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Israel’s Use Of The Holocaust As A Political Weapon Is Called "A Desecration"

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September-October 1998

Young Israelis are sent to visit Nazi death camps in Europe and, argues Tom Segev, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, are taught a largely narrow and nationalistic lesson. He cites a booklet for teachers and guides written by Avraham Oded when he was the Ministry of Education’s director of youth, which includes the following passage: "As we stand beside the death furnaces in the extermination camps our hearts fill with resentment and tears come to our eyes...We swear before our millions of murdered brothers, `If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning.’ And it is as if we hear the souls crying to us. `In our deaths, we have commanded you to live. Preserve and defend the State of Israel as your most precious possession.’’  

In Segev’s view, this exercise "exuded isolationism, to the point of xenophobia, rather than openness and love of humanity. The attempt...to include the Holocaust’s universal lessons in the instruction had been almost completely abandoned."  

Writing in The Forward (May 22, 1998), Alan Nadler, the former director of research at the YIVO Institute for Jewish research and an associate professor of Jewish studies at Drew University, described his own attendance at the "March of the Living" tour of Nazi death camps.  

At a ceremony on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau he heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declare: "The Nazis failed...we won." Netanyahu then expounded on the "lessons" of Auschwitz to 7,000 participants.  

Dr. Nadler laments that, "To my regret I was among them. For Mr. Netanyahu, as for many Israelis, the Holocaust is as uncomplicated as it is tragic. Its lessons are the lessons of Zionist historiography. If only the Jews had listened to the warning of the Zionist leaders and evacuated Europe for Eretz-Israel, Auschwitz would not have happened...Most important, the rise of the State of Israel is history’s answer and consolation for the catastrophe that befell European Jewry."  

The Netanyahu speech "offended me," states Nadler. "The Holocaust is rarely confronted in Israel on its own bleak, inconsolable terms. Even the country’s official day of mourning for the Holocaust connects the tragedy with the glory of Jewish resistance and subsequent rebirth...The Jewish catastrophe is, in the Israeli national consciousness, deeply and inextricably linked with the subsequent rise of the Jewish state. The March of the Living is carefully orchestrated to inculcate its young participants with this perspective on the Holocaust...But the revival of the Jewish nation in its ancestral land...can never compensate for the loss of the largest, richest and most creative Jewish community in all of Jewish history."  

Nadler argues that, "It is, of course, natural to search for meaning, comfort and redemption in the wake of such tragedy. To confront the Shoah on its own terms is difficult and painful. But to cast it in an ultimately positive light...to insist that at the end of the day, the tragedy has been corrected by the subsequent rise of Israel, is ultimately to distort the disconsolate dimension and incurable nature of what was visited upon our people in this century. Worse yet to use the Shoah as a political weapon as Mr. Netanyahu so clearly did that day at Auschwitz is to desecrate the memory of its victims."  

Auschwitz, Nadler concludes, "is not a place for flag waving, cantorial concerts, political speeches or triumphant nationalism. It is not the place to celebrate Jewish life or to affirm Jewish nationalism or to lecture on the wisdom of the Zionist idea...The only appropriate activity at Auschwitz is mourning. More than any other place, Auschwitz demands of us humility."

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