Friday, December 12, 2008

Invoking the Holocaust to Defend the Occupation

By John Mearsheimer - December 9, 2008, 5:29PM

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Let's hope that [Avraham Burg's] The Holocaust Is Over is widely read and discussed, because it makes arguments that need to be heard and considered by Americans of all persuasions, but especially by those who feel a deep attachment to Israel. The fact that Burg wrote this book also matters greatly. He cannot be easily dismissed as a self-hating Jew or a crank, as he comes from a prominent Israeli family and has been deeply involved in mainstream Israeli politics for much of his adult life. Moreover, he clearly loves Israel.

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For Burg, Israel's troubles are self-inflicted. Specifically, he maintains that the principal cause of Israel's problems is the legacy of the Holocaust, which has become omnipresent in Israeli life. "Not a day passes," he writes, "without a mention of the Shoah in the only newspaper I read, Ha'aretz." Indeed, Israeli children are taught in school that "we are all Shoah survivors." The result is that Israelis (and most American Jews for that matter) cannot think straight about the world around them. They think that everyone is out to get them, and that the Palestinians are hardly any different than the Nazis. Given this despairing perspective, Israelis believe that almost any means is justified to counter their enemies. The implication of Burg's argument is that if there was less emphasis on the Holocaust, Israelis would change their thinking about "others" in fundamental ways and this would allow them to reach a settlement with the Palestinians and lead a more peaceful and decent life.

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In particular, he shows that Israeli society is plagued with a host of serious problems that are threatening to tear it apart and that the Holocaust is a "tool at the service of the Jewish people," which they use to protect Israel from criticism and to keep those centrifugal forces at bay …. He quotes the Israeli writer, Boaz Evron, to make this point: the Shoah "is our main asset nowadays. This is the only thing by which we try to unify the Jews. This is the only way to scare Israelis into not emigrating. This is the only thing by which they try to silence the gentiles." Of course, there is another instrument that Israel and its defenders frequently employ, which is the charge of anti-Semitism.

To take my instrumentalist argument a step further, Burg provides evidence that the main reason that Israelis and their supporters constantly invoke the Holocaust is because of the Occupation, and the horrible things that Israel has done and continues to do to the Palestinians. The Shoah is the weapon that Israelis and their supporters in the Diaspora use to fend off criticism and to allow Israel to continue committing crimes against the Palestinians. Burg writes: "All is compared to the Shoah, dwarfed by the Shoah, and therefore all is allowed -- be it fences, sieges, crowns, curfews, food and water deprivation, or unexplained killings. All is permitted because we have been through the Shoah and you will not tell us how to behave."

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I have tried to find Deborah Lipstadt’s reflections on Burg’s The Holocaust is Over but no luck. It must be a horror for her. Any links would be appreciated.

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