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Holocaust memorial. 'We must not use our unique history to ignore racism spreading within us'
Photo: Ido Erez
Ophir Pines-Paz
Photo: Gabi Menashe
Don't let racism win
Op-ed: Memory of Holocaust failed to protect us from becoming a society intolerant towards others
This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising – a revolt which became the symbol of Jews' heroism during the Holocaust and expresses the human ability to reach supreme moral strength at the most desperate hours. This moral strength remained with us when the State of Israel was established.

 

The Jewish state developed on the foundation built by Zionism and out of the historical destruction, giving shelter to those persecuted for religious and racist reasons. From the terrible events, we learned that we have no choice but to take care of ourselves and that we must make every effort to guarantee our physical existence as a people and as a state.

 

But the memory of the Holocaust, which taught us to beware of external threats, failed to protect us from the internal threat which is increasingly marking us as a society intolerant towards those living within it. Although the events of the Holocaust are deeply engraved in our collective memory, we failed to elevate the educational potential embodied in them. We were not wise enough to develop a wide anti-racist consciousness, which rises above the victim's point of view and fights all levels of racism.

 

The racism report released recently says the number of racist incidents between Israeli residents doubled in the past year. According to the report, the growing phenomena has to do with words of incitement by public figures, which increased by some 80% in the past year. One cannot help but wonder under these circumstances how is it that the historical experience did not turn us into a society which is more sensitive towards prejudice and expressions of racism from within.

 

Where does the hatred towards those who are different from us come from? How did racism become a country-wide problem? The bitter truth must be said wholeheartedly: In Israel in 2013, racism is not a bad word. Beating up Arabs on the street has become a routine act. Fans raise shocking signs stating that "Beitar will be pure forever." Rabbis ban renting apartments to non-Jews. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

 

Black flag over our heads

There is no doubt that the growing racism in Israel is fundamentally different from the mass and institutionalized racism which led to the systematic annihilation of Jews in the Holocaust. But we must not use our unique history to ignore the racism spreading within us.

 

Precisely because we are closely familiar with the most terrible repercussions of racial hatred, we don't have the privilege to disregard the expressions of racism, both strong and light. We of all people should fervently maintain an anti-racist ideological outlook, and fight the phenomenon with greater determination.

 

We must not let the racism, which is raising its ugly head, win. We must all launch an all-out war against it. Leaders and elected representatives, intellectuals and academics, teachers and educators, rightists and leftists, religious and secular Jews. A major threat is hanging over our Jewish democratic country.

 

And if we go back to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, we'll see that two separate resistance organizations were active in the ghetto, fighting with supreme courage but without cooperating with each other. This comes to teach us that ideological differences may be stronger than anything, but even they don't reject the need to resist and say "no" to what is waving a black flag over our heads.

 

Even today, at times of multiple political disputes, there are things that we must all agree on. We must understand that racism is a disease that must be rooted out before it spreads. A nation which has had a firsthand experience with the most destructive form of racism has the duty to fight it with excessive strength.

 

Ophir Pines-Paz is the chair of the governing council of the Ghetto Fighters’ House

 

 

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