Today is Israel's National Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Over the course of the Second World War the Nazi, with the aid of collaborators from across Europe, methodically slaughtered over 6,000,000 Jewish men, women and children. Their crime - being Jewish.
Over the millennia, the Jewish people have been the target of hate and persecution. Jews have been forced to wear identifying symbols, restricted to certain areas of occupation, banned from universities and schools, beaten, degraded, robbed and murdered simply for being Jews.
As a young boy growing up in the United Kingdom, I experienced anti-Semitism first hand. My parents, who were normal working people, lived in a predominantly non-Jewish area. At school, grade and high school, I was one of a handful of Jewish children and we were all bullied and regularly beaten up because "the Jews control the world", "the Jews have all the money", or because we personally crucified Jesus.
Even as a young man, I often came face to face with expressions of latent anti-Semitism, especially when Israel was being discussed. Many times the "Jewish Conspiracy" theory was raised to explain support for the then young State of Israel.
The Jewish People's history, particularly in Europe, has, in no small way, been responsible for the rise of Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel. Our communal experiences have shaped our nation and our behavior. After more than 2000 years in exile from our homeland, after 2000 years of being subject to the protection of others and with no real way of defending ourselves from the actions of those who hate us - we finally have a State that can, and has, to be strong.
Because even now, hatred of the Jews is rife around the world and in the Middle East. Across Europe, in countries such as Hungary, France, the Ukraine and others - anti-Semitism is once again raising its ugly head. The tiny State of Israel and its 7,000,000 people, some 200,000 of whom are survivors of the Holocaust, is surrounded by Arab nations whose stated intention is the annihilation of the State of Israel.
And yet, despite this, Israel is still seen by many as being the aggressor, as being the sole obstacle to peace in the Middle East.
More and more we hear the word "Apartheid" being used to describe the State of Israel. But I have yet to see separate hospitals for Jews and Arabs, there are no "Arab" and "Jew" park benches, Arabs do not have to sit at the rear of public transport and Arab citizens are free to live, study and work where they choose. As one who actively campaigned against South Africa's Apartheid regime during the 1960's - 1970's in the UK - calling Israel an Apartheid State shows a total misunderstanding of the term and a lack of any real knowledge about the events of that period.
At the same time, those who call my country an Apartheid State, fail to acknowledge the fact that the majority of Arab nations in the Middle East are far from being perfect democracies. In many, state sponsored persecution of minority groups (Kurds, Coptic Christians, Sufis and others) is rampant. Dissidents and the political opposition are hounded, imprisoned and even summarily executed - often in public. By and large, women are treated as second class citizens with few if any rights and the democratic process (if it even exists) almost always ends in the party candidate being elected by an overwhelming 90%+ majority.
In Israel, the "Apartheid State", all citizens over the age of 18 have the right to vote in local and national elections and for the party of their choice. In this "Apartheid State" even political parties that are openly anti-Israel are allowed to stand for election and have parliamentary representatives in Israel's parliament - the Knesset - where they are free to voice their opinions and vote as their conscience demands. Pardon me for wondering - but are these the attributes that characterize an "Apartheid State"? I think not.
And so, back to the Holocaust and how this unthinkable tragedy, the systematic and planned murder of people because of their beliefs should stand as a beacon, a warning to the world that the unthinkable, simply by thinking it, becomes possible.
After the Second World War, a horrified world declared "Never Again", and yet we have seen genocide erupting across the world. Biafra, Bosnia, Cambodia, Kenya, Rwanda and many other countries where hundreds of thousands, millions of innocents were butchered simply for being different. And the world stood by, shaking its head and making speeches denouncing these acts of murder. But also, doing little if nothing to stop it.
Words cannot stop the murder's bullets, their knives, their gas - only actions. For this reason, the State of Israel must be strong to ensure that "Never Again" shall we be helpless against those who seek to wipe us from the face of the earth, to extinguish us from the history books.
We owe it to the six million who perished, we owe it to those who survived, we owe it to future generations.