Never Again: Commemorating Hanukkah and Human Rights Day
Since the financial crisis of 2008, there has been a worldwide resurgence in intimidation, harassment, and violence against minorities around the world, targeting communities that identify by language, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual preference, gender, or even political ideology. This alarming increase in violence and hate speech has come simultaneously with the rise of a new cadre of leaders who are populist, autocratic, and, above all else, dedicated to co-opting democratic norms and functions to keep themselves in power at all cost.
The United States was not immune to this, either. The United States has been rocked by racism, ranging from Nuremberg-esque marches in Charlottesville to an emboldened far-right that has demonstrated its willingness to use violence to support a fringe, anti-democratic ideology. In 2019, the Anti-Defamation League reported a record number of incidents involving violence, harassment, and intimidation against Jewish communities in America ranging from vandalism of Jewish cemeteries to targeted mass shootings.
It is especially fitting then that December 10th marks both International Human Rights Day and the first night of Hanukkah. It is time for the world as a whole to reflect on what is being done to ensure that minorities of every type are protected and free to live a life of peace and prosperity.
In the aftermath of the horrors wrought by the Second World War, the fledgling United Nations produced what was supposed to be the universal standard for human rights. Though aspirations have rarely been met by action or intent, the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a sea change in international relations. For the first time ever, there was a baseline from which to measure all countries and societies and it was born in large part due to the humanitarian horrors inflicted throughout Asia and Europe.
Perhaps no other atrocity captured the attention of the world like the industrialized mass slaughter of Jewish people across Europe by Nazi Germany and its allies. The culmination of centuries of deeply-entrenched anti-Semitism in Europe, the Holocaust came on the heels of resurgent nationalism, revanchism, a worldwide economic crisis, and the aftershocks from the crisis of the First World War.
The echoes of the past reverberate to this very day, and December 10th of all days is one where every person, every American should stop and contemplate what this means for their nation and the world. Human rights are an intrinsic, inalienable right to each and every one of us, but we only arrived at this consensus through inestimable tragedy. More importantly, over the years we have forgotten that getting to this point and upholding this norm requires constant vigilance and ceaseless effort.
Rights last only so long as we’re willing to put the effort in to defend them.
This is the key lesson to carry forward from this day. The horrors of the Second World War led to the adoption of a standard from which to gauge universal human rights. It is no mistake that the rules-based international order came about at the same time as the longest period of peace and prosperity in human history. However, none of this is a given or the inevitable march of history. It takes dedication, hard work, and sacrifice to keep our fellow people safe and secure. The last few years have shown that these rights can and will erode, and the erosion will happen within.
“Chag urim sameach.” Never again.