The road to Holocaust still paved with indifference

Some fairly influential people in the world are calling for another Holocaust. We didn't believe them last time, so this time we should carefully examine the circumstances that would make it likely or unlikely. Recent news carried a number of hints.

If another Holocaust happens, it will be staged this time in the Middle East, not in Europe — but it will be allowed to happen partly because of Europe's indifference. The interior minister of France, now the most anti-Semitic nation in Europe, said that almost all the violence against Jews in that country and Europe has been committed by "Arab youths."

However, Professor Shmuel Trigano of the University of Paris-Nanterre described the climate that makes such violence possible: "As the safety [of the Jews] appears to be in greater jeopardy, there is no protest from the society at large and the government seems indifferent. The authorities behave merely as spectators, distancing themselves from what they perceive as an external conflict between 'two immigrant communities' that are perceived as foreign to France."

At best, much of the world has this attitude of "neutrality" toward the extremist elements in the Israeli/Arab conflict — just as in the early 1930s, much of the world considered Nazi Germany's developing policy towards the Jews "an internal matter." And in the early 1930s most people, including most Jews, did not believe that in the 20th century, influential political forces would really massacre Jews, despite what Hitler said.

Many may believe that the forces calling for such a massacre today are not really influential enough to make it happen. After all, Israel, while suffering many deaths at the hands of such terrorists, will not be overcome by the genocidal terrorists themselves.

But the ultimate objective of those terrorists is to take over the shaky Arab states, making them more direct instruments for the terrorist agenda. Al Qaida has received cooperation from some Arab states, such as Iraq, but according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Hezbollah is the terrorist "A-team," and is spreading its influence even more widely than Al Qaida in Arab states. Both terrorist groups, often partners in training, have called for killing all Jews wherever they can be found.

Would the rest of the world allow this to happen? One of the major lessons of the Holocaust was that the majority of people do not have to actively hate the Jews in order to make such a massacre possible; they just have to be indifferent. Such indifference flourishes not only among those who are morally callous, but also among those who fail to recognize the consequences to themselves of such an unchained evil force.

Continental Europe would undoubtedly

disapprove of a 21st century Holocaust in the Middle East, but any pious but tardy disapproval would not help any more than it did last time.

There are two prime reassuring factors in the world today. One, of course, is Israel, which, at this time, is quite capable of defending itself against major assault. The other deterrent is the United States. However, resistance against massed Arab states would be seriously difficult if America also became indifferent to Israel's fate.

Look at how crucial America's help was at a dangerous moment in the 1973 war. As a small current example, take the recent news report that Israel had perfected a new mechanism to destroy incoming missiles, also noting in fine print that its success would depend on information provided by American space satellites.

America is not immune to indifference. The last Gallup Poll on the subject indicated that, given our domestic problems, the attention of Americans was straying away from the war on terrorists and the states that harbor them. Americans are not the naive isolationists they were in the 1930s, but any budding inclination to indifference has to be countered with constant reminders that our American self-interest is at stake.

As it was in the early 1930s, the world is again on the verge of a fateful conflict between two major political ideas. Indifferent then, we did not forestall the rise of Nazism, with calamitous results. As it has been famously said, if we ignore history, we will be destined to repeat it. The circumstances and consequences of the 20th century Holocaust are an integral and particularly instructive part of that history.

Some people believe, as a San Francisco Chronicle columnist wrote not too long ago, it is time to forget about that Holocaust. Even the memory of Jews can fade: The Holocaust Center of Northern California is struggling for funds to support its high school program and matchless library. But as hopeful as we may be, it is timely now to look at the worst-case scenario, to see what caused it to happen once, and what we have to do to stop it from happening again.