The Jewish institutional world is currently up in arms over anti-Semitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labor Party in Britain. The accusations have hounded Corbyn since he became party leader in 2015, but they reached a fever pitch in the wake of Labor’s refusal to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s internationally recognized definition of anti-Semitism.
Condemnations came from the Anti-Defamation League and the World Jewish Congress. A Daily Mail exposé of Corbyn’s participation in a 2014 memorial service to Black September terrorists, replete with wreath laying, was similarly decried.
These denunciations are certainly justified. But they also reek of hypocrisy.
Indeed, the all-hands-on-deck outcry over Labor exposes a disturbing double standard among Western Jewish leaders. Anti-Semitism in certain places is denounced loudly and unequivocally, while neo-Nazis and Holocaust distortion in other countries is treated with much gentler rhetoric, and often outright silence.
It’s not that Corbyn isn’t worthy of censure. It’s that so many others are, too, for anti-Semitism that’s at least as dangerous. And yet the same leaders and institutions who are up in arms over Britain’s Labor Party have failed, over and over, to express appropriate outrage.
It’s as if fighting anti-Semitism now comes with a clause: some exclusions apply.
Commemorating Babi Yar With Jew Killers
Take, for instance, the fact that in 2015, the year after Corbyn laid down his wreath, Ukraine passed laws which declared the WWII-era Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its leaders “fighters for Ukrainian statehood”. The OUN has since been honored with memorials, street names, and torchlight marches.
The problem, of course, is that the OUN collaborated with the Nazis and eagerly participated in the slaughter of thousands of Jews.
And yet somehow, precisely none of the august Jewish institutions had anything to say about it. The ADL and the WJC were silent.
Indeed, they weren’t just silent. One year later, Kiev held massive commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of the 1941 Babi Yar massacre, one of the most horrific chapters of the Holocaust, when the Nazis, together with Ukrainian nationalists, gunned down over 33,000 Jews in two days.
During the weeklong event, Western Jewish leaders like WJC president Ronald Lauder and IHRA chair Mihnea Constantinescu hobnobbed and commiserated with the very government that just one year earlier had lionized butchers of Jews and began naming streets after Nazi collaborators.
The final cherry on top of this obscene cake took the form of a plaque dedicated to the OUN erected at Babi Yar. One of the men honored by the exhibit was Ivan Rohach, the editor of a nationalist newspaper which described Jews as “the greatest enemy of mankind” and gleefully celebrated the massacres.
To be sure, some Jewish leaders did issue mealy-mouthed comments alluding to the role of Ukrainian nationalists. “While Babi Yar was organized by the Nazis, there were willing helpers in the Ukrainian militia,” said Lauder, before smoothly pivoting to more pleasant matters, like thanking Ukraine for its support of Israel.
But these statements — invariably couched in conciliatory language — were rendered meaningless by the fact that powerful Jewish figures legitimized the ceremony and the Ukrainian government’s whitewashing with their presence.
Unfortunately, this is just one example of the rampant Holocaust distortion and denial and rising neo-fascism across Eastern Europe. The region is rife with torchlit marches honoring Nazi collaborators, laws which institutionalize the whitewashing, and the proliferation of ultranationalist gangs.
And western Jewish leaders always respond to these in the same way: an occasional watered-down condemnation combined with continuing partnerships with the governments. In this vein, the ADL once called for the firing of a Ukrainian general for threatening to exterminate the Jews, and WJC expressed displeasure with a couple of statements when Nazi collaborators got street names and festivals.
The general wasn’t fired, the streets were proudly renamed, and the festival went on as planned, capped off with the firebombing of a synagogue.
Far from effective condemnations, these statements in the face of widespread, weekly news of anti-Semitism across an increasingly illiberal Eastern Europe are the exceptions that prove the rule.
Neo-Nazis in Ukraine
Say one thing for Jeremy Corbyn — at least he doesn’t have a neo-Nazi battalion in his country.
