It was delightful to see all those European delegates walk out of the United Nations anti-racism conference when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took to the microphone. The mass exodus seemed to thoroughly rattle him. Few of history's race-baiters have had the experience of being publicly ridiculed like that. Ahmadinejad was exposed before the entire world as the bumptious fool that he is.
It is hard to imagine what the conference organizers were thinking when they allowed Ahmadinejad to speak. What credentials does he hold that entitle him to speak at an anti-racism conference? A pro-racism conference, maybe. But the last place he belongs is at a conference decrying racism.
The only good thing about his appearance was seeing the Europeans (and others, including the Jordanians) walk out. One is always hearing complaints that the Holocaust has been forgotten, that anti-Semitism is back, especially in Europe, and that Jews are as powerless in the face of evil today as in the 1940s.
But this week we saw official European representatives disrupt a conference to protest anti-Semitism. Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands boycotted the conference altogether in solidarity with Jews. Is that reminiscent of the 1940s?
The only reason for these comparisons is to scare people into writing checks for various organizations that raise money by raising fear-and to get them to rally behind ill-conceived policies and wars.
If Jews in 2009 are, in fact, as powerless as they were in 1942, then Israel has failed in its mission. Why did Jews establish Israel if not to end Jewish powerlessness?
Fortunately, for all its faults and problems, Israel has ended it. Those who compare the present to the mid-twentieth century insult the memory of the Six Million --who had no Jewish state to defend them and were utterly powerless--and the achievements of the State of Israel.
I hate trivialization of the Holocaust. Six million Jews and five million others did not die so that their memory could be used to justify a particular political view. They didn't die for any reason-they died only because monstrous killers assumed power in Germany and invaded Eastern Europe-and there is no clear message that they left behind other than "Never Again."
And, no, that phrase does not only apply to Jews.
Over the past ten days Palestinian physician Izzeldin Abuelaish has been traveling throughout the United States on a speaking tour organized by Americans for Peace Now (APN). He spoke in Washington (including on Capitol Hill) Pittsburgh, Boston, Los Angles, San Francisco, and New York (including two all-Hebrew speaking events).
This is the doctor who, in January, made headlines worldwide in the worst possible way.
His three daughters-aged 13 through 20, and a 17-year old niece-were killed in Gaza when the IDF shelled the bedroom where the girls were doing their homework. The IDF said it saw shadowy figures in the room and thought they were terrorists. It apologized.
And how did Dr. Abuelaish react? One can only imagine his anguish. Even if he had lost "only" one child, he'd be entitled to be consumed with hate.
But that is not his way. The fluent Hebrew-speaker, friend and colleague of many Israelis, said he will mourn for the rest of his life.
"I have two options-the path of darkness or the path of light. The path of darkness is like choosing all the complications with diseases and depression, but the path of light is to focus on the future and my children," he said.
And on achieving peace with the Israelis.
It is that latter mission that brought him to the Pittsburgh Jewish Community Center at an event co-sponsored by Brit Tzedek v' Shalom, a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization. Three hundred people (mostly Jews) came to the JCC to hear him speak.
His message was simple. As a Palestinian who has studied, worked, and lived in Israel, he knows that Israelis are not monsters. He knows wonderful Israelis and he knows that those Israelis share his grief over the loss of his children-and his commitment to dialogue and reconciliation. He rejects violence in all its forms. He is without hate.
It was a heart-wrenching event and most of the people in the audience were deeply moved. During the Q&A session after his speech, one Israeli woman wept about her pain and shame over what happened to the four girls.
But then, of course, there were a few in the audience who were utterly unable to connect. Steeped in propaganda, they rose to lecture the Palestinian, using standard organizational talking points. Why did the Palestinians elect Hamas? Why can't the Arab states just take care of the refugees? How can Israelis negotiate when "there is no partner?"
Americans-living safe suburban lives in Pittsburgh-addressed this father, in mourning for his dead children, as if they were victims, not him.
It was too much for two members of the Pittsburgh audience who took to the microphone to apologize on behalf of the neurotic Americans. I say neurotic because it is utterly delusional when those who have never suffered from war or oppression wave their fingers at those who have, with the justification that they have an ethnic connection to other victims.
In any case, the two audience members who took the floor were in their late 80's, spoke with heavy accents, and identified themselves as Holocaust survivors.
They said that they knew, as few could know, what the good doctor had endured. One said that she thought that after the Shoah there would "never again" be this kind of suffering inflicted on human beings, but that she was wrong. Each expressed deep empathy and said that they would, even at their stage in life, do what they could to achieve security for both peoples.
Needless to say, after the survivors spoke, no more glib Americans were heard from.
But Holocaust survivors are now all in their late seventies, eighties, or nineties. Soon there won't be any around to remind the rest of us what the Holocaust was and what it wasn't. When that day comes, the Holocaust will just be a device used to raise money and stir up paranoia.
There will be no living survivors to remind us that "Never Again" means "Never Again" to anybody.
Thank God, Anne Frank left behind that diary.
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