them. Historically, millions of people have bought into a long line of conspiracy theories, stretching from Medieval blood libels to contemporary claims of Holocaust denial, that puts on full display the anti-Semitic mind’s propensity for the absurd.
Regrettably, this long line of anti-Semitic conspiracies continues to grow in the twenty-first century and its most recent addition is perhaps the most outrageous of all: the comparison between Israel’s operation in Gaza and the Nazi perpetration of the Holocaust, a comparison explicitly or implicitly made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, British Lord John Prescott, Cambridge City Councillor Tim Bick and the Secretary General of South Africa’s African National Congress, Jessie Duarte.
This effort by politicians to equate one state’s deliberate and systematic extermination of two-thirds of a continent’s Jewish population with another state’s collateral killing of a thousand Gazan civilians in a military effort to protect its own civilians from terrorist attacks is the latest and greatest illustration of the anti-Semitic mind’s propensity for the absurd. Even assuming the disputed contention that Israel could have taken greater precautions to minimize civilian casualties, the comparison would still have absolutely no basis in reality.
In general, any extremely offensive allegation made against a particular group of people that has no basis in reality, one would ordinarily suspect, has its basis in emotion, the emotion of hate. Thus, the allegation that the Jewish state has followed in the footsteps of Nazi Germany – a claim that most Jews would naturally find extremely offensive – with no basis in reality, one should reasonably conclude, has its basis in the emotion of anti-Semitism.
Because of this, the comparison between Operation Protective Edge with the Holocaust has no place in the marketplace of ideas and should be taken no more seriously than Holocaust denial.
In the past few months, an ominous wave of anti-Semitism has swept across the globe in response to Israel’s Gaza offensive. While ‘blatant’ expressions of anti-Semitism by participants in pro-Palestinian rallies have made the headlines, the more ‘latent’ expressions of anti-Semitism by politicians likening Israel to Nazi Germany have received far less media attention.
But those who yearn for a hate-free future should be more alarmed by the latent anti-Semitism of politicians than by the blatant anti-Semitism of lay people at rallies. This is not only because politicians, in comparison to lay people, possess more power but also because politicians, in comparison to lay people, tend to be better educated. The display of irrational prejudice by those who attended “fine schools and universities” testifies to the failure of their respective educational systems to adequately communicate to students the imperative of tolerance.
By outlandishly comparing Israel’s military operation to the Holocaust, these politicians either deliberately made a deeply offensive statement they knew had no factual basis or callously made a deeply offensive statement without inquiring into whether the statement had any factual support. Under either alternative, their behavior highlights a major shortcoming in the education they received. Had these politicians genuinely appreciated the value of tolerance, they would not have made a deeply offensive statement about a particular ethnic group without making sure it had factual support.
And while we might not have the highest expectations that the Islamic-oriented education that Erdogan received in Turkey would have taught him the message of tolerance, we would certainly expect better from the Western education that the other three politicians received. The growing popularity among politicians of this hate-driven comparison should serve as a wake-up call to educators in the non-anti-Semitic world to go to greater lengths to impress their students with the importance of tolerating others.