Barack, Netanyahu, Iron Dome
An illustration of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu observing the Iron Dome intercepting a missile from Gaza. Photo by Amos Biderman
Text size

Benjamin Netanyahu is not a distinguished statesman, nor is he an outstanding decision maker. But the man twice elected prime minister of Israel, and likely to be elected a third time, knows a thing or two about public relations. It is hard to believe that last week, as he prepared the Auschwitz letters ahead of his address to the AIPAC conference, he did not anticipate the criticism of left wingers and columnists about cheapening the Holocaust and sowing panic over an Iranian nuclear bomb that does not yet exist. He anticipated it and derided it. From his perspective, rightly so; even after 67 years, the Holocaust works on Jews.

Associations with the Holocaust help ease digestion of the injustices of the occupation and increase support for Israel. Thoughts of Auschwitz blur the images of the bodies of Palestinian children killed in the Jewish air force's bombing of Gaza. It is scientific.

A 2010 article published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that surveyed a sampling of Jews aged 17-81 from three communities in Canada showed a clear connection between Holocaust exposure and awareness, and the intensity of Jews' fear of extinction. The researchers, Prof. Michael Wohl, Prof. Stephen Reysen and Prof. Nyla Branscombe, found that interviewees asked to write a composition on the Holocaust displayed greater angst and more collective solidarity than those who were not asked to write anything.

The researchers estimate that one of the effects of increased collective angst over extinction is the justification of violent acts against a rival group. They rely, among others, on a 2008 study by Wohl and Branscombe that found the Jewish subjects who were reminded of the Holocaust and of the Jewish people having been victims in the past tended to see the Palestinians as the root of the conflict more than other subjects did. In other words, the researchers concluded, in order to protect itself from extinction, the group legitimizes harming others.

It can be assumed that investing in the Holocaust assures Netanyahu political benefits in the Israeli political scene as well. In contrast, friends in Germany related that the calls for war uttered by Netanyahu from every Washington platform sparked anti-Semitic cries against the Jewish warmongers. For a generation that did not live through the Holocaust, the scent of increasingly more expensive oil is more powerful than the scent of the gas chambers.

Seven bad years

The Migron residents' major accomplishment is not the agreement with the government that will force them to eventually, perhaps, move to an adjacent hilltop. Their big success is transforming the outposts from a key diplomatic issue into a routine legal dispute over land ownership in the territories; just another boring chapter in the battle against the High Court of Justice and Peace Now.

Who remembers that Migron is the first outpost on a list of outposts that the government of Ariel Sharon promised the whole world it would evacuate, along with 23 other outposts established since that same government was formed in March 2001? Today marks seven years since the decision stating that the government "approves the principles and methods of operation underlying the recommendations included in Attorney Talia Sasson's report on the illegal outposts."

In a conversation that took place the following day with the UN secretary general at the time, Kofi Annan, who was visiting Israel, Sharon declared that "evacuating the illegal outposts is part of the commitment Israel made in the framework of the Road Map." Sharon explained that the preparations for the disengagement plan from Gaza were impeding the evacuation of the outposts, but promised "Israel will evacuate them as it promised to do in the past." He did not say when.

In order to buy time, Sharon used the well-known method of appointing a ministerial committee, headed by the then minister of justice, Tzipi Livni. Haim Ramon, who eventually replaced her, produced an alternative report to the Sasson report, and the committee died a peaceful death. Netanyahu, then the finance minister, voted with the overwhelming majority of ministers who "supported the report."

The only one who voted against the decision was Dalia Itzik, then a Labor Party member and later a Kadima member. She said "a thousand firemen would not be able to extinguish the damage this report will cause Israel," and suggested moving immediately to dismantle the outposts, instead of forming a committee that would dissolve the effort to address the serious findings.

She offered a prediction without knowing what she was predicting. The Kadima government headed by Ehud Olmert did not evacuate even a single outpost and ignored the attorney general's directive to cease transferring funds to illegal outposts.

Seven years after the report was "adopted," not only are the outposts still standing - according to a Peace Now count, in the seven years since the government decision, 155 permanent homes and 570 caravans were added to the illegal outposts - and that is not the last of it. Recently, Dror Etkes, who monitors activity in the settlements constantly, documented construction of eight new housing units in the Nofei Nehemiah outpost and earthworks to make way for a commercial center in the Givat Assaf outpost, which was built on private land and defined as "designated for evacuation." Etkes yesterday spotted more than 20 new homes being built in Eli. This is happening contrary to the state's promise to the High Court to freeze construction there.

(The response of the Ministry of Justice and the Civil Administration a week ago was: "The matter is being reviewed" ).

"These were certainly seven bad years," Sasson noted sadly yesterday. "The settlers and their people in the government beat us."

Perhaps, after another seven years of a government of settlers, it will turn out that these were, relatively speaking, the seven good years.