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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Holocaust Can Happen Again!

Auschwitz staff enjoying a day off: Where the boundary between neighbor and murderer?

Jewish Denial assures us that life in Diaspora is safe, that our neighbors are and will always be as they now appear, friendly and accepting. Jewish Denial makes us complicit in our next Shoah.

The week of Holocaust Remembrance Day is always a time of serious reflection for Jews around the world. But this year the portents were particularly dire. In Hungary the political right, including the openly antisemitic neo-Nazi Jobbuk party, easily swept into power. According to analysts, that election may well be a harbinger of a right wing takeover in many, perhaps most countries of the European Union (EU).

The Hungarian election took place against the backdrop of what surveys of Europe and America describe as a year of a dramatic increase in antisemitic incidents. Some countries in the survey saw an increase of up to ten-times the number of such incidents as compared to 2008. According to the surveys, 2009 was the most violently antisemitic since the years of the Holocaust.

Also appearing that week was an article in Haaretz under the headline, “The Holocaust can happen again, warns top anti-Semitism scholar.” “We are,” Professor Wistrich warned, “in an era once again where the Jews are facing genocidal threats.” An observation perhaps prescient by the evidence above. At least until the next paragraph where the interviewer refers the professor’s Holocaust references not to the Christian West, but to “threats against Israel emanating from the Muslim world.”

When, over the past 62 years, have there not been threats against Israel from Muslim states near and far? Ahmadinejad alone daily threatens Israel with annihilation.

Setting aside for a moment the threat to Israel, is it even appropriate to apply such terms as “antisemitic” and “the Holocaust” to threats faced by the sovereign state of the Jews defended by one of the most able and respected military forces in the world?

In mid-20th century Europe the Jewish people were dispersed and defenseless, slaughtered precisely because we had neither the means nor experience to defend ourselves. While the Nations easily interchange “antisemitism” and “anti-Zionism,” the result either of ignorance or malice, should we affirm their confusion, their malice? Anti-Zionism is political, aimed at the government and policies of the State of Israel. Antisemitism is cultural and “racial,” aimed at the Jewish people, at each of us as Jews. We Jews, at least, should understand and keep the distinction.

To return to the title of the Wistrich interview, can the Holocaust, that is, the systematic murder of our dispersed and defenseless communities of today’s Diaspora, happen again? Just how much threat do we, those of us who choose to reside in the Diaspora, face?

It is commonplace to attribute the recent and precipitous rise of antisemitic incidents in the west during 2009 to Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. And certainly Operation Cast Lead was the splash that set the tsunami in motion. But this beggars the question of why Diaspora Jewry should be identified and targeted the result of an Israeli military campaign? American Jews for the most part consider themselves “Americans,” not “Israelis.” Irish-Americans were not targeted for their support of the IRA in its struggle against England. Nor were English-Americans singled out and assaulted for England’s counter-insurgency in Ireland in service of what that country believed to be their legitimate struggle with the IRA. And so the perennial question, Why the Jews?

In its religious guise Christian antisemitism has its roots in the father of Christianity, Paul of Tarsus, writing a generation after the assumed crucifixion. With the appearance of the four gospels beginning a generation after Paul, the die was cast. According to Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther, “Anti-Judaism is too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out entirely without destroying the whole structure (Faith and Fratricide, 1974, p. 94).”

With the Matthew gospel charged that all Jews and forever be held accountable as murderers of Jesus, the Jewish people stood eternally condemned; when the John gospel characterized Jews as the children of, and in league with the devil, in the imaginations of believers Jews were thought to have tails and horns, to give off a sulphuric odor.

In the Middle Ages Christians believed Jews practiced witchcraft and ritual murder. Nor did these beliefs, and the pogroms they inspired, end with the Age of Reason. Outbreaks of superstition-based pogroms, charges of ritual murder, have been recorded at least into the 20th century, the Beilis trial being but the most famous example.

The most obvious evidence for the influence of Reuther’s Theology of Hate on modern Christendom is the testimony of the Nazi war criminals themselves. At their trial in Nuremburg several pointed to the writings of 16th century Protestant theologian Martin Luther as both inspiration and precedent. Take, for instance, Luther’s admonition to burn the houses of Jews, their books and synagogues and, “Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threats of death to teach anymore (On the Jews and their lies, 1543).”

