On Jan. 27, we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, honoring the 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi genocide, as well as the millions of other victims who were persecuted during that era. This remembrance will be meaningless, however, if we do not seriously consider the gathering threat faced by world Jewry today. To understand the seriousness of this threat, consider how it measures under Dr. Gregory Stanton’s canonical classification of the “Ten Stages of Genocide.”
The first stage, “Classification,” refers to the division of people into “us” versus “them.” It is now widespread on American college campuses. Known to anti-Israel activists as “anti-normalization,” it can be seen, for example, in the 2018 pledge by more than 50 New York University student groups to boycott pro-Israel student groups on campus, as well as national pro-Israel organizations. The continual effort is to push Jewish students “beyond the pale” unless they join forces with groups that make war against Jewish identity. To address this early-stage activity, we must strengthen institutions that can inculcate universalistic Western values, such as equal respect and civil discourse.
The second stage, “Symbolization,” can be seen, for example, in Proud Boys’ apparel emblazoned with “6MWE,” which stands for “Six Million Wasn’t Enough.” It is also seen in alt-right use of parentheses, such as the triple parentheses used on neo-Nazi sites to indicate Jewish ancestry. On such sites, I have seen triple parentheses placed around my own head, suggesting something like a marksman’s bullseye. But it is most often seen in swastikas used to communicate hate. It is high time for the U.S. Department of Education to address higher-education’s massive under-reporting of swastikas under the Clery Act.
The third stage, “Discrimination,” is seen when Jewish pro-Israel students are forced out of student government positions. In the last couple of years, the Brandeis Center has successfully defended Jewish students against such discrimination at Tufts University and the University of Southern California. Stronger civil-rights enforcement is needed, starting with codification of the federal Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism.
The fourth stage, “Dehumanization,” can be seen when anti-Semites treat Jews as animals or as demons. In 2010, Egypt’s then-president Muhamad Morsi called Jews the “sons of apes and pigs.” Such dehumanizing insults are a common feature of Muslim anti-Semitism. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan exemplified this demonization when he called Judaism the “synagogue of Satan.” Dehumanization, in both forms, should be taken seriously and condemned vigorously.
The fifth stage, “Organization,” can refer to the development of special army units or militias. Kyle Chapman, a founder of the Proud Boys’ “tactical defense arm,” promised to “confront the Zionist criminals who wish to destroy our civilization.” On Jan. 6, we saw that such far-right racist groups are capable of organizing for political violence. Federal officials should vigorously prosecute violent extremists, regardless of political orientation, whenever they engage in criminal activity.
The sixth, “Polarization,” could be seen last weekend when the Denver area was hit with fliers claiming that, “Every single aspect of the COVID agenda is Jewish.” This week, similar fliers have been distributed in Colorado, Florida, Wisconsin, Texas, California and Maryland, blaming Jews for public-health failures. Such activity should trigger a revamping of public diversity, equity and inclusion programs that either omit anti-Semitism or, worse, perpetuate stereotypes about Jewish power.
The seventh stage, “Preparation,” refers to plans to exterminate a group, which we can see internationally. In May 2020, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was calling for the genocide of Jews in propaganda that invoked a “final solution.” This is the context in which we must understand Iran’s rapid progress towards producing weapons-grade nuclear fuel. Such preparations should give urgency to concerns, recently reportedly expressed by American diplomatic officials, that the U.S. negotiation posture with Iran is indefensibly weak.
The eighth stage, “Persecution,” generally refers to forced displacement, ghettos and concentration camps, although it may also include the street violence that Jewish Americans faced in several U.S. cities last May. Internationally, it could be seen after World War II, as Jewish communities faced forced displacement and property expropriation in various parts of the Arab world. This resulted in the complete eradication of a Jewish presence from some countries. Today, the Abrahamic Accords has turned the tide in the other participating Arab countries. Elsewhere in the Muslim world, however, Jews are avoiding this fate only because the lands have become virtually Judenfrei (“free of Jews”).
The ninth stage, “Extermination,” refers literally to mass murder. Extermination has been attempted, in particular settings, at the 2018 Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, when Robert Gregory Bowers allegedly murdered 11 Jewish worshippers during Shabbat-morning services and wounded six others. It was also attempted at Chabad of Poway, Calif., a year later, when 19-year-old gunman John Timothy Earnest fatally shot a 60-year-old woman and injured three others, including the rabbi. Such tragedy was averted earlier this month in Colleyville, Texas, after four Jewish hostages escaped from armed assailant Malik Faisal Akram, who had vowed last year, “I want to kill Jews.” While wider efforts at extermination may not be conceivable to many Jews, they are sadly less inconceivable with each passing tragedy.
The last stage is “Denial,” which is common among perpetrators of mass violence. Holocaust denial remains widespread, drawing upon an ideology that sees Jews as powerful, sinister and conspiratorial enough to perpetrate an enormous hoax. At a lower level, anti-Semitism denial is performed after nearly every anti-Jewish incident, when perpetrators insist that their actions should not be described as anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism denial is institutionalized by groups that resist adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which is the single most important tool for identifying anti-Jewish behavior.
To say that recent anti-Semitic incidents have reached most, if not all, stages of genocide is not to say that we are now in 1941 Germany. Comparisons to the Holocaust are invariably hyperbolic and often indecent. Nevertheless, the occurrence of incidents at so many stages in this process should be cause for significant cause for more than worry. It should be a call to action to ensure that genocide does not recur.
Kenneth L. Marcus is founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and author of “The Definition of Anti-Semitism.” He served as the 11th Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Civil Rights.