On Holocaust Remembrance Day, Stop Using the Shoah to Attack Israel
Today, January 27, the United Nations will observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the date when the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated in 1945. The creation of an International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005 was not the only monumental event in the fight against antisemitism to take place that year. In 2005, the European Union also formulated a working definition for antisemitism. This document — which also served as the basis for the US State Department’s definition of antisemitism — not only outlined classic examples of Jew-hatred, but also recognized the existence of modern antisemitism directed at Israel as the Jewish nation-state, specifically by “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
Unfortunately, in the 10 years since, little progress has been made towards eradicating antisemitism. In fact, the EU backtracked from these guidelines, much to the delight of anti-Israel non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and activists. To no surprise, the use of Holocaust terminology to delegitimize Israel has risen: Zionism is compared to Nazism, Israelis are labeled Nazis, and the Star of David has been transformed into a Swastika on countless flags.
Sadly, the past year has only provided more examples of how anti-Israel organizations and activists hijack the memory of Holocaust victims to wage political and economic war on Israel. Many BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) activists have adopted this strategy, attempting to compare the Holocaust to the founding of the State of Israel, referred to by Palestinians as “the catastrophe” — the Nakba.
In May 2015, an employee of the United Methodist Church (UMC) exploited the Holocaust as leverage to promote the Nakba narrative. Janet Lahr Lewis, Advocacy Coordinator for the Middle East at the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, wrote a blog on an official UMC website. In it, she preached, “don’t participate in Holocaust Remembrance Day without participating in Al Nakba Remembrance Day. Don’t visit a Holocaust museum until there is one built to remember the other holocausts in the world: the on-going Palestinian holocaust…You could be waiting a long time!” In other words, she suggests that Jewish suffering is meaningless and should not be acknowledged unless the Jews are blamed for the suffering of the Palestinians. Regardless of what one thinks of the events of 1948, the very comparison diminishes the Holocaust and offensively erases Jewish victimhood.
Usually, the rantings of an obscure and unimportant functionary in a church would be unremarkable. However, six months later, UMC decided to divest from a number of Israeli banks for their apparent involvement in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. While the UMC has apparently removed the antisemitic article from its website, Lahr Lewis’ voice, and those of her fellow anti-Israel activists in the church, continue to resonate.
UMC are not the only BDS supporters to hold the memory of murdered Jews hostage to promote their own agendas. In August, the Anti-Defamation League held an event with St. Louis police, marking 10 years of a Holocaust awareness program for law enforcement officers, in conjunction with the St. Louis Holocaust Museum. What should have been an affirmation of the importance of Holocaust education became an opportunity for anti-Israel bashers to protest. Members of the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) opposed the event, claiming that by educating law enforcement about the Holocaust, the ADL and St. Louis Holocaust Museum were somehow siding against minorities. One representative of the organization presented their position by explaining that “the lessons I learned from the Holocaust for today are that black lives matter.”
The August debacle was not the only time that JVP used the Holocaust to advance their narrow, hateful platform. In January 2015, JVP members disrupted the New York City Council as the members of the council were engaged in a commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The group saw this as an appropriate time to loudly condemn a planned trip of council members to Israel, yelling “why are you supporting apartheid” and “Palestinian lives matter.”
These examples are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to misuse of Holocaust terminology to assault Israel. The international community must confront this warped and offensive phenomenon. Misuse of the Holocaust to demonize Israel must be recognized by the leading international bodies — including the UN and the EU — as a modern form of antisemitism. To allow these offenses to go unchecked is to allow Israel’s enemies to continue to desecrate the memory of the victims of the worst tragedy to befall the Jewish people in modern history.
Yona Schiffmiller heads the US desk at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.