Last Thursday was Yom HaShoah, the day that Jews all around the world remember the Holocaust. This year marks the 71st year since the end of the Second World War. This past Thursday was Israeli Independence Day, marking the country’s 68 (official) birthday. With survivors of both World War II and the Holocaust getting older, it is becoming more important than ever to remember them and their stories.
I know both why studying the Holocaust was important in the past, and why it is equally important to do so in the future. I know why having a Jewish state is so important. The Holocaust will always be a part of the Jewish narrative. Israel will always be part of Jewish history. But I am not writing any of this for the Jews who know what the Holocaust and Israel means to us and the lessons we learned in the years following 1945. I am writing this because the world is forgetting.
After World War II, Israel was quite literally seen not only as the Jewish ancestral Holy Land, but as home. Returning to the birthplace of their forefathers, Jews finally were able to regain a sense of stability. They had homes and lives again. They had names. Israel represented a place where Jews could walk down the street without fear for their lives. And the establishment of the State of Israel and its subsequent triumphs over all who chose to challenge its very right to exist was then, and is today, a symbol of Jewish pride and security. Jews everywhere know that the Holocaust can never happen again not because of the fact that the world simply won’t allow the Jewish people to be persecuted in such a way – as the following paragraphs will show – but because we have somewhere to turn if it does. Israel is the safe haven of the Jewish people. But it is also a very controversial country. And today more than ever, challenges to the nation and its practices happen more frequently. The more disconcerting part, however, is that it is not just anti-Israel sentiments that are on the rise, but anti-Jewish attitudes as well.
Violence against Jews and the verbalization of anti-Semitic attitudes are rising with disturbing frequency. All over the world, Jews are once again feeling the effects of hatred and ignorance. In the summer of 2014, for example, when bombs were being shot into Israel on a regular basis, Jews from France were fleeing to the Holy Land as a refuge; an active war zone held less danger for them than where they were living. Though they might not have realized it, they were following in the footsteps of Jewish people who had also fled persecution over 70 years before.
The parallels are especially poignant when looked at so close to Holocaust Remembrance Day. It snaps into focus how similar the dreams of Jews are today to what they were back then, and to what they have always been: having a place to live safely — free of persecution and prejudice. Throughout the world, however, vandalism, threats, and censure are the lot of many Jewish people. On college and university campuses throughout the United States and Canada, anti-Semitic rhetoric, framed as anti-Israel protests, threaten Jewish students. For a generation that is concerned with creating safe and open spaces for students, the intolerance towards Jewish students — whether they have anything to do with Israel or not — is staggering.
Just a few months ago, two Jewish students attended the annual Students of Color Conference at University of California, Berkeley. This conference, which has run for 27 years, has been touted as a “safe space” for students of colour and their allies — a place where it is permissible and encouraged to discuss issues of inequality occurring on college and university campuses. Attendees are reminded to be sensitive in their terminology and discourse, aware of the diversity of all of the participants of the conference. The Jewish students who attended this latest conference did so because they too noticed a discomfiting trend of hate speech and crimes towards Jews on campuses throughout the country.
But from the very first day, the students realized that their ideas about Israel would not be welcomed at that conference. During the session — one about the issue of boycotting Israel — Israel was accused of poisoning water sold to the West Bank, and raising the prices for said water by ten times. Additionally, they were accused of simply moving in and taking control over Israel after World War II. The Holocaust was minimized, dismissed, and denied, and the murder of Jews justified.
This disturbing example of the minimization and, in fact, delegitimization of the history of the Jewish people is only one among many. What people do not understand however, is that they are not only denying the history of the Jewish people when they deny the Holocaust: they are also denying their own. Jews were not the only ones affected by World War II. Millions of people died in that conflict, and the world was changed forever. And for those who acknowledge the existence of World War II, but not the Holocaust, I have this simple question: where did those six million Jews go?
After the horrors of the Second World War, nations around the world promised “Never Again.” They pledged to hold themselves to a higher standard, and pursue democracy and the protection of human rights. While great strides have been made in this respect, however, as of late it seems that we are regressing. At the University of California, Los Angeles in 2015, a student was initially denied a position on the student council’s Judicial Board simply because of her Jewish identity. At campuses all over the country, Israel Apartheid week has taken off and not only are exhibits raised that contain questionable and offensive content, but Jewish and pro-Israel students are harassed.
Israel, as the only democracy in the Middle East, is used to criticism and debate. In the United States and Canada, discourse and the expression of opinions is encouraged. Questioning a government, and policies, however, is one thing — targeting and threatening the safety and well-being of individuals is another. What starts off as legitimate dialogue about the situation in the Middle East in general, and Israel in particular, often and frighteningly, spirals into openly anti-Jewish sentiments. And no one seems to see a problem.
