In October 2006, Haaretz's weekend magazine asked a number of cultural figures to describe how they would feel if Tel Aviv were to be wiped off the map. This was in response to one of the Israeli anxiety attacks over the non-existent Iranian atom bomb and the declarations made by the Iranian president in that vein. I was surprised that serious people were prepared at all to relate to such a weird and nihilistic question but I was even more surprised that the Haaretz editorial staff had initiated the project.
I could not contain my feelings and I called the publisher of the newspaper to ask how he had permitted "pornographic" projects of that kind. Even before I managed to express my anger, Amos Schocken cut me short: "You are correct," he declared. "It was a serious editorial mistake. We won't repeat it."
That was indeed a miscalculation because a central newspaper must not, from the moral and normative points of view, grant legitimacy to this kind of illusory apocalyptic discourse. And if this is forbidden for a newspaper, how much more so is it forbidden for national leaders. A sane society will not permit its leaders to talk about "the generations that will not come after us." The leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union, who lived through threats of mutual annihilation for most of the years of the Cold War, did not allow fears of that kind to spill over into the public political discourse. Even during the days of the missile crisis in Cuba, perhaps the most dangerous point of time in the history of the Cold War, their respective leaders, John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev refrained from apocalyptical descriptions. (Later the American secretary of defense at the time, Robert McNamara, would relate that at the height of the crisis he did indeed feel one day that the end of the world was likely to come. )
In Israel, the vow "Never again" has come to mean the creation of a national insurance policy against the possibility of another Holocaust. In the name of this vow, the Jewish state set up its nuclear project which it sees as combining something lofty with strength and a national taboo. In the name of this vow, the entire Western world kept quiet - sometimes it looked away and other times, particularly at the start of the road, it helped Israel to build its apocalyptic power. In a personal letter written in 1966 by the father of Israel's nuclear program, Prof. Ernst David Bergmann, to Meir Ya'ari, the leader of the Mapam party, he explicitly stated that Israel had embarked on a nuclear path "so that we would never again be led like sheep to the slaughter". According to the American journalist Seymour Hersh, in his book, "The Samson Option", the vow "Never again" was physically engraved, in Hebrew letters, on the first product at Dimona. The fulfillment of the vow signifies that the Jewish state will never again remain helpless. Dimona is Israel's response to the anxieties about the Holocaust, and to a large extent, the response of David Ben-Gurion to his own fears.
Keeping the vow, however, also entails the demand to recognize the uniqueness of the Holocaust and not to take its name in vain - that is to say to see it as a unique event that can never be repeated. If the State of Israel is indeed the most powerful entity in the region, something that Defense Minister Ehud Barak repeatedly declares, it has no need for manipulations of the fears about another Holocaust. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has twice desecrated the sanctity of this vow. The first time was my means of the deceptive and distorted analogy he made between [the site of the Iranian centrifuges at] Natanz and Auschwitz, during his speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - mere demagoguery which bears no real historic insight.
The second time was in the numerous interviews Netanyahu gave to the Israeli media after he returned home from his visit to the United States, in which he stated that if we put off the decision over Iran it could be too late, because after yet another Holocaust no one will remain to even express remorse for the mistake.
Netanyahu is not the first Israeli prime minister to use the Holocaust for political reasons and thus to show contempt for it. Menachem Begin did it aplenty before him, and even Ben-Gurion, who abhorred public remarks about the Holocaust, did not refrain from mentioning the possibility of another Holocaust in private letters that he sent to President Kennedy and other world leaders. But the difference between Ben-Gurion and Begin, and Netanyahu, is tremendous.
First, the two of them, as Jewish leaders during the period of the Holocaust, underwent in the most authentic manner the experience of total lack of salvation. For both of them, the fears of a Holocaust were genuine fears. Netanyahu has never in his life as a leader experienced the feeling of total Jewish helplessness. \
Second, Ben-Gurion, and to a not insignificant extent also Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, used the Holocaust in order to vow: "Never again." All of them, each according to his own style, referred to that Holocaust in order to justify the sacred mission of Dimona. Just as the Holocaust is unique, so is Dimona unique.
Netanyahu received Dimona ready made. Contrary to Israel's former leaders, Netanyahu's political use of the Holocaust is a tactic; it is demagoguery and it is a bluff. By scaring people about a future Holocaust, he breaks the vow and detracts from the unique quality of the Holocaust that was.
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