Our World: The death of memory

Why Israel's ruling elites skipped the Wiesenthal funeral.

There is not a single political leader in Israel who will not uphold the country's identity as the Jewish state. But what does that mean? Does the fact that Israel is the Jewish state mean that it has a unique mission in the world that distinguishes it from every other state? The overwhelming majority of Israelis would say that the fact that Israel is the Jewish state means that Israel is a unique state and that it has a unique mission in the world. Religious Israelis believe that the establishment of the State of Israel was the beginning of the period of divine redemption and that the mission of the Jews in the redemptive age is to defend the State of Israel and to work to ensure that the People of Israel in the Land of Israel act as a light unto the nations of the world. Non-observant Israelis will generally say that the mission of Israel is to be a homeland for all the Jews. It is a physical refuge for those in need and at a minimum an anchor and guarantor of Jewish identity and continuity for Jews who live in free societies outside of Israel. In both cases, national memory from Abraham to the Exodus from Egypt, the establishment of the ancient Jewish commonwealths in the Land of Israel, the Roman exile, the expulsions from England and Spain, the religious persecutions in various exile communities in Europe and Asia, the messianic movement of Shabbtai Zvi in the 17th century, through the debated legacy of the Emancipation in Western and Central Europe, the Holocaust and the establishment of the modern State of Israel plays a central role in both group's basic understanding of Israel's role in the world today. There is a third group of Israelis, that finds its home on the far left, that includes leaders like Uri Avineri and Yossi Beilin for whom the Emancipation left a wholly positive legacy. For these people, Israel has no unique role in the world. Rather, it is simply an outpost of Western civilization in the Middle East. As a Western encroachment on Arab civilization, these deracinated Jewish ideologues believe that Israel's role is to ask for forgiveness from the Arabs for our "crime" of moving in on their territory. Since Israel has no particular role to fulfill in the world as the Jewish state, for these men and their followers, the national memory of the Jewish people is the primary hindrance, rather than the anchor of national progress and endeavor. Disturbingly, it would seem that this minority view has infected the political leadership of Israel. The public received a strong indication that this is the case on Friday when the relevant government leaders from President Moshe Katsav, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to Education Minister Limor Livnat did not bother to attend Simon Wiesenthal's funeral in Herzliya. To understand why their absence like the absence of every other government minister is so distressing, it is necessary to understand what Wiesenthal was, and more importantly, what he symbolized for the Jewish people in Israel and throughout the world. Simon Wiesenthal, who passed away at 96 last Tuesday at his home in Vienna was a Jew of the Diaspora. The fact that he did not make his home in Israel, however, did not lessen his importance to the Jewish people. Wiesenthal, a survivor of the Holocaust, devoted his life to actualizing memory. In hunting down more than 1,000 Nazi war criminals who personally perpetrated the Holocaust, Wiesenthal personified the Jewish view that our history is not simply remembered, but lived on a daily basis. He understood that if history is viewed with passivity, then memory will be lost, and a Jewish people that lacks its memory is a Jewish people without a future. Wiesenthal said, "For me, it is important to remember, but it is far more important to remember to act." This elegant statement is a simple elucidation of the basis for the continued existence of the Jewish people throughout history. We cannot survive without our memory, and our actions will be worthless if they are not grounded in our past. It was because Wiesenthal personified and became a symbol of the importance of ensuring that our memories direct our actions as Jews that he was such a prominent figure in the Jewish world. Given that none of our national leaders bothered to attend his funeral, the question naturally arises, how is it that they have forgotten to remember? The answer to the question has its roots in the deprecation of Israeli society heralded by the embrace of the PLO as a peace partner by Israel 12 years ago. To convince Israelis that the Arab world's rejection of Israel was the result of the absence of a Palestinian state in the Land of Israel, and that a terrorist organization whose sole reason for existing was the destruction of Israel could be a partner in achieving peace with Israel, the