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Holocaust Memorial Day
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Holocaust Memorial Day

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

On the day of what might lead to the most dramatic elections in Europe since the German elections of 1932 which brought Hitler to power as Chancellor in January 1933, Israel is preparing to commemorate tomorrow the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. How much more poignant could such events be as the world watched for the results of another momentous democratic election the consequences of run-off eventually could bring into office in France Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right-wing National Front Party.

Le Pen may not like Jews or head coverings but there is no pogrom eminent. She has tried to distant herself from her father who was an anti-Semite. There were, however, several tendencies which this election campaign manifested.  They coincide with the surge of worldwide, populist, right-wing enthusiasm as well as support for existing and potential authoritarian rulers. This ought to give one serious pause.

The further centralization of power by Tayyip Erdogan as result of the democratic referendum in Turkey is certainly not a long term positive sign for increased democratization. While the extreme right-wing candidate in the Dutch election Geert Wilders did lose the election, his party received the second largest number of seats in the Parliament (20 to 33 for Mark Rutte’s party, the WD). While only receiving 13.1% of the seats, Wilders did achieve a net gain of five and alarmed many in Holland and throughout Europe with his anti-immigrant program and direction.

Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election in Britain surprised most everyone—which is what as it was supposed to do.  Her Party’s decision also displayed—at least to some extent—a desire to seek additional public support to proceed now with BREXIT. Within this decision was also a way to time the vote after the French run-off is completed; to see if Le Pen would be elected and also leave the EU, thus confirming the inward trend which some understood a pro-BREXIT vote to be.

Finally, German will be holding its own general elections in September with Angela Merkel feeling political challenges as well from the right. On Sunday, the very right-wing AfD party—not a real challenge to Merkel—held their own party elections.  One of the two leaders chosen to lead this anti-immigrant party into the election, Alexander Gauland, is a very close follower of Bjoern Hoecke who has seriously criticized the Berlin Holocaust Memorial and has called for a complete turnaround in how Germany today responds to the Nazi period.

The growing, populist, right-wing, inward-looking direction in Europe, coupled with the Trump election in the U.S., suggests reason for concern throughout the West and for Jews in particular. Right wing parties and authoritarian rulers historically do not provide the finest haven for Jews. Leaders who withdraw from international engagement eventually create an environment where minorities suffer.

It is with this backdrop, meanwhile, that Israel commemorates the Holocaust; a day of reflection and remembrance. Israel too, according to some recent studies, faces a society that no longer views the Shoah with the same gravity and anxiety as did its parents and grandparents. Educators are sensitized to this general situation which occurs when current events fade into history. Israel today, however, has an additional problem in Holocaust memorializing. It is a society where than 50% of the population come from Middle Eastern, Sephardic families which were largely spared much of the horrors of the Holocaust. For them the remembrance is national, but not personal. At the same time, politically speaking, these groups as well as the more recent Russian immigrants also have much less fundamental antipathy to strong rulers. Israel’s commemoration, this year, thus also has numerous complicating elements. 

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