In addition to the regular battalion, which has racked up an impressive list of human rights abuse accusations by the UN and Human Rights Watch, Azov has a political apparatus and a newly established 700-strong street gang unit, the National Druzhyna, which has already distinguished itself by carrying out a pogrom of the Roma.
Azov’s founder, Andriy Biletsky, who once led the neo-Nazi Social-National Assembly, has stated that Ukraine’s mission is to “lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival…against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”
Biletsky also happens to be a member of the Ukrainian parliament.
Another Azov veteran, Vadym Troyan, is now Deputy Interior Minister of a department that controls the country’s police as well as the National Guard.
One of the most powerful positions in Ukraine is filled by a man with neo-Nazi ties.
You would assume that the same Jewish organizations that can’t sleep at night due to Labor’s anti-Semitism would be even more alarmed by the presence of a battle-hardened neo-Nazi battalion whose leaders are in positions of power in an unstable nation with a horrific history of anti-Semitism.
The rest have neglected to put out even a press release about a paramilitary whose official insignia is composed of neo-Nazi symbols.
Holocaust Denial in Poland
Another common charge against Labor is the presence of Holocaust denial among party members. But a much worse recent scandal in Poland included the far right government passing a heinous Holocaust denial law which made it illegal to accuse Poland of participation in the Holocaust.
The Poland scandal was “resolved” earlier this summer, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu capitulated to Warsaw after it downgraded the offense from a criminal to a civil one. Of course, this didn’t address the actual problem of legislating Holocaust denial, and Netanyahu’s acquiescence to Warsaw was denounced by Holocaust experts on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Betrayal” is how preeminent Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer described Netanyahu throwing the memory of Holocaust victims under the bus.
Netanyahu’s approval of Poland’s “fix” to the law was widely condemned – but the Anti-Defamation League celebrated as much as he did. “ADL Welcomes Polish Government’s Revisions to Holocaust Speech Law” gushed their press release, with ADL director Jonathan Greenblatt describing the Holocaust law as “counterproductive.” (Government-legislated Holocaust denial is counterproductive? By that standard, the Unite the Right rally was downright uncalled for!).
ADL was not alone. “It’s Time to Dial Back the Rhetoric in Poland,” pleaded the World Jewish Congress, arguing that “this is an argument that just didn’t need to happen,” before embarking on wistful reminiscence about all the good times the WJC and Poland had over the years.
And the director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum joined WJC on a trip down memory lane, spending a single sentence vaguely alluding to “recent alarming events” before using the rest of her essay to wax nostalgic about how at one point “Poland became a world leader in the cause of Holocaust remembrance and education.”
Compare this to the way American Jewish leaders condemned Holocaust denial from Louis Farrakhan or Mahmoud Abbas, or Sean Spicer for a real sense of how much they are biting their tongue. You won’t find pandering here, no nostalgia for bridges built in the Civil Rights Movement or calls for mutual understanding.
Spicer, who is little more than a footnote of a footnote of 2017, was excoriated in the national media. And yet, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki — who presides over a country that saw 60,000 people march with slogans such as “Pure Blood,” whose Holocaust law triggered an eruption of nationwide anti-Semitism and who told a child of Holocaust survivors there were “Jewish perpetrators” of the Holocaust — was treated with kid gloves.
You could almost hear the agony of American Jewish leaders trying to strike the perfect balance between disapproval and appeasement in their press releases.
One must chide, but gently, lest one gets uninvited from the next embassy party.
To make matters worse, the conciliatory statements about Poland were written right around the time an Auschwitz guide received death threats, anti-racism activist Rafal Pankowski was labeled a traitor by an advisor to the Polish prime minister, a historian was hounded out of his post, the Israeli embassy in Warsaw was flooded with anti-Semitic vitriol, and far right thugs were telling the Polish president to “take off your yarmulke and sign the bill.”
Unfortunately, plenty of yarmulke-wearing leaders were all too happy to comply as well.
Nazi collaborators glorified by members of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
Another major accusation against UK Labor has been Corbyn’s rejection of the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes certain kinds of criticism of Israel, such as comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, something Labor has a long history of doing.
