Good People, Bad Jews

Even 65 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world's suffering does not end

Even before the real-life model for Don Draper of "Mad Men" arrived on the scene, the Americans were already displaying their genius as copywriters. After all, you have to be thinking out of the box in order to come up with the name "Little Boy" - the essence of pure innocence - for the atom bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, killing an estimated 140,000 people within four months and injuring tens of thousands more. No one would have imagined that "Fat Man," an inherently grotesque figure, was anything other than a character invented to promote sales of donuts, hot dogs or any of the other delicacies that have turned America into an obese, fast-food nation, rather than the pet name for the bomb that was dropped three days later on Nagasaki, killing more than 74,000 people.

Two weeks ago, while sitting at my neighborhood cafe, I noticed that the person at the next table was reading a thin book that seemed to be in Japanese. "It really is Japanese," the obviously Israeli man confirmed. "It's Greek to me," I joked, but only to myself, and asked him about the book. It turned out that in two days he would be flying to Japan for six months in order to complete his doctoral dissertation, for a university in New York. It was a comparative study of attitudes toward, and the commemoration of, the Holocaust and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Israel and Japan, respectively. A subject that is both genuinely interesting and truly important.

In my school we didn't learn about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, apart from the quarter of one lesson on the conflict between the United States and Japan in World War II. I've heard that these days it's even less because the curriculum for world history focuses on Jewish communities. There were no famous yeshivas in Hiroshima and no one ever heard of the Rebbe of Nagasaki.

The very little I knew about Hiroshima is from "The Flowers of Hiroshima," a novel by the Swedish-born writer Edita Morris. In the book, Sam Willoughby, an American, comes to Hiroshima and stays in the home of Yuka-san, who was injured in the blast and lost her entire family with the exception of her sister. Through their stories some of the horrors of the event are related: the birth defects that are exposed in the bath house, the trauma, the guilt and the shame experienced by the survivors, and also a little of Japanese culture.

Why is it that precisely in a country like ours, which was established by Holocaust survivors, the atrocity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has vanished from public consciousness and from the education system? It was a flagrant war crime, a human trauma that changed history and the rules of the international game irreversibly, an event that should have sparked years of ethical debate about the immorality and the absolute evil inherent in indiscriminate extermination and about the use of weapons whose damage persists for generations.

One answer might be that in first years after the Holocaust we were too busy licking the wounds inflicted on us. Also, the Japanese were allied with the Germans and thus perceived as bad, while the Americans were perceived as good, and no one had time or energy to pity enemies. But that rationale is hardly persuasive in regard to the many years that followed. The explanation lies elsewhere - in the fact that there were few Jewish casualties at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, rendering irrelevant the question of whether Little Boy and Fat Man were good or bad for the Jews.

But I'm afraid that underlying these two excuses is another explanation, which is the real reason that we also ignore the Armenian genocide while citing the political exigencies of our relations with Turkey - namely, our desperate need to always remain history's greatest victims. Let it be clear to all that nothing can compare with the wrong that was done to us and which makes us eternally entitled to moral mitigations and greater privileges. Indeed, this feeling only increases as the Holocaust becomes ever more remote in time; it's never been more popular as the supreme reason to justify all the wrongs we perpetrate on those who were not privileged to be descendants of the persecuted minority to which the whole world owes a debt.

The real reason for our total indifference to anything that takes place outside our community lies in the wonderful ability of the Jewish people to overcome the tragedies of others so easily. That's why it's been easy for most of us to ignore for 43 years the distress of those who live under occupation. News about horrific natural disasters, or even wars that degenerate into massacres and genocide are generally of no interest to us, other than in regard to the local Jewish - that is, Israeli - question. The first thing we do is check to see if there are any Israelis among the victims. There were few Israeli casualties in the World Trade Center attacks and in Hurricane Katrina, and Israelis are not being slaughtered in their tens of thousands in the wars raging in Africa or in the incursions by great powers into sovereign states.

How did it come about that those who were for hundreds and thousands of years persecuted relentlessly can now agree to the ongoing persecution being waged here by the interior minister and the Immigration Police against people who are actually refugees or labor migrants, a persecution that will soon reach its peak with the disgraceful expulsion of 400 children who were born and raised here? The real answer is that, on the contrary, it is precisely because we are Jews - and from this point of view, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog and Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat are almost as good Jews as the best Jew of them all (that is, the most wicked ), Interior Minister Eli Yishai; whereas Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar turns out to be a bad Jew and a good person. All we can do is pray to the god of the secular people to give us at long last in our government and in our land bad Jews and good people.