Few recent news articles captured more attention than reports that Jews in Ukraine were being ordered to register. Then it turned out that the pamphlets ordering Jews to register might be something of a hoax or a political stunt.
Either way, it appears that Ukrainian Jews are being treated as pawns.
Moreover, the story would not have gotten such play if it hadn’t hit a nerve.
Ukraine has lately seen a string of anti-Semitic vandalism. The Holocaust Memorial in Sevastopol, which had previously been vandalized by neo-Nazis, was recently spray-painted with a hammer and sickle. In Dnepropetrovsk, swastikas were sprayed on the tomb of the late Lubavicher Rebbe Menahem Mendel Schneerson’s brother, Dov Ber Schneerson. There has also been a recent stabbing and the attempted arson of two synagogues, one last week in Nikolayev.
But the problem is not limited to Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Hungary’s neo-Nazi Jobbik Party won a shocking 21 percent of votes in national elections. Disturbingly, Jobbik now claims particular strength among Hungary’s youth and highly educated voters. Some commentators explain Jobbik’s gains as a protest vote against anti-democratic practices by Hungary’s governing right-wing party amid disarray on the left. Nevertheless, something is gravely wrong when one in five Hungarians votes Nazi.
Then word came out last week that Kazakh’s nationalist magazine, “Star House” displays Nazi symbols and praises Adolf Hitler. The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Simon Samuels protested that the magazine “is dedicated totally to Hitler’s so-called ‘positive contribution’ to history, which would perversely include the Holocaust.”
Nor has the United States been immune from anti-Semitism lately. Frazier Glenn Cross, the founder and former head of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, allegedly shot three people dead at two Jewish-affiliated facilities in Kansas just before Passover. The shooter’s Mayor, Dan Clevenger of Marionville, vocally expressed support for him. “Kind of agreed with him on some things, but I don’t like to express that too much,” Mayor Clevenger reportedly told a local television station before announcing his resignation.
Disturbing incidents are also found on some American university campuses. Last month, after a heated debate over an anti-Israel divestment vote, some Jewish students at the University of Michigan at Arbor told Brandeis Center lawyers that they had been called “kike” and “dirty Jew.” One Jewish student reportedly faced death threats. On other campuses, anti-Israel protests have turned similarly ugly.
These incidents are not all of the same cloth. There is a world of difference, for example, between the Kansas City shooter and the Ann Arbor anti-Israel activists. On the other hand, the incidents do point to a common problem. The post-Holocaust taboo against anti-Jewish hostility is eroding in many parts of the world, including even on some American university campuses.
Some people insist that the Jewish community does not need more protection because it is already wealthy and privileged, and often minimize the problem. This line is often heard on university campuses, where anti-racist groups may sympathize with Palestinian activists. In some cases, they believe the anti-Israel rhetoric and are unsympathetic to Jewish students who support the Jewish state.
Even some Jewish communal professionals are leery of being perceived as too powerful or too privileged. They hesitate to speak out against anti-Semitism or to work with Jewish civil rights organizations. In their heart of hearts, they have come to believe that Jews are already too powerful and should not be too noisy in defending their rights.
This is the worst possible response. If we have learned anything from the Holocaust, it is that anti-Jewish hostility must be snipped in the bud. We cannot allow it to fester. Nor should we be afraid to assert our equal rights. If we do not speak out against injustice when our students are being accosted on university campuses, we may soon face the graver threats that some Jewish communities are seeing in Europe.