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Wielding the Holocaust stick

A protest in London calling for a boycott of Israeli products. Credit: Claudia Gabriela Marques Vieira via Wikimedia Commons.
A protest in London calling for a boycott of Israeli products. Credit: Claudia Gabriela Marques Vieira via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ben Cohen/

In late November, radical protesters in London attacked a Jewish communal building. As they wrestled with police at the gates, they screamed abuse about “baby killers!” and cried out, “It’s a Holocaust!” According to local media outlets, among them the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News, the protesters also daubed the building with graffiti that included a Star of David, a smear about a “kosher Holocaust,” and references to the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

What was the reason for the protesters’ anger, the cause of their unashamedly anti-Semitic outburst? You’re probably thinking, for good reason, that this had something to do with Israel. In fact, it didn’t.

The building attacked was the kosher Kedassia abattoir (slaughterhouse), and the attackers were members of a militant vegan group—there is such a thing, apparently—attempting to prevent the delivery of a truckload of live chickens. Now, as insane as I regard such protests—not to mention the obscenity of getting worked up over a bunch of chickens when real human beings are being butchered in the thousands in Syria—these people certainly have the right to protest against the production and consumption of meat.

What’s significant, though, is that the character of the protest was entirely determined by the Jewish nature of the target. To even pick on a kosher abattoir when Jews make up less than 1 percent of the British population reeks of anti-Semitism. As Shimon Cohen, a spokesman for Kedassia, observed, “There are 760 million chickens a year slaughtered in this country, and the Jewish community is responsible for just under one million. I wonder why there is such a focus on us.”

I can think of a couple of credible reasons. To begin with, there has always been a nasty strain of anti-Semitism in the animal rights movement. It’s no coincidence that one of the first anti-Jewish measures adopted by the Nazis was a ban on shechita (kosher slaughter). In our own time, the production of kosher meat has been banned in several European countries, such as Denmark and Switzerland, and has faced legal challenges in Poland and the Netherlands. The logic here is that since shechita prohibits stunning the animal before it is killed, it is therefore a more cruel method than that involved with the production of non-kosher meat.

This highly dubious conclusion, motivated more by prejudice than by scientific evidence, is invoked to abridge the civil rights of observant Jews—and also Muslims, whose halal method of slaughter is subjected to similar objections.

Secondly, the obsession among left-wing activists with protesting against Israel in the most visceral manner imaginable has legitimized the use of Nazi imagery in the condemnation of Jewish behavior. The word “Holocaust” was frequently seen in 2006, when Israel fought a defensive war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and again during the three conflicts in Gaza during the past decade. If Gaza is a “concentration camp,” if Palestinians are facing a “genocide,” if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a successor to Adolf Hitler—all themes that have flown around social media with abandon—then it isn’t much of a leap to employ the same images with regard to the rituals of Judaism.

All anti-Semites, whether or not their prime motivation is hatred of the state of Israel, believe that a sense of “chosenness,” handed down by God, is what enables Jews to think and act in ways denied to ordinary mortals. They hate us, in other words, because we think, according to their sleazy worldview, that we are better and thus have greater license to do as we wish.

These trends should worry us, because more and more of the ideas that animate politics in the Western world right now bear little correspondence to actual facts. One result of this has been the dramatic shrinking of the political center. When our own elected politicians on the left and right enable or engage with extremism, when they articulate or enable incendiary rhetoric, they make it infinitely more difficult to combat conspiracy theories and hate-based discourse among the wider public.

Even so, our democracies still contain enough politicians who are willing to recognize the dangers. A round of applause, then, is due for British Prime Minister Theresa May for announcing that her government will officially adopt the definition of anti-Semitism employed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Loathed by anti-Zionists because of its identification of the demonization of Israel and Zionism with anti-Semitism, the definition is a decent instrument for determining whether or not a particular speech or act is anti-Semitic.

Rightly, the definition asserts that using the historic sufferings of Jews as a stick with which to beat them—which 99 percent of the time involves comparisons of Israel with Nazi Germany—is a form of anti-Semitism. Talking about a “kosher Holocaust,” whether in Gaza or in an abattoir in east London, may be legitimate or unlawful depending on where you live, but it is always hate speech.

Theresa May’s announcement is potentially historic, because it paves the way for other countries to adopt the same definition in dealing with accusations of anti-Semitism in their own territories. More broadly, it creates favorable conditions for pushing back against one of the most insidious expressions of anti-Semitism—Holocaust abuse.

Holocaust abuse can take different forms. Most common is the type I’ve outlined above, where Jewish behavior is analogized to that of the Nazis. But it also comes in more subtle shapes too, for example in Poland, where the nationalist government wants to proscribe any discussion of Polish complicity in the extermination of the Jews during the Nazi occupation. The distinguished Princeton University historian Jan Gross, a Polish American, is currently facing prosecution for his claim that Poles killed more Jews than did the Germans during the Second World War. Instead of leaving this claim to be adjudicated by serious historians, as has in fact been happening, the Polish government has willfully decided to portray it as an outrage (“publicly insulting the nation”) akin to denying the Holocaust itself.

What unites all these examples is the idea that everyone involved—Palestinians, chickens, Poles—is locked in a victimhood competition with the Jews. Holocaust abuse is, therefore, a central tactic in winning that competition.

Of course, no such competition exists, except in the minds of those who are fixated upon it. No two victims can ever be exactly alike, after all. But such commonplace observations hold no water for those convinced that the Jews are the prime obstacle between them and a better world, and who wield the Holocaust stick as a consequence.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).

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