Historians usually date the start of the Holocaust to June 1941 when German troops invaded the Soviet Union, identified Jewish civilians, lined them up and shot them by the thousands. Later, concentration camps equipped with gas chambers elevated the slaughter to an industrial scale.
But that timetable omits something important. After his accession to power in 1933, Hitler began a campaign to demonize and delegitimize Jews, accusing them of imaginary crimes, conveying the message that Jews are a vile and guilty race, deserving of punishment.
In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws officially made German Jews second-class citizens. In 1938, thousands of German Jewish stores and homes were ransacked and burned in the pogrom known as Kristallnacht. In 1939, after the Nazi invasion of Poland, Polish Jews were confined to ghettos.
All this and more laid the groundwork for the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” the Nazi euphemism for the genocide of European Jews.
Before their defeat by the Allied forces, the Nazis managed to exterminate six million European Jews — two out of every three. Post-war, most countries of the broader Middle East, many of them influenced by Nazi ideology, drove out their ancient Jewish communities.
Refugees fled or, as many saw it, returned to a land in which Jews had survived for thousands of years despite multiple foreign conquests, massacres, enslavements and expulsions.
Israelis declared their independence following the departure of the British Empire from territories taken from the defeated Ottoman Empire after World War I. Israel’s founding was thus an act of anti-imperialism and de-colonialism.
Recalling this history now is relevant and perhaps urgent. For decades, the U.N. has been at the forefront of a campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel. That campaign is now set to sharply escalate.
Last week, the U.N. approved a $4.2 million budget to establish a so-called Commission of Inquiry — essentially a Grand Inquisition targeting and vilifying Israel.
Under the auspices of Human Rights Council, a body dominated by such notorious human rights violators as China, Russia, Cuba, Pakistan, Qatar and Venezuela, an 18-member staff will be led by Navi Pillay, a former U.N. high commissioner for human rights, with “an appalling record on Israel,” in the considered judgment of Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch.
The COI will be “dedicated to manufacturing charges and mounting a global chase to arrest and incarcerate Israeli Jews,” Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, wrote in a paper for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
The ostensible inspiration for the COI is the 11-day conflict initiated by Hamas last May. Over 4,000 rockets were launched against Israeli cities, towns and villages. Israelis defended themselves, for which the COI will accuse Israelis of imaginary crimes. Hamas, by contrast, will not be seriously criticized for either its attacks on Israeli civilians or its use of Palestinians as human shields — indisputably crimes under both international and U.S. law.
Expect the COI also to broadcast the slander that Israel is an apartheid state, implying that Israel has no right to defend itself — indeed, no right to exist.
I plan to say more about the bogus charge of apartheid in future columns. Still, for now, I’ll just point out that Israel’s Arab Muslim minority, roughly 20%, enjoys rights and freedom unavailable to Arab Muslims even in countries where they constitute a majority. No positions or jobs are denied to Israeli citizens based on ethnicity or religion. Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamic Ra’am Party and an elected member of the Knesset, serves in the current Israeli governing coalition.
Gaza, from which Israelis withdrew in 2005, is ruled by Hamas. The West Bank is governed by the Palestinian Authority. Israelis have repeatedly offered to withdraw from most of the West Bank in exchange for a conflict-ending agreement. Those offers were turned down. Should Israelis withdraw without an agreement, the West Bank would become a second Gaza. Is that not obvious?
The endless drumbeat of anti-Israeli vilification by the COI is sure to energize the economic campaign against Israel (echoing the 1933 Nazi “Don’t buy from the Jews” campaign) and perhaps lead to prosecutions of Israelis by the International Criminal Court, a politicized entity whose authority is recognized by neither Israel nor the U.S.
More concerning: The “findings” of the COI “inquiry” will be used to justify the genocidal threats frequently made by the Islamic Republic of Iran, its Lebanese-based proxy, Hezbollah, and of course Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
I could fill this column with examples of such threats, but two should suffice. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has called on Muslims “to remove the Zionist black stain from human society,” adding that there is a religious “justification to kill all the Jews and annihilate Israel, and Iran must take the helm.”
When Nikki Haley was ambassador to the U.N., the Trump administration withdrew from the UNHRC, having concluded that significant reforms were unachievable. The Biden administration returned to that body this month, asserting that it can make a difference through diplomatic engagement. We shall see.
The U.N. campaign will make settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict impossible for the foreseeable future. Why would any Palestinian leader compromise so long as there is a possibility that what happened to the Jews of Europe — defamation followed by extermination, a “final solution” — could happen to the Jews of Israel with the assent of the “international community”?
The U.N. was established following World War II to prevent and resolve conflicts. Today, it promotes antisemitism and enables both terrorists and genocidaires. Acknowledgment of this reality must precede any attempt to change it.
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for the Washington Times.