APRIL 12, 2018 – Yom Hashoah, the somber Holocaust Memorial Day began last night in Israel. Across the country, a siren sounded, with Israelis rising to stand at attention – whether at home, or work or in the open air of the highway or city streets – to remember the 6 million Jews who died in the Shoah.
While Nazi Germany officially stopped hunting down Jews 72 years ago, there is still much to be concerned about in Europe, America, and in Israel. Across the Middle East, and in the West Bank and Gaza, Arab governments have embraced vicious anti-Semitic propaganda that is spouted by government leaders, and taught in schools. Across the Middle East, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is still a best seller, and its text is used to create talking points for politicians and educators.
In Europe, Jews have good reason to fear for their future. Over the last year, French Jews were shocked after they learned of the murders of two Jewish women. Last month, an elderly Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, was tortured and murdered in her apartment by a Muslim extremist whom she had known for years. Before the murder, she had also contacted French police to report that she had been threatened but the police did not act on the threat. And on April 4, 2017, Sarah Halimi, a retired Jewish physician, was tortured and murdered in her home in Paris, and then thrown from her window by a man shouting “Allahu Akbar.” Prior to her death, she had also reported to the police several times that she had been the victim of anti-Semitic threats.
Nazi parties are again rising in Europe. In Greece, the neo-Nazi party is third in opinion polls. In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party has won key posts in government. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban rode to his third consecutive term last Sunday after taking out billboards that ridiculed Hungarian-born, Jewish billionaire George Soros. Last year, a study conducted by the government of Germany concluded that that nearly 33 million Germans, or 40 percent of the population of 82 million, held anti-Semitic viewpoints. And in England, thousands of Jews recently protested outside of the Parliament and accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – a strong critic of Israel who is pro-Palestinian – of ignoring anti-Semitism in his own party.
In America, the number of anti-Semitic incidents rose by 60 percent in 2017 over the prior year – and in Massachusetts, that number rose by 42 percent, according to the ADL. Across the North Shore and Greater Boston, swastikas were seen in Marblehead, Salem, Swampscott, Beverly and other cities. The ADL reported that 93 percent of the incidents occurred in K-12 schools, a 50 percent increase over the prior year. Also in 2017, the New England Holocaust Memorial was vandalized twice.
In these fractious times, where public bullying and mass shootings have become daily events in this country, civil discourse and leadership is needed more than ever. These days, Jews and other minorities wait for elected officials to take more action and decry anti-Semitism and other hate crimes. We need to be vigilant, and take note of the mood of our country and the opinions spouted by elected officials. We need to teach our children tolerance, and to respect the civil liberties of our democracy. We need new curricula in schools that reinforce civil rights and respect for all citizens.
While Jews have prospered in America, we need to take note that there will always be a charismatic leader, or groups, that seek to create a bogeyman in order to gain power. We must be pro-active and understand their motives and counter them with real facts, backed by the support of government and law enforcement. History has shown that waves of hatred can lead to genocide. We cannot afford to be silent.