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May 4, 2016 Off

The History of Anti-Semitism and the Shoah

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Jerusalem Post Blog



As an orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to com­bat­ting anti-Semitism and fight­ing against all forms of big­otry, the Anti-Defamation League speaks often about the Holo­caust both from a Jew­ish frame­work and from one that addresses hatred and geno­cide in the world at large.

The moral les­son of the Holo­caust, or Shoah, is that we all must stand against hate wher­ever it sur­faces. This moral les­son moti­vates us in our work every day.

On the occa­sion of this year’s com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Shoah, how­ever, I would like to address the sub­ject of anti-Semitism from a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive, before the Shoah and after.

It has often been said that the Shoah could not have hap­pened if not for the 2,000 year his­tory of anti-Semitism, par­tic­u­larly in Europe. At the same time, it is noted, what hap­pened dur­ing the Nazi period went far beyond any­thing that had tran­spired for millennia.

The strik­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic about anti-Semitism for cen­turies, which did reach its cul­mi­na­tion in the Nazi assault on the Jews, was its fan­tas­ti­cal core.  Jews were accused of things, par­tic­u­larly being an evil power, which had noth­ing to do with the real­ity of Jew­ish life for centuries.

Let’s not for­get that the tragedy of the Holo­caust was that a mani­a­cal regime com­mit­ted to the destruc­tion of the Jews gained con­trol of Europe at a time when Jews had absolutely no power – no army, no state, no place to go, and lit­tle polit­i­cal influence.

That absence of Jew­ish power, how­ever, had been true for 2,000 years.  Dur­ing that time Jews were accused repeat­edly of influ­enc­ing his­tory in an evil way, the killing of Christ, the poi­son­ing of the wells, the mur­der of Chris­t­ian chil­dren, even a plan to take over the world as embod­ied in the noto­ri­ous forgery, “The Pro­to­cols of the Learned Elders of Zion.”  When the Nazis began their cam­paign against the Jews, the same fan­tasy of evil Jew­ish power was at work.

That hor­rid mix of accu­sa­tions of Jew­ish power together with the real­ity of Jew­ish pow­er­less­ness cre­ated that worst of all moments for the Jew­ish people.

From then on, sev­eral things became clear.  First, there was a need to edu­cate about what anti-Semitism could lead to, hence the broad range of activ­i­ties focus­ing on the Holo­caust.  Sec­ond, was the recog­ni­tion that good peo­ple who stood up to res­cue Jews must be hon­ored to encour­age that kind of behav­ior for future generations.

Third, and most sig­nif­i­cant, Jews could never again afford to be pow­er­less.  While the legit­i­macy of the State of Israel rests on the 3,000-year con­nec­tion of the Jews to the land of Israel, the need for Jews to have a home and be able to defend them­selves was a pow­er­ful polit­i­cal fac­tor imme­di­ately after the Shoah.

Which brings us back to the his­tory of anti-Semitism: If that virus was based on fan­tasy before the Holo­caust, how does one define it after when Jews now have a degree of power as rep­re­sented by a Jew­ish State? By the incred­i­bly effec­tive Israel Defense Forces?  By a strong and vibrant Amer­i­can Jew­ish com­mu­nity that works for U.S. sup­port of Israel?

What this new and pos­i­tive real­ity, where Jews are no longer pow­er­less, sug­gests is that anti-Semitism in the mod­ern world is a much more com­pli­cated phe­nom­e­non.  Anti-Semitism as fan­tasy still exists.  A quick scan of social media will remind some­one that the nox­ious delu­sions of big­ots con­tinue to thrive in the dig­i­tal age, albeit the echo cham­ber now has much larger resonance.

Today, the locus of their atten­tion is the Jew­ish state which stands in as a proxy for the Jew­ish peo­ple.  So called “anti-Zionism” offers a con­ve­nient garb of polit­i­cal respectabil­ity to dis­guise the age-old virus of anti-Semitism.

A wide range of haters, from the rad­i­cal Islamists of Hamas and ISIS to odi­ous white suprema­cists here at home to so-called polite polit­i­cal cir­cles in Europe (as recently made clear by the scan­dal roil­ing the Labour Party in the United King­dom), all accuse Israel of being respon­si­ble for all the prob­lems of the Mid­dle East and the world.  We also see a broad range of base­less con­spir­acy the­o­ries pro­pounded by many in these groups that pos­tu­late Jews were the force behind the ter­ror­ism of 9/11 or that we some­how con­trol the inter­na­tional econ­omy or that we even con­cocted the Holocaust.

