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Jewish World Review July 25, 2000 / 22 Tamuz, 5760

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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Watch Out, Israel! The Holocaust is Coming to Get You! --
IT'S VERY DIFFICULT for a Jew born after World War II into a non-Orthodox milieu to imagine what Judaism might be like had the Holocaust never happened, especially before the turn toward ritual now taking place even among American Reform Jews. But to do so is an academic exercise. For Israelis, on the other hand, it may soon become a matter of life and death to try to imagine Israel without the Holocaust. For an assault on Israel's legitimacy is about to be launched, not by Holocaust-deniers, but by Holocaust-asserters.

In what I call the "myth of the myth of the Holocaust," there are two groups of people. One are people of good will, like England's David Caesarani and Chicago's Peter Novick, who sincerely, if puzzlingly (because without evidence) believe that the world paid no attention to the Holocaust in the immediate post-war period. Ignoring the wealth of evidence to the contrary, these people are guilty of no more than taking a childish pleasure in claiming responsibility for a recovery of memory --- a memory that in fact was never lost.

However there is a more sinister variant of Holocaust-myth mythmakers. And these are people who believe that the (mythical) recovery of the memory of the Holocaust is part of a sinister geopolitical plot, orchestrated by Israel and World Jewry, to legitimize Israel's victory in the 1967 war, and the actions later forced upon her by the Arab belligerent's refusal to make peace with Israel.

Novick and Ceasarani are making the same absurd argument: that the world, and the Jewish community, paid no attention to the memory of the holocaust before Israel's 1967 victory. But they are merely silly and tendentious --- and they represent the past. Here is the future: Norman Finkelstein of NYU, as described in the London Evening Standard (a newspaper with a mild but distinctly anti-Zionist-but not anti-Semitic- views):

QUOTE: The Holocaust, [Finkelstein] argues, was barely mentioned in America, or anywhere outside the Jewish State, for the first two decades after the war, when memories were freshest. "I do not remember the Nazi Holocaust ever intruding on my childhood. The main reason for this was that no one outside my family seemed to care about what happened," he says.

QUOTE: It was only after the Six-Day War in 1967 that the Holocaust "industry" began to boom. "I sometimes think that the worst thing that ever happened to the Nazi Holocaust was that American Jewry discovered it."

QUOTE: The Holocaust was "reinvented" mainly to underpin US strategic interests. Israel became America's surrogate in the Middle-East and the Holocaust was used to justify the alliance and, later, Israel's policy towards its Arab neighbours. The Holocaust has proven to be an indispensable ideological weapon. Through its deployment, one of the world's most formidable powers, with a horrendous human rights record, has cast itself as a 'victim state' and the most influential 'ethnic group' in the US has likewise acquired victim status." END QUOTE

This is a new thing. Finkelstein will be citing the mistaken beliefs of those who feel that the Holocaust has been ignored or suppressed-in order outrageously to attack the legitimacy of the Jewish state! I think that this is the real danger about the Holocaust. Not from cranks like David Irving, who deny that such an obvious thing ever happened. But from scholars who argue two things: First, that Israel's existence was merely a reaction to the sufferings of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe - an understandable but fundamentally unfair consequence of someone else's sin. This is a line often taken by Arab intellectuals and governments.

Secondly, that the 'suppression' of the Holocaust was followed by its promotion --- at the moment when Israel was (by defending its right to exist) becoming a power just as evil as the other Western Imperialist states.

We can see both strains at play in the casual remark of a frightening but not unappealing or wicked man, the "Post-Zionist" Israeli political scientist Tom Segev. Segev, who wishes that Israel could just, like, become a modern, Western secular state. In that spirit he wrote approvingly earlier this year that "more Israelis than ever before live today for the sake of life itself, very much in the spirit of the American "now" culture." Here, just as oblivious to the dangers facing Israel, quoted by Herb Keinan in the Jerusalem Post, he takes issue with a Yoram Hazony, a talented critic of trendy Israeli "post-Zionism":

QUOTE Segev says that not only did Hazony fail to convince him that Israelis have ceased to believe in the justice of their cause, but that the romantic notion of Israelis believing in themselves fully in the "good old Ben-Gurion" days is not based in reality. "Then, the immigrants came here not because they wanted to, but rather as refugees - from the Holocaust or from Arab countries. Most of them did not necessarily feel the justice of the cause."

QUOTE Segev also takes issue with Hazony's argument that Israel is becoming progressively less Jewish. "This country is all the time becoming more and more Jewish," he argues. "Hundreds of thousands of Jewish students go to Auschwitz all the time. END QUOTE Both points Segev makes are important and symptomatic. He assumes automatically that the parents of modern Israelis were fleeing from something rather than seeking something, a fact which must call into question the justice of the Zionist cause. He also assumes, without thinking, that because thousands of students study the Holocaust (or at least go on a cool field trip to Auschwitz) that one need not worry about the degree of "Jewishness" of post-Zionist Israelis. These points are so obvious to him that he needn't justify them to his interviewer. But blindly to assume that either notion is true poses a danger to the security of the Jewish state.

Israel would have existed had there not been a Holocaust. It would have been populated by Zionists. And it would have been bitterly opposed. And a strong IDF, with defensible borders for Israel, will do more for the survival of Israel's Jews than hundreds of thousands of trips to Auschwitz.

Israel must watch out. Finkelstein's arguments about the exploitation of the Holocaust are far too convenient for far too many enemies of Israel's legitimacy to be ignored. And Finkelstein is no Holocaust-denier-indeed, many of the points he makes about the tastelessness and overexploitation of the Holocaust (he himself is a child of survivors) are sympathetic to me.

But his arguments are deployed as part of an outdated view of the West as the cat's-paw of a great Imperialist force --- a view which will reduce Israel to an unselfconfident and indefensible rump state. (Many argue that Barak's current "peace" policy is to bring this mythical state of affairs into sad actuality!) The ritual of welcome to Israel, in which Pope, or King, or President, or Basketball Player, is solemnly ushered through Vad Yashem, may become something that Zionists will come to regret. Let me say it clearly: despite the arguments of Finkelstein and Segev, it would have been far better for Israel and the Jewish people had the Holocaust never taken place.

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JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.


© 2000 by Sam Schulman