My father, John Ziner z’l” (Czinner Janos in Hungarian), was born in the twilight years of The Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Born in 1910, to a wealthy and established Jewish Hungarian family in Budapest, he was the quintessential “Poster Boy” for emancipated European Jewry.
Wealthy, handsome, worldly and debonair, popular and well established, he epitomized the privilege that Napoleon’s emancipation of European Jews had created for them.
By the mid 1850’s, progressive European countries were opening their ghettos and removing their anti-Jewish restrictive laws, thereby allowing their Jews to become educated, to become lawyers and doctors, merchants and business people. By the late 19th century, European Jews became politicians, educators, artists and entrepreneurs; they became cultured, involved in the arts and theatre, in business, in politics; they thrived and prospered…and assimilated.
While the German Jews were creating Reform Judaism, modifying and eliminating the strict requirements of Kashruth and other Orthodox restrictions, the Jews of Hungary created their own tradition: Neologue Judaism.
Their synagogue, the Dohanyi Utca Synagogue, in Budapest boasted one of the greatest organs in Europe, to accompany its services; Kashruth was far from obligatory, but they did maintain the Orthodox custom of the women being separate from the men during religious services. The synagogue itself was grand and beautiful and impressive, proudly representing its wealthy and cultured congregation.
My father was born into that privilege.
His family owned a thriving lumber company, and they “owned” box seats at the Budapest Opera, the Vienna Opera and the Dohanyi Utca Synagogue,.
Educated cultured…”accepted”, my fathers’ friends included nobility, movie stars and the jet set. He himself was a well known- and loved – playboy, and he dated two of the three Gabor sisters. (He was engaged to two Christian women named Lily before he married my mother, Rose Rubin z’l”). He owned the first speedboat on the Danube, the newest B.M.W.’s, and both his mother and his sister, who were considered amongst the most beautiful women in Hungary, graced the covers of prestigious Opera magazines. He was well respected for his business acumen and success, his extraordinary charm and savoir faire, and with his grey suede driving gloves, walking stick and spats, he was considered the epitomy of a well bred, cultured, upper class Hungarian gentleman…until he wasn’t.
And therein lies the lesson.
With all his charm, and wealth and success-by the early 1940’s, he was, ultimately “Just A Jew”.
With all his panache, and grooming and good looks and connections, he was, after all…” Just A Jew”.
When the Nazis and Fascists took over Europe, it didn’t matter how wealthy or “connected” Jews were. It didn’t matter if you were a lawyer or an entrepreneur or a diplomat or a war hero or an industrialist; at the end of the day, when they were rounding everyone up into the ghettoes or the concentration camps or onto the trains, no matter who you were, no matter your provenance…you were “Just A Jew”.
Why is this now relevant ? Why focus on this now?
Because…in today’s insane and crazy world, there is a disconnect, a separation of truth from reality… and nowhere is this more painfully obvious than throughout the Jewish world.
After the Holocaust, the Jews were given a brief respite from “wholesale”, all encompassing anti-Semitism. The systematic, calculated and unwavering massacre of six million Jews, within only six years gave pause to systematic anti-Semitism- but only for a very brief time.
When Israel was “re-born” in 1948, there was a short “honeymoon” period between the Jewish people and the rest of the world. This began to change after the 1967 war, when Israel, and by extension, the Jews were no longer perceived as victims. For a multitude of reasons, not the least being the new found wealth of the oil producing Arab countries starting in the 1970’s and their investment into anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli campaigns (please read my previous blogs on this), public opinion and perception began to change against the Jews and the Jewish state.
The “tipping point” for anti-Semitism occurred in 2001- and not because of 9/11.
What prompted this shift?
What made anti-Semitism “politically correct” again?
How and why did it become acceptable again in a post Holocaust world?
The “tipping point” for the acceptability of global anti-Semitism happened at the Durban Conference Against Racism, a United Nations sponsored conference hosted in Durban, South Africa in 2001.
