Adjust size of text


Follow us and continue the conversation

Your saved articles

You haven't saved any articles

What are you looking for?

The problem with ‘Never Again’

It sounds like a motherhood statement but greeting current antisemitism with the cry of ‘Never Again’ misunderstands both history and contemporary experience.
Ittay Flescher
Print this
never again

Published: 29 May 2024

Last updated: 29 May 2024

It’s hard to have a conversation with Jews anywhere in the world today without hearing the phrase “Never again.”

Few of those using it realise that the phrase was popularised by the notorious nationalist extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, who used it as the title for his 1972 book promoting the Jewish Defense League.

Since then, ‘Never again’ has become a rallying cry for not only Holocaust memory and Zionism but also a myriad of unrelated social causes, such as against gun violence and animal welfare.  It has been used on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict and, recently, in large demonstrations in Australia denouncing antisemitism. It was the title of a documentary on antisemitism presented by Josh Frydenberg which screened on Sky News on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, a clip from the Israeli comedy series The Jews Are Coming dramatised the analogies that underly the phrase ‘Never again’ and unwittingly made clear exactly why it is so problematic.

Called “Never again is all over again,” the skit links the events of October 7 to six unrelated historical attacks on Jews. These include the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the Crusades, Kishinev Pogrom, Kristallnacht, Hebron Massacre and the Farhud in Baghdad.

It’s a powerful, simple piece of drama, but it is fundamentally deceptive. It paints Jewish history as one long chain of antisemitism, ignoring both the context of individual events and the positive generations of interfaith harmony in between these crises.

Each of these events happened in the context of larger wars conducted by empires that also had millions of non-Jewish victims.

They also happened in the context of a long history which also includes golden ages such as the 1500 years of Jewish flourishing in Babylon, or the 800 years when our greatest rabbinic works were written in Poland.

Anti-Jewish hate does not tell the whole story. There were cases where Jews were saved by righteous non-Jews, like the story of Avraham Burg’s mother, whose Arab neighbours saved her from the Hebron rioters in 1929. The former Knesset Speaker reflected, “I owe my life and my children’s lives to the heroes Abu Shaker and Umm Shaker. Righteous among the Nations who risked being killed by their own people, those who had lost the image of God within them and mercilessly slaughtered as many of Hebron’s Jewish population as they could lay hands on.”

The clip views Jewish history as circular rather than developmental and Jewish people as isolated rather than part of communities.

Palestinians and Israelis need to stop only telling our histories as a long series of horrific atrocities committed by the other.

And then we get to Kfar Azza, the kibbutz which is emblematic of the Hamas massacre on October 7.

To paint this massacre as merely another point in a chain of antisemitism misses the experiences of Bedouin citizens and Thai workers who were also kidnapped or killed on October 7.

It also discounts the non-Jews who stood up and saved Jews.  Hamid Abu Arar rescued several Israeli soldiers from Hamas.  Ismail Alkrenawi from Rahat who saved the lives of 40 people fleeing from the Nova festival and Aya Meydan from Kibbutz Beeri. Suleiman Shalibi formed a group of hundreds of volunteers from the Arab community, who put their lives on the line and went in, under fire, to help rescue people they didn't know from certain death. Their stories were all featured in a series of videos produced by the Jewish-Arab partnership organisation ‘Have You Seen the Horizon lately,’ yet today, their names are largely unknown in the Israeli mainstream.

Importantly, unlike the other historical events, October 7 was an attack on a people with a huge army that failed them. The political leaders responsible for this failure are still in power.

All we learn from the “Jews are coming” clip is that in every place Jews have lived, we have been slaughtered or tortured.

Many Jews find this view of our history resonant.  One friend who shared the ‘Never again is all over again’ clip wrote on Facebook, “I was struck by the clarity with which the scriptwriters saw 7/10 in terms of the wider scope of Jewish history; how we survived those past events and thus they give us hope to survive this trauma, and also how 7/10 is unique from all others in terms of the absolute affirmation of our commitment and bond to the land of Israel…. this clip focuses on national tragedies through the lens of individual losses, and from that perspective, there is much for us to learn from the past about the present.”

While I agreed with him that there is much to learn from the past, I think this clip entirely misses the lessons we should learn from these six events. Because what they all have in common more than antisemitism is xenophobia, racism, fear of the other, totalitarian rule and no limits on the use of violence to achieve a political aim that ends up destroying the lives of Jews and non-Jews alike.

Surely, there are the forces and ideologies we must all stand against, but we should not do so with a view of ourselves as everlasting victims.

The clip concludes with a message that “we aren’t going anywhere” and “we will continue to live for the sake of everyone we lost”.

As a resident of Jerusalem, I hope that Jews continue to live in Israel for many generations to come, but not “for the sake of everyone lost”. I hope we live here for the sake of future generations, who should be blessed to grow in peace.

For this to happen, both Palestinians and Israelis need to stop only telling our histories as a long series of horrific atrocities committed by the other. While there needs to be a place to teach these tragedies, from the enormity of Nakba to the horrors of October 7, these can’t be the only stories we tell. 

For there to be peace, we need to teach a dual narrative history in a manner that also includes the many stories of peace offers, of memorial initiatives that humanize the pain of the other, of upstanders and of peacebuilders today who seek to move beyond the victimhood narratives of old into a new way of thinking that emphasises the importance of building a shared future for all who call this promised land home.

About the author

Ittay Flescher

Ittay Flescher is the Jerusalem Correspondent for The Jewish Independent. For over twenty years, he has worked as an educator, journalist, and peacebuilder in Melbourne and Jerusalem. He is the co-host of the podcast ‘From the Yarra River and the Mediterranean Sea' and the author of the upcoming book ‘The Holy and the Broken.’ He is also the Education Director at a youth movement that brings together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers who believe in building equality, justice, and peace for all.


  • Avatar of Miriam Frommer

    Miriam Frommer31 May at 06:04 am

    Tragically so many Jews know very little of the historical periods in which our predecessors thrived and were able to produce great works which underpin the Judaism we practise today.

  • Avatar of Kevin Judah White

    Kevin Judah White30 May at 08:27 am

    Well said, an excellent piece.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

Enter site