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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

We reap what we sowed

In an editorial in Monday's editions, JPost rips President Obama for the connection he has drawn between Israel's 'right to exist' and the Holocaust.
BARACK OBAMA has been terribly misinformed if he thinks Israel's legitimacy hinges on the Shoah. Of course, had the Jews achieved a national homeland in Palestine before the outbreak of WWII - as Britain promised in the 1917 Balfour Declaration and as the League of Nations affirmed in 1920 - the doors to this country would not have been barred to Jewish refugees seeking to escape from the Nazi killing machine. History would have turned out very differently indeed.

What the Holocaust proved is that the world is too dangerous a place for Jews to be stateless and defenseless. But we Zionists were making that argument long before Hitler came to power.

Granted, modern political Zionism developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But the president needs to better appreciate that Israel's legitimacy is not dependent on the consequences of the war waged against the Jews between 1933 and 1945. It is, first and foremost, rooted in the historic connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.

The Zionist movement rejected Uganda as a safe haven in 1903, the need to save Jews from violent anti-Semitism notwithstanding, because Uganda did not belong to the Jews.

However one chooses to understand Jewish civilization - as sacred history, or through the modern lenses of secular history and archeology - the ancient bond between the Jews and their land is indisputable.
The Post is correct, of course. But I sense that Obama has been influenced on this point by his chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel, who has spent a lot of time in Israel. Unless one has spent several years here - and in particular unless one has spent several Holocaust Memorial Days here - it is difficult to understand the way in which the Zionist movement and the State of Israel have made the Holocaust a part of the State. By making the Holocaust into an occasion for Zionist (and not just for Jewish or personal) mourning, the State of Israel has inadvertently brought about the conclusion that it needs the Holocaust to justify its existence. Please consider the following:

1. The day that was chosen for Holocaust Memorial Day was the Hebrew date in 1953 that matched the Gregorian date on which the Warsaw Ghetto fell. This date effectively excluded the ultra-Orthodox community (whose members constituted the bulk of the Holocaust victims) because it falls in the month of Nissan - a month in which we do not mourn publicly. The Chief Rabbinate - which at the time was in religious Zionist hands - urged making Holocaust Memorial Day on the 10th day of the month of Tevet - a day that is already observed as a fast day in the Jewish calendar. They lost that battle.

2. The official title of Holocaust Memorial Day in Hebrew is Yom HaShoa v'HaGvura - Holocaust and Heroism Day. Until recent years, most of the day's official events related to resistance in the ghetto - as if there were something shameful about people who were slaughtered without resisting. It was almost as if the Holocaust victims were expected to perform as an army. This was also offensive to many in the religious community, who believe that the Holocaust was God's will for reasons that we cannot and will not understand. More about that here.

3. The State has taken upon itself to track down and punish Nazi murderers - most notably Adolf Eichman and, in recent years, John Demjanjuk (who was actually acquitted here). The Nazi and Nazi Collaborators Punishment Law (1950) gives the State the power to punish those who committed crimes against the Jewish people (and was probably the first instance of a State claiming extra-territorial jurisdiction). Similarly, the government negotiated with the West German government to obtain reparations for the Jewish people as a whole. Ben Gurion regarded the State of Israel as the successor to the Holocaust victims. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but the State's co-opting of the Holocaust narrative as part of its historical narrative (as opposed to it being more generally part of the narrative of the Jewish people), could lead someone like Obama to the wrong conclusion.

4. The State of Israel doesn't observe the anniversaries of any pogroms perpetrated by Tsarist Russia (for example). The only 'Memorial Days' here are for the Holocaust and for fallen soldiers. In fact, in recent years, there has been controversy in Israel over the closing of places of entertainment on Tisha b'Av, the date that the Holy Temples were both destroyed, and the only other day of the year on which places of entertainment are (or were in Tel Aviv) required to be closed.

Now obviously, there's a lot more to it than that, and just as obviously the Arab countries have an interest in portraying Israel's existence as being justified solely by the Holocaust so that they can claim that they are being forced to pay for Europe's iniquities. But the extent to which the State of Israel has made the Holocaust into a Zionist event to the exclusion of every other instance of Jewish suffering may unfortunately help the Arab narrative gain wider acceptance than it would otherwise.

And why did Israel's founders use the Holocaust as a justification for founding the State of Israel? Because they were trying to be like all the other nations. Many of them were trying to flee from God and from what they called the 'religion of the diaspora,' and so they could not bring themselves to use the real justification for there being a state of Israel, and for it to be specifically located on the land of Israel - the Jewish homeland - and not in Uganda or anyplace else. The Jewish people have owned the land of Israel for more than 3000 years. Wherever and whenever they went anywhere else they prayed to return to the land of Israel. The land of Israel was given to us by God. That is the only 'justification' for the reason why Jews should live in the land of Israel.

We don't need the Holocaust to 'justify' our being here. We need only three words:

God said so.


At 1:40 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

That's not entirely correct. Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, was asked by the British a decade earlier why the Jews deserved a homeland, and he said something to the effect G-d said so. The basic problem is atheist and secularist Jews kept G-d out of the Declaration Of Independence as they kept G-d out of Israel's national anthem. One can be forgiven for thinking then that Israel has no roots in Eretz Israel other than what commemorated in the Holocaust. That's a gross error that is in need of correction and Jews should not be ashamed to say G-d promised them the land. In the end, it is the only valid argument the Arabs will respect and outsiders would have to acknowledge. Jews won't get very far by invoking the recent past as a reason to be in Israel.

At 6:56 AM, Blogger biorabbi said...

It has bothered me for as long as I remember, there are those who use the holocaust to make politics. The disgusting denial game versus comparing Israel to the Nazis: it sickens me. There is a video floating out there on Eli Weisel on Youtube where he is asks has the world learned anything. He responds, "The world has learned nothing." In reading a recent book on the Armenian Holocaust, there is a strong historical linkage in the context of open denial.


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