Held ostensibly to fight racism, it was hijacked by anti-Israel groups and countries and became a racist freak show, bombarding Israel, and only Israel! – with every imaginable lie used to slander Israel – and to prove that Israel – and only Israel! – was the only truly racist country in the whole world!
Virtually everyone – governments, and individuals- throughout the “civilized” world were caught unawares as to the magnitude and repercussions of this conference.
They were unprepared for the onslaught of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel vitriol that came after.
I remember listening to Canada’s famous human rights lawyer (and later Canada’s Minister of Justice) Irwin Cotler, M.P. speak on September 9, 2001 about the Durban Conference.
Mr. Cotler, who had attended the conference, informed his audience as to the insanity of the completely bizarre “Conference” and told them how Canada, the U.S. and other “civilized” countries had walked out in protest- but Pandora’s box had opened and the “civilized” world could not close it- even if they wanted to, which sometimes appeared to be questionable.
I remember turning to my husband and saying that the Jewish world as we knew it was no longer the same. The privileges that we Jews took for granted, the containment of anti-Semitism since the Holocaust, the support for Israel, the safety of Jews globally was no longer a “given”.
Fifty-five years after the end of the Holocaust, the complacency of Jews world -wide was being challenged.
Not only were Diaspora Jews caught unawares; Israel also was unprepared and ill equipped to fight this insidious form of anti-Semitism, now disguised and coached in a new form as “anti–Israel”.
Yes, there had been ongoing anti-Israel bias growing since the 1970’s, but it had never been so well orchestrated, so organized, so well funded, so professionally handled nor so supported by the global community before.
Jews globally were at a loss as to how to deal with this phenomenon and quite honestly, most of what the Jewish community did was in re-action as opposed to “pro” action and was ineffective, naïve and many times, counter productive.
Historically, Jews have tried to deny whenever anti-Semitism grows and manifests, but throughout the past fifteen years, since Durban 1, Jews surpassed themselves in their denial of the anti-Semitism that was spreading like a malevolent virus globally- throughout Europe, throughout South America and yes, most emphatically, throughout North America. They stubbornly tried to negate and deny the insidious and nefarious spread of anti-Semitism.
Worse, there was an attempt not only to deny anti-Semitism, but when it could not be refuted or denied, there was an obvious attempt on the part of some Jews to downplay it, post rationalize it…or, in the most bizarre twist of all, blame Israel for the rise of anti-Semitism!
Many of the traditional Jewish agencies, who had become complacent at best and negligent at worse, came from an old style rhetoric about “Israel being the only democracy in the Middle East” as their only defense of Israel and, in some cases, came from a position of actually blaming Israel- overtly or covertly for anti-Semitism!
Appeasement, denial, “progressive” liberal policies became the order of their day as the situation worsened and spiralled out of control.
In Toronto, Canada, for example, representatives of mainstream Jewish organizations actually condoned the beginning of Israel Apartheid Week by saying that it was “free speech” and should therefore be allowed.
There were some of us who knew and recognized the threat of anti-Semitism becoming virulent, but we were shut down by mainstream Jews and Jewish organizations, who insisted that we were “over reacting”; they negated us and insisted on maintaining a status quo position in respect to anti Semitism and anti Israel sentiments.
If we protested travesties like Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, or Apartheid Week or anti-Semitic politicians or media, we were told, over and over again, that we did not represent the Jewish community, that we were over-reacting, even that we were making matters worse!
I began to feel like Cassandra, a priestess in Greek mythology who had the gift of prophecy- and the curse of no one believing her.
Unfortunately, as time passed and as things became increasingly nasty against Israel and Jews world wide-I was proven right and they were proven wrong.
