Holocaust Remembrance and America’s Fight Against Anti-Semitism

January 19, 2022

Next Thursday, January 27, is the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. In 2005, the United Nations designated this day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day “in memory of the victims of the Holocaust” and “to develop educational programs that will inculcate future generations with the lessons of the Holocaust in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide.” Learning the lessons of the Holocaust requires understanding the ideology of anti-Semitism that not only motivated its planners, but which also persists today.

Anti-Semitism is not merely another form of discrimination. It targets not only Jews but also the free and open societies in which they live and prosper. Professor Ruth Wisse, who has written prolifically on the topic, explains that “[i]f we mistakenly imagine that this is ‘about’ the Jews, however, we fall into the trap that anti-Semitism sets for us by deflecting attention from perpetrators to victims.”

Anti-Semitism, unlike other expressions of hate, provides an “intellectual” foundation to America’s adversaries to pursue their destructive goals. Groups ranging from al-Qaeda and ISIS to the current government in Iran are all united in their opposition toward the openness and freedoms that make America exceptional.

Several days ago, America witnessed just how useful anti-Semitism is to those who hate America, when Malik Faisal Akram held a group of Jewish congregants hostage in a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Akram demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, an al-Qaeda affiliated woman who is serving an 86-year prison sentence in a Texas prison for the attempted murder of American troops and FBI agents who arrested her. Following its initial public statement denying the perpetrator targeted the Jewish community, the FBI released a corrected version with the accurate description of the event as a “terrorism-related matter in which the Jewish community was targeted.”

Anti-Semitism is a distinctly American priority, one that Americans must understand correctly to preserve that free and open America they know and love. Failing to understand anti-Semitism hinders serving Americans at home and advancing their needs in dealings with other nations.

And yet, Americans’ awareness of both the Holocaust and anti-Semitism is fading today. This is not only because the generation of Holocaust survivors is disappearing but because Holocaust education remains weak.

In September 2020, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) released a report surveying all 50 states on Holocaust knowledge and found that over 60 percent of respondents “do not know that 6 million Jews were murdered.” This tracks with a Pew study the same year, which found that only 45 percent of adults in America know how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust. The same survey found that 48 percent of millennials were unable to name a single concentration camp, roughly the same number of adults and millennials that the Claims Conference found who were unable to do so in 2018. Eighty percent of Americans have never visited a Holocaust-focused museum. Alarmingly, the 2020 Claims Conference survey found that 20 percent of millennials in New York, and 11 percent of millennials nationwide, feel the Jews caused the Holocaust. 

The difference in awareness of anti-Semitism is stark between the “baby boomer” generation and millennials. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) released its second-ever State of Anti-Semitism in America Report this past October, which found that “[o]lder Americans are more likely than younger Americans to say that anti-Semitism is a problem, with 70 percent of those aged 65 or older saying it is a problem compared to only 52 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 35.” This even as Pew reported that throughout 2020, over 50 percent of American Jews experienced some form of anti-Semitism.

Amazingly, the same report found that only 38 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 35—a group that is ostensibly more “connected,” with information readily available through smart phones and social media—were aware of the attacks on Jews in May during Hamas’s attacks on Israel, as compared to 55 percent of Americans aged 65 or older. And 34 percent of Americans have either never heard of anti-Semitism or heard of it but do not know what it means.

This prevalence of anti-Semitism and the broader destruction it enables receives little mention in the public discourse. The Iranian government has not changed its ambitions regarding the destruction of Israel, and its proxies continue to seek out ways to attack. Just five countries have issued laws to fight Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, and just over half of U.S. states have passed some form of legislation to do so.

Ironically, and most egregiously, today, the very institution that designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day offers a home for anti-Semitism. In 2001, the United Nations hosted a conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, equating Zionism with racism. The UN Human Rights Council continues to attack Israel routinely. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been documented providing material support to the terrorist group Hamas. As a result, the Trump Administration correctly withdrew its support and membership from both entities. Meanwhile, every year at its General Assembly, the United Nations gives the president of Iran, leader of a terrorist-sponsoring government that has pledged to wipe Israel off the map, a platform to address the representatives of this supposedly peace-loving world body.

Other nations and groups have seen what was done in the name of anti-Semitism to the Jewish people and today persecute their own religious minorities. Currently, China detains more than 1 million Muslim Uyghurs in detention camps in Xinjiang, which both the Trump and Biden Administrations rightly acknowledged as genocide.

Today, the Burmese military has murdered members of the Muslim Rohingya and has displaced nearly a million of their followers in what the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has called a genocide.

These and countless other contemporary cases represent not merely discrimination or hatred but systemic evil to eliminate and annihilate human beings because of their religion or ethnicity. And they persist not only because the memory of the Holocaust fades but also because anti-Semitism is allowed to flourish.

It is America’s responsibility to stop both from happening. Doing so will ensure that future generations will be able to remember and will know how to act.

Jacob Olidort serves as Director, Center for American Security for the America First Policy Institute (AFPI).

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