Memory of holocaust calls for unflagging vigil against antisemitism

On January 27, the Jewish community and their friends all over the world observed the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a day marked as “International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust”. On this day, exactly 76 years ago, the biggest death camp in history was once and for all liberated. On January 27, 1945, allied forces entered Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps (Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen Belsen, Ravensbruck, Mauthausen, Theresienstadt, Treblinka, Sobibor to name just a few), liberated the camps and freed those who survived the horror.

The Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, together with its consulates in Mumbai and Bengaluru, commemorated the day virtually in different ways. Interactive discussions and events were conducted online throughout the week. A unique training programme was launched to assist teachers in India in tackling the difficult subject of holocaust education and making it accessible to Indian students. Towards the end of the week, Israeli diplomats lit candles in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered in the holocaust.

We must never forget the atrocious acts committed by the Nazis during World War II. The systematic murder committed during the holocaust, the Shoah, is incomparable in magnitude, methods and malice. It is the biggest tragedy, the lowest point of mankind, and we must be mindful never to repeat it. Never again.

Many of the survivors of the death camps are no longer with us. It is our duty to make sure their memory will not be forgotten. Six million Jews were slaughtered in the death camps and those who survived, the ashes that returned to their ancestors’ cradle, have become the foundation rock of the resurrection of modern Israel.

Three-quarters of a century later, the dark ideology of antisemitism, which resulted in the holocaust in the last century, has still not vanished and is, in fact, growing in parts of the world. It has manifested in waves of violent incidents and attacks that have targeted Jewish communities across the diaspora. The phenomenon has plagued Europe, the US and the world over.

What is antisemitism? There is the necessity to define it as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) does, since recognising and defining a problem is the first step to solving it. The IHRA is the only intergovernmental organisation mandated to focus solely on holocaust-related issues. It was formerly known as the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, or ITF. It unites governments and experts to strengthen, advance and promote holocaust education, research and remembrance.

IHRA experts determined that in order to begin to address the problem of antisemitism, there must be clarity about what antisemitism is. The IHRA’s network of experts includes representatives from the world’s foremost institutions which specialise in teaching about the holocaust, who have issued a range of guidelines for educators and educational policymakers to consider when developing effective curricula and educational materials.

The IHRA provides us with a non-legal binding working definition of antisemitism, which sets an example of responsible conduct for other international fora, and provides an important tool with practical applicability, for the ever-expanding member countries.

The core of the IHRA Working Definition states that, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions, and religious facilities.”

Manifestations of antisemitism might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

The working definition of antisemitism was adopted by IHRA in 2016, and has since been adopted or recognised by at least 18 countries, and there is room for more countries to do so.

The writer is Ambassador of Israel in India

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