Holocaust Remembrance Day — a somber anniversary

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2013 inspires some somber reflections about the position of Israel in the world today and the lessons of history. It is no secret that we have been witnessing a steadily escalating campaign in the Western world and among certain international organizations (including NGOs) to delegitimize Israel.

On university campuses this takes the form of promoting boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) against the Jewish state. One of the highlights of this campaign in the West is the ugly little circus known as “Israel Apartheid Week” — now an integral part of the verbal war of attrition to repudiate the very right of Israel to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The boycotters draw their inspiration from the struggle in the 1980s to bring down the South African apartheid regime.

The contemporary assault on Israel, which acquired a new momentum at the notorious UN gathering in Durban, South Africa (August/September 2001), seeks, above all, to renew that legacy by blackening Israel’s good name. The anti-Zionists, in their inflammatory, delegitimizing rhetoric, have branded Israel as a corrupt nation of callous baby-killers, colonialist-racist serial violators of human rights, and perpetrators of “genocide” against the Palestinians. This is no longer a marginal discourse in the West. It is being advocated by much of the academic elite, including Jewish professors and, in some cases, Israelis. I have explored the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist aspect of this campaign in two of my most recent books – “A Lethal Obsession” (2010) and “From Ambivalence to Betrayal” (2012). In those works I pointed out that calls for the destruction of Israel by Iran or by Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, or the Muslim Brotherhood, represent a contemporary mode of genocidal anti-Semitism.

The radical Islamists of our time have taken a page out of Hitler’s book by projecting their own murderous designs against the Jews. Their depiction of Zionism as a uniquely racist movement aiming at global supremacy reflects their own megalomaniac aspirations to impose Islam on the world through violent jihad.

This campaign has achieved some success in the international arena, especially at the UN. Thus, the legitimacy of Israel is routinely called into question, not only by Iran but by much of the Arab and Palestinian leadership, as well as by an increasing number of elite groups including intellectuals, media personalities, church leaders and politicians — especially in the European Union. This, in turn, can and often does lead to aggressive and terrorist acts against the State of Israel.

The anti-Israel agendas to be found in the NGO community (in the UN, the media and academia), which manipulate human rights issues to promote the boycott of the Jewish state, are a good example of the more sophisticated version of the delegitimization campaign.

Some NGOs exert great influence not only in the UN but also in the EU and in Western capitals, thereby giving greater credibility to the global anti-Israel agenda. Their defamation of the Jewish state as an apartheid, racist entity, guilty of “war crimes” and systematic flouting of international law is not only insidious in its mendacity but reeks of double standards. For example, the NGOs have contributed little if anything to halting genocides in Africa, Asia, or the Balkans, let alone the current slaughter in Syria. Yet, today, Europe responds with unbridled hysteria when Israel “proposes” to build in its capital city of Jerusalem or in closely proximate areas that would surely be under its control in any future peace agreements with the Palestinians.

Exactly 80 years after Adolf Hitler came to power, Europe prides itself on having learned the lessons of the Holocaust. Yet, it has seemingly forgotten the most cardinal principle of all – that those who incite to hatred will never be appeased.

About the Author
Professor Robert S Wistrich is the director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His latest book, 'From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews and Israel,' was just released by the University of Nebraska Press.