And so, during the past fifteen years, I have watched (and fought!) against the scourge and spread of anti-Semitism while many of our so –called leaders took a “za shtil” attitude (shhh…let’s be quiet, it’s not so bad, it will pass, don’t make a big noise about this, it will get better, let’s keep a lower profile, let’s not be so “obviously Jewish…) and even worse, where they would actually BLAME ISRAEL for what was happening…”if only Israel wasn’t so belligerent and so adamant about keeping land “or “if only Israel would just give up Gaza (they did) or fight the “settlers” or gave back this piece of land or gave back Judea and Samaria or weren’t so confrontative or so….”…
And so it has gone for over fifteen years, allowing for such travesties to manifest as Apartheid Week, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, B.D.S., and Israel being blamed, maligned and accused of every horrid crime possible.
The global media supported this position; countries voted for resolutions that backed this position, anti-Semitism flourished and grew and Jews-whether in Israel, France, Holland, wherever- became fair game for harassment, threats and murder.
Once again, it was fair game to target the Jews.
And the mainstream organizations discussed the situation, raised funds and then, for the most part did nothing of any consequence to protect young people on campus who were being bullied, threatened, ostracized and worse; they did nothing of any consequence when Jews were attacked or threatened, they did not speak up loudly enough when Israel was demonized and isolated, over and over and over again.
Only now- finally! -beginning in 2015, have the tides started to turn.
Only when Israel and people like Michael Oren and other Israeli politicians began to speak out- loudly- against B.D.S. and other horrendous racist activities and propaganda, only when Israel challenged the mainstream Jewish groups for not being more active in standing up against anti-Israel tactics and anti-Semitism, only when groups like The Legal Forum in Israel, when people like Litsana Darshan Leitner and Yifa Segal began -successfully!- suing terrorist organizations, only when groups like TPS (Tazpit News Agency) began sending out truthful news reports about Israel from Israel, only when people like my son, Eton Ziner-Cohen stood up at McGill University and challenged the B.D.S. Movement, at great personal risk (and with a mother who got a great lawyer to intercede on his behalf), only when groups like Hasbara Fellowships and StandWithus refused to back down or be bullied…only then did these travesties begin to change; only when other countries also began to be targeted by ISIS and other hateful groups did world Jewry finally stand up and take some action.
Only now- finally!-have world Jewry begun to wake up and push back, but only now are we beginning to do so in an organized and responsible manner and we have only scrapped the tiniest surface of what has to be done immediately to try and contain this scourge.
And many American Jews are still in denial and still buying into a false and dangerous rhetoric and position.
Why are Jews in such denial about anti-Semitism?
Why is it so difficult to engage Jews to fight against anti-Semitism in all its nasty, racist forms?
Here are some of my understandings of this particular phenomenon.
1. Jews, traditionally after centuries of persecution, exile, harassment and brutality being leveled against them by their “host “ countries, have had their entire psyche shaped and formed by their oppression. We are a people who have learned to deal with a hostile world and so, when we have even a modicum of peace in our collective lives, we are so inherently grateful that we have learned to gloss over any threats levelled at us, until the threat becomes so insurmountable that we are forced to deal with it.
2. Because of this mentality, and because of our interactions with the world at large, we have developed a psyche that is a combination of fear/shame and guilt. We are afraid of anti-Semitism, we are shamed by our experience of the Holocaust, pogroms, being “the other” and we have collective guilt for the underdog when we feel that others are hard done by.
3. This last element in particular gets exploited by the “progressive/regressive” Liberals who capture our youth by exploiting the “tragedy of the Palestinian cause”. They are brilliant and strategic in the way in which they get our youth to be ashamed of “apartheid racist Israel” and to then identify with the new “victim”, the “Palestinian.
4. We Jews have an inherent “za shtil” mentality; leave it alone, it will get better, don’t rock the boat and it will go away.
5. Collectively, Jews are so used to anti-Semitism happening in some place or other that we, as a group, tend to push it away until it is on our doorway. When anti-Semitism rears its ugly face in Sweden, for example, even Jews in England or France will go blind to it. When it then happens in England or France, the Jews of North America will state “it can’t happen here”. A classic example of this is manifested by the attitude of Hungarian Jews in 1939/1940, when the Jews of Austria were being rounded up by the Nazis. The Hungarian Jews felt that it wouldn’t/couldn’t happen to them…and they were only a few hours away from Austria!
