On May 29, President Trump signed into law the “Never Again Education Act,” expanding the federal government’s role in developing and providing educational materials about the Holocaust.
Unlike many of President Trump’s remarkable contributions to the promotion of religious freedom and the fight against anti-Semitism, this one had broad bipartisan support. Thanks to work by genuinely non-partisan groups – especially Hadassah, which boasts members in every congressional district in America – the bill passed both houses of Congress by overwhelming margins.
But a new law and increased funding are only enabling mechanisms. Countless millions spent on decades of Holocaust programs, curricula, and exhibits have not stopped rising anti-Semitism. Worse, Holocaust education appears to have taught an entire generation of anti-Semitic activists how to wield a distorted Holocaust narrative as a weapon against Jews.
We believe that the problem has been one of focus. Far too many Holocaust curricula, including that of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – the entity empowered by the new law to promulgate educational materials – use the Holocaust as an example of cruelty and oppression that different from other events (if at all) only in degree, and liken it to whatever oppression occupies the front page.
Holocaust curricula also suffer from being too narrow in focus. The Holocaust Museum, for example, teaches that anti-Semitism has “its origins in the days of the early Christian church.” But Jewish history includes well-known examples of anti-Semitism starting millennia before that in ancient Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
Rather than trying to understand the unique phenomenon of anti-Semitism, such curricula hyper-focus on elements of European culture or the Nazi regime. They blame the Holocaust on fascism, or on discredited racial science, or on economic instability, or on a personality cult flocking behind a charismatic leader.
These approaches invite abuses. They make it possible to see resurgent Nazism or “Nazi-like” behavior nearly any time inter-group tension flares. Thus, Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump have all been likened to Hitler. And of course, anti-Semitic activists liken Israelis – Jews trying to live in their homeland in peace but forced to defend themselves against genocidal terror cultures – to Nazis.
Holocaust education is susceptible to being hijacked by anti-Semites because it almost always bends over backwards to pretend anti-Semitism isn’t really about the only thing it is about: Jews. Holocaust education that fails to focus on the insane conspiracy theories at the heart of anti-Semitism isn’t really education about the Holocaust itself. It is, at best, a lesson in history or morality.
There is, of course, tremendous value in teaching the dangers of cruelty and racism. But that is not Holocaust education. Humanity does not really need the Holocaust to teach us about bigotry and hate.
The Holocaust might, however, be used to teach about the unique role Jew-hatred plays in the annals of human history. About how anti-Semitism is a paranoid psychosis with a clear consistent pattern. How, when a society in crisis resorts to scapegoating the Jews, it should raise alarms, not merely for Jews, but for all of society. Holocaust education is not getting those vital truths across.
Millennia of Jewish history tell us the same story. In the mind of conspiratorial anti-Semites, the real enemy is always the Jew. That same madness characterizes anti-Semitism today across creeds, colors, and cultures.
There would have been no Holocaust without Hitler’s conspiracy-theoretic obsession with “international Jewry.” The extermination of the Jews overwhelmed Hitler’s other war aims.
Many millions of non-Jews also perished in Hitler’s slaughterhouses, and their story must be told. But without the Nazi obsession with Jews, Germany would never have developed the machinery of industrialized genocide. The Holocaust was a conscious, strategic response to imagined Jewish manipulations.
For Holocaust education to counter anti-Semitism, it must stop being afraid to recognize what is unique about anti-Semitism. It must emphasize the conspiracy-theoretic thinking characteristic of thousands of years of Jew-hatred.
It must explain why a member of Congress’s paranoid public provocations about Israel hypnotizing the world and Jewish money manipulating Washington are cut from the same cloth as swastika-brandishing white supremacists chanting about not being replaced.
We all see the surge in anti-Semitism among proud political demagogues as well as emboldened anonymous street thugs. We all see the rising obscenity of Jewish groups trafficking in the same delusional psychosis. The Never Again Education Act provides a real opportunity to address this growing threat to Jews, and to America.
Understanding history is vital. Fighting bigotry is imperative. But those who take up the “Never Again” banner must deal directly with the dangerous delusions of anti-Semites. We must stop providing them the tools to scapegoat us.