Victimhood Forever Day

The political uses of people's sentiments on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

holocaust 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
holocaust 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you want to understand Israeli thinking, the quickest, surest way is to glance through Yediot Aharonot, “the nation’s newspaper.” Knowing how to get a rise out of the public, how to push Israelis’ buttons, is what made Yediot as hugely popular, influential and rich as it is. The paper’s Monday edition for Holocaust Remembrance Day showed in typically lurid fashion that what Israelis want to be told is that they are eternal victims. People here are so eager for words and images that tell them they’re no different from the Jews of 1930s Europe, that they’re still one step from Auschwitz, that their backs are to the wall.
Across page one was a photo from the Holocaust of a Jew on his knees, his hands raised, surrounded by Nazi soldiers who are about to kill him. Mossad chief Meir Dagan is looking at the photo. Against a black background, next to a yellow Star of David, the bold, red headline reads, “Look...,” then explains that the Jew in the photo was Dagan’s grandfather, and that the photo is on the wall of Dagan’s office. “I see this picture every day,” Dagan says, “and I vow that such a thing will not happen again.”
Reassuring, isn’t it? The head of the Mossad keeps this image before his eyes when he’s sitting down to work. I’m sure it helps simplify his decisions.
The headline on page two reads: “6 million tears.” Subtle, restrained; no clumsy attempts to manipulate people’s emotions for Israel’s tabloid press. The story is about the ceremony at Yad Vashem, and the lead-in reads: “From Auschwitz to Teheran: Iranian threat stands at center of speeches by president, prime minister.” Hint, hint. Auschwitz to Teheran, Hitler to Ahmadinejad, the Warsaw Ghetto to Tel Aviv. Any questions? Right. Fire when ready.
My favorite headline is on page four: “They hate us even more.” This is a story about the the global anti-Semitism survey – published every year on Holocaust Remembrance Day – that showed anti-Semitic incidents to have doubled last year. And why, according to the survey, did they hate us twice as much in 2009 as they did in 2008? Operation Cast Lead.
Victims, you see? We’re just eternal victims.
ACTUALLY, I agree with the idea of setting aside an annual day to remember the Holocaust and its victims and survivors. I, too, am interested in and affected by stories from that era, and I don’t want it to be forgotten. It’s when I see the political uses the Holocaust is put to on that day – not only on that day, of course, but especially on that day – that I think I’m living in an insane asylum.
From listening to the speeches and the media, you wouldn’t know that Jews are no longer running from anti-Semitism anywhere on earth – not even in Iran, whose 25,000 Jews could all leave if they wanted to. You wouldn’t know that the only problem Israel has with Germany anymore is that it attracts more Russian Jewish immigrants than we do. You wouldn’t know that the greatest threat facing Diaspora Jews is that the gentiles are going to marry them to death.
Neither would you know that Israel is stronger than all its enemies put together and multiplied many times over. You wouldn’t know that what Iran wants, Israel already has – in large quantities, with lots more on the way. And you wouldn’t know that Israel, far from being on its knees, stands straight up and proud while keeping the Palestinians, if not on their knees, then certainly stooped over.
No, no, we’re the world’s most persecuted people, the most endangered people, the greatest victim on earth – still! Nothing’s changed. Look at that picture of that poor old Jew – that’s us. Then, now, forever.
And if you try to tell people to look around, to see that a few things have in fact changed in the last 65 years, that the balance of power between us and our enemies has been turned on its head, that maybe the Iranians aren’t in such a rush to commit mass suicide, that maybe their hatred of Israel, while important to them, isn’t that important – then people glare at you. They say you’re naïve; you’re like the Jews of Europe in the ’30s – they didn’t take Hitler seriously either. You want us to go like lambs to the slaughter like they did, well, never again!
Israelis get mad when you tell them we don’t have to keep going to war,that we’re strong enough to deter our enemies, that Iran, Hizbullah,Hamas and the rest are scared of us and well they should be, that ourmilitary superiority and stockpile of unmentionables can pretty muchkeep us safe from enemy attack – unless of course we insist onoccupying our enemies’ land or blockading their borders or attackingthem first.
People don’t want to hear anything about possibilities for peace, oreven just de facto peace, just nonbelligerency – no, all they want tohear is ein breira, we have no choice, it’s eitherfight or die.
Why do we still insist on seeing ourselves as the Jews of 1930s Europewhen we’re so obviously the opposite? Two reasons, I think: 1) Becausewhen your back is to the wall, you have no doubts, no indecision, nostress – it really is fight or die, and 2) When your back is to thewall, you don’t have to restrain yourself, and nobody can tell you to.
This is the political meaning of Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s a dayfor rousing the nation with the liberating power of victimhood.