The other side of the coin, how­ever, is that power begets respon­si­bil­ity, thus top­ics like the Jew­ish state can be a legit­i­mate sub­ject of crit­i­cism by those who may dis­agree with cer­tain poli­cies and behaviors.

It is essen­tial that the Jew­ish com­mu­nity rec­og­nize that we can and should embrace such vig­or­ous debate.  Such con­ver­sa­tion only becomes sus­pect when the ques­tions shift from the legit­i­macy of pol­icy to the legit­i­macy of peo­ple or when Jews are held to a dif­fer­ent stan­dard by those who will­fully dis­miss or ignore the faults of other coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly when they are more egregious.

The price of power is respon­si­bil­ity.  Again, this is a wel­come change after mil­len­nia of Jew­ish pow­er­less.  In the case of the State of Israel, liv­ing in a volatile region embroiled in con­flict and sur­rounded with so many hos­tile forces, the need for strength is imper­a­tive.  When the Islamic Repub­lic of Iran threat­ens to wipe Israel off the map or tests mis­siles inscribed with hate­ful mes­sages in Hebrew, our grave his­tory com­pels us not to ignore such geno­ci­dal rhetoric and to demand that oth­ers respond to it with equal fer­vor.  Still, one can be crit­i­cal of Israel with­out any jus­ti­fi­ca­tion or accu­sa­tions of anti-Semitism.

On this Yom HaShoah, as we remem­ber those who per­ished, let us be thank­ful that Jew­ish pow­er­less­ness is a thing of the past.  Let us reded­i­cate our­selves to fight­ing the real anti-Semitism that very much still exists.  And let us show that we know what it means to have respon­si­ble power by not con­clud­ing that every crit­i­cism is anti-Semitism.

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April 21, 2016 Off

This Passover Let Us Remember That Once We Were Strangers, Too

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Syrian refugee woman reacts while travelling in an overcrowded dinghy as it arrives at a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey

This Fri­day night, Jews around the world will gather at Seder tables with friends and fam­ily to tell the story of the Exo­dus from Egypt. We are com­manded to tell the story as if we had per­son­ally fled slav­ery, trans­form­ing the expe­ri­ence from the sim­ple recount­ing of an ancient tale to an exer­cise of empa­thy and reflec­tion on the suf­fer­ing of others.

Today, as 60 mil­lion peo­ple have been forcibly dis­placed from their homes around the world, we face the worst refugee cri­sis since World War II. Many are caught between the ter­ror of the Islamic State and the bar­rel bombs of Assad’s regime and his Iran­ian back­ers in Syria. Oth­ers flee the ter­ri­fy­ing grip of Boko Haram in Nige­ria, or extreme gang vio­lence in Cen­tral Amer­ica. Still oth­ers flee other coun­tries where they are per­se­cuted and tor­tured because of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity. There is one thing that unites all these refugees: No mat­ter their home coun­try, they are flee­ing for their lives and seek­ing safety in new lands.

In place of com­pas­sion and open arms, how­ever, too often refugees have been met with hate­ful rhetoric and closed doors. More than half of U.S. gov­er­nors have either said they will not accept refugees in their states or have asked the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to shut our doors. A bill pend­ing now before Con­gress, the ill-named “Refugee Pro­gram Integrity Restora­tion Act” (H.R. 4731), would dras­ti­cally reduce and cap refugee admis­sions and cre­ate new pro­ce­dures that would sub­stan­tially delay reset­tle­ment for many refugees whose lives are in dan­ger. It would also allow state and local gov­ern­ments who “dis­ap­prove” of a group of refugees to veto reset­tle­ment in their communities.

Shut­ting our doors to those flee­ing extreme vio­lence is un-American. It flies in the face of our val­ues as a nation that has served as a bea­con of hope for those around the world seek­ing a bet­ter life. But, sadly, it is not the first time we have seen this kind of ugly response to a refugee crisis.

For those of us in the Jew­ish com­mu­nity who have fam­ily mem­bers, like my grand­fa­ther, who fled Nazism in Europe, this nar­ra­tive is all too famil­iar. In July 1938—three years after the Nurem­berg Laws had stripped Jews of Ger­man cit­i­zen­ship, deprived them of most polit­i­cal rights, and left hun­dreds of thou­sands of Jews seek­ing inter­na­tional refuge—For­tune mag­a­zine asked Amer­i­cans, “What is your atti­tude toward allow­ing Ger­man, Aus­trian, and other polit­i­cal refugees to come to the U.S.?” Shame­fully, more than two-thirds said we should keep the refugees out.

