An ominous reckoning

Israeli youth take part in the March of the Living at the Birkenau death camp in Poland this May. (Flash 90)

An ominous reckoning

By ROBERT S. WISTRICH (The Jerusalem Post)

Seventy-three years ago, on November 9, 1938, the murderous Nazi onslaught against the German Jews began with a nation-wide pogrom that smashed the fabric of their existence. Known euphemistically as Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night”), this state-organized orgy of violence happened in peacetime. It involved the systematic burning of hundreds of synagogues, the destruction of approximately 7,500 Jewish businesses, the murder of nearly 100 Jews, and the deportation of another 30,000 male Jews to German concentration camps.

It was a crucial turning-point in Hitler’s “war against the Jews,” a major signpost on the road leading to World War II, which Nazi Germany would initiate less than a year later.

Nazi propaganda, already then, openly warned about the imminent annihilation of Jewry through “fire and sword,” though few in the West took these threats too seriously.

Today, there is no immediate danger of a new Kristallnacht in the Western world, although levels of anti-Semitism (hiding under the more acceptable mask of hostility towards Israel) have reached levels unprecedented since 1945. But in the Middle East, the hatred of Jews burns much more fiercely – both in Iran and in the Arab world.

Islamist anti-Semitism, in particular, is soaked in some of the most inflammatory motifs that made the Kristallnacht atrocities possible in Nazi Germany and only three years later provided the rationale for the mass murder of European Jewry.

For example, there is the pervasive exploitation in Arabic of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, with its insistence on the reality of the “Jewish conspiracy for world domination”; there is a revival of the medieval Christian blood-libel against Jews, transplanted from Europe to the contemporary Arab-Muslim Middle East; and the mass diffusion of stereotypes about the Jews as cruel, treacherous and bloodthirsty colonialists seeking to destroy the identity and beliefs of the Muslim peoples.

To this, one must add the slanderous but widely popular identification of Zionism with Nazism and apartheid and the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians – a Goebbels-like propaganda lie that has also found a growing audience in the West.

However contradictory it may appear to some, the Zionismis- Nazism fabrication co-exists in the Middle East today with Holocaust denial on a broad scale. Indeed, in Ahmadinejad’s Iran, Holocaust denial has become a state-sponsored weapon in the regime’s efforts to win over the Arab street and indoctrinate its own people with anti-Jewish toxins.

THE INCREASINGLY entrenched anti-Semitism in the Arab world has not, unfortunately, been diminished by the “Arab Spring.” Earlier this year, Sheikh Yusuf al- Qaradawi, one of the most authoritative religious leaders of the Sunni Arab world (and especially esteemed by the Muslim Brotherhood), told a million Egyptians assembled in Tahrir Square that he hoped their mission would be to complete Hitler’s work. Al- Qaradawi, an immensely popular cleric, publicly insisted that the esteemed German Führer had been sent by Allah as a “divine punishment for the Jews.” Not long before, CBS’s foreign correspondent Lara Logan had been sexually assaulted and brutalized in the heart of Cairo by a mob of Egyptian men screaming “Jew, Jew, Jew.” Logan is not, in fact, Jewish. But this aspect of her ordeal was, typically enough, very much downplayed by both the American and European media.

There has indeed been very little appetite in the West for reporting on the Jew-hatred that saturates the Arab world. Arab nations (not least, the Palestinians) are never held to the standard expected of the rest of the world when it comes to racism, sexism or Judeophobia.

Hence, precious little reference is made to the genocidal anti-Semitism that runs through the “Sacred Covenant” of the Palestinian Hamas, any more than the West was unduly concerned with Haj Amin al-Husseini’s role in the Holocaust of European Jewry. Haj Amin, a Hitlerian anti-Semite if ever there was one, dominated the Palestinian Arab national movement for nearly forty years, leaving a legacy of hatred that would poison the Middle East for decades.

The Arab demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state has continued uninterruptedly since 1948. It has yet to be challenged by the Arab revolutions of 2011. The leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, did nothing to improve the atmosphere by his recent denial at the UN that the Jews are a people with a profound historic connection to the land of Israel. His negation of Israel’s most basic rights and Jewish identity is of a piece with his brazenly racist insistence that the new Palestinian State should be “Jew-free.”

Nothing that has happened thus far in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia – where the Islamic movements have emerged greatly strengthened – leads me to believe that Arab anti- Semitism has been significantly weakened. The bogeyman of the “world Zionist conspiracy” is, unfortunately, still with us. Arab tyrants (as in Syria) continue to use it as an “opium for the masses,” but it also has powerful roots in popular Arab culture as well as in political Islam.

Even more sobering is the fact that the sickening anti- Jewish racism in Iran and the Arab world is nourished by so many Arab theologians, intellectuals, journalists, artists, deans of university faculties and so-called academic “experts.” In other words, the raw, primitive, street-hatred of the Jews has cultural and intellectual legitimacy among the educated elites, as it once did in Nazi Germany.

Over seven decades ago, Kristallnacht was an unmistakable warning to the rest of Europe as to where “eliminationist anti-Semitism” would lead. It went largely unheeded. Millions of non-Jews as well as two thirds of European Jewry would pay the ultimate price for this blindness. As Iran moves towards acquiring nuclear weapons and vows to annihilate Israel, will history repeat itself? Will the West remain silent? For Israel, the moment of reckoning comes closer by the day.

The writer is the director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism (SICSA) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad (Random House, 2010).