Terra Incognita: Victims of unoriginality

In making Jews feel guilty for having been persecuted and punishing them for mentioning it, one is erasing the history itself.

March 20, 2012 23:21
IDF reservists

IDF reservists 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

‘The perception of Israeli-Jewish victimhood, which was always present in the Jewish narrative and Jewish thought, became even stronger after the Holocaust and serves to give Israel political legitimacy.”

These were the words that Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar used in a recent oped praising a book – The Israeli Victim-Perpetrator Dichotomy – by Emek Yezreel College’s Ruth Amir.

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“Israel sees itself as a victim [which] justifies its aggression and injustice. With the help of guilt-neutralizing mechanisms, Israelis... absolve themselves of responsibility. That is why they aren’t interested in trying to correct injustices and reconcile with their neighbor,” wrote Eldar.

It is a highly appealing argument. In it, the nefarious Jews who have always constructed this fake narrative of “victimhood” exploit it in order to justify their misdeeds.

Too bad this argument is at least 50 years too late.

In 1961 the famed British historian Arnold Toynbee compared the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of the Jews. In a debate with Israeli diplomat Ya’acov Herzog in Montreal he went further and claimed that the reason the Jews were so abusive was their need to “work off” what was done to them in the Holocaust. Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg wrote in 2008 in his book The Holocaust Is Over, “We have pulled the Shoah out of its historical context and turned it into a plea and a generator for every deed. All is compared to the Shoah, dwarfed by the Shoah, and therefore all is allowed – be it fences, signs, curfews, food and water deprivation.” Burg argued that Israel was exploiting the Holocaust to excuse its abuse of the Palestinians.

In a March 2012 blog post on the Economist website titled “Auschwitz Complex” (since changed to “Masters of their fate”), a writer argued that “Iran makes an appealing enemy for Israelis because, unlike the Palestinians, it can be fitted into a familiar ideological trope from the Jewish national playbook: the eliminationist anti-Semite.”

He went on to speak of a historical Jewish “narrative of repression” and a “delusional... paranoid outlook.”

The reality is that many soap-box intellectuals like to discuss how the Jews or Israelis “exploit” the Holocaust as part of their “narrative” of “victimhood.” It is unoriginal and implies that Jews play the victim and cry wolf all the time.

The main problem with this analysis is that it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. If Israel is using its narrative of victimhood to justify the occupation and abuse of the Palestinians, it isn’t doing a very good job, because no one is being manipulated. When is the last time anyone wrote anywhere that because of the Holocaust, the checkpoints make sense?

Many people argue that the security barrier is acceptable to defend lives, that because of terrorism a peace agreement cannot be found or that because of history the Jews have a right to Hebron. But if you Google “occupation” and “holocaust,” you will mostly find only the argument that Israelis manipulate the Holocaust to justify their actions; you won’t find anyone actually saying the Holocaust justifies the actions. That means the “Holocaust as anesthesia” is a straw-man argument. But why build a straw man and devote whole books to it?

The idea of the “victim-aggressor” has a long history in Western polemics. In recent years, it was used to castigate the Tutsis of Rwanda and the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia. The Serbs were said to have a victim complex that they used to justify their ethnic cleansing of the Bosnians. Without exploring whether or not the Serbs were in fact guilty of ethnic-cleansing, it is worth understanding how the West belittled the Serbs’ historic misfortune in order to justify hating them.

The Serbs were in fact victims; after 500 years of brutal Ottoman-Turkish occupation more than 10 percent of them were murdered by the Croatian fascists and their Nazi collaborators in World War II (the Nazis collaborated with the Croats in this case, not the other way around). They were also victims in Kosovo, where Serbian churches were destroyed and the impoverished Serb peasants were driven from their homes after the Nato bombing campaign.

The Rwandan Tutsi were actual victims. A great portion of their community was hacked to death in the 1994 genocide by Hutu genocidaires. Yet when the Tutsis dared to drive some Hutu from their homes in the aftermath, they were accused of war crimes and said to harbor a victim complex that they used to cover their actions.

The victim complex theory unjustifiably places special burdens on those who were victims, while the continuous perpetrator is allowed to walk free. The Croats, Hutus and Germans, nations that apparently do not have a victimhood narrative, aren’t said to commit crimes and use their fake victim status to cover them; they just committed historical crimes and walked away. Why is it that the bully is just a bully, but the victim-turned-“aggressor” is specially criticized?

For instance, would the Israeli occupation be better if it weren’t Israelis doing it but, say, Turks? It seems in most cases this actually is true. When Jordan slaughtered Palestinians, other groups abused Hutus, or the Croats (rather than Serbs) committed atrocities against the Bosnians, few raised eyebrows. So is a victim worth more if he can be shown to be a victim of a victim? Are children who gun down their classmates more interesting if they were first bullied than if they were stars of the football team?

The last issue is that creating a “victim-perpetrator” theory about Israel allows one to negate actual victimhood and castigate Israelis particularly. They want to make it acceptable to hate Jews and encourage the mass murder of Israelis because the very fact of any Jew saying he is a victim makes him part of the paradigm of a “victim narrative” fulfilling the prophecy. Anything he does to defend himself becomes part of the “victim-aggressor” model.

When the Holocaust is a “narrative,” it means it is part myth, so that one cannot even bemoan the death of the six million without be accused of manipulating others. In making Jews feel guilty for having been persecuted and punishing them for mentioning it, one is erasing the history itself. As an example of how dangerous it is, one might consider the three murdered Jewish children in Toulouse and that in this “victimhood” model, they are not even given the dignity of victims, because by being outraged about anti-Semitism, they become simply part of the “victim complex.”

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