Last Day of Yom HaShoah: A Dangerous Rise in Antisemitic Hate Among Youth as we Remember the Holocaust
By Mazarine Lestienne
On January 29, 2018, an eight-year-old schoolboy wearing a kippah and a prayer shawl was attacked by two teenagers in Sarcelles (Val-d'Oise, France). The teens kicked the boy several times in the abdomen and legs before fleeing the scene. Although the assailants did not utter any antisemitic slurs during the attack, the authorities established the bias of the crime based on the boy’s Jewish garb. The attack coincides with a period of increased antisemitic attacks on children. It has now been over seventy years since the Holocaust, a time when Jews, regardless of their age, religious identity, or nationality, were murdered for being ethnically or racially Jewish. Yet the world still has not fully learned the lessons of the Holocaust, while the rate of antisemitic incidents, particularly against children, is increasing.
As we remember the loss of an estimated one million Jewish children in the Holocaust—the destruction of an entire generation—we must also acknowledge the global resurgence of antisemitic hate incidents both orchestrated by children and targeting children today. Confronted by such a threatening rise of antisemitism, how can we better educate children on antisemitism? How are we meant to prepare Jewish children for facing antisemitic hate on a daily basis? And what future can we hope for when antisemitic hate and violence is spreading in schools and online?
The increase in antisemitic incidents against children is a global phenomenon. In the United States the Anti-Defamation League documented a 94 percent increase in 2017, in instances of vandalism—with antisemitic messages and symbols—as well as harassment and assaults targeting children. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), the United Kingdom's leading children's charity, recorded a 14 percent increase in hate crimes against children in 2017 from the previous year. In all, 5,349 offences against children under 18-years-old were logged by police and had religious, race, or faith-based undertones. Finally, in France, since 2016, many Jews have removed their children from public school for fear of antisemitism in schools. More recently, in February 2018, a 14-year-old was attacked by a group of teenagers outside his synagogue. Despite the fact that his assailants yelled "dirty Jew" and stole his kippah, the case was dismissed as a mere "teen brawl."
In response to this rise in hate, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe presented a three-year plan in mid-March to combat racist and antisemitic hate speech online and in schools. And in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party called for mandatory reporting of antisemitism in schools after several cases gained notoriety.
On Yom HaShoah, and throughout the 8 Days of Remembrance, we must place emphasis on teaching the history of the Holocaust to younger generations, not only to preserve collective memory, but to use these lessons to guide us in placing special attention on a virulent and growing trend of antisemitic incidents targeting children—a trend that threatens our very future. The United States and foreign governments should improve their reporting and recording services to encourage greater identification of hate crimes against children. LIkewise, they should implement countermeasures specific to preventing the spread of hate on the Internet and social media, which largely contributes to the growth of antisemitic incidents not only targeting children but often perpetrated by children.
Unfortunately, today only nine U.S. states mandate Holocaust education. In order to bolster this necessary component for responsible civic engagement, the federal government should work in conjunction with local governments to support making Holocaust studies mandatory throughout the country. Countering the spread of ignorance, which only serves to fuel hatred, is a necessary step to preventing future antisemitic incidents. Finally, the U.S. government should decisively act upon its commitment to combat antisemitism by filling the State Department position of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. This position remains vacant after more than a year, leaving organizations fighting antisemitism without a key partner or the necessary tools to better understand its scope and magnitude.