Friday, November 10, 2023

The Responsibility of Holocaust Education



Malcolm Nance asks, and answers, the question of why there so many protesters of Israel are johnnies-come-lately.

Most of the people who are angry right now could not spell "Palestine" three weeks ago. They weren't angry when Bashir Assad used chemical weapons and mass murdered 500,000 of their own people.

There's a fight going on in Sudan right now. Five thousand people have been killed by two factions that have been fighting. Somalia, Libya, Lebanon.

Oh Jesus, Lebanon. I went to the civil war. They have been massacring each other to the tune of 125,000 people. ISIS literally tried to wipe out north Iraq and Syria and took slaves doing it.

What people are showing here is one of two things. One: this is something they could wrap their head around because there's a lot of cameras or to be quite honest, there's a lot of inherent anti-Semitism in this and maybe they think in solidarity with their Palestinian, brothers and sisters, who are angry, that this position is the right one.


And one more thing, which no one has on his or her bingo card as a reason for the immense hostility toward Israel's actions in Gaza. Nor will there be consideration that this could be a factor because it is unexamined and counter-intuitive. 

As of the end of 2021, there were twenty-one states which required schools to provide Holocaust education.  On the website of the United States Holocaust Research Museum, there are "Guidelines for Teaching About the Holocaust."  There are ten recommendations, although only one- "Contextualize the History"- pertains to my theory. There we read

Events of the Holocaust, and particularly how individuals and organizations behaved at that time, should be placed in historical context. The Holocaust should be studied in the context of European history as a whole to give students a perspective on the precedents and circumstances that may have contributed to it.

Similarly, the Holocaust should be studied within its contemporaneous context so students can begin to comprehend the circumstances that encouraged or discouraged particular actions or events. For example, when thinking about resistance, consider when and where an act took place; the immediate consequences of one’s actions to self and family; the degree of control the Nazis had on a country or local population; the cultural attitudes of particular native populations toward different victim groups historically; and the availability and risk of potential hiding places.

Encourage your students not to categorize groups of people only on the basis of their experiences during the Holocaust; contextualization is critical so that victims are not perceived only as victims. By exposing students to some of the cultural contributions and achievements of 2,000 years of European Jewish life, for example, you help them to balance their perception of Jews as victims and to appreciate more fully the traumatic disruption in Jewish history caused by the Holocaust.

Ironically, if the guidelines advocated by the Holocaust Museum are routinely reflected in the teaching of the Holocaust, this singularly barbaric event is taught out of context. There are two instances in this section in which "European" is mentioned.  The words "Arab," "Persian," or "Muslim" are not listed here, nor anywhere in the Guidelines. This portion of Jewish history is critically relevant to understanding the milieu in which the Holocaust took place. The Time of Israel explains

Jews were an enduring presence in the Middle East and North Africa before the advent of Islam and Arabian conquests, yet today fewer than 4,000 Jews live in the region. This contrasts with post-Holocaust Europe, where 1.4 million Jews currently reside. So much for the Moroccan proverb, “A market without Jews is like bread without salt.”

Beginning with Iraq’s notorious Farhud pogrom on June 1–2, 1941, Jews in Iraq and elsewhere faced intensified persecution akin to what took place in pre-Holocaust Nazi Germany as leaders such as Iraqi prime minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani sought to emulate Hitler’s tactics.

 During the two-day Farhud in Baghdad and other Jewish population centers in Iraq, Jewish homes were marked so mobs could destroy them. In the process, 180 Jews were recorded as murdered. Similar to Kristallnacht in Germany and Nazi-occupied lands, shops and religious buildings were looted and set ablaze.

 The word “Farhud” means “violent dispossession” in Arabic, the prophetic name given to the pogrom by Iraqi citizens. About 135,000 Jews lived in Iraq in 1941, but almost the entire community relocated to Israel within a decade of the pogrom.

 “The Farhud was a turning point because it was the first step in this Jewish community’s dispossession,” said Black.

 The Holocaust directly reached Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, as well as Lebanon and Syria, through the Vichy France regime. In German and French documents, those lands were considered part of Europe for the purposes of the genocide.

For example, after the Nazis invaded Tunisia, some 5,000 Jewish men were sent to forced labor camps. In France, 160 Tunisian Jews were deported to the death camps. Despite the genocide’s reach into Tunisia, the country was home to the region’s largest Jewish community outside Israel until the 1970s.

After Nazi Germany’s defeat in 1945, the persecution of Middle Eastern Jews in no way slowed down.

Outside of Israel, there no longer are many Jews in the Middle East and it is no coincidence. There were periods of severe violence and oppression of Jews. As noted here, "in the ninth century, for example, Baghdad's Caliph al-Mutawakkil designated a yellow badge for Jews, setting a precedent that would be followed centuries later in Nazi Germany."

As a response especially to the Holocaust, but also to the mistreatment of Jews in the Muslim-dominated Middle East, the state of Israel was created in 1948 upon a tiny sliver of land surrounded by Arab and Persian nations. Jews in large numbers had resided in the land of Palestine since time immemorial. Great Britain in 1922 was awarded the Mandate for Palestine and expected to create from it a Jewish homeland.  In November 1947 the United Nations adopted a resolution to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, the latter east of the Jordan river. Great Britain announced it would relinquish the Mandate on March 15, 1948 and on March 14, Israel declared its independence.

The following day, five Arab countries launched a war against the new nation.

This is a part of the history of the creation of Israel which often is forgotten. It is even unknown to many individuals, especially young people. They've heard of the Holocaust, perpetrated by the German nation, and may even have studied it. Yet, Tel Aviv is killing a large number of civilians in the Middle East and is located nearly two thousand miles from Germany. Being ill-informed, young people may be averse to the idea of having a Jewish state in the Middle East.

Holocaust education, if conducted as the US Holocaust Research Museum recommends, reinforces the perception a young person already has about Israel's origin as being entirely due to atrocities committed by Europeans.  Contributing to this ignorance was President Barack Obama, who in a speech in Cairo in June, 2009 failed to distinguish between mainstream Islam and fundamentalist Islam, at one point remarking

The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights... 

And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality. 

(Imagine a Republican today extolling the virtues of Christianity and ignoring the dangers posed by extremists claiming to be devout Christians. Democrats would be apoplectic, largely justifiably.)

The Holocaust was the main driver of creation of the state of Israel, and most Muslims, like most Jews, Christians, and others, are relatively peaceful.  Yet, a full and complete picture is being denied to many students. If an anti-Western bias pervades Holocaust education, young men and women are getting a skewed version of history.  And the results, in both anti-Semitism and uninformed, sometimes prejudiced, bias against Israel, are glaringly obvious.



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