July 13th, 2024


A Day of Remembrance Soon Forgotten

Rabbi Yonason Goldson

By Rabbi Yonason Goldson

Published May 11, 2016

A Day of Remembrance Soon Forgotten

Misguided moral equivalence makes the specter of holocaust too imaginable

So what was the point of last weekís Holocaust Memorial Day?

Once upon a time, the commemoration served as a warning against the consequences of unbridled nationalism. But in this generation, the memory of Nazi atrocities has mutated into a political football tossed about to score points for one ideological cause or against another.

IDF Major General Yair Golan made the most egregious fumble when he suggested last Wednesday that events in pre-war Germany are repeating themselves in modern-day Israel. Like all public figures who talk first and think later, the deputy chief of staff was soon scurrying to revise his comments, pleading that he hadnít meant what he said and hadnít said what he meant.

More likely, General Golan meant exactly what he said. And itís likely that his heart was in the right place, even if his brain was out to lunch.


We donít need Holocaust Day to remind us that Adolf Hitler was evil. Rather, we need to remember that Hitler came to power by appealing to what is worst in the human heart, by exploiting social strife for personal gain, and by implementing an insidious campaign of propaganda and legislation that incrementally eroded the value system of an entire nation. In the end, otherwise self-respecting people were willing to stand by and look the other way while unthinkable acts of horror were committed in their name.

The reality of the Holocaust should summon each and every one of us to look inside himself for those dark corners of tolerance for evil and injustice, for those moral gray areas from which monstrous crimes against our fellow human beings creep forth. We should be pitiless in asking ourselves how we might be seduced by the siren song of politicians and demigods who promise us utopian visions of a perfect society or who twist right into wrong and vice into virtue.

This is the message that General Golan was probably trying to make. In doing so, however, he toppled over the the brink and into the abyss of moral relativism himself.

Has Israel been entirely guiltless in its dealings with Palestinian Arabs? Of course not. Human beings are by nature imperfect, especially in the fog of war, and especially in a conflict that has dragged on for decades, one which Israelis never wanted, would love to end, and for which they are perversely condemned as aggressors despite their heroic efforts to balance self-preservation with restraint.

Israel has gone to unprecedented lengths to protect Palestinian civilians, dropping leaflets announcing attacks on terrorist targets, subjecting its soldiers to booby-traps and street fighting to limit civilian casualties, supplying electricity to Palestinian communities with the knowledge that terrorists exploit their largess in a senseless war against a neighbor who wants to let them live in peace. And despite all this, the world community seeks to punish Israel with economic sanctions and continues to supply money to Palestinian leaders who use those millions not to help their own people but to build attack tunnels into Israel.

To compare Israeli society to Nazism is itself reminiscent of the propaganda of Joseph Goebbels, not to mention todayís media. And Yair Golan should know it.


The problem is that most of the world doesnít see it, or doesnít care. If it werenít enough that Israel continues to show extraordinary self-possession against irrational hatred and violence, and if it werenít enough that Israeli Arabs enjoy more freedom and prosperity than Arabs in any neighboring country, then it should certainly be enough that Israelis hold themselves to a standard of conduct and justice totally absent in Palestinian society, as it was in Nazi Germany.

General Golan alluded to the IDF sergeant accused of murdering a Palestinian attacker who was already neutralized and had been lying on the ground incapacitated for 20 minutes. If those allegations prove to be true, then the soldier will be found guilty and dealt with in the harshest possible terms, and rightly so. As a people, Israelis refuse to indulge the kind of moral double-standard that leads to holocaust, no matter how much justification they might be able to claim.

Holocaust Memorial Day offers Israelis -- and people all around the world -- an opportunity to reflect upon the well known words of George Santayana, that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. We might better contemplate the words of Friedrich Hegel, who observed that the greatest lesson of history is that no one learns from it.

All we can do is repeat, over and over: Never again; never forget.

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Rabbi Yonason Goldson, a talmudic scholar and former hitchhiker, circumnavigator, and newspaper columnist, lives with his wife in St. Louis, Missouri, where he teaches, writes, and lectures. His new book Proverbial Beauty: Secrets for Success and Happiness from the Wisdom of the Ages is available on Amazon.