An anti-Semitism Junkie's Warning to Jews and Israel

Sociologist Shmuel Trigano warns of an anti-Semitic tsunami and thinks that the confused world believes the Holocaust's real victims are the Palestinians.

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Graffiti of Anne Frank in a keffiyeh in Amsterdam.
Graffiti of Anne Frank in a keffiyeh in Amsterdam. Credit: Bjørn Giesenbauer

“Les Frontières d’Auschwitz: Les Ravages du devoir de memoire” (The Borders of Auschwitz: The Ravages of the Duty of Memory”), by Shmuel Trigano, Hebrew edition translated from the French by Avner Lahav; Resling Publishing House, 225 pages, 74 shekels

“Les Frontières d’Auschwitz” sounds the alarm about a terrible danger that is threatening the Jewish people and which is approaching at record speed. We are situated “on the edge of an abyss,” shouts the author, the French-Jewish sociologist Shmuel Trigano, in the 2005 book that was recently translated into Hebrew. The Jewish people are facing nothing less than an anti-Semitic tsunami that threatens to wipe the State of Israel off the map. We are having a difficult time seeing it because it is perfectly concealed: The new anti-Semitism has enlisted morality and humanity in order to camouflage its true nature. What is more, the whole enterprise of preserving the memory of the Holocaust is its semantic nuclear power plant.

How does it work? It’s simple: It is not the Jews who are the subject of the “obligation to remember,” but rather the human tragedy they experienced. The people who were supposed to be the object of compassion have been removed from memory; in their place comes the obligation to recall crimes against humanity and barbarism – two abstract categories. One might have thought that the obligation to remember is associated first and foremost with the Jews, but no: It applies only to the human being in the Jew.

Trigano contends that this is a rehash of the same process of abstraction that led to their destruction in the first place: The Jews were murdered because emancipation failed, because European modernism would not accept them as members of a people but only as individuals, and disavowed their status as a collective – except in their deaths. The Jewish people, as a collective, has been excluded yet again, this time by being stripped of its identification with the memory of the Holocaust.

Trigano wrote the book to show how compassion for Jews murdered in the Shoah has come at the expense of recognition of a living Jewish people. The geographic basis for the new anti-Semitism remains as it was: Europe, the United Nations and human rights groups are its operational branches, and the Jewish left – its useful idiots.

As a Jew, it pained me to read Trigano. He is dying of fear that once again, the attempt will be made to annihilate the Jews. Since Jewish history has already proven that reality trumps imagination, even the imagination of an out-and-out paranoid, I could not dismiss his fears out of hand, or be dragged into a factual argument (such as over the idea that criticism of the occupation is not evidence of Europe’s anti-Semitism). It is a lost battle, from the outset.

That is because the author’s fears go beyond the facts. Through the prism of facts, a reader of my age who remembers the 1990s would have put down the book at page 79, where Trigano speaks about the “Oslo War” (without the quotation marks), when discussing the 1993 Oslo Accords, between Israel and the PLO. This is what he writes in a footnote: “There are those who describe as a ‘peace process’ a war that continued for three-and-a-half years.” What can we say to him? After all, he knows he is lying.

On page 79, Trigano places the reader in a dilemma. As sharp as his criticism is of the Oslo Accords, it can’t be denied that the agreement was an attempt at reconciliation between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. But he does just that. Why, then, did I keep on reading? Because I understood that he has not chosen to distort history; in his eyes, it is history itself that is distorted.

Trigano is an anti-Semitism junkie. His book was written under the influence of that drug. Anti-Semitism works on the consciousness that way: It “exposes” the user to a broad, subterranean dimension of events. On page 79, he writes “Oslo War,” but what he is essentially offering his readers is an intravenous dose of anti-Semitism. If the reader is lured in and keeps reading, he essentially consents to be taken on a road trip of hallucination, in which he will experience the familiar, conventional history of the State of Israel as illusion. Anyone who refrains from using drugs, or from extreme experiences, will refuse to take the drug, and put the book aside.

I couldn’t refuse Trigano. After all, he opens with the statement that he wrote the book “out of a heartrending sensation” that he is standing “on the edge of the abyss,” and that he hopes that the translation will cause Israelis to prepare for the existential threat that is at their doorstep. Not only from empathy, but also from the abundant sympathy he succeeded in awakening in me toward him, with his sweeping prose. I wanted to see the world through his eyes. I took the drug. The following are my impressions.

The obligation to remember differentiates the Jews from the Jewish people. The dead Jewish body becomes something mystical, its suffering becomes the object of compassion, in the same way as a distinction is made between the actual (and Jewish) body of Jesus and his mystical body, which will henceforth embody the “universal” Christian. Like the relationship of Jesus to Christianity, the dead and suffering body of Jewish Holocaust victims becomes an object of adoration and gratitude that ensures the rehabilitation and redemption of the mystical body of Europe, which is resurrected through the mechanism of compassion toward the Holocaust’s victims. By bifurcating the obligation to remember, and differentiating the mystical, sacrificial body of the Jews from their corporeal and political one, it becomes possible to condemn the country, condemn Zionism and condemn Israelis – without being anti-Semitic.

Trigano wants us to try imagining the upheaval that would have taken place within the Christian world if Jesus had come down from the cross and gone on with his life; indeed, that is more or less what happened with the Jews. Woe to the victim if he dares to declare himself an autonomous subject, because then he will be seen as the hangman, writes Trigano. And that is exactly what is happening with the State of Israel.

A painting by Marc Chagall. Credit: Timothy Wat

Body politic

Because memory of the Holocaust in its current form denies the Jewish collective, revulsion from “the barbarism” remains abstract, and restlessly seeks out history’s next victim to direction its compassion at.

