Holocaust As Propaganda Weapon

Neil Berry

Pakistan Observer
Dec 6 2008

IS another Jewish Holocaust any longer conceivable? The former speaker
of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, for one, finds it hard to take seriously
claims that Jews and the Jewish state are menaced still by the specter
of genocide. After all, he points out, Israel is not only itself a
heavily militarized state but enjoys the protection of the United
States, the most militarized country in the world and one where Jews
wield prodigious power and influence.

Burg in his remarkable new book, "The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Arise
from Its Ashes", argues that Israelis and Jewish people in general have
made a fetish of the Holocaust, with lamentable consequences. Published
last year in Israel, the book maintains that preoccupation with the
catastrophe known to Jews as the "Shoah" has prevented Israel from
achieving maturity, ensuring that the national psyche remains stuck
in an ugly phase of European history. Burg says that the Holocaust
has been cynically employed as a propaganda weapon, becoming even
mightier in its way than the Israeli Defense Force. Certainly, Gentile
guilt about the Holocaust has been a significant factor in enabling
Israel to get away with murder. Like the charge of anti-Semitism,
it has been ruthlessly exploited to silence Israel’s critics. But for
the Holocaust’s emotive effect, the brutality Israel has meted out to
the Palestinians would long ago have established it as a moral pariah.

True, the Holocaust is inseparable from the story of Israel. Not
only did it precipitate mass Jewish immigration into Palestine,
it was also a truly formative influence on the Israeli sense of
nationhood. Mandatory remembrance of the Holocaust did much to forge
its collective identity, uniting even Jews with no connection with
the Nazi death camps.

Israelis have been outraged by Burg’s portrayal of Israel as
militarized state with more than a little in common with the Germany
of yore. Burg believes that just as Germans demonized Jews as the
enemy who must be defeated at all costs, so Israel has transformed
Arabs into personifications of absolute evil, an enduring threat to
the very existence of the Jewish people.

Of German descent, Burg is well equipped to grasp the contradictions
of the Israeli psyche. Israel has reconciled itself to Germany yet
finds itself incapable of forgiving the Arabs. The Jewish anger and
desire for revenge inspired by Germans have, Burg suggests, become
displaced onto the Palestinians, whom Israel savagely oppresses.

Central to Burg’s book is his discussion of the trial of Adolph
Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal who was arrested in Argentina in 1960
and subsequently tried in Jerusalem as one of the chief architects of
the "Final Solution". Burg regards the trial as a tragically missed
opportunity. Israel could have set an example as a state implacably
opposed to all forms of tyranny and oppression and affirmed its
commitment to the principle of "never again" on behalf not just of
Jewish victims but of victims everywhere, irrespective of their race,
creed or colour. Instead, in Burg’s view, Israel made far too much
of Eichmann’s deeds as crimes against the Jewish people rather than
crimes against humanity.

The truth is that when it comes to acknowledging the sufferings of
others, Israel has an ignominious record. Witness the Jewish state’s
persistent support of Turkey in denying the historical reality of the
Armenian Holocaust. Witness, too, its failure to take a stand over
the genocide that was visited on the Tutsi of Rwanda in 1994. It is
an especial source of dismay to Burg that when, in the late 1990s,
Serbia sought to purge Kosovo of Albanian Muslims, evoking worldwide
horror, Israel took the side of the Serbs. He believes that the
horrors Jews have known makes Israel’s moral dereliction over such
iniquities inexcusable.

Burg maintains that the commemorative trips young Israelis are obliged
to make to the Nazi death camps serve only to exacerbate the Israeli
fixation with the unique status of Jewish suffering. What he would like
to see is an educational program whereby groups of Israeli students,
including Jews and Arabs, visit Spain and learn about the days when
Islam and Judaism enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship.

Avraham Burg has great faith in the creative power of argument. His
book has already provoked much controversy and now that it has
been translated is certain to provoke more. At a time when crass,
catchpenny titles pour from the presses, it is that unusual thing:
A new book that matters.


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