Toronto campaign against antisemitism
Toronto campaign against antisemitism courtesy

The precipitous increase of antisemitism in the US has alarmed American Jews. Their reaction to this rise of assaults, vandalism and harassment, which “remain at near-historic levels in the U.S,” according to the ADL, has been instructive. Some of these incidents remind Jews of Germany of 1933- 1934 or even Kristallnacht. In response, some Jews intend to move to Florida, increase their involvement in Jewish defense organizations and lobbying groups like NORPAC and AIPAC or simply wait for the Messiah to come toand rescue them. Still others, are obtaining Israeli citizenship as an insurance policy— as a hedge in case the situation in the US deteriorates significantly.

In making their decision to move to Israel, some cite their fear of another Holocaust or just the desire to live in a Jewish state. A number quote Ze'ev Jabotinsky, founder of the Zionist Revisionist movement, who, in the late 30s, urged his followers to leave Europe: “Liquidate the Galuth or the Galuth will liquidate you.”

In hindsight, Jabotinsky’s admonition before World War II sounds prophetic, as if he foresaw the Holocaust, but did he? The context in which Jabotinsky conveyed this warning is missing, the late Hebrew University historian Jacob Katz declared. Jabotinsky’s remarks were made, Katz asserts, “to prod his people to a more active Zionism than the leadership in charge thought possible or even contemplated.” He advocated the “evacuation” of Polish Jewry , and would “not have hesitated to enlist the assistance of the Polish government, regardless of its antisemitic motivations, to implement his plan.”

He attempted to persuade Polish Jews of the exigency of emigrating from Poland because of the worsening economic, social and political measures enacted against Polish Jews. Katz said Jabotinsky used the plight of German Jewry as an example of what Polish Jews should be doing. Jews were , since they were fleeing Germany as a result of the anti-Jewish legislation and persecution. It was in this context, that Jabotinsky used the expressions that appear to reflect the dire associations with the Shoah.

Jabotinsky “had no apprehension of a possible conquest of other countries by the Nazis.” Yet, like many Jewish intellectuals, Hhe shared with many Jewish intellectuals their “illusion about the fragility of Nazi rule,” convinced that it would collapse, either through “internal difficulties” or during Germany’s first hostile encounter with a foreign power.

How unaware Jabotinsky about was to what awaited the Jews of Poland is plainly demonstrated by his timetable for evacuating Jews from Poland. He wanted to transfer one and a half million Jews to Palestine during the next ten years beginning in the late 30s. In other words Katz concluded, “Neither the scope nor the imminence of the tragedy was foreseen in this suggestion.” His “vision, inspired though it was by a deep passion for the welfare of his people, was as limited by the impenetrability of the future as the vision of anybody else.”

Jabotinsky’s prediction about the future of Polish Jewry seemed prescient, but, with hindsigiht, we know it was greatly flawed. This illustrates the danger, Katz points out, of the futility of predicting the future. Those who attempt to warn us of the possibility of another Holocaust, “simply project the past into the future—a way of prognostication that has always turned out to be false.” What we can learn from the past, is to ask the “right question to be put in the diagnosis of the present.”

A Final Note

What is one of the major signs we need to be aware of in ascertaining the danger of antisemitism? The late George L. Mosse, one of the world’s leading historians of European intellectual and cultural history, said it is when we should determine whether antisemitism has becomes a mass movement. In other words, we need to ask whether antisemitism and the myth about Jewish power have become mainstream and acceptable to all segments of society, especially polite society.

In Tthe Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of The Third Reich, Mosse noted historians and laypersons questioned whether “men of intelligence and education could really have believed the ideas” espoused by the Nazis. Many, he said, thought the “ideological bases of National Socialism were the product of a handful of unbalanced minds.” Others were convinced the leaders did not share these views or that the ideas were “so nebulous and incomprehensible,” they were rejected as being insignificant. Yet, as Mosse asserted, these ideas “were embraced by many normal men... the Nazis found their greatest support among respectable, educated people.”

The late journalist and author Amos Elon observed in The Pity of It All: A Portrait of Jews In Germany, 1743–1933, how many German Jews did not want to "overreact" by uprooting their lives and families even when it became clear German oppression would continue to escalate. Once the severity of the situation became undeniable, for all too many it was too late, and they were unable to leave.

Today, antisemitism, is expressed in baseless attacks against Israel. Portraying Israel’s relationship with the Palestinian Arabs as a combination of “military occupation, colonization, ethnic cleansing and apartheid,” means that “justice and freedom for the Palestinian Arabs are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel,” according to political scientist As’ad AbuKhalil. In other words, Israel is an illicit and immoral state that should never have been established. To counter the “Zionist entity,” the goal is to delegitimize, marginalize, and dehumanize Jews and undermine Israel’s economy. The BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) was designed to promote these objectives.

Antisemitism under the guise of vilifying anti-Israel, permeates all sections of American society-from the halls of Congress, the academy to the members of the Right and Left groups. In assessing the danger American Jews face today, it is prudent and useful to heed the words of Bret Stephens. “American Jews, he said, “find ourselves at perhaps the most successful period in our history, at a moment when much of the progressive left has decreed that privilege is a sin and that those who hold power should be stripped of it. Anyone with a long view of Jewish history should know how quickly economic and social privilege can turn to political and personal ruin, even — or especially — in countries where it might seem unthinkable.” We have been fortunate thus far, but we must understand that some someday “our luck in America may run out.”

Dr. Alex Grobmanis the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and heeding his own words, lives in Jerusalem.