Comment: Danger of ignoring claims accusing Jews of genocide

Pinning genocide on the Jews allows the bigot to swipe the “Holocaust card” and play it against them.

By Yair Rosenberg / Special To The Washington Post

Last week, David Bateman, a prominent Utah entrepreneur and Republican political donor, sent an unusual email to his state’s business and political leaders, including Gov. Spencer Cox. The subject line? “Genocide.” The topic: Jews. But Bateman’s message was not about the Holocaust, or about Jews being the victims of mass murder. Instead, he accused them of perpetrating it.

“I believe there is a sadistic effort underway to euthanize the American people,” Bateman wrote. “I believe the Jews are behind this. … I believe the pandemic and systematic extermination of billions of people will lead to an effort to consolidate all the countries in the world under a single flag with totalitarian rule. … No one is reporting on it, but the Hasidic Jews in the US instituted a law for their people that they are not to be vaccinated for any reason.” (No such law exists.)

Reached for comment by a bemused reporter, Bateman insisted that “some of my closest friends are Jews.” He resigned from his industry positions shortly afterward.

It’s tempting to write this off as the ridiculous ramblings of an Internet-poisoned tech magnate too rich to have ever been told “no” by those around him. On the surface, Bateman’s ham-handed harangue certainly looks like a fringe — even funny — story. But it’s not. That’s because the libel that Jews are committing genocide has exploded in popularity across anti-Jewish discourse. It crosses ideological lines and is increasingly expressed in polite company.

Indeed, once you start looking, it’s hard to escape the fact that people just love accusing Jews of genocide. “The Jews will use the vaccine to change DNA making the person susceptible to designer viruses the Jews will create,” wrote one poster on the neo-Nazi forum Stormfront in December 2020. “This is one way the Jews will attempt to kill off the White Race.” That same month, the Anti-Defamation League reported that Ishmael Muhammad, a student minister in Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, “referenced the ‘Synagogue of Satan’ (an antisemitic phrase used to refer to Jews) for allegedly promoting vaccines to sterilize Black people,” in a live sermon from the organization’s headquarters in Chicago. “Those of you who are really big supporters of the vaccination program, whether you realize it or not, you are a new Nazi,” intoned the antisemitic pastor Rick Wiles last month. “This is mass genocide.” (Wiles is best known for dubbing the impeachment of President Donald Trump a “Jew coup.”)

So far, so fringe. But the same cannot be said for the broader “white genocide” conspiracy theory, which posits that Jews are conspiring to wipe out the white race through the promotion of mass immigration, interracial marriage and other supposedly sinister social schemes. Fear of this farcical “great replacement” infamously inspired the neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, who in 2017 chanted that “Jews will not replace us.” And it featured prominently in the social media feeds of Robert Bowers, the white supremacist who massacred 11 Jews at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.

Then, last year, the most popular political personality on American television took it mainstream. “The left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” declared Fox News’s Tucker Carlson this past April. “But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening actually.”

Of course, even if one were to accept the questionable premise of this accusation, adding new people to the United States does not remove the previous inhabitants. There is no “replacement” unfolding, other than in the fevered imagination of the country’s white nationalists. Carlson knows this. But he also knows the extremists in his audience and their preferred parlance. And so he chose to politely popularize the conspiratorial claims that had motivated the mass murder of American Jews. The message was received. “Tucker Carlson is talking about replacement theory; well, I knew it was going on way back then, way back in 1991,” exalted former KKK leader David Duke.

Many liberals strongly condemned Carlson’s remarks. And yet, false fulminations about Jews committing genocide have found a home on certain parts of the left as well. Last May, award-winning actor and outspoken Israel critic Mark Ruffalo apologized for publicly accusing the Jewish state of genocide. “It’s not accurate, it’s inflammatory, disrespectful & is being used to justify antisemitism here & abroad,” he wrote on Twitter. Israel occupies the Palestinian people and the two have fought multiple wars. The Israeli military deserves scrutiny and criticism for every Palestinian civilian casualty. But occupation and discrimination are not genocide. In actuality, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the Palestinian population in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank has increased around fourfold since Israel’s founding. By contrast, the Holocaust killed two out of three European Jews. Within Israel itself, where 20 percent of the population is Arab, the most popular male baby name for the past decade has been Muhammad.

Whatever one thinks of Israel, that’s obviously the opposite of genocide. Like most conspiracy theories, this one takes a kernel of truth — about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians — and inflates it into a crazed calumny. In other words, Ruffalo was right to back off his remarks. But the fact that this incendiary claim filtered all the way up to a Hollywood star, who initially felt comfortable repeating it in public, demonstrates how acceptable this libel is even in some putatively progressive circles.

Obviously, not all these allegations are equivalent. Some are spread through ignorance, others through malice. But by now, it should be clear that people don’t make these accusations because they make sense. Rather, false charges of Jewish genocide continue to proliferate because they offer tantalizing rewards that make them irresistible to a certain brand of bigot.

First, they weaponize the greatest Jewish trauma against Jewish people. As the Marxist political theorist Norm Geras put it, “To say to Jews that what they are doing is just like what the Nazis did to them is to appeal to the comparison that is most hateful.” There is no better way to hurt someone than to fashion their own most painful experience into a club with which to beat them. It’s not hard to imagine how turning the Holocaust on Jewish people, like turning slavery on Black people, provides a delicious transgressive thrill.

Second, casting Jews as the perpetrators of a new, fictitious Holocaust frees non-Jews from the obligation to learn the lessons of the actual Holocaust. “For thousands of years, for much of the world, part of the cultural patrimony enjoyed by all non-Jews — spiritual and secular, Church and Mosque, enlightenment and romantic, European and Middle Eastern — was the unquestionable right to stand superior over Jews,” wrote University of California at Berkeley’s David Schraub in 2016. “It was that right which the Holocaust took away, or at least called into question: the unthinking faith of knowing you were the more enlightened one, the spiritually purer one, the more rational one, the dispenser of morality rather than the object of it.”

In a masterful maneuver of moral jujitsu, pinning genocide on the Jews allows the bigot to swipe the “Holocaust card” and play it against them. The victims are transformed into perpetrators, and their judgment is called into question. “Many people deeply resent the Jews for what Auschwitz took away from them; the easy knowledge that their vantage point was elevated over and superior to that of the Jews,” notes Schraub. “The desire to neuter the Holocaust is a desire to return to that old state of affairs.”

This ominous outcome is why it is a mistake to dismiss efforts to fabricate a Jewish genocide as merely marginal or inconsequential. Fundamentally, the impulse to hang the Holocaust on the Jews is an attempt to return humanity to where it was before the Holocaust; which enables such things to happen again.

After all, making the Jews guilty of genocide doesn’t just obviate non-Jewish guilt for permitting Jewish genocide. It also justifies the next Jewish genocide.

Yair Rosenberg is a contributing writer at the Atlantic, where he writes the Deep Shtetl newsletter covering politics, religion and culture.

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