Sunday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, created by the United Nations to remember and honor the 6 million Jews and millions of others murdered on orders of the Nazis who ruled Germany from 1933 through the end of World War II in 1945.
But anti-Semitism isn’t a short-lived scourge that existed only during the brief period when the Nazis held power. Hatred of Jews has afflicted people of diverse ethnicities, religions and political views for 2,000 years. It should surprise nobody that it afflicts some leaders today.
A phenomenon that merits more scrutiny is the fact that some of these anti-Semitic leaders still have Jewish followers.
Believe it or not, Max Naumann was a Jewish supporter of the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany. His Association of German National Jews remained devoted to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler until it was disbanded by the government after the passage of the Nuremberg Laws that instituted many anti-Jewish restrictions in 1935.
Members of the German National Jews were among the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis they had supported. Their early allegiance to Hitler brought them no benefits or protection from his goal is killing every Jew on Earth.
Naumann’s story holds lessons for Jews contending with contemporary anti-Semitism, on display most recently at the National Women’s March. Holocaust Remembrance Day provides an important opportunity to remind ourselves of these lessons.
The first lesson is that we ignore anti-Semitism at our peril.
The German Jews who voted for Hitler in the 1933 general elections were not duped by false campaign promises. Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” had been in print for eight years and was clear in expressing his intense hatred of Jews.
Yet some Jews chose to ignore Hitler’s anti-Semitism because they subscribed to other parts of his agenda and thought his Jew-hatred could safely be tolerated or ignored in pursuit of a greater good.
The second lesson is that anti-Semitism ultimately applies to all Jews.
Naumann and his followers hoped to ingratiate themselves with the Nazis by turning on other Jews, notably “Eastern Jews” and Zionists.
That effort to differentiate among Jews was useless. In the Holocaust, the gas chambers and other instruments of murder claimed the lives of Jews regardless of where in Europe they lived, their views on the need for a Jewish state, their level of religious observance, or any other factor.
In the eyes of the Nazis, Jewish heritage was a death sentence.
The third lesson is that anti-Semitism is alive and well today, even though most American Jews don’t experience it directly.
I flew fighter jets in the Israeli Air Force for 18 years. Many of my missions targeted Hezbollah surface-to-surface missile launchers and their crews. The missiles they fired were almost invariably aimed at Jewish civilians in Israel – my neighbors, my children.
Hatred, if tolerated, subverts any cause it is harnessed to serve.<br>
The terrorist missiles were fired in the service of overtly anti-Semitic, genocidal ideologies. This is still the case today. The only reason these particular anti-Semites have not been as successful as the Nazis is that a Jewish army now stands between them and their intended victims.
This has sadly not been the case for the rest of Middle Eastern Jewry over the past century. Jewish populations from around the region have disappeared.
The ancient Jewish community of Baghdad in Iraq – more than 1,000 years older than Islam itself – was violently persecuted and then expelled in its entirety.
Even Judaism’s holiest cities – the old city of Jerusalem and Hebron – were ethnically cleansed of 100 percent of their Jews during Jordan’s 19-year rule in the West Bank that ended in 1967.
There are virtually no Middle Eastern Jews today outside of the one Jewish state of Israel, which absorbed nearly all of the region’s 1 million Jewish refugees. It is Jewish sovereignty, and the Israel Defense Forces, that have kept these Jews alive.
This fact seems unworthy of consideration by many observers. Perhaps this should not be surprising in light of the constancy of anti-Semitism’s long history.
But when Jews stand behind anti-Semites in the name of any cause we fall victim to Max Naumann’s folly. When a Jew attacks Israel’s right to exist, or supports leaders who do, he or she endorses the ethnic cleansing of the last Jews in the Middle East – today’s Eastern Jews.
The fantasy that these leaders’ hatred is limited to rich Jews, Republican Jews or Israeli Jews is just that. Anti-Semites like Louis Farrakhan are no more discerning about which Jews they hate than the Nazis were in our parents’ and grandparents’ generation, or than Hezbollah and Hamas rockets are today.
Any perceived tension between the pursuit of justice and the tolerance of anti-Semitism is false. American Jews have been leaders in the campaigns for civil rights, women’s empowerment, marriage equality and immigrant rights.
Israeli Jews provide electricity to villages and irrigate crops in Africa, treat large numbers of sick and wounded from around the conflict-torn Middle East, and serve as first responders to disaster victims around the world.
Jews should and will continue to pursue justice, but must reject partnerships with anti-Semites – even those who claim to espouse the same ideals. This is Naumann’s overriding lesson to the Jews.
Non-Jews may also take a lesson from Naumann. What begins with the Jews rarely ends with the Jews. The Final Solution designed to kill every Jew would ultimately consume Europe’s handicapped, its gypsies, its homosexuals and its religious dissidents.
The ideology of anti-Semitism at its foundation destroyed even its own architects. Hatred, if tolerated, subverts any cause it is harnessed to serve.
We would all do well to remember this when choosing our leaders.
Dr. Martin Luther King – a devoted friend of Israel and the Jewish people, whose memory America has honored with a national holiday – said it best when he condemned all forms of hatred: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”