Co-authored by Interim Chief Executive Officer David Wise and Jackie Congedo, Chief External Relations & Community Engagement Officer, originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer
It’s no exaggeration to say that Jews, Israelis, Muslims and Palestinians in our community are experiencing a level of anguish that those less proximate to the war in Israel and Gaza cannot fathom. These are our people—our families, our friends, our children—and they are dying in horrific numbers and in horrific ways. No assignment of blame diminishes the level of this tragedy, and before all else, the humanity in all of us should be profoundly saddened.
In this moment, a Holocaust education center bears a responsibility to call attention to the nature and consequences of any existential threat against the Jewish people. As history warns, while atrocity requires evil actors and actions, it equally necessitates the silence, approval, or justification by masses of otherwise good people. Holocaust survivors who watched this dynamic play out have always warned of that possibility—insisting what happened to them could happen again. And so, because history has seen this story unfold before— with catastrophic consequences, and because we promised the survivors of that atrocity that we would not meet this kind of dangerous antisemitism with silence—what we are about to say must be said.
On October 7, Israeli civilians suffered the deadliest attack against Jews since the Holocaust, driven by Hamas’ widely proclaimed genocidal intentions against all Jewish people—wherever they live—which is explicitly spelled out in their charter. The facts are not in question. The perpetrators of the October 7 massacre filmed and proudly broadcast their heinous acts—raping women, butchering children, burning them alive by the hundreds. Kidnapping more than two hundred innocent women, babies, and even the elderly– including Holocaust survivors.
Despite this horrific display of barbarism, we have not heard universal condemnation throughout the civilized world. Instead, we have watched thousands of people celebrate in the streets. Any justification or celebration of the brutal murder of 1400 Jewish civilians requires a chilling dehumanization of an entire people. Imagine, thousands of otherwise decent human beings, taking in this grotesque information, seeing the widely published photos from the actual perpetrators, and shrugging it away, saying, in essence— “they had it coming.” And there it is. Blatant antisemitism—normalized at disturbing scale.
Abhorrent as this is, history tells us it is not an anomaly. It is, rather, the latest episode in an ancient cycle of Jew hate, which has ebbed and flowed across societies all over the world and throughout time since the birth of the Jewish people—driven by the vile and ever-mutating virus of antisemitism. Throughout history, the acceptance of antisemitic violence has been grounded in lies that cast Jews as uniquely evil and thus deserving of persecution. In the age-old antisemitic playbook, this libelous vilification is then amplified through propaganda — from the early Christian accusation of deicide, to that of spreading medieval plagues, to causing global economic woes—and even more recently, the outlandish charge of starting forest fires with “space lasers.” Jews are seen as both all-powerful and subhuman—but either way—deserving of torment.
So, in 2023, what fantastical claims warrant murderous violence against Jews? What justifies literally burning us alive? What new libel drives a college student to march through the streets celebrating raw terror? What allows a champion for women’s rights to find the public rape of women acceptable, chanting “from the river to the sea,” without a clue that the phrase calls for the elimination of more than seven million Jews who live in Israel? What justifies the charge of genocide despite the glaring evidence to the contrary, including the dramatic growth of the Gazan population since Israel unilaterally withdrew in 2005? And what motivates the unparalleled outrage around this bogus claim, amidst silence about actual genocides that are happening as we write?
No, this is clearly not about facts. It is not about progressive values, freedom, or liberation. Peel back the layers, and much to the painful realization of Jews all over the world, the only explanation for this upside-down rhetoric and behavior is the same one that has existed for centuries: the age-old intoxication of antisemitism and its proliferation through dehumanizing propaganda. The world has again given Jews a choice: face the libels and ensuing condemnation or die.
But this time is different. Unlike the dark chapter of history that we are entrusted to teach, Jews today can and will defend themselves, standing firm that pacifism in the wake of abject evil is immoral. And we will do so with our allies who see this for what it is, as well as governments of the world that refuse to turn a blind eye. We will speak up— answering the call of our survivors who challenge us not to wonder what we would have done back then, but instead, to ensure the promise of never again today. And even as we face dehumanization, we will insist on the humanity of all peace-loving people.
Future generations will look back on this moment and its lessons. Let’s teach them this: while our history may be one of persistent persecution, our legacy is one of resounding resilience, resolve and hope.
With questions or feedback, please email [email protected]. As we continue a meaningful dialogue, join us for a webinar discussion, “Never is Now: Lessons from History to Inform Action in this Moment,” on Friday, November 17, at 12 p.m. EST.