The strategic trading of foes

The Holocaust has become, effectively, shorthand for evil – which has given antisemitism, at least in the Western political context, an inimitable stench in politics. It has created something of a third rail in politics, a rule of thumb: to be antisemitic, is to be profoundly racist.

But, more troublingly, the inverse logic is also applied sometimes: to be racist is to be antisemitic; and to not be antisemitic is to not be racist.

As Ivan Kalmar describes, this has allowed for something of a compromise in the far-right: make a show of supporting at least a few Jewish figures, and use that as a shield against accusations of racism/Islamophobia when they target Muslims. Supporting Israel here allows those far-right parties to show support for a Jewish polity, and be recognized for it by Israeli leadership under Benjamin Netanyahu; and also use their ‘support for Israel’s right to exist’ to justify harsher policies against Muslims cast as existential enemies of Israel.

This whitewashing dynamic ties into the European Union’s own raison d’être: preventing a new Holocaust and such crimes against humanity has becoming the public justification for the Union’s existence, easier to sell to the public than a mere engine for economic integration. To do that, though, the Holocaust has been positioned as the darkest stain on the history of Europe – worse than the Great War, than Napoleonic Wars, than the Thirty Years’ War. Nothing less would properly explain why a European Union was coming into being only now, rather than after the destruction of those years.

By making the Holocaust such an exceptional event, though, the European Union allows for that exculpatory dynamic I describe in the first paragraph – and by making Holocaustic recognition a rite of passage for candidate countries, it installs in them early on the logical bases to make that intolerant trade-off.

Ironically, though, there is another dynamic at play in those countries, which might actually weaken the logic of the Holocaust as a uniquely evil event. Namely, these countries have long pushed for recognition of the Soviet occupation as an equivalent, if not a worse, trauma. The occupation lasted longer, they say; invaded the lives of its denizens more deeply, probed them more invasively; and killed more overall.

Of course, there are problems with this narrative, not least of which is the attempt to refocus attention not on the Jewish victim, the ‘Other’, but rather on those victims from the ethnic cores of the Soviet Republics and satellites. In that sense, amending the narrative to equate Holocaustic and Soviet crimes – as the European Union has done, to some degree, by explicitly recognizing both on August 23, the ‘Black Ribbon Day’ also known as ‘the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism’ – may not help the ethnic nationalism driving the far-right to exclude Muslims. In fact, it might make things worse, by weakening the logic that leads these groups to tolerate Jewish communities (at least openly – their actions may speak differently).

But, at least, it might also strip away the thin veil hiding the intolerance of these groups, and might force them back out of the mainstream in those countries where they have managed to crawl onto the main stage.

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