As Far as Israelis Are Concerned, the Jews Had Two Holocausts

Even the Holocaust is able to generate indifference and estrangement once it is removed from our narrative framework of victimhood, heroism and revival.

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AuschwitzCredit: REUTERS

In his article, Likud puts the Holocaust in Perspective” (January 30) about the festivities held by the party last weekend, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day of all days, Ron Cahlili said he found something refreshing in the Likud activists’ attitude toward the Holocaust. He wrote that their “secular partying” in Eilat was a welcome change that signaled a new Israeliness that doesn’t automatically “link the Arabs to the Nazis, or critics of Israel to anti-Semitism, and says that we are attacked only because we are Jews, and not by any means because we are occupying, oppressing and plundering another people.”

In fact, the last thing that can be said about the Likud and its leaders is that they don’t make precisely that kind of cynical use of the Holocaust to promote their political and diplomatic agenda. Whether it’s the manipulative use of the subject during speeches on international platforms, or with the visits to Israel by foreign heads of state that invariable begin or end with a trip to Yad Vashem – it is the right that makes the most hay out of the memory of the Holocaust, perpetually invoking it as an excuse for its actions, and as fuel for the aggression that it advocates.

The organizers of the “Likudiyada” celebration aren’t offering a new way of looking at the Holocaust, and certainly not a secular, refreshingly sane perspective, as Cahlili maintains. They wouldn’t for a moment even think of partying on the Holocaust Remembrance Day that is observed in Israel, and thus desecrate that solemn day. They allowed themselves to live it up in Eilat on International Holocaust Remembrance Day because in their eyes that one refers to a totally different Holocaust.

As they and many others in Israel see it, there can be two Holocausts: The one marked by the world on January 27, while life in Israel goes on as usual and the occasion is almost completely ignored, and the “real” Holocaust, the one whose memory is observed as one of the two bleakest dates on the secular calendar, along with Memorial Day. The fact that the national and international Holocaust remembrance days refer to the same historical events makes no difference.

Not only is Israel not interested in being part of the global remembrance of the Holocaust, in a way that requires a universal and critical human reckoning, it permits itself to regard the Holocaust through an egocentric and domineering prism, one through which the suffering of the other, any other (even with the distance of time), is not relevant to us. Just as every year, when the national Holocaust Remembrance Day comes around again, Israelis suddenly remember the Holocaust survivors who live here and struggle terribly just to get by, when their sad fate is served up to us as a heartrending human tale that perfectly suits the national mood of solemnity, while these same people are ignored all the rest of the year.

The fact that the party in power had no problem holding its big celebration on the day when the international community is commemorating the Holocaust just underscores the extent to which, in the current national atmosphere, which is dictated from above, moral confusion and emotional indifference predominate. Even the Holocaust is able to generate indifference and estrangement once it is removed from our narrative framework of victimhood, heroism and revival. The same estrangement we now feel toward any show of human weakness or suffering that we cannot claim exclusively as our own.

Holocaust remembrance is only present when it serves our needs – be they emotional or political – or as a tool for self-definition. And just as we exempt ourselves from all responsibility for the mini-Holocaust happening right next door in Syria, this estrangement can get to the point where it enables us to even lose compassion for ourselves.