Should UK concern re Holocaust worry US Jews?

Disconcerting but not unexpected, of the eight responses to the Times of Israel article, Survey finds 24% of young Brits expect another Holocaust, all blamed either the news outlet or the State of Israel “seeking immigrants” for scare-mongering.  In what follows I will try to explain what is meant by Jewish Denial.

Immediately following the Islamist atrocities of Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish market HyperCacher the European Jewish Congress polled 504 persons between the ages 18 and 35. Nine percent of respondents said they, “considered it very likely there will be another Holocaust in their lifetimes” while another 15% said another Holocaust is “somewhat likely;” hence the “24%” appearing in the title of the article. In light of events of recent years, assaults on Jews in France and Belgium; the rise of proto-fascist parties from Scandinavia to Greece visions of another “Holocaust” are understandable. Whether or not such is likely in the immediate future is less important that the fact that Jews, constantly wishing for nothing more than being accepted in our Diaspora “homelands” are beginning to consider what previously had been “unthinkable.” Reassured by historians and other academicians of the Holocaust that the Final Solution was a “departure from history,” by artists that it is “a mystery,” we convinced ourselves that we are secure, that antisemitism is disappearing.

And then Paris, and thoughts far from awareness, hidden in the recesses of consciousness arise unbidden. The Holocaust is not just a bad dream to be forgotten, but a possible future to be remembered!

Summary of EJC polling of non-Jews in Britain following the 7-9 January massacres: 

  • 53% of those surveyed affirmed anti-Semitism exists in the UK.
  • asked if Jewish businesses should be marked as such, or if Jewish UK citizens should carry IDs labeling themselves as Jews… an astounding 15% … answered in the affirmative.
  • when asked whether Muslims and their businesses should be likewise singled out, 22% said yes.
  • told that prior to the Holocaust Germany began instituting anti-Jewish legislation. Asked if they felt similar laws could be passed in Europe today, 25% felt it likely.
  • Happily British young adults are widely supportive of commemorating the Holocaust. (sic) 

Discussion of polling results

Both the earlier survey by Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, and the more recent European Jewish Congress survey, accept the Anti-Defamation League definition of “antisemitism.” Regarding “antisemitism” applied to persons described as “antisemites” significant differences exist. Where CAA conditions “antisemitic” as acceptance of a single such stereotype, ADL applies the term to individuals admitting to two such stereotypes, a more lenient standard.

Although 53% of Britons acknowledging the existence of antisemitism in the UK sounds impressive, what is more surprising is how the other 47% do not, considering the pandemic of Jew-hatred spreading rapidly across the continent, appearing daily in the press. As of today the US seems far less newsworthy regarding its Jews (Islamists in the US seem more focused on “America” rather than its “Jews”) but neither have American Jews been spared terrorism. The shooting at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington in 2009; the 2014 shootings at a Missouri Jewish community center and Jewish nursing home (applauded by another mayor); the High Holidays murder of a rabbi in North Miami Beach later that year. In all three cases and many more not mentioned the assailants were not Islamists but Christian white supremacists. Different country, different murderers: same victims.

Of course actual acts of violence are remembered only so long as the press reports on them after which they disappear from consciousness as we return to somnolence regarding the threat. Something that should sound warning for us all is the response to the EJC survey question whether “Jewish businesses should be marked as such, [should] Jewish UK citizens carry IDs labeling themselves as Jews… Reminded that the Holocaust began with German anti-Jewish legislation Britains were asked whether, “similar laws could be passed in Europe today” to which 25% responded, likely.”

Neither are Jews Europe’s only target. Asked about Muslims 22% singled them out for the same treatment. When it comes to Western prejudice Jewish and Muslim are today equal opportunity victims.

