Holocaust Memorial Day: Why we must not stand by hatred

The 27th January marked the annual international Holocaust Memorial Day. On this day, the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau occurred. It is as important as ever to acknowledge the Holocaust, for numerous reasons. Firstly, there are fewer and fewer survivors of the Holocaust who are still with us today. In the not too distant future, they will have all passed on, and with them, people who can personally refute and counter allegations that the Holocaust did not occur or was exaggerated. Secondly, and closely related, a continual awareness of the crimes of the Holocaust is necessary in order to combat antisemitism in the modern day. Fittingly, the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘Don’t Stand By’. This slogan has more relevance than ever, not only in commemorating the event itself but also in combating rising anti-Semitism throughout the world.

Unfortunately, antisemitism is still as prevalent as ever, and in many places around the world is on the increase. In Europe, the problem of antisemitism is as widespread as it has ever been. The rate of attacks on the European Jewish population is rising significantly. These attacks have been particularly notable in countries such as France, especially in the wake of last year’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris. Anti-Semitic incidents have risen by over 80% in France in 2015 in comparison to 2015. As a result, a record number of European Jews have emigrated to Israel, citing fears for their safety. In America, hate crimes are disproportionately directed toward the Jewish population. According to FBI statistics for 2014, 60% of reported hate crimes which has an explicitly religious motive were anti-Jewish in nature.

Anti-Israeli and Anti-Jewish sentiment is particularly strong in the Middle East. One particularly disturbing example of this was a video released by Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Khamenei on Holocaust Memorial Day. In the video, the Ayatollah is quoted as follows:

No one in European countries dares to speak up about the Holocaust…while it is not clear whether the core of this matter is reality or not” He then goes on to say “Even if it is a reality, it is not clear how it happened…speaking about the Holocaust and expressing doubts about it is considered a great sin.”

This sort of conspiratorial thinking is not new. Making this sort of argument plays into over-arching ideas of a global conspiracy whereby Jews control world governments and major institutions. Meanwhile, Iran is currently running a Holocaust cartoon competition, a contest where cartoonists try to draw the most viciously mocking depiction of the Holocaust. This contest, by the way, is sponsored by the Iranian government.

The issue of anti-Semitism in Australia, though not as pronounced as in Europe, is still occurring too often. As is the case through most of the world, instances of anti-Semitic discrimination have risen since the escalation of the conflict between Israel and Palestine during 2014. Many of the most violent incidents since this escalation have used grievances in relation to this conflict as justification for violence. As well as violent incidents, within Australian universities anti-Jewish sentiment also made a resurgence. Far-left political movements such as the Socialist Alternative frequently equate the state of Israel, and by extension Jewish students, as being proponents of genocide.

The examples above of sharply increased incidents of anti-Jewish hate crimes throughout Europe and America as well as the incidents which occurred in Australia highlight the ongoing problem which is anti-Semitic discrimination. Other forms of discrimination, such as anti-Muslim or homophobic discrimination, are rightly condemned. It is time we treated anti-Semitic abuse similarly, lest Australia goes down the path of Europe and America in terms of anti-Jewish discrimination.

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