Kent Osband

The Apathy of “Radical Empathy”

Can Holocaust educators publicly acknowledge that Hamas wants a new Holocaust and Israel does not? I consider this an easy call, like identifying “ABC” as letters and “123” as numbers, and vitally important given the growing Holocaust inversion that switches the two answers. The Alabama Holocaust Education Center (AHEC) demurs. It claims that “these are complicated issues that are not black and white”. Then how about an open discussion and debate about the complications? Here I have good news and bad news. The good news is an AHEC event on “the twin dangers of silence and Indifference, especially as related to the increase in antisemitism after October 7”. The bad news is an AHEC panel discussion with a long-time coordinator for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), without clear intent to challenge CAIR’s persistent Holocaust inversion.

The stated theme is “Interfaith Friendship”. Between Jews, Bedouins and Arabs in Israel who were drawn closer by Hamas massacres? No, between two social justice activists in Alabama, one a Muslim born in Egypt and one a Jew from New York, who “share their journey their journey of overcoming the silence and fear wrought by October 7th to restore their friendship.” The moderator is a sympathetic journalist who wrote about them six weeks ago under the title “How to talk about the war in Gaza.” In fact it would have been better titled “How not to talk about the war in Gaza”. The only direct reference was “Hamas killed hundreds of Israelis. Israeli retaliation killed thousands in Gaza” and the closest indirect reference was to an Arab-American woman who “felt betrayed and isolated and othered by her own country. Our own country.” While the article is factual, its slant is clear.

According to AHEC, “this panel will discuss how courage and radical empathy can heal political divides”. Normally I would let lofty expressions like this pass, even when I expect empty twaddle. However, these aren’t normal times. The Israelis raped, tortured, slaughtered, or taken hostage included some of the friendliest, most neighborly, and most peace-loving people any nation can offer. The music rave invaded near dawn on October 7 was billed as a celebration of “friends, love, and infinite freedom”. The attacked kibbutzes included many peace activists and were generally supportive of Palestinian rights. Kibbutzniks were horrified that Palestinians they had employed and befriended evidently included spies for Hamas. How can a Holocaust museum  ignore this colossal failure of “courage and radical empathy”? It is cowardly and apathetic.

The panel isn’t aiming to discuss potential Holocaust or the challenges of peaceful coexistence when Hamas aims to wipe out Israelis. The focus is rather on how two otherwise like-minded people ten thousand kilometers away can view the conflict differently and still be friends. On a ten-point scale of Holocaust relevance this deserves no more than a two.

However, it will be easy to boost the relevance. The Jewish panelist claims that “Alabama wants totalitarianism but they just don’t want to pay for it”, so let’s ask her to rate Hamas and Israel on that scale. The Muslim panelist, now a law student, was previously the Governmental Affairs coordinator for the Alabama chapter of CAIR, so let’s ask him about CAIR’s Holocaust inversion and whether he approves.

I’m not referring here to minor missteps. The ADL, normally partial to minority groups, has been criticizing CAIR’s “blatant” antisemitism for years. CAIR’s head was recently condemned by the White House for “shocking, antisemitic statements” when he applauded Gazans for “break(ing) the siege” on October 7 and denied Israel’s right to self-defense. A quick search returns over a dozen CAIR articles this month alleging “Gaza genocide”. Dozens more accuse Israel of “war crimes” and “massacres”.

No Holocaust museum should sidestep this issue. If Israel is guilty of genocide in Gaza, it is the most spectacularly unsuccessful genocide in history. Gaza’s population has grown six-fold since the original Israeli occupation in 1967 for an average growth of 3.2% per year. Had Hitler inflicted genocide on 6 million Jews the way Israel purportedly has, their descendants would currently number 72 million. The only point of this otherwise ridiculous comparison is to project onto Israel some radical Islamist aims for Holocaust 2.0. Those aims are basically enshrined in Hamas’ charter and exalted by Hamas leadership, neither of which CAIR has ever denounced.

Some readers will doubtless prefer that Holocaust museums refuse to host current or former CAIR officials unless they explicitly recognize that Hamas has genocidal aims and Israel does not. However, Holocaust inversion is so widespread now that I welcome respectful debate. All I oppose is a forum that Holocaust inverters can sail through with blithe assurances of radical empathy and hopes for healing. AHEC promises to ”spark hard conversations to reconcile our differences.” Would that they first expose what the core differences are.

About the Author
Kent Osband graduated Harvard magna cum laude and received a PhD in economics from UC Berkeley. He worked for major financial institutions including the IMF, the World Bank, and Goldman Sachs, with primary focus on early warnings of major crises and recovery efforts after. He has published three books on financial risk analysis and one book on calculus for kids.