Israel’s president shouldn’t obfuscate the particularity of anti-Semitism

Shame on Reuven Rivlin for marking the anniversary of Kristallnacht by taking a general stand against all forms of hatred.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a press conference on Feb. 16, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a press conference on Feb. 16, 2020. Photo by Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Credit: Courtesy.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, an author and award-winning columnist, is a former adviser at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

To mark the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin hosted a global memorial, livestreamed from his official residence in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Ahead of the event, he got together with two of his counterparts, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, and created a video in honor of the momentous occasion, which he posted on social media and promoted through his press people.

It is both curious and disconcerting that Rivlin should consider the content of the short clip worthy of highlighting. If anything, he should be ashamed of himself for taking part in a production aimed at erasing the particularity of Jew-hatred.

“Eighty-two years since Kristallnacht, and the dark shadows of the past have not disappeared from our streets,” Rivlin, Steinmeier and Van der Bellen state in the clip.

So far so good.

What follows, however, is appalling, given the occasion in question: the marking of the “Night of Broken Glass”—the Nazi pogrom against Germany’s Jews on Nov. 9-10, 1938—aptly named after the smashing of the windows of synagogues, storefronts and other Jewish establishments.

“We will stand against hatred. We will stand against racism, against anti-Semitism. We will stand together in Vienna, in Jerusalem, in Berlin,” they say, each reciting a snippet of text. “Never again means never again. Let there be light.”

It is bad enough that “hatred” and “racism” are mentioned at all in this context, let alone ahead of “anti-Semitism”—the true culprit behind the vandalism and killing spree against innocent Jews that took place during that 48-hour period in 1938.

Kristallnacht, like the torture and genocide of Europe’s Jews a mere few years later, did not spring from the general evils of “hatred” and “racism.” It was aimed, purposely and specifically, at Jews. The Holocaust that followed made it pale in comparison, of course. But in retrospect, it was a sign of the unimaginable horrors to come.

During the two decades after World War II, European anti-Semitism became publicly taboo. The very fact of the slaughter of 6 million Jews—not to mention the gruesome methods by which Adolf Hitler and his fellow German sadists accomplished it—made even tongue-wagging against Jews socially distasteful among the chattering classes.

This helps to explain why the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution on Nov. 29, 1947, calling for the partition of Palestine and allowing for the establishment of the Jewish state in its historic homeland. It was one attempt on the part of the world to atone for the unfathomable physical expression of what the late historian Robert Wistrich called the “longest hatred.”

Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War was the turning point that anti-Semites had been waiting for—when the young State of Israel lost its reputation as David battling Goliath. It was the beginning of the dubious romance between the Western left and radical Islamists.

The two otherwise disparate groups formed an ideological alliance against Israel—as an “illegal occupier” of the Palestinian people—and a shared dim view of Europe and the United States. Turning on Israel for its supposedly bad behavior gave an updated stamp of legitimacy to anti-Semitism, but this time cloaked as political criticism of the Jewish state and its leaders.

Coined by Italian-Israeli journalist Fiamma Nirenstein as “Israelophobia,” this new form of Jew-hatred, ironically, has been spreading as widely as Holocaust-museum educational programs. It is the basis for BDS and among the intersectional tenets of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Yet while the latter self-describe as “anti-racist,” both contain elements of anti-Semitism as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IRHA).

According to the IRHA, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Manifestations of anti-Semitism, the IRHA says, “might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

Thus far, this definition has been adopted by the U.S. State Department, Albania, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kosovo, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, The Netherlands, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Uruguay.

Even the Global Imams Council, an international NGO made up of Muslim religious leaders from all Islamic denominations and schools of thought, recently adopted the IRHA definition, on the grounds that they “live in a time of rising anti-Semitism and terrorist attacks.”

The distinction between anti-Semitism and other forms of “hatred” and “racism,” then, is neither arbitrary nor accidental. It is particular.

It’s also crucial to understanding Kristallnacht, the Holocaust, and today’s lack of “rhetorical and physical” restraint in relation to the Jewish state.

For the president of that state to join forces with representatives of Germany and Austria to obfuscate the singular nature of the beast, especially on such an auspicious anniversary, is unconscionable.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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