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Problematic Pluralism: When Holocaust Memorials Forsake The Fight Against Anti-Semitism

As a young Jew growing up in New York, anti-Semitism, for the most part, was an issue of the past.

Jewish suffering now serves as a template for others faced with similar discrimination rather than a daily reality. The suffering of six million Jews is utilized to justify political positions on the Syrian refugee crisis, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and even meat-eating.

The underlying assumption in these comparisons is that the world learned from the Holocaust, corrected itself, and is no longer anti-Semitic. The Holocaust is no longer an example of Jewish suffering, but an example of human suffering, because Jews don’t need it any more.

The assumption is promoted by Jewish monuments across the globe.

In my second and most-recent visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I was dismayed by the concluding video tribute in which museum visitors detail their thoughts. These thoughts echo the sentiment that “Anne Frank reminds us to stand up to bigotry around the world,” rather than anti-Semitism specifically. Although the museum takes a strong stance on being “anti-racist” and “anti-bigotry,” it fails to acknowledge anti-Semitism as a contemporary issue. Visitors, as a result, leave the museum ready to take on global injustices -– although, according to the museum, anti-Semitism is not one worthy of a contemporary fight.

The Miami Holocaust Memorial also fails to engage in this contemporary fight against anti-Semitism. Speaking to the Sun-Sentinel, memorial director Sharon Horowitz explained that “The memorial is incredibly dynamic in presenting the impact of the Holocaust to South Florida and the importance of heightening our awareness and being on guard for racism and genocide.” Glaringly missing are the terms “anti-Semitism” or “anti-Jewishness.”

Horowitz continued, telling the Sun-Sentinel that the memorial is designed for education, “to help them (students) to grapple with critical thinking issues, to help them understand what racism and discrimination does to a society and to help them to understand the roles of citizens in a pluralistic world.” Once again, there is no mention of current anti-Semitism –- despite the fact that this prejudice is seemingly ever on the rise.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., on the other hand, is a demonstration of how to correctly utilize Jewish suffering to prevent future injustice. Their website features “Confront: Anti-Semitism” as one of 4 main verticals. Although the Museum may misapply the Holocaust-rooted term “genocide” to crises like the Syrian Civil War, it’s inherent message is that there are simultaneous wars to be waged against anti-Semitism and bigotry in general.

Anti-Semitism hasn’t gone away. It’s present on both the left and right. While Steve Bannon’s anti-Semitism is well documented, the media often fails to acknowledge the similar prejudices of the Left. Rasmea Yoursef Odeh is a name unknown to many. Although today she is considered an immigrants’ and women’s rights activist, in 1969 she was convicted for the bombing of a Jerusalem supermarket that killed two Hebrew University students. She was also convicted for attempting to bomb the Jewish consulate. She also helped organize the March 8th Women’s Strike.

To put in plainly, both the White House and grassroots organizations are infected by the virus of anti-Semitism. It would be nice if our memorials served as vaccines to this infection, rather than as propagators of the myth that our suffering has passed and that we can shift our efforts to exclusively helping others. It would be nice if our monuments stood up for us, rather than asserting a pluralist message.

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