What, exactly, should we remember about the Holocaust?

April 20, 2012
Sarah Benton

Yom Ha Shoah, Ahmadinejad and why we need to break the Holocaust narrative

Robert Cohen, Micah’s Paradigm Shift

After publishing Letter to Anne Frank in January, I hadn’t planned to say anymore about the Holocaust this year. But I feel compelled to return to the subject now as we reach the Jewish day of Holocaust remembrance, Yom Ha’ Shoah, on April 19th.

So why come back to the Holocaust so soon?

In a word: Iran

Listening in March to Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC (America’s mighty pro-Israel lobby) and then reading the commentators who have supported his position since (try Melanie Phillips from the UK’s Daily Mail), has demonstrated to me, once again, just how easily the Holocaust is recruited into the propaganda campaign to justify Israeli actions, in this case, airstrikes on Iran.

For Netanyahu, Iran is the new Nazi Germany, Ahmadinejad the new Hitler, and his nuclear programme is an underground Auschwitz in the making. This analogy displays not only a wilfully ignorant presentation of Middle East politics but a poor grasp of European history too. No matter though. For what it does do, is allow Netanyahu to accuse the world (and in particular Barack Obama) of abandoning the Jews to a terrible fate once again. No doubt this week will provide more such opportunities.

Netanyahu builds up his stockpile of radioactive moral blackmail hoping to ensure America will back Israeli airstrikes. And if you still feel uncomfortable about Ahmadinejad’s calls to ‘wipe Israel off the map’ you may like to read this piece from the Washington Post’s ‘Fact Checker’ which puts the whole thing into a less hysterical perspective.  [ Did Ahmadinejad really say Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’?]  All of this beating of war drums, as I’ve said before, keeps the Palestinians well off the international radar while maintaining the fiction of Israel facing an existential threat that trumps all other moral issues.

For a rounded assessment of the human and environmental impact of dropping bunker bombs (containing depleted uranium) on Iran’s nuclear facilities, take a look at Marsha B. Cohen’s article at Lobelog. Thanks to Jerry Haber at the Magnes Zionist for drawing my attention to this piece. [See Goldberg Slipping on Grass]

History should certainly inform our understanding of contemporary events but Netanyahu’s (and others) misuse of the memory of the Holocaust for political advantage has become so acceptable that most people don’t even realise it’s going on.

So what has happened to our understanding of the Holocaust and how can we counter what has become such a narrow and partial understanding of its meaning in Jewish and world history?

Catastrophe and Redemption

The truth is, the rhetoric of Israeli politics has become so entangled in the Nazi genocide that it’s become all but impossible to untie the knots of ethical misappropriation. We have become locked in a narrative of catastrophe and redemption that is now being used to justify immoral actions.

Rather than a profound lesson on the values and behaviour of Western civilisation in the mid 20th century, the Holocaust has become an exclusively Jewish piece of property, an emblem of unique Jewish suffering, our symbol of eternal victimhood. The State of Israel is presented as our justified salvation and the necessary state apparatus to prevent a second Holocaust occurring.

This paradigm of Holocaust understanding is closely guarded by the Jewish establishment and any attempt to break through it is quickly repelled with accusations of anti-Semitism or even Holocaust denial.

After the Holocaust, many Jews in the diaspora see Israel as an essential personal and collective ‘insurance policy’. It needs to exist in case ‘things turn bad again’. Israel is the Jewish life-raft. But Netanyahu’s Iranian rhetoric turns this idea on its head. The life-raft itself is now presented as the target of a new Holocaust. If you accept this thinking then, for a Jew, the most dangerous place on earth to live is now Tel Aviv. [See also What has Israel given Jews? Not refuge, not culture]

If this is the case, then one of the great dreams of Zionism – to normalise the condition of the Jews – has become a nightmare.


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