By Pamela Zuker On the night of November 9, 1938, Nazis unleashed unimaginable violence on the Jews of Germany. The wave of atrocities became known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. Adolf Hitler, in one of his frequent cynical attempts to cloak pagan barbarism with Christian respectability, declared that the horrors were inflicted in honor of the vehemently anti-Jewish Martin Luther’s birthday the next day.
(Editor: Anti-Israel divestiture efforts at the University of Colorado prompted this historical essay by our friend Pamela Zuker, a scholar and writer in Aspen, on the long and shameful history of Jew-hatred. As she notes, it is a legacy in which Christians have sometimes participated, though without any valid theological warrant -- in repudiation of which, the Christ-followers in my family and church solemnly vow, in much the same words as Zuker quotes at the end from our brave Jewish friends: “Never again.”)
Until Kristallnacht -- despite the enactment of laws prohibiting intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews, a national boycott of Jewish stores, the exclusion of Jews from respected professions, the expulsion of Jewish students from German schools, the revocation of the German citizenship of all German Jews, and even the requirement that Jews wear yellow “Jude” stars on their clothing -- many Jews had refused to flee the country, believing that German anti-Semitism would abate.
In the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht, however, virtually every remaining Jew in Germany attempted to emigrate. Sadly, even after the Nazi atrocities were known to the world, few countries would provide Jews asylum. When asked how many Jews his country could accommodate, a high government official in Canada replied, “None is too many.”? The British, bent on thwarting Zionism (the desire to create a sovereign Jewish State in Israel), imposed a prohibition on Jewish emigration to the Land of Israel, and even refused safe passage to a ship that arrived in British-controlled “Palestine” bursting with Jewish Holocaust refugees. By escorting them back to Europe, the British ensured that when Jews needed their ancestral home the most, it would not be their safe haven.
That dismal chapter in Jewish history finally cemented in the minds of the world’s Jewry the urgent necessity to return to a world with a sovereign Jewish State.
In 136 C.E., Romans forcibly expelled the Jews from the Land of Israel (then called Israel, Judea and Samaria). This expulsion brought to an end more than one thousand years of Jewish reign (with several intermittent periods of external rule by conquest), compelling the global dispersion of the world’s Jews, and inaugurating eighteen centuries of cruel oppression and genocidal persecution. In the nearly two thousand years between Jewish expulsion from Israel and their return, Jews were variously subjected to forced conversions, confiscations of land, money, and personal property, expulsions from several countries, slavery, prohibitions on the practice of Judaism, frequent massacres, the burning of sacred books, the burning of Synagogues, and being burned alive. Several countries attempted to obliterate their Jews, resulting in the annihilation of a third of the Jewish population of Germany and Northern France, during the first thousand years of exile. The entire population of Jews in England was murdered and/or imprisoned in the 13th century, and in 1472, when all Jews were expelled from Spain, even the descendants of Jewish converts to Christianity were prohibited from attending university, joining religious orders, holding public office, or entering any of a long list of professions. One third of Poland’s Jews were slaughtered in the 1600s, and during the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s, Jews there were massacred to complete elimination. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered in Russian pogroms in the 19th and 20th centuries. The pogroms that accompanied the Revolution of 1917 alone orphaned more than 300,000 Jewish children.
The staggering Jewish genocide during what Jews have come to call the “Shoah” (calamity) of World War II, saw approximately six million Jews sadistically tortured and murdered at the hands of Nazis and their collaborators. At the war’s end, fully one-third of the world’s total Jewish population had been brutally butchered.
The history of Jews outside of Israel until the end of World War II is largely a history of oppression, genocide, and expulsion – punctuated by burnings at the stake, public torture, and insidious, malicious libel. Remarkably, Jewish “displaced persons” continuously assimilated into other cultures around the world while retaining their unique religion and identity as a people, a feat that Jews all across the globe are somehow still able to accomplish.
Eighteen hundred twelve years after Rome exiled the Jews from their homes in Eretz Yisroel (the land of Israel), and changed the names of the Jewish lands to Palaestinia (the land of the Philistines – so named in an attempt to sever Jews’ ties to their land), descendents of 2nd century Jewish refugees returned home as 20th century Jewish refugees.
In the first year of the existence of the State of Israel, roughly 500,000 homeless European Jews emigrated. Within ten years, the population of Israel had grown to two million. The majority of the Jewish immigrants, including 700,000 refugees from Arab countries, arrived with no possessions.
