Israel Should Have Learned the Holocaust's Lessons of Nationalism

Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Day, which is being marked today, is above all a day of remembrance. Today is the day on which the Holocaust is to be recalled, and on which the memory of those who perished and the heritage of those who managed to survive is invoked. It is also a day on which to remember those survivors who are still among us and to consider their well-being.

All of this, however, is not enough: Israelis must also devote themselves to studying the lessons of the Holocaust. In addition to the lessons that have been learned well here - such as the need for the existence of a strong and thriving sovereign state, and the duty to combat anti-Semitism - one must not on any account neglect the moral lesson of the Holocaust.

One lesson must be that such horrors can arise within a purportedly enlightened society, even one with a democratic government, and that it is perilous to overlook worrying signs - such as incipient indications of nationalism or damages caused by racism - that presage a descent down a slippery slope with all the attendant consequences.

From this standpoint, there is reason for concern in Israel. From one Holocaust Remembrance Day to the next, our society has deteriorated, as seen in the appearance of worrying indications of hatred of foreigners and the oppression of the "other," along with palpable cracks in the resilience of democratic governance here. This must be of concern to each Israeli every day of the year, but on Holocaust Remembrance Day, it takes on special significance.

When racism and nationalism rear their heads, they must be addressed vigorously before they result in calamity. Israeli society, many of whose founders and builders were themselves survivors of anti-Semitic persecution and of the horrors of the extermination camps and the ghettos, must undertake to serve as a moral example in the struggle against any ugly manifestations of hatred or persecution that may be motivated by national, ethnic or racial considerations.

It is extremely unfortunate that such a commitment is not always present. In recent years more and more voices in our society have been heard, for instance, calling on the public not to rent apartments to Arabs or foreign workers, or to keep victims of war from finding proper asylum in the country, thus limiting civil liberties and human rights. One must fight such views, which are also being expressed in our parliament. This is the moral lesson of the Holocaust, to be applied not only with respect to the memory of the past or as a catch-all response by the country's leaders to deflect criticism of Israel from abroad. It must also serve as a warning for the future.