History, it has been said, is written by the winners of wars and other conflicts. But all too often, it is rewritten by historical revisionists—especially today, when “fake news” can take on a veneer of “truthiness” and is spread far and wide via social media.
Take the case of freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who in a recent podcast said that it gave her a “calming feeling,” knowing that her Palestinian ancestors had sacrificed their land for the establishment of “a safe haven for Jews” in the aftermath of World War II.
Those who rushed to defend Tlaib’s statement from criticism are missing a key point. The issue is less about a harmful choice of phrasing, or about being taken out of context, and more about the revisionist history such comments represent.
That matters because the truth matters and because history matters. A clear understanding of the past educates and informs our present, which in turn defines the future.
The truth is that the establishment of the state of Israel was a long-term, hard-won effort by the Jewish people and their allies dating back to before World War II.
As CNN reported, “Tlaib appears to make ahistorical claims about Palestinians providing a ‘safe haven’ for Jews fleeing Europe ahead of the establishment of the modern state of Israel, despite deep-seated opposition at the time to Jewish settlement there and the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”
That matters because revisionist history that rewrites the past distorts our perspective on current conflicts.
The truth is that 6 million Jews were systematically persecuted, tortured, and slaughtered by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. When World War II began, approximately 60% of the Jewish world population was living in Europe, and two-thirds of that population was completely wiped out, including 1.1 million children.
It remains one of the most horrific and notorious genocides the world has ever seen. Yet a recent study found that more than 22% of millennials haven’t heard of, or are not sure whether they have heard of, the Holocaust.
That matters because ignorance is dangerous. It matters because “never forget” and “never again” were twin promises the world made in the wake of these atrocities. They are promises we cannot afford to break.
The truth is that, unfortunately, this ugly hatred is not relegated to the pages of a history book or a bygone era.
Today, anti-Semitic violence is on the rise.
“France reported a 74% increase in the number of offenses against Jews last year, and Germany said the number of violent anti-Semitic attacks had surged by more than 60%,” the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper reported.
The United States is not immune. Just look at the sharp increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City this year. FBI data from 2018 demonstrates that this rise in violence is not restricted to New York City, however.
That matters because we each have a stake—and a role—in eradicating a hatred that threatens our very humanity. As long as we have breath, we each have an obligation to stand up and say: “Not on our watch.”
The truth is that words matter. Tlaib’s comments came amid a larger controversy of Democratic members of Congress expressing anti-Semitic views that have drawn criticism even from members of their own party.
Words also have consequences. They have a ripple effect of real-world impact. There is no “neutral” when it comes to hatred.
As Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, once said, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
Israel celebrated its 71stt anniversary of independence as a sovereign state on May 8, a scant two days before Tlaib’s remarks. Let us unite over our support for this staunch ally of the United States and the storied history of our two nations.
Let us stand up for our Jewish brothers and sisters against any speech—no matter how small—that discriminates, distorts, and destroys.
Clarity about the past lends conviction for the future. Never forget. Never again.r