Western surveys and Jewish Denial 

From the published polling it is clear that there is no common definition of “antisemite” between CAA and ADL. According to CAA (and EJC?) subscribing to one anti-Jewish stereotype defines a person “antisemite,” while ADL raises the bar to two such admissions. Since most such “stereotypes” are centuries old and deeply embedded in Western culture I hesitate to call a person an “antisemite,” at least at the cutoff provided by ADL. Indeed it is not uncommon for Diaspora Jews to occasionally slip into such epithets. No, it is not the criterion of Who is an Antisemite” that is as important as the fact that centuries and more ancient stereotypes even exist at all. How explain the phenomenon, and what significance to antisemitism today and over the centuries? And more chilling, what purpose do they serve?

That Western antisemitism is rooted in Christian scripture is indisputable. “Jew” as diabolical, for example, originates in the “John” gospel: “You belong to your father, the devil,” and so on. And “Matthew,” describing “the Jews” in perpetuity guilty as deicides in the death of Jesus was reasoned by Augustine to justify eternal punishment. Regarding “Jews and money (usury),” until later in the Middle Ages the Church forbade Christians from lending money at interest which meant capital was unavailable to accommodate the expanding European populace keeping pace with the rapidly changing economy. And so Jews were assigned the task of userer. This is the historical background to anti-Jewish stereotypes. So how explain the survival of such stereotypes, their continuing demonization of “the Jews”?

The simplest explanation is as a constant minority (Other) in Christian society they serve as ready-at-hand victim in response to social stress; a safety valve for pent-up societal pressure. This was its purpose, for example, in the US during the Great Depression. A 1939 survey of antisemitism in the United States found that 61% of respondents felt that Jews should not be treated as other Americans: “Fifty-three percent believed that “Jews are different and should be restricted” and ten percent believed that Jews should be deported.” Another poll disclosed, “that 35-40 percent of the population was prepared to follow Germany in an anti-Jewish campaign. Again, this was during the Great Depression. The polls were taken just months after Germany’s massive Krystallnacht pogrom. As for Germany itself, Hitler’s electoral victory followed a decade of despair, the Great Depression compounded by the penalties of the Allies at Versailles. Beyond his eugenics-justified “racial” view of Jews Hitler remarked during the war, “If the Jews didn’t exist we would have to invent them.” According to the same BBC article, “Nothing creates more unity than a common enemy.”

What does this mean in context to the recent UK polls following HyperCacher? I have been writing about antisemitism for years and had never, outside my own writings, come across a public reference to the possibility that the Holocaust was anything but an event in history. Never the suggestion that a connection might exist between the angst of the interwar period and the Holocaust; that there is even a remote possibility that the Jewish people might face the same danger of extermination in any conceivable future. Not, that is, until this past week. Yes there were warnings by some that antisemitism in Europe was approaching levels “not seen since the Holocaust.” But that the Jews were facing another Final Solution?

We Jews in the US might rationalize, as we did during the 1940’s, that the danger exist over there may exist “over there” but that America is different. After all, UK Jews also denied the danger: pointed at Jews across the channel as endangered. At least until HpyerCacher. Then the pieces began falling into place. Not just that Jews were the principle target of Islamists in Europe: that was clear in recent years. Not just that antisemitic politics show a resurgence in Europe. No, the kicker is in the numbers, in the statistics. The surveys reflect a degree of antipathy towards Jews dwarfing the populations of Muslims in Europe. Which leaves the obvious, that Jewish concern in the UK and EU generally (but not the US) is based on the obvious, that while Jews have not until now had to acknowledge the continuing threat of annihilationist antisemitism since Auschwitz, actions and numbers today force us to the conclusion that after 2,000 years in the Diaspora, two-hundred years since our emancipation, that our status as “victim” has not changed, that we are still available.

“Anti-Semitic incidents in Britain [today] account for 3.28 percent of all hate crimes, though Jews are only 0.4% of population.” And according to the 2012 FBI report on religious hate crimes Jews in the United States accounted for 66% of the total while representing just 1.4% of the population.

Are American Jews the “exception” we insist we are?

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.