By Barry Rubin

A relentless campaign has been waged by a tiny group of people to persuade Jews and Israelis to oppose the June 3, 2008, Prague Declaration, as if it were some horrible antisemitic document. This is a slanderously wrong claim. In fact, it is in the interest of Jews and Israelis to support this statement and the ideas that lie behind it. Here’s why.

The declaration was signed by a number of Central European leaders, former dissidents against the Soviet empire, and historians, all with impeccable democratic credentials and known as people fair and friendly toward the Jewish people. It states that Europe must have “an honest and thorough debate on all the totalitarian crimes of the past century.”

As part of this debate, it argues, “Communist ideology is directly responsible for crimes against humanity” and that “consciousness of the crimes against humanity committed by the Communist regimes throughout the continent must inform all European minds to the same extent as the Nazi regimes crimes did.”

On what basis is this declaration misrepresented? The argument is that the proposal would “equate” the crimes of the two systems and thus somehow subvert the memory of the Holocaust against Jews as a unique event.

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Yet in fact what this posture does is:

  • To make Jews the defenders of the Communist totalitarian system that murdered millions and tortured millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of Jews.
  • To bury the fact that the Soviet Union systematically destroyed Jewish society including religion, community, and Yiddish.
  • To make it impossible to acknowledge fully the sufferings of Jews under Communism which, in the post-1945 period, emerged as a major world force for antisemitism.
  • To divide Jews from those who suffered under Communism, at least the non-Russians, intensifying the friction between them.
  • To ensure that young people in the West today don’t learn about the crimes of Communism and thus be indoctrinated to believe that only the political right can be antisemitic, thus strengthening the extreme leftist power over intellectual life (often camouflaged as liberal) which is key in promoting slander and hatred toward Israel.
  • To prevent Jews from understanding that the main force for anti-Jewish doctrine today in the West comes from the extreme left instead of, as has been true for the past 150 or so years, from the right, thus pushing them toward far leftist anti-Israel stances and alienation from their own community.
  • To shield Third World pseudo-leftist regimes and doctrines which are allowed to portray themselves as legitimate and inevitably free of any antisemitic taint by definition.
  • To make it easier for Western radicals to join hands with radical Islamists on a common platform of hating Israel and often, in practice, of slandering Jewish communities.

This is quite a price to pay for the alleged preservation of the Holocaust as a unique event at a time when for all practical purposes it is fully established as such!

Here is what the declaration does say:

“There are substantial similarities between Nazism and Communism in terms of their horrific and appalling character and their crimes against humanity….

“Both the Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes each to be judged by their own terrible merits to be destructive in their policies of systematically applying extreme forms of terror, suppressing all civic and human liberties, starting aggressive wars and, as an inseparable part of their ideologies, exterminating and deporting whole nations and groups of population; and that as such they should be considered to be the main disasters which blighted the 20th century.”

This is not to say they are identical, yet the placing of millions of people into slave labor, concentration, and death camps seems to be a rather significant crime against humanity. The above statement is true. Why should the Jewish people be recruited to oppose it? Why should we become apologists for Stalinism?

My relatives and others in their town were deported from Poland to Soviet slave labor camps, often because they were Zionists. True, this saved those who didn’t die there from the Nazis. Relatives of mine also fought with Soviet partisan groups in Poland. My cousin witnessed mass executions of political prisoners before being sent on a death march with the others from the Soviet secret police jail. We will not forget that history.

Yet if the USSR had not backed Hitler during the 1939-1941 period there would have very possibly not been any Second World War or Holocaust at all. And even in partisan units we know that Soviet officials often discriminated against and even murdered Jews.

1. The declaration does not in any way subtract from the crimes of Nazism and fascism. But it points out that they have been discussed at great length in the public sphere whereas the equivalents from Communism have not. This should be done, as the declaration states, to serve “as a warning for future generations” and ensure that “children could learn and be warned about Communism and its crimes in the same way as they have been taught to assess the Nazi crimes.”

A symbolic step would be to make August 23, the day that the Hitler-Stalin Pact was signed, as a day of remembrance for the victims of both totalitarian systems, a symbol of how easily the extremes of left and right unite against democracy and use the Jewish people as a scapegoat.

Does this really threaten us? Is it really against our interests? Not at all. Quite the contrary. As the declaration explains, “Those who neglect their past have no future.”

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) CenterMiddle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle Eastand editor of the (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), The Israel-Arab Reader the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria(Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).