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Rare, Yes, But Still Hate

Hundreds of copies of Anne Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl” have been defaced over the course of the last year. While anti-Semitism remains relatively rare in Japan, it is nevertheless concerning, and illustrates a vital point – anti-semitism is an international problem.

Vandalism on several hundred copies of Anne Frank’s Diary have been reported across Japan. The vandalism, mostly taking the form of ripped out pages, has occurred in over 30 libraries across the country. The reaction from Japanese political society was hushed. Few Japanese leaders took the time to make the issue, or responding to it, a priority. Indeed, it seems to have garnered more attention abroad than at home in Tokyo. For some, like Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, the incident was “shameful,” and he made it clear Japan would not be a haven for anti-Semitism.

It’s worth pointing out, however, that anti-Semitism in Japan is a relatively rare phenomenon. There are several reasons why this is the case. First, and perhaps foremost, Japanese society remains very closed off, and the population of Jews in the country has been historically very small. Thus, anti-Semitism is fundamentally a foreign parasite in Japanese society. While copies of the completely bogus anti-Semitic “document,” the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, did make their way into Japanese life, shaping the perception of Jews, the country still did not experience anti-Semitism as a major issue.

According to Dr. David Kranzler, a Holocaust researcher, “the key to the distinction between the Japanese and the European form of anti-Semitism seems to lie in the long Christian tradition of identifying the Jew with the Devil, the Antichrist or someone otherwise beyond redemption … The Japanese lacked this Christian image of the Jew and brought to their reading of the Protocols a totally different perspective. The Christian tried to solve the problem of the Jew by eliminating him; the Japanese tried to harness his alleged immense wealth and power to Japan’s advantage.”

During the Second World War, Japan’s alliance with Nazi Germany led to pressure from German authorities to enact anti-Semitic policies. Haku’un Yasutani was a Zen master who deplored the teachings of the Jewish religion as “demonic.” Roughly two thousand Jews died in the Shanghai Ghetto, a Japanese-controlled territory home to twenty three thousand Jews.

While anti-Semitism in post war Japan has had its moments, it has remained a foreign phenomenon. A theory that the Japanese and Jews shared common blood history emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. Incidents of anti-Semitism were rare. It is popularly reported that Hideo Murai, a leader of the cult Aum Shinrikyo, shouted, “The Jews Got Me!” as he was being stabbed.

Today, Jews form a small but vibrant part of Japanese society. With some two thousand Jews living in Japan, or 0.0016 percent of the population, anti-Semitism has not established a firm foothold.

While Israel and Japan enjoy a working relationship, Japan often approaches Middle East issues from the perspective of national self-interest, viewing the conflict as apart from Japanese concerns. This means that trade with the Arab nations of the region often are prioritized over support for the state of Israel.

With the internet, a small but vocal/idiotic minority of Japanese pseudonazis has incorporated anti-Semitism into their nationalism. Mitsujiro Ikeda, a city official in Tokyo, was quoted as saying that “books related to Ms. Anne Frank are being clearly targeted and it’s happening across Tokyo… it’s outrageous.” So the good news is that Japan isn’t a haven for anti-Semitic violence or hatred. That said, hundreds of books which, in many ways, are the main tool of Japanese citizens to learn about the Holocaust, have been vandalized.

The Holocaust, sadly, was not an isolated incident. The Jewish people have, throughout history’s pages, faced constant and deliberate assault. From pogroms dating back to around 1100 AD, to the Cossack massacres in Ukraine starting in the mid 1600s, anti-Semitism has been a constant dark thread, running through time and nations.

Japan isn’t the only nation outside the towers of Europe to contend with anti-Jewish sentiment. A former Malaysian Prime Minister wrote an editorial calling the Jews “hook-nosed” and possessing “stinginess.” In Turkey, sales of Mein Kampf, Hitler’s anti-Semitic diatribe, are on the rise. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez claimed, in a Christmas Eve address, that “the Jews killed Christ” and they “have been gobbling up wealth and causing poverty and injustice worldwide ever since.”

A sustained effort to combat anti-Semitism, whether on Canadian campuses, or through the halls of international diplomacy, is required. Someone is responsible for the desecration of the Anne Frank books and the Japanese authorities ought to find out who and make an example of them. Anti-semitism, regardless of scale, target or perpetrator, is always horrific and hateful.

Maybe Japan isn’t in the midst of a culture war on the role of Jews in society, but in a globalized world, what happens in one corner of the planet ripples to the others. Japan, however much it may wish to be immune to anti-Jewish hatred, needs to protect itself, its religious minorities and its Holocaust resources. We all should support them as they consider, in the next few months and years, how to do that. Anti-Semitism is a global problem, and should be fought with equal force, whether in the West Bank or in the libraries of Tokyo. The way we do that is education, education and education.

We must not pardon hate, and we must be clear and firm in saying that racism, under any name, by any group, against any people, has no place in the 21st century.