government, under Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres had to tell us to forget our past. Indeed, Peres has repeatedly berated his opponents over the past 12 years by arguing that "history is unimportant." Since Oslo, revisionist historians have rewritten school history textbooks. Among other things, they changed the history of the 1948 War of Independence to hide its central truth that Israel fended off the joint invasion of five Arab armies whose governments' declared goal was the physical eradication of the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. Instead, the new textbooks now follow the narrative of Israel's enemies, and cast the war as one of Israel's dispossession of the Arab refugees that fled the state. In the universities, Israel's so-called occupation of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip has become the focal point of academic research in the social sciences and humanities. On a national political level, our debate since 1993 has required the denial of truth almost as soon as it passes into history. To convince the public that peace can be achieved through Israeli concessions, politicians must deny the fact that aside from the Hashemites, all Arab leaders have consistently insisted that there is no room in the Middle East for a Jewish state. To sustain the myth that Yasser Arafat and his circle of Fatah founders, like Mahmoud Abbas, are "partners for peace," Israeli leaders must steadfastly deny the terrorist past and present of Fatah and its PLO partners. At root, we see that the decision to make "peace" the central aim of the Jewish state has negated the Jewish identity of the state. This is so not because peace is antithetical to Jewish identity but because the quest for this "peace" is rooted in lies and as such demands a rejection of national memory. The absence of any of Israel's national political leaders at Wiesenthal's funeral is a symptom of our willful amnesia. Wiesenthal said, "There is no freedom without justice." To this it should be added that freedom grounded in justice is the only basis for real peace and that a people without a memory cannot pursue justice, maintain its freedom or attain peace. Staring at the moral crisis in which Israel's leadership is presently subsumed from this vantage point, it becomes apparent that the present predicament can only be remedied when the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora internalize again the message that Wiesenthal symbolized in his life. We are a people with a mission in the world. Our mission as Jews and as the Jewish state is predicated on our preservation of our national memory and the actualization of that memory in our lives and in the lives of the generations that come after us.
Send us your comments Bob Villarosa, Kibbutz Yagur: The only label I have for the absence of our political leaders in the burial of Simon Wiesenthal is "busha v cherpa". But I bet you that if it was a sumptuous reception in New York or the UN, Shimon Peres would cross seven oceans to get there. If there was a podium and someone to hug, Limor Livnat would not miss it. But the burial of a Nazi hunter - who cares? History is pass . That's where our problem is: we refuse to know and learn from history that is why history repeats itself. To have a better and humane future we have to learn our lessons from history, and this means from the holocaust too, both from the victims and the victimizers. Israel must remain strong today and tomorrow, and this can only be if we are conscious of our yesterday. David Hoffman, Cape Town, South Africa: I believe that Caroline's contextualization needlessly perpetuates internal conflicts within our people that should have long ago gone into the proverbial dustbin of history. To suggest that Ariel Sharon is influenced by left wingers is absurd, but it is not absurd to recognize that it was revolutionaries and rebels against tradition who were mainly responsible for the success of Zionism, and that this comes with its own baggage of preferences and prejudices which kept the Zionist vanguard away from the Wiesenthal funeral. It is not so much that Caroline's anti-leftist diatribe misses the point, but that the Ben Gurion state with all of its flaws and successes is a leftist revolutionary project, and some nuanced understanding for the human rivalries at play in this drama is in order here. Caroline might think that a rightist consummation of democratic civilization is in the offing, and wish to build this on old red-baiting sentimentality, but it is hardly the most constructive course of action in pursuing Jewish "multeity in unity." Not everybody goes to everybody else's funeral. Sharon is an individual and like Caroline Glick is entitled to his prejudices too. Joseph Simard, Australia: I have often 'marveled' at how secular Jews, let alone those on the 'left', can actually disconnect from their