As for direct action in service of solving Christendom’s continuing Jewish Problem, two antecedents to Shoah will suffice. The year 1096 began nearly four hundred years of the Crusades. En route to liberate the Holy Land the warriors honed their martial skills by slaughtering entire communities of Jews, burned them en masse where they sought refuge, drowned them in a macabre “baptism” of death. And within one hundred years of the final crusade the Spanish Inquisition, which also preferred fire as its instrument of murder, was the first Christian institution to introduce a new and novel way to distinguish Jew from Christian: limpieza de sangre, or purity of blood.

This is not to minimize the hardships of life Jews experienced under Moslem rule. But at least the Koran does not accuse the Jews of deicide, of having murdered God. In the lands of Islam Jews were like all non-believers, dhimmi. There was no uniquely “Jewish Problem” requiring a radical and eternal solution. The historical and cultural precipitants to Holocaust are just not present in pre-19th century Muslim-Jewish history (the problem of Israel re-emerging upon the ashes of European post-colonialism represents a different problem).

So when Professor Wistrich says, “[w]e are in an era once again where the Jews are facing genocidal threats,” the We he refers to are justified in asking how, 65 years since the ovens of Auschwitz began to cool, how is it that a widely respected authority on the Holocaust can conclude that the principal threat to “the Jews” is Moslem rather than Christian?

Professor Wistrich shares with the vast majority of Jewish intellectuals a sort of tunnel vision regarding the Holocaust, a disconnect between the event “Shoah” and its 2,000 year prehistory. Paying lip-service to that history they prefer to focus instead on Shoah’s immediate antecedents, the social and economic upheavals between the end of the First World War and the election by Germany of Adolph Hitler as chancellor. This revision, or at least minimizing, of Shoah pre-history brings to mind those German Jews who, frightened enough by Hitler in the early 1930’s to emigrate to Palestine (the US refused them haven) eventually grew homesick and returned to their “exceptional” Diaspora fatherland, and Auschwitz.

To maintain that such things as occurred in Europe during the thirties and forties are unique, explicable by the conditions surrounding the Holocaust, serves to provide, is intended to provide a sense of security that such an event is unlikely to be repeated in our own time and in our own “exceptional” Diaspora homeland.

On what is this assertion based if not on faith? Certainly even the briefest of historical overviews, as that presented above, demands a different conclusion?

Which brings us to what I refer to as Jewish Denial. Denial refers to the willful act to disregard facts that fail to support a desired conclusion. The alcoholic knows that the drug is destroying his body, dissolving his brain, but chooses to put that out of awareness in pursuit of his final tragic goal. We Jews know, but choose to “put out of awareness,” 2000 years of Christian antipathy. Who amongst us is not aware of our status as “the deicide people” in Christian scripture, or of those pogroms that just happened to coincide with Easter, the holiday commemorating the trial, crucifixion and resurrection? Even those of us who have not read the gospels have come across the Theology of Hate in the arts, the texts of Bach’s passions, for example. Gibson’s dramatization of the Jews as Christ-killers in his hit movie The Passion of the Christ is a passion play, and American Oberammergau, set to the silver screen.

Hitler at Oberammergau, 1934

And for the tourist who has been everywhere the Automobile Club of America recommends the original Oberammergau, the medieval Passion play depicting the trial and crucifixion Jesus. Another who recommended the play was Adolph Hitler: “It is vital that the Passion play be continued at Oberammergau; for never has the menace of Jewry been so convincingly portrayed.”

Shoah, the Holocaust, is not the final act of that history of hate any more than was the Inquisition before it. Both represent merely its latest manifestation up to that point in history. Using the tools available at the time the West came very close to successfully achieving its final solution to its Jewish Problem. Since 1945 advances in the technologies of detection, murder and disposal make the tools available at that time primitive. Today one need only tap on a computer keyboard to describe us cradle to grave, to track us to our present location.

As individuals we are each entitled to our private beliefs and fantasies. As authorities, as leaders and guides influencing opinion we have the responsibility to remove ourselves from cozy self-deception and wishful thinking, to resolutely focus on the facts of the real world, of real history. To accept the mask of normalcy (see the photograph of the Auschwitz staff, above) surrounding us at this moment, to reason that the present will continue ad infinitum is not merely unscientific, it is delusional.

Jewish Denial assures us that life in Diaspora is safe, that our neighbors are and will always be as they now appear, friendly and accepting. Jewish Denial makes us complicit in our next Shoah.