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Holocaust Education Alone Won’t Counter Antisemitism

(Jewish News Syndicate) – Alarmed by a jump in reported antisemitic incidents in Maryland from 55 to 109 between 2021 and 2022, state legislators recently passed bills that sponsor Sen. Benjamin Kramer (D-Md.) said target root causes.

“Clearly, much of antisemitism and hate, in general, is a consequence of ignorance, and that’s really at the root where I think we have to focus the greatest effort,” he told The Washington Post.

One goal of Kramer’s effort is better Holocaust education in state schools, as well as more instruction about other minority groups targeted by hate crimes. Though necessary as part of any serious history curriculum, teaching about the Holocaust is not likely to diminish Jew-hatred.

One of the foremost scholars of antisemitism, Robert Wistrich, put it this way just before his death in 2015: “There is an illusory belief that more Holocaust education and memorialization can serve as an antidote to contemporary antisemitism. This notion, shared by many governments and liberal gentiles, is quite unfounded.”

Why? Wistrich, who was then director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, argued that “today ‘Holocaust inversion,’ (the perverse transformation of Jews into Nazis and Muslims into victimized ‘Jews’) all too often becomes a weapon with which to pillory Israel and denigrate the Jewish people.”

As Wistrich noted, the Soviet-inspired, Arab League-promoted 1975 U.N. General Assembly resolution equating Zionism—the Jewish people’s national liberation movement—with racism greatly facilitated the merger of Israel-hatred with Jew-hatred. Although the United States led a successful campaign to repeal the resolution in 1991, its poison has continued to spread. Hence the persistence of “Israel Apartheid Week” on college campuses.

Hostility to the Jewish state as a collective re-normalizes hatred of Jews as individuals. It’s one driver of the years-long surge in antisemitic incidents in the U.S.

More or better teaching of the Holocaust alone is unlikely to overcome what Wistrich termed “Palestinianism.” That is because, in many respects, woke progressivism functions as a replacement religion and “Palestinianism”—which makes first the Jewish state, then Jews, anathema—constitutes part of a secular fundamentalist catechism.

Across the Potomac River from Maryland, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, on his first day in office last year, issued an executive order creating a Commission to Combat Antisemitism. As one of the body’s 15 members, I chaired the education subcommittee. Several of our recommendations, including one on Holocaust education, were included in the commission’s final report.

We wanted to avoid the potential pitfall of portraying Jews primarily or only as victims of larger forces and lacking agency in the sweep of history. So, the subcommittee urged that teaching about the destruction of European Jewry also focus on Jews’ disproportionately large contributions to the United States and the unprecedented re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty in the modern, free, democratic and prosperous State of Israel.

Last week, the Virginia Board of Education adopted several of our recommendations, expanding Holocaust education to include the history and role of antisemitism in the persecution of Jews, Hitler’s “Final Solution” and the creation of the modern State of Israel, noting the end of the League of Nations/United Nations mandate system and establishment not only of Israel but other Middle Eastern states.

Gov. Youngkin sent three of the commission’s proposals to the General Assembly for legislative approval. They dealt with expanding state code to include ethnicity as well as religion for action under antisemitic hate crimes law, adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism and prohibiting state entities from doing business with enterprises that support and participate in the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

The Republican-controlled House approved all three legislative initiatives from the governor. The Democratic-majority Senate okayed the ethnicity-hate crimes expansion and approved the IHRA definition—already adopted by the U.S. government, more than 30 countries and nearly 30 states—only after first sidestepping it and then responding positively to concerted lobbying. But the anti-BDS measure died in committee.

Those fighting antisemitism must expand their field of vision. Begin with Holocaust education, to be sure. But do not stop there.

Among the causes to uproot are the woke dismissal of Jews as “white adjacent.” That is, treating the Jews not as part of a minority both historically oppressed and successfully persevering but rather as beneficiaries of “white supremacy.” Also to be combatted is the false Palestinian narrative embedded in higher education and now appearing at the K-12 level that smears Zionism and Israel as racist, apartheid and colonialist.

In the struggle against Jew-hatred camouflaged by scholastic acceptance of anti-Zionism and a campaign for “social justice” for Palestinian Arabs, local schools are part of the battlefield.