It’s an important date on the international community’s calendar. Every year, the United Nations and many other institutions and organizations hold ceremonies on Jan. 27 commemorating the Holocaust. It’s long been clear that much of the world did so without actually thinking seriously about what allowed the Nazis’ campaign of extermination of European Jewry to succeed as well as it did. Nor do most of those going through the motions of mourning the systematic murder of 6 million Jews or making empty promises about “never again” think much about how a supposedly civilized people like the Germans, with the help of various collaborators from other nations, convinced themselves that it was not only acceptable to kill that many people but justified to do so.
But this year, perhaps they shouldn’t bother to pretend to care about the subject. After the Hamas atrocities on Oct. 7 and, even more importantly, the reaction of much of the civilized world to what happened, the meaninglessness of most of what passes for the commemoration of the Shoah by the international community and the West has become painfully obvious.
It goes beyond hypocrisy
To describe those who are indifferent to the mass slaughter of Jews today but still prepared to mouth words of indignation about those killed by the Nazis in the 1930s and ’40s as merely hypocritical is insufficient.
The willingness of the world, including many of the educated elites in the West to dismiss the importance of the crimes perpetrated in southern Israel three months ago, to be effectively neutral about the murders, rapes, torture and kidnapping committed by Hamas and the Palestinians—or actually to take the side of the murderers, rapists, torturers and kidnappers—isn’t just shocking. It’s a seminal moment in modern history that not only illustrates the moral bankruptcy of a significant segment of contemporary opinion but also provides an explanation for how the Holocaust happened. As hard as it may be for us to accept, this demonstrates that Holocaust commemorations or even education programs about the destruction of European Jewry in the mid-20th century either don’t make people less likely to support more Holocausts; even worse, all this might be counterproductive.
The surge in antisemitism throughout the West in the aftermath of Oct. 7—with mobs marching in the streets of major cities and on college campuses proclaiming their support for the destruction of the one Jewish state on the planet (“from the river to the sea”) and for terrorism against Jews in Israel and everywhere else (“globalize the intifada”)—and the support such positions have received in much of the corporate media was surprising to those Jews who thought such sentiments were only held by marginal extremists. Nor can they be explained as an understandable reaction to a supposedly disproportionate Israeli response to terrorism or as sympathy for Palestinians caught up in a war that Hamas started.
What happened on Oct. 7 in Israel should have taught the world about the intractable nature of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The same is true for what it should have made clear about the ethos and the goals of the Hamas movement that perpetrated the unspeakable crimes committed that day, in addition to the Palestinian nationalist cause that spawned it. Yet most of what passes for educated opinion in the West refuses to acknowledge those lessons, let alone draw conclusions from them.
Antisemitism isn’t a function of ordinary unkindness but a weapon in which the Jews are demonized to achieve a political purpose.
To the contrary, the almost immediate erasure of the Israeli victims from the world’s consciousness—even before the Israel Defense Forces began their campaign to try to ensure that Hamas could never commit such crimes—was telling. The same is true for the widespread acceptance of the big lie that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza and the mockery of justice that has been taking place in The Hague as the U.N. International Court of Justice arraigned Israel on this false charge.
It’s not enough to note author Dara Horn’s rule that People Love Dead Jews but don’t care much for live ones, especially those fighting for survival like the Israelis. The willingness of so much of what passes for educated opinion to view the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians through the prism of fashionable left-wing ideology that has become the new orthodoxy in academia as well as much of the rest of our culture—intersectionality, critical race theory, white privilege, and the woke catechism of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)—isn’t merely factually incorrect and intellectually bankrupt. It demonstrates the moral sickness in contemporary society that provides a permission slip for antisemitism. More importantly, it demonstrates that genuine acts of genocide are more likely to be the product of educated minds rather than ignorant ones.
A new ‘treason of the intellectuals’
As historian Niall Ferguson noted in a seminal essay published in The Free Press in December, the current state of American academia and Western intellectual life is not dissimilar to what was going on in Germany prior to the Holocaust. Ferguson’s theme is reflected in the title of the piece, which echoes that of French philosopher Julien Benda’s classic 1927 work, The Treason of the Intellectuals, which explained how enlightened opinion in late 19th-century and early-20th-century Europe enabled the extremism that led to the crimes of fascism and Nazism.
Ferguson persuasively argues that the dehumanization of the Jews as the scapegoats for Germany’s problems was something that was largely the work of intellectuals in what was then the most educated and civilized nation on Earth. It was the smart people—the educated classes and not the uneducated—who enabled and ultimately set the events of the Holocaust in motion.
