Never forget: why Muslims & Jews should both be concerned

When many were celebrating the end of 2016, a notoriously unpleasant year for many, few were thinking about the actualization of the election results in the United States. Indeed, 2016 dealt some serious blows in a variety of spheres. Great legends passed away, the American election demonstrated what a circus politics can be, and the United Nations slapped Israel with numerous resolutions and sanctions, all embodying inherent anti-Semitism on some level. Watching these events happen from Canada, I hoped we might be done with such political acrimony for a while. I imagined that the ludicrous platitudes spewed prior to November would be just that – platitudes.

We are but a fraction of the way through 2017, and one week into Donald Trump’s presidency, and it feels like we have already lived through another 2016. The sheer volume of executive orders signed by Trump is extraordinary, and their contents controversial to all. Despite being a ‘political animal’ myself, I am taking great lengths to distance myself from the chaos down south. After all, I don’t currently live in the United States. As a Diaspora Zionist Jew, my focus has tended to be bi-national, both on Canadian and Israeli affairs. However, both the events and simultaneous silence that occurred on January 27 cannot go ignored.

January 27 marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest and most well known killing centre of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust (disabled, LGBT, Romani, to name a few). On this day, Diaspora Jews and other North Americans recall the Holocaust and the complete absence of response from Canada and the United States. Most particularly, one recalls the St. Louis, a ship full of Jewish passengers that left Europe for the passengers to seek refuge in the West, and was forced to turn back around and send Jews to their impending death. This unplanned return trip was due to the refusal of countries like Canada and the United States to take any refugees in, and is part of what one considers in chanting the mantra “Never Again.” Never again should any single aspect of the Holocaust occur towards any group of people; from the inception of “modern” anti-Semitism, the boycott of Jewish goods and services, the rejection of Jews from certain occupations, to the end of the Holocaust. After all, this catastrophic chapter of human history began with even the smallest acts of hatred.

January 27, 2017 also marks a day of more executive orders from Trump, along with a statement regarding International Holocaust Remembrance. Both of these actions proved to be rife with horrific implications. One of these executive orders, signed by Trump, banned the entry of persons from a list of seven countries, all of which are predominantly Muslim. Such an act on such a historically significant day for a religious minority is disgusting. It is evident that the act alone is disgusting. It is not supported by Americans of all creeds, as proven by the protests ongoing as I write this piece. International opposition and responses are flooding headlines. The outrage expressed by Jews that I witnessed and personally experienced, both in person and through online communities, is remarkable. How could any person pass such an act, on the anniversary of a genocide which involved the banning and turning away of another religious minority? The timing is truly remarkable, and surely not a coincidence.

While the White House’s message regarding International Holocaust Remembrance Day may seem mundane compared to the former, it seems to tie in all too well. Some of the text in the statement is below:

“It is with a heavy and somber heart that we remember and honour the victims, survivors, and heroes of the Holocaust.”

“As we remember those who died, we are deeply grateful to those who risked their lives to save the innocent.”

“In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good.”

As both a Jew and descendent of a Holocaust survivor, this statement is bulls—t. Noticeably missing from the entire statement are the word Jew, Jews, Jewish people, and the like. The Anti-Defamation League and Jews everywhere were also quick to pick up on this. I’m almost unsure whether no statement would have been better than the one published yesterday.

I don’t know about you, but I’m less interested in remembering the “heroes” (read: Americans, according to Trump) as much as I am honouring my family and ancestry’s horrific experiences. If Trump really did his homework, he would have recalled that it was the Red Army who liberated Auschwitz, not the Americans – but logic and accuracy seem to not be traits that the forty fifth president values.

I’m interested in preventing further xenophobia, in avoiding the repetition of history. I’m interesting in never closing doors to immigrants based on their nationality or religious identity. I’m interested in promoting not just tolerance, but acceptance of other cultures, along with their safety in North America. And I think that Jews and Muslims can stand together in opposition of hatred, for those who are not already doing so.

To my confusion, there are American Jews who think they are exempt from Trump’s reign. They need to wake up from their delusion, for their own safety. The dozens of American JCC bomb threats, in single days alone, the Hail Hitler salutes at Trump rallies, the swastikas that dominate American graffiti – not one of these acts has been acknowledged or condemned by Trump or his administration. Not a single one. I will assume his silence is a product of ignorance or apathy, otherwise we are dealing with a President who is both openly Islamophobic, and latently anti-Semitic. No matter what the reason, all of this is inexcusable.

As a beneficiary of what I will now dub Canadian privilege, I nearly rejoiced when I read Prime Minister Trudeau’s Statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and tweets in response to Trump’s entry ban. However feeling safe in one’s own country should not be a privilege. Despite only one week having passed since Trump’s inauguration, he has made it one for religious and visible minorities, amongst other minority groups.

So, when we North Americans, Jews, and North American Jews utter the phrase “Never Again,” we should recall what we mean explicitly. Never again will we tolerate discrimination, boycotts or closed doors on minorities. Never again will we stand by while a minority group faces persecution, whether from its own government or people on the streets, however mundane the form may seem. Never again will we allow xenophobia to escalate beyond its current levels.

Finally, never again as a Jew should you ever think that you are exempt from such horrific acts. We’re not.

About the Author
Lana Borenstein is graduate student in Ottawa, Ontario, completing a Master's in Political Science. She completed her undergraduate studies in History and Gender Studies at Queen's University in 2015.
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