What do you wear to a concentration camp?

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Credit: Wikimedia commons

Certainly not stripes, I thought to myself as I dressed myself in preparation for visiting the death camps Auschwitz and Birkenau during our spring break. Though I have long been desensitized to the Holocaust (thanks to books, museums, classroom discussions), this visit freshly traumatized me. Not as a Jew, but as a human, I was traumatized.

I felt a similar trauma when, several months ago, I read an end-of-year list of political developments for 2014 and saw ‘the recurrence of mainstream anti-Semitism.’ Again, not as a Jew, but as a human, my heart sped up. In the past months especially, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has inflamed many people in the West. My fellow students have even argued against the creation of the state of Israel in the first place.

Well, I can confidently say that after visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau today, the UN and the world were right to create Israel. The gas chambers are long cleansed of the stench of death, but the marks of fingernails scratching at the chamber walls remain. After the concentrated murders of millions of innocent people with faces and names, the establishment of a safe space for Jews seems only moral. However, Israel has not been a safe space.[pullquote]political opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be reflected in anti-religious sentiment[/pullquote]

Recent anti-Semitism has flared as Israel disproportionately killed Gazans… again, after Gazans shot rockets at them…again. I understand that many in the world, including so many fellow university students, who tend to be compassionate towards oppressed groups, are angry at Israel for the impoverished, stateless situation of the Palestinians. I am angry at Israel too, despite the fact that I identify as Jewish (though I am angrier at Hamas for squandering the land given to them and making war rather than building safe livelihoods for their people). But Israel needs to exist, and there is no reason to hate Jewish people simply because you don’t like the current government of Israel.

The point I want to make is that political opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be reflected in anti-religious sentiment, be it anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, or any xenophobia. On both sides of this conflict, the leading troublemaking groups are small subsections of the populations, and even if they claim religious justification for their actions, they must not be held as representative of the religions as a whole. Extreme right-wing Jews are a small minority of the Israeli populace. Hamas assassin-martyrs do not represent all Palestinians.

This lesson should be obvious. Do not judge a book by a single page, or even by a single chapter. Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seemingly inextricably links politics with religion, as humans we should know better. Political opinions should not translate into hatred of a group of people, or a so-called “Jewish race.” We all form part of the human race. After visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau, I am reminded of just how easily human nature can spiral into horrific, nearly inconceivable actions, especially when groups deny their common humanity. As humans, we need to recognize how unfounded anti-Semitism is (what, you are going to hate a whole diverse group of individuals you don’t even know? from Einstein to me? why?), and how dangerous it is to link support for Palestinian statehood to hatred of Jews the world over.

This sentiment is timely — a mob attacked a synagogue in London on the 22nd March, not just vandalising the property, but ripping prayer books and beating up the people inside. It is unclear if the incident was completely motivated by anti-Semitism, but reports say members of the mob chanted “Kill the Jews!” and anti-Semitic events leading up to 1939 began in much the same way. Concerning Israeli-Palestinian politics, I note Amnesty International’s recent report that outlines war crimes committed by the Gaza leadership against their own people.[pullquote]I above all feel an immense fear at the darkness of human capabilities, and revulsion that anti-Semitism is on the rise once more.[/pullquote]

Israel is also accused of war crimes, based on their military response, though Israel responds to Gaza rockets and does not instigate. I find it hard to pity Hamas when it uses its own citizens as a shield to blame Israel for creating collateral damage, or when the Palestinian leadership has refused to sign onto numerous peace-and-land agreements over the past 60 years. However others may interpret these facts, my point is that these are political considerations that should never be translated into hatred for a religious group.

At the end of the day, after my death-camp visit, I above all feel an immense fear at the darkness of human capabilities, and revulsion that anti-Semitism is on the rise once more. As a human, I fear the Dark Mark in the sky and a resurgence of Death Eaters. Please consider that it is okay to dislike Israel’s current political position towards the Palestinians. It is not kosher to hate Jews.

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