heritage or 'memories'. The very fact that 'who you are' is tied to Abraham and the very scriptures themselves is just simply inescapable and demands of each individual Jew a response. In my mind and by sheer weight of history and logic, there is only one response that is possible. It's just overwhelming. But, it seems, I am wrong. I'd certainly like Caroline to explain more fully to 'outsiders' like me how a Jew can NOT be a Jew or how he is able to deny his lineage...his 'memory'. It seems the easiest thing in the world that Israel should be 'united' in mind and spirit in understanding who they are, their role in the world, and their 'end'. Moshe Morgenstern, Morristown, NJ USA: Caroline Glick does a great disservice to the Jewish people. True, her depth and eloquence, as a political and social commentator are unmatched on the Israeli landscape today. However, she can even better serve the Jews as a political activist in addition to commentator. Caroline Glick should run for Knesset in Israel, and then, when the time is right, Prime Minister. Alan, Phoenix, USA: Caroline is right on the money, but when hasn't she been? The so-called leaders of Israel, including the gasbag, his puppy Olmert, and the rest of his sycophants plus Peres and the Oslo Stooges should have been there in full attendance paying homage to Simon Wiesenthal. They weren't - because Sharon and company have forgotten they are Jews, period. Harsh? Well, you tell me what it should be when a Jew orders 50,000 men and women to force from their homes 10,000 Jews and the result is increasing Hamas and Fatah terror. "Jews" like Sharon, Olmert, Mofaz, Pines-Paz and Itzik have forgotten they are Jews - or that the memory of our experience must be preserved. Arie Beitman, Brooklyn, NY: Thank you to Caroline Glick for wonderfully annunciating sentiments that many Jews hopefully about the Israeli political establishment's shameful actions. Simon Wiesenthal was one of the greatest Jews who ever lived and if the leaders of the only Jewish state in the world cannot take the time to acknowledge his amazing contributions, than who can be relied on to carry his memory forward? Moses Kovacs, Brooklyn, New York: On the National Archives building in Washington D.C. inscribed is the phrase: "The past is Prologue." We are only held captive by our past if we do not learn from it and are able to see the danger points or blindly overlook them. Hitler once remarked "if the world does not remember the slaughter of the Armenians, how much more the Jews." To disengage from the reality of Wiesenthal is not only a tragedy but a path to destruction. Neil Livingston Maclean, Scotland, UK: Caroline Glick is always worth reading, this article is one more example of that. The death of memory IS death. How the leaders of any nation could display such a lack of respect to a man like Wiesenthal is beyond belief. That man was a true hero of his race and nation AND A VERY GREAT MAN in the eyes of many non-Jews. He will be remembered because we are not all brain dead. Sy Dill, Providence, RI: I would really like to know what message was served to the non-Jewish world by the non-attendance of Israeli officials. Are they saying that he was too Jewish and not too Israeli? Was Wiesenthal a controversial figure like Jonathan Pollard where the Israeli government wanted to bury any mention of Pollard and the way they mishandled his case? I'm very puzzled by their temerity of not wishing to come to the funeral of one of the great Jewish figures of the 20th century. Salamon Elefant, Montreal, Canada: Bravo, Ms. Glick! It was one of the most powerful arguments I have heard and read in recent memory! Thanks. Adam Ackerman, Methuen, USA: I very much agree with the premise that there exists an outlook amongst some of the Israeli society that sabras or new immigrants are more substantial than Diaspora Jews. Call it a sort of elitism between Jews if you wish. This should not have stood in the way of any politician from attending the funeral of Simon Wiesenthal. Thank you, Ms. Glick, for you continued service. Richard Shonfeld, New York City: In Israel today you have Israelis and Jews. The Israelis have no historic consciousness, no particular connection to the Land of Israel and could live in California much more comfortably than in the State of Israel. The Jews in Eretz Israel know exactly why they live in Israel. They have historic ties that bind them to the land. They know Eretz Israel is a holy land and they know the redemption is not far off. They have a spiritual bond with the land and will not live anywhere else. The Jews will grow and multiply in Eretz Israel. The Israelis will slowly diminish and eventually disappear. Deborah, London, GB: I am very glad this article was published. The government's attitude was shameful. Wiesenthal was and is important to all of us. We of the second generation know what we owe him. I