The fol­low­ing year the St. Louis, car­ry­ing 937 Ger­man refugees—mostly Jews flee­ing Nazi Germany—set sail for Cuba. Most had applied for U.S. visas. Turned away from Cuba, as the St. Louis sailed so close to Florida that the pas­sen­gers could see the lights from Miami, they appealed to Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt to give them safe har­bor. With pub­lic opin­ion opposed to lift­ing the strin­gent immi­gra­tion quo­tas or to mak­ing an excep­tion for the ship’s pas­sen­gers, the St. Louis returned to Europe. Almost a quar­ter of the pas­sen­gers per­ished in the Holocaust.

It was uncon­scionable to turn our backs on Jew­ish refugees flee­ing Europe in the 1930s, just as it is uncon­scionable today to seal our bor­ders to those flee­ing extreme vio­lence around the world.

The temp­ta­tion may be to give into fear and fear-mongering claims that ter­ror­ists will slip into our midst dis­guised as refugees, but Amer­ica has put up the high­est hur­dles in the world for refugees seek­ing entry. In fact, refugee sta­tus is the sin­gle most dif­fi­cult way to enter the United States. Refugees must pass dif­fi­cult and thor­ough screen­ings by the U.S. Depart­ment of State, the FBI, the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity, inter­na­tional intel­li­gence agen­cies, and the United Nations. Refugees are not ter­ror­ists. There may be even more that can be done to edu­cate refugees as they seek to inte­grate into our soci­ety, but we must remem­ber that they are peo­ple flee­ing the very same bru­tal­ity we fear.

As we gather around the Seder table, and we tell the story of the Exo­dus as if we too were flee­ing Egypt, may we also have com­pas­sion for those flee­ing bru­tal­ity today. The Passover story is the story of peo­ple flee­ing slav­ery. It is the story of peo­ple seek­ing safety abroad. It is the refugee story. This Passover, may we open our doors to refugees and grant safe har­bor to those flee­ing for their lives. For once we were strangers, too.

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October 12, 2015 28

Why the Holocaust Has No Place in the Gun Debate

By Jonathan Green­blatt
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

This arti­cle orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

With the cam­paign sea­son in full swing, the debate over gun con­trol laws once again has taken cen­ter stage. As the can­di­dates reacted to the sense­less mass shoot­ing in Ore­gon two weeks ago, an old meme about guns, Hitler and the Holo­caust resurfaced.

The argu­ment goes some­thing like this: If Jews and oth­ers had had freer access to more guns in the run up to Hitler’s assum­ing power and had been able to use those guns to fight back against the Third Reich, then there wouldn’t have been a Holo­caust, or far fewer would have per­ished. This his­tor­i­cal second-guessing is deeply offen­sive to Jews, Holo­caust sur­vivors and those who valiantly fought against Hitler dur­ing World War II. It is, in fact, as many his­to­ri­ans have pre­vi­ously noted, a dis­tor­tion of his­tory itself.

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ben Car­son was the most recent to make this out­ra­geous point last week dur­ing an inter­view with Wolf Blitzer on CNN. Since then, he’s taken a lot of heat, and for good rea­son. But he’s cer­tainly not the first per­son to make the assertion.

ADL has responded to this talk­ing point count­less times since it first sur­faced in 2013, when there were a slew of Holo­caust and Nazi analo­gies as part of the gun debate. But it was a fringe idea then — and it deserves to be rel­e­gated to the fringe now, not given the cour­tesy of a main­stream con­ver­sa­tion. These are the facts:

  • Guns or lack of them did not cause the Holo­caust. The Holo­caust was the prod­uct of anti-Semitism and the moral fail­ure and indif­fer­ence of humans.
  • It is mind-bending to sug­gest that per­sonal firearms in the hands of the small num­ber of Germany’s Jews (about 214,000 remain­ing in Ger­many in 1938) could have stopped the total­i­tar­ian onslaught of Nazi Ger­many when the armies of Poland, France, Bel­gium and numer­ous other coun­tries were over­whelmed by the Third Reich.
  • Despite the over­whelm­ing mil­i­tary force of the Nazi regime, there were thou­sands of brave civil­ians — Jew­ish and gen­tile — who indeed often resisted with every fiber of their being. Unfor­tu­nately, arm­ing every Euro­pean Jew would not have been enough to stop an evil force that was only over­come by the mil­i­tary might of the Allies.

Amer­i­cans are enti­tled to express strong opin­ions about divi­sive issues. But Dr. Car­son and oth­ers should stick to the facts. When you manip­u­late the his­tory of the Holo­caust and use it to score polit­i­cal points, its wholly inap­pro­pri­ate and offen­sive. Espe­cially for the sake of the vic­tims of the Nazi onslaught and their mem­ory, it must stop.

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