We Must Never Forget
The often-quoted phrase, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing," paraphrasing a passage from Edmund Burke, is pertinent to the problem of the persistence of anti-Semitism. Sinning by silence, a cowardly act, instead of protesting, allows the cancer to persist and metastasize. European countries are still confronted by the disease and lack a cure.
The problem, concern with the disease and attempts to deal with it can be examined in three countries.
In Britain, according to a survey by the Community Security Trust, anti-Semitic hate crimes reached a record level in 2017. These incidents can be defined as malicious acts aimed at Jewish people, organizations, and property, targeted because the victim is believed to be Jewish. With members of the Jewish community targeted at a rate of nearly four times a day, there were 1,382 recorded incidents, three-quarters of which were in Greater London and Greater Manchester.
It does not appear these incidents were caused by reactions to specific trigger events. The most common type of incident involved verbal abuse randomly directed against visibly Jewish people, distinguished by religious clothing, school uniforms, or jewelry bearing Jewish symbols. Those responsible come from various groups, the far right, the far left and also part of the Labour party, and Islamists. Despite efforts they have not been sufficiently confronted by government and legal authorities. Interestingly, the number of incidents involving social media fell in 2017, possibly as a result of the efforts of social media companies to deal with on-line hate speech.
German leaders are aware of the problem. On January 27, 2017 Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "it is inconceivable and shameful that no Jewish institution can exist without police protection, whether it is a school, a kindergarten, or a synagogue." Chancellor Merkel, who was the first German leader to address the Israeli Knesset, is considering the appointment of a government commissioner on anti-Semitism.
Despite the actions of Merkel, some signs suggest the situation in Germany is getting worse. Recent polls indicate that about 10% of Germans express classic anti-Semitic feelings, and many more have mild anti-Semitic prejudices.
Demonstrations in Berlin against the decision of President Donald Trump on December 7, 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital might be considered a political action. But protestors chanted anti-Semitic slogans as well as torching Israeli flags. Another disturbing incident is that memorial plaques outside the homes of Holocaust victims were dug out of the ground and stolen.
More troubling is the rise of the far-right political party AfD, only four years old, which at the 2017 Federal parliamentary election got 12.6% of the vote and 94 seats and is presently the third largest party in the Bundestag. The AfD is a xenophobic, nationalist, and populist party though it does not declare itself anti-Semitic or Nazi. Nevertheless, utterances by some of the prominent people in the party are troubling. One of the founders, Bjorn Hocke, is critical of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, designed by Peter Eisenman and inaugurated in 2005. "We Germans are the only people in the world who have planted a memorial of shame in the heart of their capital." Another member of AfD has dismissed the Holocaust as merely "certain misdeeds" and argued, contrary to German law, that Holocaust denial is legitimate.
Curiously, Austrian authorities are acting against the virus. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on January 31, 2018, said he was preparing to dissolve a student fraternity, Germania, which has links to the far-right Freedom party FPO, a junior partner in the governing coalition, because of the fraternity songbook mocking victims of the Holocaust. The former vice chair of the fraternity ran as a candidate for an Austrian state election. Lines in the song included "Step on the gas, you ancient Germanic peoples, we'll manage the seventh million", a direct reference to the six million murdered by Nazis. The issue is doubly troubling, partly because a large number of FPO politicians have ties to student fraternities, and partly because the FPO in the October 2017 legislative election gained support, coming in third and winning 20.5% of the vote and 51 seats.
France has tried to deal with the disease in different ways. Two actions illustrate the problem. One is the quick response of President Emmanuel Macron to the physical attack on January 29, 2018 in Sarcelles on an eight-year-old Jewish boy wearing a kippa. The Republic as a whole, Macron said, is assaulted: the Republic stands alongside the French people of Jewish faith to fight these vile acts.
The second, a more controversial question, is the decision of leading Paris publisher Gallimard to shelve plans to reissue a collection of anti-Semitic pamphlets by Louis-Ferdinand Celine written in the late 1930s. For some French people, Celine is regarded not only as a prominent writer but even as a cultural icon. But he was an obsessive anti-Semite whose pamphlets are virulent and bigoted. Celine fled France in 1944, was later convicted in absentia of collaboration with Nazi Germany, but was granted amnesty and returned to France. On him, opinions differ widely. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe thought his collection should be published with a critical and contextual commentary because Celine has a central position in French literature. The indefatigable hunter of anti-Semites, Serge Klarsfeld, threatened legal action if the collection was published. Gallimard, even if reluctantly, made the right decision.
The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948 spoke of the need for recognition of equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. Sadly, this hope and promise has not been fulfilled, as world disasters and tragedies have shown around the world, in Cambodia, Kosovo, Darfur, Syria, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Iraq. Above all, the disease of anti-Semitism still spreads. Medical research has made unbelievable progress in curing illness. If only there were some form of social cauterization that could destroy the anti-Semitic disease. The cure is Never Again.