FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 31, 2008
Contact: Sr. Ruth Lautt, O.P., Esq.
New York, New York
The following is based on a speech given by Sr. Ruth Lautt, O.P., Esq. at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, January 30, 2008
Reflections on Lessons from The Holocaust
There is a new book out devoted entirely to the biblical commandment, "Love Thy Neighbor." According to the author the commandment means that when you see something wrong going on you have to do something or you yourself become complicit in the wrong. I love that -- I think its wonderful. It makes clear how seriously God takes us and the extent of human responsibility in God's eyes. We are not to be passive observers, but active participants in salvation. It is easy to mourn past tragedies, and it is easy to make general statements about the need to end hatred and bias. What is required however, is the more difficult task of having the courage to confront the evil of the day.
Therefore, one first lesson from the Holocaust is that each generation must ask whether the kind of evil we saw during the Nazi Holocaust is resurfacing in some way. Christians for Fair Witness is concerned that anti-Semitism may be alive and well, albeit in a new and insidious form. What we see in the international community and in many religious circles is an unrelenting almost obsessive criticism and one-sided condemnation of the state of Israel. This strikes us as the same old sin of anti-Semitism wrapped up in a new politically correct wrapper.
A second lesson from the Holocaust is that there needs to be some special vigilance when it comes to the Jewish people and their state because of the long history of anti-Semitism and the attendant dire consequences. But the converse is also true. We should be equally vigilant of overreaching in the other direction and crying anti-Semitism in response to legitimate and balanced critique of Israel. Israel is not perfect and it does things wrong just like every other country does. But we must underscore legitimate and balanced.
Because when it is Israel that repeatedly gets put under the world's ethical microscope and when it is the Israeli sin of the day that invariably gets focused on, this is not balanced and often in no way legitimate.
Last year I visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem with a group of Protestant ministers. At one point I found myself standing in front of an exhibit about a massacre of Jews somewhere in Europe early in the Nazi period. The Nazis rounded up a group of Jews. Then they invited their non-Jewish neighbors to surround them and shout and yell at the Jews in an accusatory manner about every misdeed, no matter how small, they could recall each Jew ever committing.
And I had an "aha moment" of learning. A sudden and somewhat startling insight. I realized how effective a tool this could be for encouraging irrational hatred and violence against one particular group of people. By focusing intensely on the (ordinary, human) sins of one particular group of people, another group could feel justified in allowing or even abetting the severe punishment, even to slaughter, of those people. And I realized that you could do this to any people by simply applying a standard to them that you apply to no other.
I recently read a 222-page volume entitled "Israel-Palestine: A Mission Study." This Mission Study was written by two Ministers from the United Methodist Church and published in 2007 by the Women's Division, General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. It is nothing less than shocking. In addition to containing historical misrepresentation after historical misrepresentation, all aimed at portraying Israel as the sole villain in the Arab/Israeli conflict, the Mission Study characterizes Jews as belligerent, arrogant and aggressive, Israelis as "racist." It even suggests that religious racism may be inherent in the Jewish religion.
But perhaps the most shocking thing about this Mission Study is that it actually uses the Holocaust as a weapon against Israel by referring to what it calls a "Holocaust consciousness" that it says is a main characteristic of the Israeli temperament and which it says consists of "latent hysteria" and a "paranoiac sense of isolation" that prevents Israelis from making peace.
So, lessons from the Holocaust? I would say -- do not shed a tear for the victims of the Nazi genocide if you will not speak up now while this sort of malevolence is brewing in our own country, in our own churches.
In his second encyclical, Saved By Hope, Pope Benedict XVI refers to human freedom where he writes "we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free." I would suggest that we use that freedom to act responsibly and proactively to stop egregious acts before they occur.
On this day devoted to Holocaust Remembrance, let us take some moments to mourn the sins and losses of the past. But I suspect that that mourning will hold no real value in the eyes of God, unless we transform it into action to prevent something like that from ever happening again.