Amnesia marks a grim anniversary

Posted: Feb 02, 2004 12:00 AM

Only six decades ago, the world gasped in horror at the grim handiwork of man's inhumanity to man with the liberation of Auschwitz.

Every January 27 since, several European countries, including Sweden, Denmark, England, Italy and Germany, have called up memories of death and destruction to remember. With tears and public discussion of the cruelty reckoned as unique, they try to understand something that cannot be understood. For most of these 60 years, the civilized world took consolation in the certain belief that "never again."

The representatives of the European nations gathered once more to mark Jan. 27, but this year with a difference. For the first time, the Israeli government designated the anniversary as a "National Day to Combat Anti-Semitism." Something new had invaded discussions of the Holocaust - a not-so-new anti-Semitism, revived and rampant, that trivializes the Holocaust and hides hatred of Jews in the conflict between Arabs and Israel.

An Italian newspaper poll of nine European nations on the eve of the anniversary found that 46 percent of those interviewed across the continent say that Jews are "different," 9 percent do not "like or trust Jews," and 15 percent wish that Israel didn't exist.

What the Israeli designation of the anniversary recognizes is that anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment are hatreds joined at the heart. Many of the Europeans who want Israel to go away don't even know why they do. Nearly a third of those interviewed concede they have no idea what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about. It's enough to know that Israelis are Jews.

Bigotry thrives, as always, in the mouth of the ignorant.

Sometimes the ignorant are among the most educated. The Alexandria Library in Egypt, funded by the Egyptian and Italian governments with support of the United Nations, includes a manuscript room where the holiest books of the three Abrahamic faiths - the Torah of the Jews, the Bible of the Christians and the Koran of the Muslims - are displayed in places of honor.

Not long ago, the director of the museum placed next to the Torah a copy of the "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," an infamous forgery that sets out an outlandish Jewish plot to take over the world. None but the most credulous anti-Semites have ever taken the book as serious work, but it has taken on new life with the Islamist resurgence in the Muslim world.

The director of the Alexandria Library described "The Protocols" to an Egyptian newspaper as a sacred book of the Jews, who misrepresent their victimhood by exaggerating the number murdered in the Holocaust. It wasn't 6 million, "only" 1 million. This "scholarship" went unrebuked by the scholar's colleagues.

The "new" anti-Semitism is fueled largely, but by no means altogether, by radical Islamists. The liberal and left chattering class in Europe indulge in "anti-Zionist chic" with articles and books disparaging Israelis specifically and Jews in general.

"We failed to appreciate that after the defeat of Nazism the poison of anti-Semitism only went into remission," writes Isi Leibler, senior vice president of the World Jewish Congress, in the Jerusalem Post. "Admittedly much of this is a byproduct of post-modernism, which has been imbibed by European culture, creating an environment of moral equivalency that trivializes every distinction between good and evil."

But it's more than academic amorality. The moral defense of Muslim terrorists, while denying any appreciation for the burdensome duty of Israeli soldiers defending the only democracy in the Middle East, is an exercise of a double standard that reduces the Jewish state to the role of scapegoat.

Some of the most shameless perpetrators of this double standard are Jewish intellectuals, eager as always to make common cause with enemies of the Americans and their allies in the West. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were to disappear overnight, can anyone believe that anti-Semitism - or hatred of America and the West - would disappear with it? Resurgent anti-Semitism is merely camouflaged by conflict in the Middle East.

Natan Sharansky, the Israeli cabinet minister whose defense of human rights once lifted the hopes of the millions yearning to breathe free in the old Soviet Union, reminded the ambassadors and representatives of 25 nations for the Auschwitz observance at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Museum, that "history has taught us that anti-Semitism starts with the Jews, but it doesn't end with them."

Simon McDonald, the British ambassador to Israel, agreed: "Anti-Semites are anti-Semites because they are 'anti-Semites.' It is a completely unreasonable and irrational position. It's our duty as governments to make sure that they cannot act on their anti-Semitism."

Civilized men and women mark this anniversary with uneasy hope, chilled by the breath of fear.