The Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism has assembled in Jerusalem this week for its annual conference. The gathering of such a distinguished group of Jewish and non-Jewish legislators and others of distinction for the express purpose of condemning anti-Semitism in itself represents a remarkable achievement, and would not have been possible without the involvement of the government of Israel. In fact, without the dedication, enthusiasm and skill of Foreign Ministry coordinator and forum chairwoman Aviva Raz-Schecter, it would never have taken off altogether.
However, the endeavor suffers from a serious flaw. Despite repeated pleas from participants at every meeting, it has failed to create a global secretariat to operate between conferences and act as a clearing house for the exchange of views and a vehicle to coordinate efforts between leaders and communities to combat anti-Semitism.This failure is the inevitable consequence of the government’s refusal to set aside funds to finance the project.
As a result, this year’s conference appears to be a rerun of its predecessors, with the same scholars providing those engaged in the battle against anti-Semitism with information to which most are already privy, and with the same kind of general calls for taking action.
For example, though a session on Holocaust denial is on the schedule, there does not appear to be any emphasis on the far more damaging actions by anti-Semites and enemies of Israel who now manipulate and distort the Holocaust as a means of demonizing the Jewish state.
Because the Holocaust has been transformed into a major international industry, with so many European countries incorporating its commemoration in their calendars, our tendency is to reflect a sense of achievement. However, this concern for dead Jews is regrettably not matched by concern for live ones – particularly those who reside in Israel.
TO MAKE matters worse, there is actual ongoing, almost frenzied, activity on the part of some Diaspora Jews to suppress Holocaust denial and revisionism, which is often diverted into counterproductive debates on whether legislation criminalizing such activity would constitute an infringement of freedom of expression.
This is particularly disturbing considering the fact that in recent years Holocaust denial has been overtaken by a new and far more potent challenge: the sophisticated trivialization, distortion and inversion of the Holocaust. This “Holocaust inversion” has a far more negative impact than outright Holocaust denial, which (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and jihadists aside) is primarily associated with crackpots. And it has climaxed with successful efforts to demonize Israelis as Nazis for allegedly committing war crimes against Palestinians – as exemplified by the British arrest warrant directed against Tzipi Livni and potentially against other Israeli leaders.
The first serious study of this phenomenon appears in an important book by Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses, published jointly by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the Anti-Defamation League.
Gerstenfeld, a former international business strategist who currently heads the Board of Fellows of the JCPA, has established a reputation for prodigious productivity of high-quality studies in the field of post-Holocaust anti-Semitism. This, his 11th book, may well be regarded as his magnum opus. In it he systematically defines the new anti-Semitism, presents a chronology of its development, provides an analysis of its various components (including dejudaization, obliteration of Holocaust memory, trivialization, equivalence and inversion) and draws a template for how it should be neutralized.
The book’s most important chapter covers Holocaust inversion, with special emphasis on the false portrayal of Israelis and Jews behaving like Nazis. This equation had its genesis with the Soviet UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, but has been finessed and widened under the direction of Arab and far-left agitators. The evil mantra reiterated again and again is that “the victims have become the perpetrators.”
An extreme example of this is Spain, where in some locations Holocaust Remembrance Day was broadened to commemorate the “genocide of the Palestinian people.” Nazi arch-propagandist Joseph Goebbels’s technique of repeating a lie ad nauseam until is taken to be the truth by the masses has certainly proven to be effective in this, the greatest of all contemporary libels and defamation directed against the Jewish people.
In a chapter titled “Holocaust Deflection and Whitewashing,” Gerstenfeld deals with the efforts by many European countries to present themselves as victims of Nazi persecution, to deflect the role of their own key citizens in having assisted the Nazis in the deportations of Jews and even in participating directly in their mass murder. Austria is particularly notorious for its longtime insistence that it was a victim, rather than a participant, in the Nazi atrocities. But in 1985, with the emergence of what came to be known as the “Waldheim Affair,” evidence was revealed indicating that a majority of Austrians had welcomed and collaborated with Hitler.
ANOTHER CASE in point is that of the Baltic countries, whose governments have been campaigning to apply moral equivalence to Nazi genocidal policies and communist tyranny. They are thus are calling for textbooks to be amended and demanding that Holocaust commemorations include victims of communist crimes. This blatantly revisionist effort to distort history, combined with attempts to suppress the knowledge of the evil perpetrated against Jews during the Holocaust by indigenous citizens in Baltic countries, was embodied in the “Prague Declaration,” issued at a conference there in June 2008.
John Mann MP, the initiator of the UK parliamentary commission into anti-Semitism, has described it as a “sinister document.” As if that was not shocking enough, in recent years, Lithuanian prosecutors have been calling for “war crime investigations” of elderly Holocaust survivors and partisans (including former Yad Vashem director Yitzhak Arad) who are rightly regarded as heroes throughout most of the Western world for having fought in anti-Nazi resistance movements.
It is therefore truly incomprehensible that Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas was invited to participate in the opening session of this week’s conference. Regrettably, realpolitik may demand that Israel occasionally cooperate with some odious governments which failed to prosecute those of their citizens who collaborated with the Nazi extermination of their Jewish populations. But inviting the foreign minister of a government which failed to prosecute its own war criminals and is a world leader in seeking to obfuscate the Holocaust by bracketing Nazi genocidal policies with Stalinist crimes to participate in an Israeli government-sponsored conference on anti-Semitism is surely unacceptable.
This brings us back to Gerstenfeld’s crucial book – a must-read for anyone interested in anti-Semitism or involved in the fight against it. Combating Holocaust inversion, it concludes, “requires first understanding the nature of the abuse which must then be followed by exposing the perpetrators who must be turned into the accused.”
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post