In Calgary, Alberta, Canada during the summer of 2014, pro-Gaza rallies were organized in support of the situation in Gaza during this time. They were protesting the crackdown of Israel on Gaza in the form of Operation Protection Edge, after the latter had sent a multitude of rocket attacks targeting Israel’s cities and its people. By the end of the conflict in August 2014, approximately 4,594 rockets and mortars had been launched towards Israel. The attacks only stopped because of Israel’s incursion into the territory to face the assailants. This, because targeted attacks from a distance, using rockets of their own, were made difficult by the fact that terrorists used the civilian population in Gaza as human shields.
Instead of protesting how the government of Gaza — also known as Hamas, a well known terrorist organization whose status as such is only contested by some because it has a political wing ‘separate’ from its military wing — was putting its people in danger, the pro-Gaza protesters in Calgary were condemning Israel for protecting itself. They held up signs with messages of peace on them, but also rhetoric stating that Israel was committing a genocide and that the Jews should be killed; they called what was happening there a Holocaust. And they attacked pro-Israel protesters.
There is no denying that conditions in Gaza are far from desirable. There is no denying that more individuals died in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 than in Israel. But I will deny that the blame should be laid entirely at Israel’s feet. It is not Israel’s fault that they invest in bomb shelters to protect their people, and in Gaza, their bombs are sheltered by their people. Israel, like many other countries in the world, swore “Never Again,” and they took that pledge seriously. It is the only country in the Middle East that is legitimately committed to upholding and championing human rights and freedoms. A country built by survivors of one of the darkest periods in recent human history is not about to go making the same mistakes again. The same, however, cannot be said for the rest of the world.
I have so far given you examples of several incidents highlighting the rise of anti-Semitic sentiment. I could give you more. From people supporting the waving of an ISIS flag, and condemning the waving of an Israeli one, to shootings, stabbings, and acts of vandalism, crimes targeting the Jewish people are happening around the world. But since people seem to prefer to ignore the facts these days, I will turn to the emotional side of things. I will be honest with you. I am scared. Not actively scared for my personal safety, or worried about the security of my friends and family. But I am alarmed at what is going on in the world and how insidious and institutionalized anti-Israel, and anti-Jewish sentiment is becoming. Even those who are supposed to help resolve disputes throughout the world and safeguard the ideals held dear in a free and democratic society refuse to acknowledge their own bias against Israel. The Palestinians are waging a war for public favour against the Israelis and so far, they are winning.
On March 24, 2016, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) condemned one country in the world for violating women’s rights. If you have read this far, you likely only need one guess to figure out which country the UN. CSW decided to point the finger at: Israel. Apparently, Israel’s “violation of the rights of Palestinian women” was the only violation of women’s rights anywhere in the entire globe that merited a mention.
Additionally, the U.N. General Assembly finished off 2015 by adopting 20 resolutions censuring Israel. These 20 resolutions lambasting Israel stand in stark comparison to the 3 resolutions that were made by the Assembly in regards to the rest of the world combined.
I am not saying by any means that Israel is perfect. I do not say that they should not be criticized. I do maintain, however, that taking an anti-Israel stance is the latest fad. Being anti-Jew is thousands of years old. And unfortunately, many can’t seem to tell the difference between being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. People are taking the problems they see as occurring in Israel, and blaming the nearest Jew for them. And that is what disturbs me the most.
I should not have to worry for my safety when going to a pro-Israel rally in Canada. Jews everywhere should not have to keep their heads down and their opinions to themselves out of fear of their words being discounted and their impartiality threatened simply because of their religion. It needs to be made clear that refusing someone a position on student council because they are Jewish is discrimination; that safe spaces should be safe spaces for everyone and not just social justice warriors; and that expressing support for Israel is not an excuse to launch a personal attack.
I therefore implore you to continue championing your beliefs and standing up for what you believe in. I support everyone who tries to make the world a better place. But I also beg you to look further than the headline, and beyond the pictures of death and destruction. Be critical of everything you see and hear, but not so skeptical that you refuse to recognize and acknowledge the truth. I strongly believe that understanding and compassion are crucial components in developing a peaceful world. But being empathetic towards some and not others is hardly fair and demanding justice for only a select few means nothing. Justice for all is what matters. Everyone deserves the right to walk down the street without fear for their well being. And working toward that goal, and the promise of “Never Again” that was made just over 71 years ago, is something I think everyone should be able to agree on.