By T. Michelle
This year on April 16, alongside Jewish communities worldwide, Israel is commemorating Yom HaZikron laShoah ve-laGvura (the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day). This is a day for the Jewish people to be reminded of the great cost they paid with the lives of six million brothers and sisters during the Holocaust of World War II. The Holocaust of the twentieth century was the greatest genocidal act against the Jewish people in modern history. However, the death of these six million did not occur overnight. It was a prolonged and systematic undertaking by the Nazi government in Germany from 1933-1945 under the dictatorial leadership of Adolf Hitler.
The Holocaust that spread across Europe throughout WWII is history’s most poignant illustration of anti-Semitism. The term anti-Semitism originated in 1879 by German journalist Wilhelm Marr, denoting the hatred of the Jewish people and all the liberal ideologies connected to them during that time, such as equal civil rights, constitutional democracy, free trade, socialism, finance capitalism, and pacifism.
The most common manifestations of anti-Semitism throughout history were pogroms, political propaganda, and economic boycotts specifically directed against the Jewish people. In this essay, we will see how these three manifestations came about in Nazi Germany and compare that with the ever-increasing spread of anti-Semitism in the world today. If we are seeing similar manifestations today in different pockets of the world, should we be worried that history will repeat itself?
Pogrom is a Russian word meaning “to wreak havoc, to demolish violently.” Historically, pogroms were carried out in the Russia Empire starting as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century. These pogroms were violent attacks carried out against the Jewish population by non-Jews. The perpetrators of pogroms organized locally, and sometimes with government or police backing. The Nazis orchestrated a nationwide, single night campaign of street violence known as Kristallnacht, which involved burning down synagogues, destroying Jewish-owned homes and businesses, and physical assaults on individuals.
With little to no irony, we are witnessing very similar kinds of violent attacks predominantly throughout Western Europe. This past year alone, violent riots erupted on the streets of Paris where protestors trapped hundreds of Jews inside a synagogue. On separate occasions, rioters attacked Jewish-owned stores in a Jewish suburb of Paris and a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the window of a local synagogue in Germany. Rioters in the streets of London were chanting “Heil Hitler” and “Oh Jew, you will die,” and carrying signs that read, “Hitler you were right”. In December 2014, three young men broke into the home of a young French-Jewish couple and raped a 19-year old woman. All of this is happening under the guise of pro-Palestinians opposing Israel’s actions in Gaza and throughout other Palestinian-controlled territories.
Within a few years of the Nazi regime, pogroms were followed by a dramatic surge in discriminatory, anti-Jewish political propaganda. During the first six years of Hitler’s iron rule, he ordered over 400 decrees and regulations aimed specifically at the Jewish population that greatly restricted their public and private lives. In 1945 the Nuremberg Laws were enacted and racially defined the Jewish people by “blood” and called for the separation of “Aryans” and “non-Aryans” –essentially legalizing racism. The regime’s main goal was to ensure that the Nazi propaganda was integrated throughout art, music, theater, films, books, radio, educational materials, and the press. In the words of Hitler himself in an excerpt of his book Mien Kampf (1926), “Propaganda tries to force a doctrine on the whole people…Propaganda works on the general public from the standpoint of an idea and makes them ripe for the victory of this idea.”
We see similar uses of propaganda among the Palestinian and international community. Strong evidence shows that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are systematically indoctrinating young and old to believe that Jews/Israelis are an evil, Zionist enemy. The same people that are supposed to be Israel’s “partner for peace” are using propaganda tools such as media, education, and all forms of cultural structures to demonize and promote religious hatred. For instance, schoolbooks for all Palestinian children where the Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministry of Education has jurisdiction contain materials that repeatedly reject Israel’s right to exist. Evidence of this is found on all the maps of “Palestine”, as Israel is nowhere to be found. Even television shows for young children on Palestinian TV networks encourage kids to annihilate the Jewish people. Youth are trained to believe that acts of terrorism and suicide bombings are honorable forms of jihad. This type of political propaganda coming from the Palestinian leadership is guaranteeing that the next generation of Palestinians will grow up seeing Israel as an illegitimate enemy to be hated, fought, and destroyed, rather than as a neighbor to negotiate with and to ultimately live beside in peace.
Not only does this type of disinformation appear within the Palestinian communities, but also it is evident throughout the Arab and Western world. With Iranians making public cries of, “Death to Israel” and the denial of the Holocaust becoming a prominent theory spreading throughout the Middle East, it is evident that there exist tremendous misconceptions about the Jewish State. In the Western world the Jewish state is oftentimes portrayed as an evil, colonial power and Zionism and Israel are equated with terms such as occupation, racism, imperialism, genocide, and apartheid.
After the Nazis came to power in Germany, the new regime decided to stage an economic boycott against the Jewish community of Germany. On the day of the boycott, Nazi soldiers stood in front of Jewish-owned department stores and retail establishments, and the offices of professionals such as doctors and lawyers. The Star of David was painted in yellow and black across thousands of doors and windows, with accompanying anti-Semitic slogans. Signs were posted saying, “Don’t Buy from Jews” and “The Jews are Our Misfortune.”
A similar campaign is occurring today, however on a much more global scale. Internationally reaching initiatives such as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) aim to use economic, political, and academic leverage to place pressure on Israel as a way of supporting the Palestinian agenda. Governments, companies, organizations and individuals are boycotting the buying and selling of goods, products and services from Israel. Their claim for justification is that Israel is an apartheid state and practicing genocide. In addition, there are a growing number of universities boycotting Israeli universities and professors, forbidding any form of collaboration. Much of their effort has warped into anti-Semitic propaganda inciting hatred and at times violence towards the Jewish people and calling for the eradication of the State of Israel.
The disproportionate targeting of the Jewish people and the Jewish State is becoming widespread. In the aftermath of the moral and societal failures that made the Holocaust possible, it is imperative that we confront all forms of hatred and anti-Semitism emerging in our modern era. Anti-Semitism of old has now taken on a new form and we can oftentimes recognize it as anti-Zionism or anti-Israel. The Nazi persecutions of the Jewish people began with hateful words, escalated to discrimination and dehumanization, and culminated in genocide. After comparing the Nazi use of pogroms, political propaganda and boycotts to similar modern-day examples, we can easily conclude that these are all signs of the same kind of genocidal pledge that was witnessed in the time of Nazi rule. Will we let history repeat itself?