An Unholy Rant on a Day of Remembrance | Opinion

A quick rule of thumb: whenever you read a sentence that begins with "The Jews," or words to that effect, it is in all likelihood the beginning of an antisemitic rant. Ever since the German ultranationalist historian and politician Heinrich von Treitschke in an 1879 essay first used the phrase "The Jews are our calamity" (Die Juden sind unser Unglück) – a phrase, incidentally, popularized and widely used by the Nazis to buttress their persecution, oppression and mass killing of European Jews – blaming "the Jews" has become the standard m.o. of in-your-face, often quite unsophisticated, antisemites.

On Friday, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day was observed across the globe, a group of five contributors to Kentucky's Courier Journal, joined this rogues' gallery with their opinion piece,"Holocaust Remembrance Day is a time to remember more than one atrocity."

This article is offensive on many levels, but let's begin with the crude antisemitism inherent in their one-sentence paragraph, "Jews do not have a monopoly on persecution and atrocities," which sets up the straw man for their insidious premise: "Jews," the authors imply none too subtly, care only about the persecution of and atrocities perpetrated against Jews and are indifferent to the plight and suffering of others.

Remembrance at Auschwitz
Survivors light candles at the ruins of gas chamber and crematorium IV in the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, on the 78th Anniversary of Auschwitz Liberation on Jan. 27, in Oswiecim, Poland. Omar Marques/Getty Images

Never mind that this is not, and has never been, the case. Never mind that major Jewish organizations—the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the World Jewish Congress, among many others—are at the forefront of condemning and commemorating genocides and crimes against humanity committed against any and all peoples, whether in Rwanda, Bosnia, Myanmar, or anywhere else.

Never mind that the 1948 Genocide Convention—the brainchild, incidentally, of Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Ukrainian Jew—applies by its terms to attempts to destroy any "national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

Never mind that it was Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, who condemned the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East and Africa in a 2014 New York Times op-ed writing that "just as I will not be silent in the face of the growing threat of anti-Semitism in Europe and in the Middle East, I will not be indifferent to Christian suffering."

The antisemitic conclusion the authors of the Courier Journal op-ed want their readers to take away is that "the Jews" are only concerned about themselves. Tell that, incidentally, to the families of Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwermer, two New York Jews killed in 1964 together with James Chaney while registering African-Americans to vote in Mississippi.

The Courier Journal article, however, is far worse and far more dangerous. It disingenuously seeks to dejudaize the Holocaust and universalize the Jewish essence of that genocide in a blatant attempt to deprive it of its identity as the systematic slaughter of six million European and North African Jews.

"International Holocaust Day [sic]," the op-ed's authors write condescendingly, again setting up an utterly false premise, "is not just a mantra about one Jewish holocaust, but about every genocide, every mass tyranny that is carried out upon any group based on skin color, religion, gender identity and ethnic background. We must not forget, nor suppress, the truths of all those crimes that happened and are still happening."

As if anyone is suggesting or has suggested any such thing.

On Nov. 1, 2005, in Resolution 60/7, the United Nations General Assembly—not the "Jews"—reaffirmed "that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one-third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice," and designated January 27, the date of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by the Red Army in 1945, as "as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust."

I wonder how the readers of the Courier Journal would react to a suggestion that the Fourth of July should not just be about American independence but should be universalized to celebrate the freedom of nations worldwide. No more American flags, no more parades honoring U.S. war veterans, no more hot dogs. Talk about non-starters.

Which is not to say that we should not join the French in celebrating Bastille Day on July 14, or the State of Israel in annually recalling its Declaration of Independence on May 14,1948. Each country, each people, deserves to have its own celebrations, and they all similarly have the absolute right to commemorate their own tragedies.

Coming back to the inherent antisemitism expressed in the Courier Journal opinion piece, it behooves us to remember that one of the examples given by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to illustrate the widely accepted working definition of antisemitism is "Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust."

At a time when antisemitism is surging both in the United States and globally, the Courier Journal op-ed falsely and none too subtly accuses "Jews" of "exaggerating the Holocaust" by allegedly claiming to "have a monopoly on persecution and atrocities" in the observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The article's authors clearly believe that Jewish suffering during the Holocaust does not merit its own separate remembrance or commemoration.

​ In sharp contrast, Josep Borrell, vice president for the European Commission and high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, hardly Jewish bodies, explained that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day the E.U. "​commemorates the six million Jews, and members from other targeted groups who were brutally and systematically murdered during the Shoah: the greatest tragedy in human history. No one should ever forget the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. Victims should never be forgotten. Every state around the world should honor all victims of the Holocaust, condemn Holocaust denial and distortion, and develop education programs to help prevent genocides from happening ever again."

The authors of the Courier Journal opinion piece would certainly benefit from a course in contemporary history, and, for that matter, basic ethics.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is the general counsel and associate executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress. He teaches about the law of genocide at the law schools of Columbia and Cornell universities.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.