Gradually it fixes on the Palestinians. Why them, of all people? Since the body of the Jewish people, that is to say the Jews’ presence in history and politics, is perpetually suspected of deviating from its sacrificial status, students of the doctrine of memory are enticed into looking for another body that can embody that status even better, by virtue of being linked to the body of Israel. This is where the Palestinians enter the frame. The excessive love that the world shows for Palestinians is merely an expression of latent hatred for the Jews, according to Trigano. If it were not Israel that was in conflict with them, no one in the world would have ever heard about the Palestinians.

In order for the ideological transference to take place, it is necessary for the Palestinians to take on a sacrificial role, and for the Palestinian catastrophe to be identified with the Holocaust. To that end, he writes, they crafted the myth of the Nakba (relating to Israel’s War of Independence when 700,000 Arabs fled their homes), and speak of it in Holocaust-like terms: Nazi concentration camps are supplanted by Palestinian refugee camps and the State of Israel plays the part of the Third Reich. Memory of the Holocaust has been co-opted by the Palestinians.

Palestine’s transformation into a natural entity (that is, a country that always existed) occurs in parallel with the denial of Israel’s natural state. The International Court of Justice in the Hague calculates the number of olive trees that have been uprooted during the construction of the separation barrier in the territories, the precise square footage of every plot of land that has been confiscated, the types of field crops liable to wilt due to the lack of irrigation or inability of access, the number of hours shepherds waste as they wait at checkpoints, the hours of delays and years of setbacks the local population suffers, etcetera – because the label of “indigenous people” demands it. Not a word is heard about the one thousand Israelis killed or the 20,000 attacks in three-and-a-half years, which were the pretext for the construction of the barrier, Trigano complains. The Europeans mourn for trees, but not for Jews.

The switch between Jews and Palestinians as sacrificial victim, he suggests, could not have happened without some sort of consent from the Jews. Without it, the switch would have been reduced to tasteless ideological manipulation. Which means that leftists constitute the seal of approval of the new anti-Semitism. In the eyes of the post-Zionist Jewish left, Israel’s national identity embodies a loathsome and recessive collective Jewish identity. Every official action Israel takes, which might be acceptable if taken by other governments worldwide, is automatically seen by those on the left as violent and despicable.

Trigano sees in Jewish leftists a return to the profile of “believers in the Mosaic faith” dating to the emancipation era, which made it possible to circumvent use of the term “Jew.” This is disturbing to the author; as he sees it, this is in itself damning evidence of anti-Semitism’s return.

The next few years, in Trigano’s opinion, will be a decisive test of the Jewish people’s ability to withstand the attack on its existence. In European embassies, he reports, there is a prevalent belief that the State of Israel will vanish within 20 years, or that Israelis will be “returned” to their parents’ original “homeland.” In addition, the people is liable to disintegrate from within. That would be the last stage of the worldwide collapse of “Auschwitz.”

Here it is perhaps worth mentioning that when Trigano’s book was published in French in 2005, the countdown had already begun. What could put a stop to Europe’s attempt to restore the Jewish people to its old role of scapegoat, he asks in his conclusion. Perhaps the activation of a new type of character in the Jewish people, one that accepts its sovereignty and also its being a subject within history.

Exactly, I thought, as I finished the book. But does Trigano understand the meaning of what he’s writing?

Anyone who’s taken drugs or strong medication knows that they can be accompanied by a moment when it is truly not clear what reality is: Is it what we grasp while under the influence, or is it what we grasp without them? So perhaps it is impossible to rule out the possibility that Trigano is correct and that anyone who does not “shoot up” the belief that only anti-Semitism exists is living an illusion. If Trigano is right, then the Jewish left in general and the Israeli left in particular are mentally ill. Such things have happened before.

With all that, we have to bear in mind that anyone who falls victim to anti-Semitism – and it matters not which of its two sides, that of the Nazi or that of his Jewish victim – is led practically against his will to “Auschwitz.” That is what causes a person like Ronen Shoval, for example – the rhetoric of whose far-right Im Tirtzu movement is present throughout the book (which is why I was not at all surprised that Shoval recommended the book on Facebook) – to say that the State of Israel is dangerous because, having so many potential Jewish targets in one place, it constitutes the largest concentration camp in history.

In a deep sense, I can only say to Trigano that I am less afraid of anti-Semitism than he is (and more afraid than most native-born Israelis are). Perhaps it’s a matter of character, but character in the biographical sense: Maybe the difference between him and me is the fact that I live in the State of Israel, secure in the intrinsic congruence of the physical protection and the political protection the state provides me. This double protection gives me breathing space that Trigano clearly does not have: I can behold the character of the State of Israel and not only the fact that it exists. The protection Israel provides me enables me to scrutinize its behavior not only as an act of survival “within” Auschwitz, in other words within a whole other moral planet.

Trigano sees the symptoms but is blind to the disease: the absolute failure of the Jewish collective to chart its own political boundaries. In the absence of an Israeli sovereignty that is bound within real borders, Israel will never be able to answer the question of what it is.

Trigano does not offer any positive answer to the question of Jewish collectivism. He speaks of sovereignty, but without insisting that Israel take even partial responsibility for the dead end into which it has been thrown, or for its refusal to recognize the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, which it has held under occupation (and not only in terms of its land) for 50 years. How easy it would be to blame the modern European utopia for the failure to recognize the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, while at the same time ignoring the State of Israel’s failure to define itself. Is it any wonder that Israel’s mindset remains trapped within the frontiers of Auschwitz, for it was there that an answer was given for them to the question of what it means to be a Jewish people.

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