February 23, 2020

Jews in the West: An Embattled Community

Official unveiling ceremony of the statue to Nazi collaborator Garegin Nzhdeh in Yerevan, Armenia on May 28, 2016. Photo from President.am

Seventy four years after the Nazi death camps were liberated, Jews in the West are more embattled than they have been in decades. This is the shocking finding of a new report on anti-Semitic violence released in May by the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University. Commenting on the report, the President of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, said that among Jews in many European countries there is a  “sense of emergency,” with concerns about both personal safety and their place in society. According to the report, more Jews were killed in anti-Semitic violence in 2018 than during any other year in decades.


“Anti-Semitism has progressed to the point of calling into question the very continuation of Jewish life in Europe,” said Kantor. According to the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency, 38% of Jews in the EU have considered leaving Europe because they fear for their safety. Small wonder, when the French interior ministry states that “not one day passes without an anti-Semitic act” in France.  France is the home of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, as well as the recent killing of Jews in a kosher supermarket. Tombstones have been overturned, swastikas painted on businesses, and prominent Jewish intellectuals harassed. Nine out of ten Jewish students in France report having experienced anti-Semitism at least once during their studies.


France is not alone. In Germany, the government has warned Jews of risks of wearing a kippah in public. This month’s annual Quds Day march in Berlin included hundreds of participants calling for the killing of Israelis. The atmosphere that allows these things to happen even extends to the German court system, which ruled a 2014 attempt to set fire to a synagogue in Wuppertal was not anti-Semitic.


In Belgium, a café owner placed a sign on his business welcoming dogs but not Jews. When a man was convicted of hate speech for shouting about killing Jews, a lawyer for the Belgian organization to combat racism, UNIA, protested that the conviction distorted justice. Meanwhile, a jihadi gunman shot dead four people in May 2014 when he attacked the Jewish Museum of Belgium.


In Armenia, authorities have declared a Nazi collaborator, general Garegin Nzhdeh a national hero and erected a statue to him. In addition to the statue, a square and metro station in Armenia’s capital Yerevan are also named after Nzhdeh, and his “legacy” is taught to children in Armenian schools. Nzhdeh cooperated with the Nazis as one of the commanders of the infamous “Armenian League” of the Wehrmacht. This unit fought in Crimea, the Caucasus, and southern France, as the Nazis rounded up Jews and resistance fighters to be marched to the death camps. For his war crimes and collaboration with the Nazis, a Soviet court sentenced him to 25 years’ imprisonment. Nzhdeh’s political theories were as repugnant as his collaboration with the Nazis. He was the founder of a movement called Tseghakronism, which translates as “carrier of race.” It refers to those who supposedly represent and carry what is the spiritual and biological essence of the “classical” Armenian. Echoing the theories of Aryan supremacy of his Nazi colleagues, Nzhdeh divided people into true nationalist by blood, mixed races (Hitler referred to “mongrel races”), and the anti-nationalists whom he called ‘bastards’. According to the theory, it is the responsibility of the ‘master race’ to rule Armenia.


In England, a Jewish candidate for parliament from the Brexit Party had a 10 meter swastika painted on his company’s building in east London. The UK’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission has opened an investigation into whether the Labor Party unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimized people because they are Jewish.


The anti-Semitic acts are not limited to Europe. The United States has seen 11 Jews killed in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue and a Passover shooting in Poway, California that left one dead and three wounded. Harking back to cartoons published in Nazi Germany, the international edition of the New York Times published a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog wearing a Star of David collar, on a leash held by a kippah-wearing President Trump. In Australia, Jewish members of parliament are being spammed with anti-semitic emails.


There are many possible explanations for the rise in anti-Semitism, including an increase in immigration from the Middle East and the rise of far-right political parties. While these no doubt contribute to the problem, amnesia about the efforts of allied forces to end the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany also contributes. According to a 2014 international poll by the Anti Discrimination League covering 100 countries, 35% of respondents had never heard of the Holocaust. More frighteningly, 32% who had heard of the Shoah believe it was a myth or was greatly exaggerated. Only 33% who heard of the Holocaust believed it was accurately described by history.


Shootings, monuments to mass murderers with political theories reminiscent of Hitler, threats and intimidation: these are not the hallmarks of civilized countries or people. The world must remember the madness of the Second World War and stop this descent into chaos. John Donne said, “No man is an island.” The Christian Bible says the same: “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me.” We must protect the rights of Jews to live in peace, safety and dignity, free of hatred, racism and bigotry, because, in doing so, we protect the rights of all.

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