The Holocaust was not just another genocide

Antisemitism education in schools is not up to the job and requires deep and urgent reform


Female Student Raising Hand To Ask Question In Classroom

July 29, 2022 10:32

Many people have met a survivor of the Shoah at school through the work of the Holocaust Education Trust. I will forever have burnt in my mind Kitty Hart (a survivor of Auschwitz) pointing out the electric fencing bordering the camp and telling how she saw her friend commit suicide by throwing herself on it.

That story changed the course of my life and sent me on a career path of counter-extremism. What the account also did, however, was leave me with the impression that antisemitism was a far-right phenomenon and that it was historic.

This June, Josef S, 101 years old, was convicted of more than 3,500 counts of accessory to murder over his role serving at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp during the Second World War. Josef S may not live to serve his sentence, but the dangerous tropes and antisemitic sentiments that lay behind his grievous crimes have survived for hundreds of years, undeterred by the atrocities of the past.

Sadly, the complex web of far-left, far-right politics, religious extremism and geopolitics that lay behind antisemitism not only preceded but also survived the Holocaust.

It is the ideological diversity of modern antisemitism that makes identifying and countering it exceedingly difficult. Its home in the far left has added to its mainstreaming, making tackling some manifestations politically unfashionable.

Assaults on Jews have come from all directions. In 2018, in the largest attack on the Jewish community in US history, neo-Nazi Robert Bowers killed 11 people in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, pro-Palestine marches in London saw the Israeli flag burned and dragged behind a car to loud cheers, not to mention the abuse shouted at Jews through megaphones.

And this year, British citizen Malik Faisal Akram held four hostages inside a Texan synagogue for 10 hours demanding the release of Islamist terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, who is suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda and was convicted of trying to kill US officers while in prison in Afghanistan.

Three antisemitic attacks, three differing ideologies.

For me, it was the experience of leading classes in schools about conspiracy theories and, in particular, 9/11, that opened my eyes to how all these strains of antisemitism have infected British education. In 2016, after I had delivered training to sixth-form students, a teacher let me know his concerns about the session. He felt we should be more open to “evidence” that 9/11 was organised by Jews.

I am sure that this school, as with all British schools, teaches the Holocaust. I am equally certain that the teacher who pulled me to one side did not realise that he was engaging in a perspective that underpinned Nazi thinking and drives modern-day antisemitism. Many teachers know what far-right, Nazi-style antisemitism looks like, but when Jews are blamed for nefarious power, corruption and murdering Palestinians, identifying antisemitism and why it is a problem is often lost. Rather than being historic, antisemitism is on a steep and terrifying incline. I recently authored a report into antisemitism in schools, reported in the JC earlier this month. It showed a 173 per cent rise in antisemitic incidences over a five-year period, and a 29 per cent increase between 2020 and 2021 alone.

Our schools have a distinct lack of resources when it comes to modern-day hostility towards Jews. Only 3.4 per cent of schools have a policy in place that specifically handles safeguarding students against antisemitism.

Look at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s website and you see material on several genocides: Rwanda, Srebrenica, the Holocaust. The message is that we are never free from the risk of genocide. But education about the generalities of prejudice will never be enough. We must also teach our children — and those entrusted with protecting them — about the nature and hallmarks of modern antisemitism. Sadly, little is taught about the persistent threat posed to the Jewish community today.

Learning about the Holocaust is invaluable but we must avoid being all revved up with nowhere to go. How would the level of antisemitism in the country be affected if every Holocaust lesson was concluded with an understanding of modern antisemitism and the present threat? Would we see a more concerted effort to tackle antisemitism if we could identify it better, knowing that the threat did not end with Hitler? I am sure we would.

Charlotte Littlewood is a former Prevent Officer and is an associate research fellow at Henry Jackson Society

July 29, 2022 10:32

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