wish I could have been present at his funeral. Ruth Gordon, USA: I am so ashamed of the government of Israel for the indifference shown such a great and honorable man. No excuse by the Israeli government will satisfy me that the lack of respect shown Simon Wiesenthal is not indicative of the infection that has taken over all the officials currently serving in government. I am sad for the people of Israel that their leadership is so morally bankrupt. Morris Kaufman, Winnipeg, Canada: It's a simple question of honor. These leaders don't hesitate to trot out history when they ask for money. They don't hesitate to encourage aliya by trying to scare Jews with anti-Semitism and putting Israel forward as a refuge. The basic problem is that Israeli leaders have no honor or even shame. They should apologize to the Jewish Diaspora and to the victims of the Nazis. For better or worse he was a symbol of the latter and they have spit on their graves. Jonathan Edelman, Chicago, IL, USA: I agree with Jeffrey Marlowe, of Leeds, England. Rehov Simon Weisenthal would be a far superior name to the incongruous "King George Street." Perhaps someone who lives in Jerusalem could take up that cause? Daniel Selea, Sweden: Caroline Glick's article is very significant. It filled me with pain to realize the truth: A lot of pain Israel went through especially since Oslo, is self-inflicted. If history and truth are sold for the sake of political recognition in the world, a world that by the way was and still is unfavorable towards Israel. How can one expect from the world to remember the Holocaust if the political elite of Israel itself calls for denial of the past? This is self-destructive because those who will encourage such behavior are the enemies themselves. They will applaud and talk sweet. Many Israelis think this is the way to peace and feel encouraged by the UN and Europe. As Kofi Annan said: It's Gaza first not Gaza last. He praised the Israeli exodus from Gaza. Well done Israel you are on the right path... to destroy yourself ...by your own hands... You should ask the Arabs for forgiveness because you are there! That's what the far left wants. Why don't you ask the Nazis for forgiveness that you existed in Europe? Is this what the leftist elite wants or not? Leo Horowitz, Highland Park, NJ: Shame on all those Israeli politicians who did not see it fitting to attend Simon Wiesenthal's funeral! It says something about them and your analysis was right on the mark! Jonathan Leci, Jerusalem, Israel: The government of Israel is a disgrace and an embarrassment. Excuses by government ministers like "we did not know," or "no comment" - by the president are totally unacceptable. Remember Robert Maxwell - how he had a state funeral in Israel and the leaders of the country attended? Is this an indication that only money talks with our so-called leaders? Shame on our so-called leaders from the president, down. I agree with the previous suggestion that it is about time King Gorge Street was renamed and Simon Wiesenthal's name would be most appropriate. Charles B. Hall, Bronx, NY, USA: Two corrections to the article: First, many religious Jews do not associate the State of Israel with the beginning of the redemption. Second, one prominent government official did attend Wiesenthal's funeral -- Rabbi Michael Melchior, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Rabbi Melchior is usually associated with the political left. Serge Kemelmager, United Kingdom: If men like Shimon Peres, who have fought for Israel's freedom for so long, the same as his contemporaries can say that "history is unimportant" it clearly shows that the major problem with our leaders lies in that they are out of touch with reality. History is extremely important, not only does it teaches us about the future, but it goes in circles, as it is said, a dog always returns to its vomit. An excellent article Caroline, you proved an excellent point. John Benjamin, Monsey, USA: It is certainly astounding to learn that no prominent representative of the current Israeli government - those listed by Ms. Glick, at least - perceived the obligation to pay final respects to a man with an incredible commitment to a thoroughly Jewish cause, one that was so inextricably tied to the foundation of Israel itself. When a man such as Simon Wiesenthal is buried in Israel, he deserves the attention of the country's leadership. This is significant neglect of someone who deserved much more. Wiesenthal was no different than Israeli-born men who have hunted down Arab terrorists - all have sought to affirm the worth of Jewish life. He was simply more prominent than most and as such was entitled to a more public reception and recognition. Unfortunately, it seems, the Israeli government was unmoved. Andy Moses, London, UK: It's a barometer of just how entrenched our Holocaust shame really is. Divorcing the past to pretend Israel in no longer the Jew amongst nations is the surest way back to the ovens. Simon Weisenthal, RIP. 