Ziona Greenwald
Ziona Greenwald

This Is How It Happens

There’s no need to speculate about what would make an Arab teenager pack a knife in her backpack and stab a Jewish mother walking her children to school. A steady diet of hatred and incitement against Israel and its Jewish population feeds a worldview in which the norms of civilized society are turned on their heads and violence becomes an expression of piety and morality. When “the other” is demonized to the point that you view them not as individuals but as lobes of a dangerous, subhuman organism, there are no red lines.

This phenomenon, I believe, underlies the greatest atrocities in history, from the enslavement and segregation of blacks in America to the genocides in Armenia, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia to the most colossal barbarity of all, the Holocaust.

In what began as a war on a virus but quickly turned into a war on human rights and freedom, some have drawn parallels between corona policies and Nazism – and have quickly been attacked for doing so. It is axiomatic that nothing, no matter how heinous, can ever be compared to what was done to the Jews in Europe, and discussions even touching on this issue require extreme sensitivity and care.

Let me be clear: Banning entry to concerts or restaurants, restricting travel, and denying employment or school enrollment can never be compared to sending people to concentration camps or gas chambers. There is no equation, period.

Yet if we wish to give more than lip service to safeguarding the future – and the present – of the Jewish people and humankind, it is vital to remember that those unfathomable horrors did not arise in a vacuum.  The slaughter of six million could not have been carried out without the prior acquired acquiescence of the German people. Just as the Jews were not immediately rounded up as slaves when they arrived in Egypt, but rather flourished there until they were labeled a threat to the polity and coaxed into paid labor, which in time turned forced and brutal, the evils of Nazism unfolded in stages.

We know how it happened: Dehumanization achieved through a well-funded propaganda machine labeling Jews as untouchables and the cause of all ills. Ever-changing and expanding rules. Social segregation and loss of employment.  Neighbor-on-neighbor betrayal as a remunerative national service. Most important, total media control so as to sustain the approved narrative.

Europe has once again become fertile ground for blood-libels, stripping citizens of human rights and segregating them based on an empirically false gospel about the spread of the virus. Australia has begun forcibly confining individuals – most perfectly healthy, mind you – to “quarantine camps.”  Most distressing of all, Israel, the state of refuge for the Jews founded as a defiant answer to the Holocaust, is in the midst of full-on demonization of millions of its own people.

Whether a leader or follower in this race to the bottom it’s hard to say, but there’s no doubt Israel has lost its moral compass. Since the rollout of its vaccine program, the government’s hideous rhetoric – echoed mindlessly by the media – has grown increasingly threatening.

None of this compares to what took place during the Holocaust.  But the galloping evil afoot today could lead to even darker places if it is not called out.  When an Israeli TV presenter remarks, “Lockdown the unvaccinated? We ought to put them in cages!” and everybody laughs, we are on dangerous ground.  When schoolchildren are put in “cherem” by their classmates because their parents haven’t submitted them to a shot, we should all shudder.

Unfortunately, most people are in the throes of what satirist-commentator JP Sears describes as a double layer of denial:  They’re in denial about being in denial.  Fellow citizens (be they family members, onetime friends, neighbors, or co-workers) are being stripped of their basic human rights and dignity – not to mention jobs, education, health care, and the benefits due all tax-paying citizens – with the circle of those impacted growing larger as the designation “fully vaccinated” is redefined once and again. The bystanders, for now still the majority, reel off well-ingrained justifications and avoid any thoughts that might give rise to compunction. Nothing seems to open their eyes to what’s happening.

Those who pledge their commitment to “Never Again” but forget the graduated steps that led to that greatest human atrocity are liable to enable, and perhaps even commit, grave moral wrongs.

About the Author
Ziona Greenwald, J.D., a contributing editor for The Jewish Press, is a writer and editor and the author of two children's books, Kalman's Big Questions and Tzippi Inside/Out. She lives with her family in Jerusalem.
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