And yet, this criticism is again an example of selective outrage. For just as worthy of outrage is the IHRA itself.
The IHRA was originally created in 1998 as an alliance of governments devoted to preserving and protecting the memory of Holocaust victims, especially with survivors diminishing every year. That is the IHRA’s primary mission, why it’s called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (and not the International Comparing Israel to Nazis Is Bad Alliance).
The problem with the IHRA is that over a fifth of its 31 full members are currently engaged in outright glorification of Nazi collaborators and Holocaust distortion and/or denial, with at least four countries doing so on a state-sponsored level.
You can travel to Estonia and Latvia, two members of the IHRA to see parades honoring SS units — as in actual fighters who fought in actual SS divisions marching down the street to applause — wind through their capitals. These parades are a regular feature of the Baltics, as are plaques, monuments and streets named after Nazi collaborators and murderers of Jews.
Another member state of the IHRA, Lithuania, has passed legislation that made these collaborators national heroes; indeed, the country gained notoriety by trying to bring criminal charges against Jews who defended themselves against these butchers.
Lithuania isn’t the only nation engaged in government-sponsored whitewashing of men who murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews. Croatia and Hungary are celebrating and institutionalizing the “heroism” of their collaborationist governments.
The same thing is happening in Slovakia, although in that case, the veneration of the man responsible for the liquidation of two-thirds of Slovakia’s Jews is mercifully non-government-sponsored, thus far.
All these countries, plus Poland, are full members of the IHRA. Most of them have been glorifying Nazi collaborators for years, with Lithuania’s efforts going back to the 2000’s.
An alliance that claims to guard and preserve Holocaust memory and yet abides and therefore legitimizes abhorrent practices that mock the very idea of Holocaust remembrance has all the credibility of a sexual harassment prevention network that partners with Harvey Weinstein.
About the only thing the IHRA appears to be strict about is their definition of anti-Semitism, which includes criticism of Israel.
Indeed, there’s a hint here as to why the IHRA definition is so sacred; it’s not despite the criticism of Israel — but because of it.
Consider the fact that Netanyahu has been aligning himself with Hungary’s Viktor Orban. The trade-off, noted by many, is that Israel turns a blind eye to Orban’s glorification of Hungary’s WWII government and his anti-Semitic campaign against George Soros so long as Orban provides positive votes for Israel in the United Nations.
The Hypocrisy Will Fester If We Don’t Call It Out
It’s easy to denounce Labor, Abbas or Farrakhan. And yet, as Netanyahu has discovered, it’s not as easy to denounce neo-Nazis and Holocaust distortion or denial perpetuated by our Eastern European allies.
Not everyone has made this deal with the devil. The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem branch has been merciless in calling out Holocaust distortion and denial, and the concomitant rise of neo-fascist movements.
And when it comes to glorifying Nazi collaborators, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has been the anti-Netanyahu, going so far as to eviscerate the governments of Ukraine and Croatia to their faces.
Over the past four years, I’ve also spoken at a fair amount of American Jewish federations and synagogues, and have been encouraged to know that everyday U.S. Jews seem to be outraged by the anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe.
As far as their leaders and lawmakers, however, their silence, broken only by the occasional watered-down chiding, speaks volumes.
In fact, a case can be made that for many of these institutions, people like Corbyn and Farrakhan are manna from heaven, because they allow them to show the world how fiercely they fight anti-Semitism without actually having to do so in places where it’s inconvenient.
Jeremy Corbyn invariably comes up in nearly every recent conversation I’ve had with U.S. Jewish leaders when I mention the horrific developments in Eastern Europe.
“We’ve been very outspoken on Labor,” I hear.
It’s gotten to the point where I know it’s coming, and respond by asking how many neo-Nazi battalions Labor has and how many parades of SS monsters they’ve organized.
There doesn’t seem to be an answer, other than “it’s complicated.”
Lev Golinkin is the author of “A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka.”
Lev Golinkin is the author of “A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka.”