In the jam-packed ballroom where the Zionist Organization of America held its annual gala dinner this week, the Holocaust was breaking news, a developing story, tomorrow’s banner headlines, an ongoing catastrophe that is somehow happening simultaneously, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Although there was no mention of the Holocaust in the program handed out to participants, it was the underlying theme, the common thread, the text and the subtext that connected the speakers to each other and to their attentive listeners. Small wonder that people in the audience were handing out black and yellow pins resembling the “Jude” patches worn by Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, and on them the inscription, repeatedly uttered as a sacred vow from the podium, of “never again”.
It wasn’t just an analytical comparison between Europe in the 1930’s and the state of the world 80 years later that characterized the evening, nor the repeated comparisons – not completely groundless, one has to admit – between Adolf Hitler and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There was palpable peril, a clear and present danger, an inevitability, almost, of a Jewish genocide in the making as “millions of Jews are on the precipice of losing their lives” as US Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, once a leading candidate to be the Republican presidential candidate, preferred to put it.
Glenn Beck, the main guest of honor and the clear-cut local hero, held the crowd in enraptured silence for over an hour as he travelled seamlessly between then and now, between the Weimar Republic and present-day America, between the Nazi regime and the Caliphate that “will destroy Israel and the Western way of life”, between World War II and World War III, between the Dutch boy whose warnings of impending doom were ignored even as his grandfather was pushed on the train heading East and those today, like Beck himself, who understands that “the time is now”, that there are only 18 months left to change the world and that “when the window closes - you’re gone,” as he told his Jewish listeners.
It's tempting, of course, to brush off the ZOA as a marginal and extreme group within the American Jewish establishment, as some maintain, but that was not the impression left on me by the enthusiastic standing-room only crowd at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in midtown Manhattan, by the presence of serious Jewish money on the podium and off, and by the attendance of several members of Congress including Bachmann and the influential chairperson of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who thanked the organization profusely for enlisting many of her Congressional colleagues to sponsor her Iran sanctions bill.
And while the ZOA may have been relegated to the sidelines of the Jewish mainstream in the heady days of the Oslo Accords almost twenty years ago - and found itself nearly ostracized following the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin – the organization is now representative of the world view of ever-increasing numbers of conservative and right-wing Jews and gentiles in America and is arguably much more in step with the prevailing winds inside Israel’s corridors of power than most of the traditionally prominent American Jewish organizations. ZOA president Morton Klein and the other speakers on Tuesday night could have been speaking for the majority of Israel’s ruling coalition when they told their audience that the whole world is against us, it’s good versus evil with no middle ground, the 1930’s are back with a vengeance and compromise and nuance are weaknesses that we cannot afford.
Thus, if the Holocaust is not only a catastrophe that happened 70 years ago, if it is not enough to view it as a defining event with valuable historical lessons for Jews everywhere, if it is actually an ongoing process, as speaker after speaker told the audience in New York, if “delegitimization” is but a precursor to annihilation and if the Nazis are soon returning, albeit in a different guise - then the ramifications become crystal clear, and they do not stop at simply drumming up international support to stop Iran and it's genocidal leader.
Because then it’s easier to explain why U.S. President Barack Obama is cast as a latter day Neville Chamberlain who throws Israel under the bus just as Chamberlain sold Czechoslovakia down the drain: and naturally there can be no trust in international institutions, which failed to stop Hitler and condemned Jews to death by refusing them refuge; and it’s only natural to detest Europeans, perfidious now as they were then; and it’s ludicrous to support a Palestinian state or to give Israeli Arabs equal rights, just as one would instantly reject the “legitimate rights” of the Volksdeutsche Germans in Sudeten and incarcerate suspicious German citizens, even naturalized ones, until the war is over.
And if a Holocaust is upon us, and the Arabs and Muslims are its obvious perpetrators – then what is one to think of human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and others of their ilk? Would they have demanded due process for concentration camp guards or humane treatment for Japanese interrogators? And how is one to regard those Jews and Israelis who sympathize with the Palestinians and who lobby for their rights, other than with the contempt they deserve? As Deborah Lipstadt points out in her illuminating book on the Eichmann trial, “the law under which Eichmann had been tried, the 1950 Nazis and Their Collaborators Law, was instituted in response to grassroots pressure from survivors, not to punish Nazis, but to punish Jews who had collaborated with the Nazis by serving as kapos and the like.” And as Beck told his audience “it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate between peace activists and the terrorists and fascists they claim to stand against” and drew a parallel, received warmly by his listeners, between Occupy Wall Streets and Nazi SA Brownshirts, no less.
From there, finally, it is but a small step to viewing the accepted foundations of democracy as a luxury that Israel can no longer afford when faced with the returning menace of the (Islamo)Fascist hordes. Britain, after all, instituted draconian censorship laws during World War Two, carefully monitored personal letters of its citizens and enlisted the media as an instrument of propaganda because in wartime, as Churchill famously said, “the truth needs to be guarded by a bodyguard of lies.” And would Churchill have contemplated allowing Axis countries, even if they were not actively involved in the war, to fund NGOs whose sole aim was to weaken British resolve? Of course not.
Thus, the omnipresence of the Holocaust – and Holocaust II – gives simple, unequivocal answers to difficult questions for the ever increasing number of people who are so inclined, provides instant justification for any anti-democratic measure or negative stereotype of Arabs and Muslims and postures those who do not share the same absolute, black and white opinion as waverers and appeasers and self-hating traitors. It is a worldview that decimates the middle ground – just as “swinish capitalism”, as Israelis call it, destroys the middle class – and it is gaining adherents day by day, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, encouraged, no doubt, by self-serving politicians but also buttressed, in many cases, by facts on the ground.
The kind of Zionism that I was raised on - which frowned on self-victimization, rejected the inevitability of global anti-Semitism, believed in Israel’s ability to craft its own destiny and viewed self-criticism and doubt as a source of comfort and strength – is on the defensive and in decline. It was thus a disheartening experience for me, I admit, to look at all the true believers surrounding me at the ZOA dinner and to think that 70 years after the Nazis destroyed them, the Jews are rebuilding their old ghetto, as if, indeed, nothing had changed.
Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev
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