'Draw the blinds on yesterday and it all so much scarier' -David Bowie 1981 Rachel BenDavid, Peduel, Israel: Caroline Glick makes a very good point about the lack of connection to our history shown by many in the "elite" here in Israel. It also explains some of the hatred and fear shown to those of us living in Judea and Samaria and to the religious Zionist public in general. We teach our children their history, so that they know why they are living in Israel and why they should be proud to do so. This is very disturbing to those whose political existence rests on the acceptance of the "Palestinian narrative". A growing group of people who confidently debunk the myths that formulate your outlook on life can be very threatening. Jeffrey Marlowe, Leeds, England: Caroline Glick has written a well observed and incisive article. What I find particularly refreshing is that someone of her generation understands the original "Zionist" concept and the raison d'etre of Israel. It will always remain a mystery why Simon Wiesenthal had to plough such a lonely furrow for so long. The Israeli establishment could have done more but chose not to, even in death. The blame lies not only with Israel but with the World Jewish Congress, The Jewish Agency, Bnei Brith, Wizo and all the other busybody organizations that "cherrypick" their causes. This is a genuine case of "We are all to blame". The Marvyn Hier organization's "Wiesenthal Center" in LA is a state of the art edifice with extremely well paid executives. This contrasts severely with Simon's life of near poverty and one cramped office. If we did not do him justice in life, let us honor him in death. Why not rename the incongruous King George Street in Jerusalem after him? Joe Levi, Los Angeles, USA: I am not so sure that Miss Glick's article had anything to do with the reasons behind the Israeli leadership not showing up at the funeral of this greatest of post WWII nazi hunters. It's well known that there are always security problems, most especially at such events. But my guess is that the Holocaust is still considered an embarrassment to Israel. After all, those who didn't show have been actively involved in physically fighting Israel's enemies for decades, unlike the vast majority of Jews who went silently and willingly into Hitler's gas chambers, or allowed themselves to be shot by the tens of thousands at ravines and pits throughout an entire continent. The figures of Jewish deaths throughout a 6-year period are so gigantic that the mind cannot really grasp what went on in Europe and Russia. Perhaps, just perhaps, the failure to show is actually simply an attempt to put history behind the Jewish people, a history which for centuries was so awful, especially since obsessing over it has in many ways restricted the present (and future) of many Jewish people. I am reminded of a conversation with the daughter of a famous European Jew sent to Auschwitz, but survived. She and her children will have nothing to do with Judaism, and want to forget the entire experience. I wonder how many Jews today have abandoned Judaism due to the same reasons? However, I agree with Miss Glick that memories are important (for any people). Certainly we in America remember our own difficult beginnings, the Civil War, and other significant events in history. However, they are not obsessions and do not guide our daily activities. All the Holocaust museums will not bring back one single Jew who was murdered in the Holocaust, nor do they really change people's minds about us, in my opinion, witness the entire Arab world. Jews in Israel can be Jews, and Israel can look upon itself as the light unto the world, without the pre-occupation with Auschwitz and Treblinka. M.S.B., Beit Shemesh, Israel: This is an important article. It is balanced, thoughtful, and true. I hope that articles like this are given more prominence in JPost. Harold Miller, London, UK: Exactly Caroline. As always you are spot on. However my feeling is that the majority of Jews feel like you. Despite the constant reminder of our vulnerability provided by our 5th Column, I am optimistic about Israel's future and do not agree with the doom and gloom prevalent within the Jewish community worldwide at the moment. Israel is strong, both financially and militarily. Most of our problems are caused by ourselves and our weaknesses, rather than our enemies' strengths. My personal, and perhaps quirky, view is that after the flood, Hashem promised not to use this method of destruction again, whether or not the world deserved it. In a similar vein, I believe after the Holocaust, Hashem promised that we would not lose Israel again. However, this is not a promise against attack poverty or the unwillingness to control our sovereign land. These things are in our hands. Hag Sameach!