Sunday, January 27, was Holocaust Memorial Day, a solemn day filled with memorial services throughout the world. World leaders remembered the genocide that defies description, what Winston Churchill, the master of words, called “a crime with no name,” and avowed that such a tragedy must never be allowed to happen again.
Certainly, such words — condemnations of the past, remembrances of the victims, commemorations of the survivors — are sincere, but they are not enough. The anti-Semitism that ultimately led to Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka and the other horrors of the Holocaust is again becoming more acceptable, more mainstream. Therefore, we need more than words, speeches and memorial days about the Holocaust. World leaders have to make a concerted and vigorous effort to stamp it out wherever the bacteria of anti-Semitism appears, in whatever shape or form it takes.
Like bacteria, anti-Semitism always develops new strains, no matter how absurd and illogical the basis of the hate may be. In medieval times, and in some cases as late as the last century, it was the ludicrous charge of the blood libel that was the pretext for murder and pogroms. When those accusations became even too ridiculous for 20th-century anti-Semites to promulgate, the charge arose that Jews were greedy capitalists — and that they, illogically, were also communists bent on robbing from capitalists.
We witness the same illogic, in a different form, perhaps, today. Holocaust denial has become more and more legitimized. We see it in Europe; we see it in the Muslim world, and even in North America. Despite the thousands of books, the museums, the camps, the testimony of the survivors and even the perpetrators themselves, Holocaust deniers speak at universities and have their books published. The world’s most infamous Holocaust denier, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has spoken at Columbia University. Would Columbia have given a forum to a historian who denies that the American Civil War took place? Or would they have allowed the White Supremacist David Duke to speak to students? Of course not. Thanks to schools like Columbia, Holocaust denial has become another legitimate historical perspective.
To prevent genocide, we can’t only condemn the past; we have to equally condemn the present. The same U.N. that has solemnly declared Sunday to be Holocaust Memorial Day has hypocritically permitted President Ahmadinejad to address the world body. Besides denying the Holocaust, the Iranian president has vowed to “wipe Israel off the map.” The same U.N. that has commemorated the annihilation of six million Jews, voices nary a word of protest when Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, is condemned again and again by dictators and despots. Where’s the world’s outrage when Hamas deliberately targets Jewish civilians? Where’s the world’s condemnation when it was revealed that Egyptian President Morsi called Jews the “descendants of apes and pigs”? Morsi insisted his statement was taken out of context, but in what context can a statement like that be acceptable? Lighting candles, making speeches, designating a day to Holocaust remembrance have accomplished little. The only way to make the remembrance of the Holocaust meaningful is to take firm action against those who purvey anti-Semitism today.
Last week this nation celebrated the birthday of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. President Obama should well remember that it wasn’t the speeches of Martin Luther King that ended racism in the South, but it was legislation, bus boycotts, sit-ins and marches. In short, it was action, economic and political. Southern racists caved in when presidents threatened to call in the National Guard. To combat rising anti-Semitism, the president should make it clear that any nation that receives aid from or trades with the U.S. will have to have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism or any religious persecution. That would send a strong message to Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and even Europe. If the world truly wants “Never Again,” it has to make a concerted effort to root out the growing worldwide menace of anti-Semitism.