Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
I get it. Of course you’re annoyed. All you did was sign off on a perfectly reasonable statement marking International Holocaust Day by mourning the suffering of all who suffered.
What could be easier, nicer and less controversial? Yet, suddenly, the Jews erupt in fury, whining that this broad, sensitive embrace of all the victims didn’t single them out. And even after you backpedal, many Jews still seethe.
Allow me to explain – and it has nothing to do with Harper-hankering. As a historian who knows that a political gaffe is a politician caught telling the truth, I believe you were being sincere. That’s what scares me. I worry that if you can universalize the Holocaust, you will return to the bad old days of Jean Chrétien’s “evenhandedness,” which was a form of moral blindness. Doubting nationalism’s virtues; minimizing the moral gap between democracies and dictatorships; and wanting to see the world, and especially much of the developing world, as much kinder, gentler and western than it is, this approach tended (and tends) to blame both sides of any conflict equally.
The key to understanding the Holocaust and to empathizing with those of us who felt excluded when you didn’t single the Jews out for sympathy, is realizing that the Nazis singled us out for slaughter. Yes, they killed others, targeting dissidents, Communists and gays. But hating Jews, killing Jews, and what they in their ugly, techno-sterile language called “exterminating” Jews was central to their ideology, to their mission. It was “The war against the Jews,” not just an unjust war. It wasn’t any kind of evil. It was a specific evil, with a particular pathology and focus.
Let’s face it – and I don’t mean this condescendingly – you’re too decent to absorb the extent of the Nazi evil. Unfortunately, we Jews are raised with the added burden of recognizing this obsession, because we have been targeted by it – and are still targeted by it. Your colleague, former Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, recalls the lesson his parents taught him following the Holocaust: that some events “in Jewish history, in world history, are too terrible to imagine, but not too terrible to have happened.”
You don’t invent Auschwitz, you don’t kill three out of four European Jews, you don’t murder six million people and you don’t destroy a 1,200-year-old Euro-Jewish civilization without being supremely focused. The war against us was such a Nazi priority that even as Germany was losing the war, the Nazis stepped up the pace of the murder, diverting resources to killing our people, not protecting their own.
So, yes, we work hard to ensure that no one misses the point. And we are enraged because anti-Semitism has returned with a vengeance, masquerading as “just” “anti-Zionism.”
This visibility-invisibility issue is playing out to our disadvantage again. Shortly after your statement, Israeli first responders killed three heavily armed Palestinian terrorists in mid-attack outside Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. The terrorists killed Hadar Cohen, a sweet 19-year-old who had just been drafted two months earlier to serve her country. Yet CBS News proclaimed (in a headline that was amended after complaints): “Three Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on.”
Forgive us our trauma. It’s not “daily violence” that both sides provoke equally. It’s not Palestinians being killed as part of some routine. It’s Palestinian terrorists hunting Jews, being raised to hate Jews – and “succeeding.” The next day, PA President Mahmoud Abbas hosted the parents of some of the murderers.
So, no, we won’t be polite. We will be outraged. And we will pound away until you reassure us that you see how central anti-Semitism was then and is now in the current conflict. Please reassure freedom-lovers worldwide that while positioning Canada to be a constructive force for peace, you won’t succumb to the moral laziness of a pox-on-both-your houses evenhandedness, failing to see who is guiltiest for perpetuating this conflict.