Yesterday, April 24, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. IHRD is marked (“celebrated” does not seem an appropriate designation) annually on the 27th day of the month of Nisan by the Hebrew calendar in honor of the anniversary of the uprising of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, which commenced on that date in 1943. (For those of you who are interested in learning more about the ill-fated, but brave, uprising, it is superbly chronicled in the book “Mila 18” written by Leon Uris. If you have not read it, I urge you to do so.)
One of the many events marking this day was the “March of the Living,” in which thousands of people, not all of them Jews, gathered at the site of Auschwitz, in my opinion, the most notorious of the Nazi-run death camps, and marched from there to the site of the nearby camp at Birkenau. The March is a sober, somber event that serves as an annual reminder of the horrors visited upon Jews and others by the Nazis during WWII. Over 1 million were murdered at those two camps alone.
Furthermore, IHRD is a time of reflection. It serves as an annual reminder that anti-Semitism is still with us some 70 years later. Indeed, it has always been present throughout recorded history, sometimes overtly, as with the infamous pogroms in Poland, Russia and other locales throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s, at other times, more covertly. Rulers always found Jews to be a convenient “whipping boy” for the ills of their domain. Failed crops, not enough jobs, blame the Jews. Throughout history, that particular tactic has always served as a means to divert the attention of the masses from the real problems, which was invariably ineffective or corrupt leadership.
Additionally, the day shines a spotlight on the sad fact that many countries have been less than diligent in their efforts to restore confiscated or stolen property to its rightful owners. As most of you know, the Nazis and others plundered substantial amounts of property – such as land, money and artwork – from Jews during WWII. Pursuant to the Terezin Declaration of 2009 most European countries pledged their best efforts to identify and return this property to its rightful owners or their heirs. A study conducted by the European Shoah Legacy Institute has concluded that most countries have been diligent in their efforts and have “substantially” complied with their respective pledges, but others, notably Poland and Bosnia, have not. One might characterize this failure as the “final indignity” visited upon Holocaust victims.
Most disturbingly, IHRD provides a focus on the very serious and foreboding problem of the rise of anti-Semitism worldwide. I have blogged on this topic before, and I don’t wish to present a detailed reiteration of it at this time. But, in view of recent developments I believe a brief summary would be appropriate. Simply put, various surveys and statistics have denoted this trend in recent years. For instance:
- According to the Anti-Defamation League there was a 34% increase in anti-Semitic incidents during 2016 compared to 2015. Moreover, there was an additional 86% increase during the first quarter of 2017. These included threats, harassments, vandalism, physical assaults, cemetery desecrations and bomb threats. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt is particularly disturbed by the sharp upward trend. He opines that “public discourse in the US on anti-Semitism [is] at its worst point since the 1930s. Clearly we have work to do and need to bring more urgency to the fight.”
- A separate survey conducted jointly by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University and the European Jewish Congress found a 12% decrease in global anti-Semitism in 2016 but a 45% increase in the US.
- Pro Publica, an investigative journalism nonprofit, has chronicled over 300 anti-Semitic incidents in the US during the first quarter of 2017 alone. These incidents include spray painting of swastikas, and other acts of vandalism and have occurred all across the country, particularly on college campuses.
- The Southern Poverty Law Center reported over 100 incidents in just the first ten days following Donald Trump’s election.
- The NY Police Department cited nearly 50 incidents in NYC in the first month after the election.
- Seth Frantzman, a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies and the op-ed editor for the Jerusalem Post, denotes that there were in excess of 7,000 anti-Semitic incidents under former President Obama, and many of them were ignored or down-played by the media. He denotes that this increased trend has continued under President Trump, noting that during January-February 2017 almost 100 Jewish community centers and day schools have received anti-Semitic-related threats.
- Much of the media has sought to blame President Trump for this increase. Some have even gone so far as to imply he an anti-Semite. They denote that he was not quick enough to denounce KKK leader David Duke, the attacks on JCCs, and those of his supporters who had exhibited anti-Semitism during the campaign. In addition, Frantzman has characterized the Trump Administration’s response to anti-Semitism as “tepid, at best.”
- Malcolm Hoenlein, Head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, opines that “anti-Semitism is taking on potentially ‘pandemic’ dimensions globally.” He adds, “we saw [it] in Britain, we saw it in France and now we see it’s spreading everywhere.” In this regard, he cites recent events in Germany and Scandanavia. With respect to the US, he notes the recent paintings of swastikas on college campuses in the US, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and bomb threats to Jewish community centers. Finally, with respect to President Trump, he emphasizes that “any accusations that [he] is an anti-Semite are unfounded.” I strongly agree with Mr. Hoenlein. President Trump has been in the public eye for over 40 years. His life is an “open book.” To invoke the words of former President Obama, in all President Trump’s business and personal dealings there has never been a “smidgen” of anti-Semitism.
I believe it is misleading and irresponsible for the media or anyone, for that matter, to blame the increase in anti-Semitism on any one person or event. Most of the media persists in blaming President Trump for all the world’s ills, even the weather (as a result of his stance on the Global Warming issue). After a while, their rants against him become so much “white noise.” If they continue, they will lose whatever credibility they have left with the American people.
I view the current iteration of anti-Semitism as emanating from a variety of sources, among them (1) the ongoing conflict in the Middle East in which Israel is increasingly being portrayed by its enemies and in the media as the “bad guys,” (2) the increasing power and influence of Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS and Boko Haram, (3) the poor economic climate in most of the world, which leads many to blame others (i.e. Jews) for their problems, and (4) latent anti-Semitism, which has always been there and always will be ready to come to the fore. I am sure I have omitted other causes. Feel free to denote them to me.
What is the solution? I am not sure there is one. Mr. Hoenlein has suggested more discourse in the form of a worldwide forum. Perhaps, but I also think the world’s leaders have to become more actively involved. I mean, not only political leaders, but also others who command the respect of the average person and are in a position to exert a positive influence on them, such as clergy, entertainers and athletes.
We are better than this. It is time to demonstrate it.