The evening of May 1, 2019 marks the beginning of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Israel. The international day of recollection fell earlier this year, in January. While the calendar holds its places, year to year, to mark this catastrophe for the Jewish people, I am left this year thinking that while we have much cause to look out at a world newly enamored of anti-Semitism–and to fear all that that implies and might portend–my greater anguish is for who some in our own community have become. And what they are willing to stand for, to tolerate, and to promote.
Israel recently re-elected a Prime Minister who is expert at fanning Jewish fears of anti-Semitism, yet comfortably wraps himself in race-baiting at home, and in the warm embrace of demagogues and fascists from abroad. Whether he is breaking bread with Viktor Orban of Hungary, or entertaining the thugs and race-baiters who now lead the Philippines and Brazil, respectively, Netanyahu seems fine with haters–even Jew-haters like Orban–provided they come from the “right” side of the hating ledger.
It is a tragedy wrapped in the shiniest hypocrisy for Bibi to trot out the specter of anti-Semitism when it suits him, all while embracing those who traffic not only in hatred of Jews, but in hatred of “others,” of non-white Christians, for example, in Hungary. At home, Bibi has openly treated Arab Israeli citizens as unwelcome pariahs and added the exquisitely cruel twist of telling the Druze–who have fought and died in the IDF through the years, in defense of the State of Israel–that they, along with Arabs, are lesser citizens, courtesy of the Nation State Law.
It has been too easy for haters to act upon their bloodlust through the years by defining Jews out. We have been defined out of individual nations and in the apex of that strategy, out of the human race, by the Nazis. We became vermin, an infestation, a disease among true Germans. And after that, among every other “true” European nation in which we could be found and killed.
And yet, with Holocaust survivors still among us, Israel’s Prime Minister, of all people, finds no irony, no shame, in embracing those who mark others in their own countries for ridicule, for ostracizing, for death. My family members, buried together in an Israeli cemetery, who survived the atrocities wrought by Hitler and his many collaborators in Europe, are surely weeping from their place in the beyond, stunned by this turn of events.
In the United States, we have the shameful spectacle of two grandsons of Holocaust survivors being architects of and advisors regarding some of the cruelest policies America has instituted. Stephen Miller, who behaves as if he’s dipped himself into some kind of vat of revenge, seems never to have met a vulnerable person seeking refuge whom he could not find a reason to hate. Jared Kushner, the silent prince, spends his time at the playground with MBS, apparently finding no issue with a man who imprisons and tortures his own citizens and when that isn’t quite enough to silence them, marks at least one for murder and dismemberment. This would be the same Jared Kushner we are meant to believe is an Orthodox Jew. I’m struggling to figure out which version of the Bible he reads and which God he worships, because I don’t recognize anything Jewish in his enthusiastic embrace and endorsement of a range of abusive, cruel, rapacious, and anti-democratic policies and practices implemented by his father-in-law. And no moves of any number of embassies will please a God whose anger is most aroused by the mistreatment of the most vulnerable among us. But of course they will please a different King, Bibi Ha Melekh. And perhaps it is that earth-bound potentate to whom Kushner truly directs his devotion, forgetting that Jews no longer have kings for a reason.
In the end, this Yom HaShoah will mark a disturbing convergence in the Jewish community among a handful of people in positions of great power and influence who have decided to jettison from their Judaism what is generous, humble, caring and oriented toward ensuring that God’s creation be something worthy of God’s efforts. Instead they have decided that earthly power, wielded for self-fulfillment, the rewarding of “friends” and the punishing of enemies is the way to honor our survival as a people. It is a sad moment, and one I think I am relieved that my father, z’l, a Holocaust survivor, is no longer alive to witness.