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[Opinion] 85 years after the Nazi November pogrom

8 months ago 38

On 13 October, Jewish institutions across the world — community centres, synagogues, welfare offices, elderly homes — had to take additional security precautions. Special advisories were issued, many Jewish schools and kindergartens remained closed.

The occasion? Following its 7 October massacre of more than 1,400 people, Hamas leadership had called for "the entire Islamic Nation to join the Jihad against Israel," and declared Friday the 13th a global 'Day Of Rage.'

The discourse has remained just as virulent since. And it has not only affected the state of Israel, but also Jewish communities across the world.

So how seriously to take it? After all, the Ayatollah Khamenei — Iran's Supreme Leader — regularly calls for the destruction of Israel and of America, underlining as recently as 1 November that "Death to America is not a slogan, it is a policy."

When a fatwa was placed on Salman Rushdie by Iran's first supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1989, the former spent the following decade living inconspicuously in London under permanent police protection. 33 years later, in 2022, the fatwa caught up with him — Rushdie was stabbed multiple times on stage ahead of a public lecture in New York. He survived, but was permanently blinded in one eye.

In these days of turmoil, it is hard to evaluate what is too much or too little caution.

My friend's house was tagged on 1 November. The tag read simply 'Mort aux Juifs" [Death to Jews]. It was the only tag on the block, in an unassuming neighbourhood of Strasbourg. Buildings in Paris and Berlin have been marked with Stars of David. I now glimpse across my building's doorstep every day when I leave and return home.

A woman in her early 30s — around my age — was stabbed in Lyon in her house this past Sunday. A swastika was drawn on her door and the assailant is currently on the loose. I wondered if the name listed on her door sounds 'more Jewish' than mine.

The upsurge of antisemitism that paradoxically started right after 7 October as a traceable list of incidents, for which small inventories could be kept for police action and posterity, has quickly spiralled into an avalanche of hatred unprecedented in my lifetime.

Kosher stores vandalised, graffiti on synagogues and other places of Jewish cultural significance, the Jewish section of Vienna's central cemetery set ablaze. Jewish students intimidated on university campuses — in one instance a Stanford lecturer was suspended for allegedly separating Jewish students in class.

To date, since 7 October, some 1,100 incidents have been recorded in France, over 1,000 recorded in Britain, a 388 percent increase in incidents has been recorded in the United States, 240 percent in Germany, with figures in motion.

Many of those who have taken to the streets amid the war between Israel and Hamas have done so to support the legitimate quest for statehood for the Palestinian people. It is also safe to assume that many see a two-state solution where a secure Israel can peacefully coexist next to a free Palestine as a desired outcome.

Yet others might join in chants of "From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free" without much awareness about the origins of the slogan — the Hamas founding charter — or thought about its necessary implication: the dissolution of the only majority-Jewish state in the world and the displacement of its population, including by violent means.

Amongst the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in gatherings over the last month, we are bound to find a diversity of opinions, imagined outcomes and understandings of what might constitute a desirable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Yet, the 7 October massacre by Hamas in Israel, the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust, has elicited reactions antithetical to any naïve expectations we, Jews, collectively may have had. From Beirut to Toronto, Amman to Paris, Istanbul to Barcelona, Sydney to Brussels and across the world — thrills, jubilation and — as one Ivy League professor put it — "exhilaration" — celebrating the barbaric violence perpetrated by terrorists against civilians: women raped, babies burned alive, brutal executions of the elderly — all declared fair game by those in the 'liberation by any means necessary' school of thought.

Indeed, over the last month we've witnessed the coming together of strange bedfellows, thought to exist on opposite sides of any visualisation of the ideological spectrum. It is hard to ignore the similarity of message between the Ayatollahs' "Death to America, Death to Israel" and the placards waved by progressives in Brussels — "Down with America, Down with Israel", "Down with Hamas" added European sensibilities, as if the first two were somehow comparable to the latter.

What dissonance for the progressive generation that coined the expression "words are violence," to now endorse the most grotesque violence against Jews in the name of so-called liberation.

Uncomfortable comparisons

I have a deep-rooted reservation around the use of Holocaust comparisons, informed by family history, upbringing, and professional work in the Jewish sphere.

I am uncomfortable with the use of historical analogies to describe the periodic spikes in antisemitism we've seen in past years. But the images of mobs storming an airport in the Russian province of Dagestan in search of Jews; crowds yelling "Gas the Jews!" in Sydney, Australia, protesting the projection of an Israeli flag on the city's opera house or the burnt door of an elderly Jewish couple in Paris, are only a few weeks old.

It is mind-numbing, but on the 85th anniversary of the November Pogroms, I do not hesitate to make comparisons to those days in 1938 when the broken glass of shattered Jewish businesses and homes and synagogues flew through the air lending that gruesome episode of antisemitic violence perpetrated by the Nazis the romanticised name Kristallnacht.

We are not there yet. That we are at a place where comparisons are reasonable is worrying enough. Some things are different: moral clarity on the part of many world leaders, a European Union united behind keeping Jews safe from antisemitism.

As political commentator Fareed Zakaria eloquently observed just days ago — "The upsurge of antisemitism […] is in a way the most powerful justification for the state of Israel. It must feel to Jews everywhere that they are not safe, that the one place they can be safe is the state of Israel."

But perhaps most importantly — a deep sense of history informing the yearning for Jewish visibility: that while we might need to make adjustments to our daily lives due to threats to our safety, we refuse to live as anything short of proud Jews in Europe.

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