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FIELDS: New reminders of an old, old story

Jews again confront challenges to their survival

- - Wednesday, February 26, 2014

German investigators have arrested three old men who were particularly brutal guards at Auschwitz, ages 88, 92 and 94. They're old, but the last of the survivors of the death camps are old, too. Memories are long, and it's never too late to call a villain to account.

The French have opened negotiations with the United States to pay reparations to America's Holocaust survivors, who were deported to Nazi death camps in French trains. The negotiations begin as a French company bids to build a $2.2 billion rail project in Maryland. It's only a coincidence, naturally, but exploiting an opportunity to make money is a strong motivation for making amends.

Amidst the ongoing chaos in Kiev, Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman urged Jews to leave the city if possible, because vandals trashed Jewish shops, and Jews were threatened by thugs. Jews everywhere are reminded how many Ukranians were willing executioners of Jews for the Nazis during World War II.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and such vigilance is the price of survival for Jews because anti-Semitism is a persistent evil. The evil is illuminated by contrasting virtues, of justice and the protection of the better angels of men and women of good will. Attention must be paid, and so must remembrance and reparations as reminders of history.

Jews who fully understand the meaning of the Holocaust because it happened on their watch must bequeath their memories to history, lest all that happened at the hands of the Nazis be reduced to cold, unfathomable, unemotional facts for future generations. When the 20th century opened, there were 11 million Jews in the world. A third of them were murdered in the death camps of Hitler's Third Reich. The nations of the West, acting through the United Nations, determined that to prevent anything like that from happening ever again Jews needed a country to call their own.

What happened after that is a whole new story. In a new book, "My Promised Land," Israeli journalist Ari Shavit shows how the Jews in 21st century Israel confront very different pressures, buffeted by conflicts both inside their country and from its external "friends" and foes. If the first half of the 20th century was one of the worst endured by the Jews, and the second half of the century demonstrated how they were able to build a prosperous "start-up" nation with the potential to thrive among the world's democracies, the 21st century threatens what this tiny democracy has accomplished.

Many of us thought John Kerry might have been inspired as secretary of state when he discovered that his two paternal grandparents in Europe were Jewish, having changed their name from Kohn to Kerry to survive as the clouds of war gathered. So far he has shown himself to be insensitive to Israel's problems. When he observed that "there's an increasing delegitimization campaign" building against Israel, it sounded like he was pressuring Israel to making damaging concessions to the Palestinians, who won't even recognize Israel's right to exist.

Later, after taking heat from Israel's friends at home — including many Christians — he said he was merely making an "observation." He could have acknowledged that the academic boycott of Israel's educational institutions was inspired by "a rising tide of anti-Semitism," as amply documented by the State Department two years ago. The American left, with its intellectual posturing, moral preening and ivy-encrusted elitism, joins the chorus, painting the Palestinians as "victims" and the daily threats to Israel's existence as "illusory."

Where is the acknowledgement of the boycotters that Israel has agreed to Mr. Kerry's framework for negotiations? Where is the acknowledgment that Palestinians refused to make a deal which would have given them a state in the West Bank long ago? Where is the acknowledgement that Ariel Sharon led Israel out of specific Gaza settlements that Israel won in the 1967 war imposed on them? The rewards for the Israelis were rockets into their villages, launched from the very territory Mr. Sharon and his armies vacated.

Moshe Dayan, in a requiem for a young soldier killed patrolling the Israeli-Gaza border, told Israelis in 1956 that they must be "ready, armed, tough and hard" if they want to plant a tree or build a house.

The Israeli peace movement does not understand the need for toughness, because it refuses to believe the oft-stated intentions of armed and dangerous Arab enemies to destroy Israel, and overlooks the consistent and persistent intractability of the Palestinians, who don't want to share territory because they think they can wear down the Israelis, and with the help of gullibles in the West, and take it all. To those who remember the past, this sounds ominously familiar.

Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.