6. As we move further from the Holocaust, less and less people have a close personal connection to the horrors that happened. Young people cannot even begin to comprehend this unfathomable event or the possibility that it could ever happen again. This is especially true in North America, where young Jews have never really had to deal with anti-Semitism on an organized, sustained level- until now.
7. Anti-Semitism is no longer packaged as anti-Semitism- at least, not initially. It is now packaged as anti-Israel, through lies and falsehoods and half truths. Unfortunately, many Jewish young people have bought into those lies and rhetoric and are themselves anti-Israel, or in their eyes, “anti-Apartheid” (an other myth created by anti-Zionists) and have become supporters of anti Semitic concepts disguised as “human rights”.
8. Many children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors have been seduced by so called “human rights’ (read as anti Israel) groups who have seduced them with their brilliant left wing propaganda.
9. Many children of Holocaust survivors have become financially successful throughout the last seventy years. Many of them have become leaders in their communities. Many of their parents came from the Pale of Russia and Poland where they were poor and uneducated. Their families never had the luxury of being educated or wealthy and they, the survivors’ children, have somehow “bought into” the idea that their money and influence will somehow “save” them.
When The B.D.S. Movement first took hold in Toronto, I remember speaking to a very wealthy and established woman whose family were survivors. When I explained that the B.D.S. Movement was looking to prevent Israeli and Jewish actors, artists and performers from appearing in Toronto, this woman said to me “Don’t be ridiculous! The directors, benefactors and patrons of The Art Gallery of Ontario and The Royal Ontario Museum etc. are Jewish – it will never happen”.
This conversation happened only three years ago! The naivety, denial and outright stupidity of this position can only be seen in the context of how quickly events can change the course of history.
One tiny microscopic example of the blatant anti-Semitism that is now “acceptable” is demonstrated by the ongoing disgusting attempt at re-writing history, as demonstrated just recently by UNESCO, a supposedly respected world heritage agency, stating that the Temple Mount, Judaism’s most revered religious site, the site of our holiest Temple –is nothing more than a stable for Mohammed’s horse!
As absurd and ludicrous as that statement is, it perfectly exemplifies our absolute need to be vigilant, pro-active and committed in our fight to stop anti-Semitism. We must never forget, that no matter how wealthy or powerful or “connected” we are in a country, we are always at the mercy of that country for our well-being and our acceptance.
The last year has shown a global shift in the reaction of the Jewish world in terms of anti-Semitism, B.D.S. and the vehement and irrational hatred of Israel by many- including many Jews. For the first time, many mainstream organizations (the “initial “ones) are waking up and taking a stance.
Unfortunately, there are still those that hide their heads in the sand.
Many American Jews in particular fall into this category.
The entire U.S./Iran fiasco, the complicity of many American Democrats willing to throw Israel under the bus and the slavish mentality demonstrated by many at AIPAC (yes, I was there to witness it first hand) shows that we Jews have much to learn about solidarity and unity in fighting anti-Semitism, B.D.S….and supporting Israel.
There is only one constant in the Jewish world.
There is only way that Jews can be “safe” in a world that is inherently and consistently anti-Semitic.
The lessons of the past teach us what we must learn for our future.
It is only Israel that keeps us safe in a world increasingly hostile to the Jewish people. It is not only our only hope of being safe in a world that time and again, seeks to destroy us. Israel is our legacy, it is our heritage, it is our country.
And so, today on Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, where we atone for our sins as a people and remember the outcome of our exile, I offer this small token of understanding that only we, the Jewish people, can be held accountable and responsible to keep our people safe in a progressively hostile and dangerous world.
And on the nineteenth Yahrzeit of my most wonderful father, Czinner Janos, John Ziner z’l”, I can only thank him for the wonderful lessons that he taught me.
AM Y’ISROEL CHAI!!!!!
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