The reunion of thousands of Jewish holocaust survivors in Washington this week inspires reflection upon the true spirit of the plea ''never again.'' ''Never again'' in the Jewish context means no Jew shall ever repeat the march toward death at Treblinka and Bergen-Belsen or suffer any indignity linked to his or her ethnic and cultural identity. In the universal context, it can extend beyond the ovens at Auschwitz to the slaughter of 1 million Armenians in 1915, 4 million Kampucheans in 1975-79, and 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians last year.
It can also imply a future in which no one is denied access to political and economic resources or their dignity as human beings because they are black and South African or female and Iranian or Palestinian and Arab.
In times like these when our collective state is so heavily intertwined, ''never again'' requires us to identify and resist abuses as
they arrive - even if their perpetrators are our own people. Individuals in positions of leadership bear a particular responsibility to encourage this vigilance.
This is why Benjamin Meed, president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, was so disheartening in his recent statement to the Washington Post. He describes anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as the ''same thing ,'' thus depicting as racists the very same progressives who would have been the first to resist fascism in Europe four decades ago.
The protest against Zionism is irrelevant to the identity of the Jewish people. Its criticisms are leveled against a specific political program which, no matter what its original motivation, resulted in the dispossession of the Arab people of Palestine. Today the West Bank, where 60 percent of the land is now settled, and Al-anfar prison camp in south Lebanon, where 6,000 to 8,000 Arabs have been interned for months without POW status, are living testimony to the fate of the disinherited. Sympathy for the needs of the survivors of Hitler's Europe should not blind us to oppression in a different guise.
This challenge has been met by a number of Israelis themselves. Recent examples include a March 5 demonstration when 300 Israelis demanded the disarmament of West Bank settlers and the removal of their settlements.
Speaking out against Zionist aggression is no more an expression of racism against Jews than anti-Nazism accuses individual Germans or anti-Khomeinism accuses individual Iranians.
Critics of Zionism protest the fact that the West has imposed upon 3.5 million Palestinians the exclusive price of sins committed against the Jews in another place, at another time. They condemn the willful moral decision to provide tangible favors to a particular ethnic group - an Australian Jew is entitled to immediate Israeli citizenship and land on the West Bank at 5 percent of its value, whereas an Arab from Haifa cannot return to his birthplace. They criticize the subjugation of one people by another - subjugation so deep that Arabs are forbidden to wear the colors of the Palestinian flag. This constitutes precisely the type of oppression the Jewish people wish to avoid for themselves.
The German holocaust remains the experience of the Jews but it represents the heritage of all mankind. If its survivors say ''never again for us,'' they may succeed in the limited task of protecting one group of people. But if they say ''never again for anyone'' their triumph will belong to the world.