Holocaust Education, IHRA And Anti-Semitism In Arizona

[Photo courtesy National Archives, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum]

By Paul Miller

House Bill 2241 requires Arizona students to be taught about the Holocaust and other genocides twice between seventh and twelfth grades.  Although the bill passed unanimously in February of this year, at issue is a proposed Senate amendment defining anti-Semitism in accordance with the definition adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

The sponsor of HB 2241, State Rep. Alma Hernandez, is a self-declared progressive and staunch Zionist. The Mexican-American Jewish Democrat is a refreshing and important voice in Arizona’s pro-Israel community, especially at a time in American politics when the term “progressive” is often associated with with anti-Israel sentiment. In an interview with the Haym Salomon Center, Hernandez expressed her support for the IHRA definition, but not in the context of this bill.

“I have championed the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in the past and hope to do so in the future with colleagues across the aisle in a separate bill,” said Hernandez, adding, “I worked with Holocaust survivors, families and organizations to create this bill. This is their bill, and I will keep my promise to them and pass their legislation.”

Hernandez is part of a chorus of bill supporters who believe the unanimous passing of the legislation sends an important message to students on the significance of Holocaust education.

Joining that choir is Sheryl Bronkesh, president of the Phoenix Holocaust Association. During our conversation she expressed how critical it is to pass this legislation now, with no amendments.

“We’ve been working on this legislation for three years,” explained Bronkesh. “This past year I lost 10 survivors. I don’t want to see another legislative session end without survivors and their families not witnessing Holocaust education being passed while they are with us.”

Disagreeing with Bronkesh is fellow Phoenix Holocaust Association member Marion Weinzweig. Weinzweig, a Holocaust survivor, believes “we need the IHRA definition in the bill. If we don’t define anti-Semitism – teach students about contemporary anti-Semitism – what stops this bill from being used against Jews and Israel?”

Weinzweig and other supporters of the IHRA amendment fear that without the definition, Holocaust education can be used to foment anti-Semitism.

Sounds absurd to some. But during a period in our history where disdain for Jews is growing, anti-Israel advocates and their anti-Semitic minions in government, culture, and academia intend to use the Holocaust to stir up Jew-hatred.

Holocaust inversion is an actual phenomenon. It’s the portrayal of Jews and Israel as modern-day Nazis. Anti-Semites claim Israel treats the Palestinians as the Nazis treated the Jews during the Holocaust.

This sad reality is one of the driving forces that led Arizona State Sen. Paul Boyer to author and sponsor the IHRA amendment.  The Republican lawmaker believes the purpose of Holocaust education is not only to teach the history; it must also help eradicate anti-Semitism in the future.

Boyer notes that over 550 survivors, family members of survivors and concerned citizens emailed the Arizona legislature in support of the IHRA amendment.

“The IHRA definition must be part of any Holocaust education bill if the legislation is to have any teeth,” Boyer explained. “If educating students about the Holocaust is to be successful in preventing future injustices, we have to include safeguards to prevent Holocaust inversion.”

Boyer is not wrong in his concerns about contemporary anti-Semitism. In fact, it exists in the very legislative body in which he serves.

For example, Arizona State Rep. and Minority Whip Athena Salman took to the floor in April 2019 and claimed the Israel military has a history of abducting children.

An anti-Israel, anti-Semitic diatribe such as that of Democratic lawmaker Salman makes one wonder how this type of behavior is being tolerated in our society. Invectives spewed by Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who receive very limited scrutiny for their rank anti-Semitism, only reaffirm the position of IHRA definition supporters.

All the interested parties, on both sides of the debate, understand the importance of Holocaust education but disagree on how best to implement it. What is not up for debate, however, is that anti-Semitism exists even among publicly elected officials, and that Holocaust inversion is now part of contemporary anti-Semitism. Thwarting the trend necessitates a curriculum that includes a clear definition of anti-Semitism, past and present.

Paul Miller is president and executive director of the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on Twitter at @pauliespoint.