The stance of America’s great universities regarding the Oct. 7 crimes—something about which they were largely neutral, even though they were quick to take sides during the moral panic about racism that followed the death of George Floyd in 2020—was, Ferguson says, instructive. It showed just how strong the stranglehold of woke ideology had become.
Critical race theory and intersectionality teach that the world is divided into two immutable groups locked in perpetual conflict: white oppressors and people of color, who are always the victims. In such a moral universe, the individual actions of members of these two groups don’t matter in determining which side is in the right. The victim class is always right, no matter how wrong their behavior or their goals. The oppressor class is always wrong, no matter how much they have been aggrieved or how justified their actions might otherwise be.
Jews, and especially Israeli Jews, aren’t “white.” And the conflict with the Palestinians isn’t one about race. But that’s how the DEI mindset categorizes Jews and Arabs. The Palestinians who committed the bestial crimes of Oct. 7 may have been indoctrinated by radical Islam to view their Jewish victims as less than human or deserving of cruelty. Yet the Western mobs who chant their support for such behavior or think Hamas ought not to be eradicated have a point of view that, while not necessarily steeped in ideas about Muslim supremacy in the Middle East, are still prepared to view Jews—either in Israel or encountered on the streets and campuses here in the United States—as equally undeserving of the right to exist or to self-defense.
Woke ideas seek to permanently divide American society along racial lines, but they also dehumanize and strip those who are deemed “white oppressors” of equal rights. The DEI mantra is as much an inversion of the truth as the Arbeit Macht Frei—“Work will set you free”—at the gates of Auschwitz. The diversity and inclusion it calls for actually is a mandate for the exclusion of non-approved groups, and the equity it demands is the opposite of equal opportunity since it mandates judging people by their backgrounds and skin colors, and not individual merit.
Jews, especially Israelis, aren’t “white.” And the conflict with the Palestinians isn’t one about race.
When applied to Jews, it means that the victims of Oct. 7 deserve no sympathy. That’s why people who call themselves “progressives” feel justified in tearing down the posters depicting kidnapping victims, whether they are 8 months old or age 85. No decent person would think of tearing down a poster of a missing cat or dog, but to those indoctrinated by DEI, a kidnapped Jew is less deserving of sympathy than a lost pet. It also explains why feminists are ready to believe women who are victims of sexual crimes and yet so readily dismiss those committed against Jewish women, even when Palestinians use rape as a weapon of war.
By the same token, Israeli actions may be demonized and delegitimized as genocide even though they are nothing of the kind because as white oppressors, they are always immoral.
The failure of Holocaust education
A process of dehumanization of Jews led an educated nation to become “Hitler’s willing executioners” and active participants in the murder of 6 million Jews. The same “treason of the intellectuals” now does the same to the Jews of Israel and Jews elsewhere who stand with them.
The sort of Holocaust education and commemoration that became commonplace in the United States in the last generation, in which antisemitism is considered to be just another form of intolerance, does little to combat woke indifference to assaults on its designated “white” evil-doers. Antisemitism isn’t a function of ordinary unkindness but a weapon in which the Jews are demonized to achieve a political purpose. That is how Jewish victims of terrorism can be erased and their plight put down as what happens to oppressors who run afoul of an act of justified “resistance.”
Hamas, which is a movement that has the support of most Palestinians and now the sympathy of many Western intellectuals, explicitly seeks the elimination of the one Jewish state on the planet and the genocide of its 7 million Jews. What happened on Oct. 7 was merely the trailer for what it intends to do in the near future.
There is no middle ground on this subject. Anyone who is indifferent about what happened on Oct. 7, or who claims that of all the peoples in the world, the Jews alone are undeserving of a state or the right of self-defense (anti-Zionism), or who argues that Hamas must be allowed via a cease-fire to survive the current war and left in charge of any part of Gaza or anywhere else where it will rearm and prepare, as it pledges to do, commit many more such atrocities, can’t be allowed to call themselves “progressive” or opposed to genocide. Because what they are doing by taking such stands is essentially putting themselves on the side of those who wish for a second Holocaust in Israel.
That’s why I don’t want to hear a single word of Holocaust commemoration from anyone this year who isn’t prepared to unreservedly support Israel’s justified war to eliminate Hamas in the same manner that the Allies belatedly destroyed Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. In the months since Oct. 7, we have seen what this generation’s “treason of the intellectuals” has wrought as antisemitic ideas, conduct and speech have once again become commonplace. If you aren’t willing to stand with the Jewish state against Islamist murderers and their woke fellow travelers and useful idiots, then at least have the decency not to bother us with your insincere grief about the Holocaust.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.