In contradistinction to neighboring states, Israel established free and fair elections, universal suffrage, a free press, and the right to a fair trial with an independent judiciary. Arab citizens of Israel, regardless of religious affiliation, are afforded the same rights and privileges as Jewish citizens, and all women who are citizens of Israel, regardless of religious affiliation, are afforded rights equal to those of men. In Israel, Jews created a country that allows both the freedom of religion and full access to Jerusalem’s Jewish, Christian and Muslim Holy sites that were denied Jews when Jerusalem was not under Jewish rule.
Despite this, in the rest of the world, particularly in difficult economic times, antisemitism rears its ugly head. Even – or perhaps more accurately, especially – in the world’s most respected international forum, the United Nations, antisemitism is rampant.
On November 10th, 1975, the 37th anniversary of Kristallnacht, rather than issuing a statement in memory of the Jewish victims of Nazi savagery, the United Nations passed Resolution 3379 branding Zionism, the reestablishment of a Jewish State in Israel, “a form of racism.” Although renounced by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., as “obscene,” it was through this resolution that Jew-hatred was sanitized, repackaged, and propagated globally as politically correct “anti-Zionism.” It took the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had voted in lockstep with Arab nations and other countries with anti-Jewish interests, for the U.N. to officially revoke the resolution, but the damage had been done and the precedent set.
As a particularly ludicrous example of the United Nations’ stance toward Israel, at the International Women’s Year Conference in 1975, a resolution denounced Zionism as an enemy of all women (despite women’s equal rights in Israel) but did not denounce sexism as an enemy of all women because the call for women’s rights was seen as an attack on the Arab-Muslim world.
Appallingly, on June 8, 2010, a Syrian representative at the United Nations perpetuated a modern version of the ancient blood libel to the United Nations Human Rights Council: “Let me quote a song that a group of children on a school bus in Israel sing merrily as they go to school,” he said, “and I quote, ‘With my teeth I will rip your flesh. With my mouth I will suck your blood.’” As shocking as this is, it should not be surprising given that these myths persist not only in Muslim countries, but even, according to anthropologists in a 2008 study, among Catholics and Orthodox Christians of all social classes in places as far from the Middle East as Southeastern Poland.
In November, 2010 the annual UN Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People featured speeches from Libyan and Syrian demagogues that referred to Israel as, “the cancerous settlement in all the Palestinian territories,” and included statements such as, “Zionism, in reality, is the worst form of racism,” “Israel shows and rears its ugly face,” and, “the word Israel has become synonymous with words such as aggression, killing, racism, terrorism.”
Words like “butchering,” “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” “genocide,” “racism,” “brutality,” “crimes against humanity,” “torture,” “killing in cold blood” and “barbarism” were invoked not to describe the reasons for the creation of the state of Israel, but to condemn it. Opposition to “Judaization” – Jewish presence on what is perceived as Arab territory – was proclaimed and by default, legitimized.
For some reason, the depictions of a “cancerous” Jewish state with its “ugly, bloodthirsty” Jewish occupants – utterances that would be recognized as unambiguously anti-Semitic if spoken elsewhere – are not considered beyond the pale at the United Nations. By the end of 2010, half of the country-specific condemnatory resolutions and decisions ever adopted by the UN Human Rights Council targeted Israel.
Yet somehow, in the face of this, in the 1970s, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had the courage to sign a peace treaty with Israel. In advance of the Israeli-Egyptian peace talks, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir famously remarked with sadness to Sadat, “We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours.”
Today in Colorado, Palestinian advocate Michael Rabb and his group “CU Divest” hope to convince the Board of Regents at the University of Colorado to divest its portfolio of any investments linked to our staunchest ally in a troubled and increasingly less stable region. While we have every right to choose to disagree with Israel’s policies, it is essential that we protect, defend, and support its right to exist and to defend its inhabitants from virtually unceasing violent incursions.
One can only hope the University will recognize that weakening Israel will not facilitate peace in the Middle East. In fact, only a strong and globally acknowledged Jewish state of Israel with widespread support from the world’s democracies will allow others in the region to enjoy the human and civil rights taken for granted in the U.S., Israel, and Europe.
In the decades since the Holocaust, the haunting mantra, “Never Forget” serves to define the Jewish people’s role and responsibility to humanity as a constant reminder of the moral imperative to treat every human being – regardless of race or religion – justly and with decency, dignity and compassion. The existence of Israel is a necessity for the world’s Jews as a safeguard against a recurrence of the horrors of the last two thousand years and a protection of Jews’ human rights. But it is also a necessity for the human rights of those surrounding that tiny island of democracy. It is how the world treats Israel that will determine whether it is possible to move toward a world with universal human rights.
The citizens of Israel along with the citizens of other democracies across the globe share a fervent hope that Israel’s neighbors will one day know freedom, prosperity and true peace.
Until then, Israel is their last best hope.