The Dark Side of Holocaust Education

Sept. 23 2020
About Ruth

Ruth R. Wisse is professor emerita of Yiddish and comparative literatures at Harvard and a distinguished senior fellow at the Tikvah Fund. Her memoir Free as a Jew: a Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation, chapters of which appeared in Mosaic in somewhat different form, is out from Wicked Son Press.

On May 29, President Trump signed into law the Never Again Education Act—passed with near-unanimity by both houses of a bitterly divided Congress. The act sets aside $10 million for Holocaust education, to be spent over the next five years, and declares that “learning how and why the Holocaust happened is an important component of the education of citizens of the United States.” Behind it stands the reasoning—widely accepted by Jews and Gentiles alike—that teaching about the Shoah can help serve as an antidote to the “hate” that caused it. Ruth Wisse is skeptical:

[T]he destruction of European Jewry was not about “hate.” The mass murder of 6 million Jews began [when a political] party came to power by organizing politics against the Jews. The politics of grievance and blame may indeed foment hatred, distrust, envy, rage, fear, and violence, but it is primarily a political instrument for gaining, wielding, and extending power. Anti-Semitism draws on centuries of anti-Jewish teaching and opposition, but it assumes greater political potency when leaders need to win the allegiance of voters and followers. Hitler ran on this platform and used it in the conquest of other nations, inviting their citizens to join in the killing and plundering of the Jews. Some people [even] organized against Jews without hating them. . . . Fighting political evil takes political will, which requires political perception.

Holocaust education as currently defined introduces Jews at their lowest point in history—as victims, humiliated, suffering, starved, pursued, despised, and turned to ashes. . . . When I began teaching at Harvard in 1993, I was told that at least half the entering class had not taken a history course beyond the ninth grade. Yet even the best of students—the ones accepted to places like Harvard—are being forced to learn about the Jews first and foremost as victims of the Nazis. Among those being introduced to Jews in this form are many American Jews who have no other Jewish education, and certainly none as dramatic as this federally supported curriculum.

[But] education that centers on the Holocaust violates the spirit of America, which is about the attainment and protection of freedom and a constant drive for self-improvement. Americans and Jews won their freedom in wars of independence. America fought a civil war against slavery and to remain united. Nazism and Communism would rule the world had it not been for American military resistance. Israelis fight for their existence every day of their lives and suffer great losses whenever they relax their vigilance. Now as ever, only the will to fight for the good can defeat the forces of evil, and a peace-loving people that does not train for self-defense will suffer the fate of the Jews of Europe. The perversity of teaching about the Holocaust rather than American and Jewish struggles for freedom extracts the wrong lesson from a horrifying precedent.

Read more at National Affairs

More about: Anti-Semitism, Education, Holocaust, U.S. Politics


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount