Opinion

The Holocaust as a Pretext for Annexation

zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell
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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/AFP
zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell

The joint operation by Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu to grant American legitimacy to the annexation of Palestinian territories was leaked just as the memorial ceremony of the World Holocaust Forum was taking place at Yad Vashem. It’s hard to conceive of a more cynical combination: In Jerusalem, anti-Semitism was used to silence the expected worldwide opposition to the annexation plan.

And thus the anti-Semitism that brought catastrophe upon the Jewish people was turned into a cynical and shameless political tool by Israel. Jerusalem turned anti-Semitism into the ultimate weapon against any call for the removal of even a few Jews from the West Bank and against the idea of dividing the land fairly. To the nationalists, any policy that doesn’t completely mesh with the Israeli interest as they see it is tantamount to anti-Semitism.

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The talent of Netanyahu and his minions for using the Holocaust and anti-Semitism as a currency requires no further proof, and Europe’s cowardice and inability to stand up to the Israeli right’s blackmail is also notorious. Likud’s Israel has branded denial of the occupation and the apartheid in the territories as anti-Zionist and then equated this anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Europe is, justifiably, racked with guilt feelings toward the Jews; this account will never be closed, but it still doesn’t justify Europe’s forgiving attitude toward Jewish-Israeli nationalism and racism.

Paradoxically, this forgiving stance also ends up amounting to active support for the destruction of Israel as a liberal, democratic and Jewish society. Every reasonable person understands that annexation without equal rights for Palestinians means the establishment of a new apartheid state – creating such a reality isn’t exactly one of the EU’s reasons for being. Who in Western Europe is willing to lend patronage to this act and let the Jewish nationalists exploit the unforgivable past to entirely drain Jewish nationalism of any drop of liberal values?

Beyond all the discussion on what constitutes the religious and national Jewish identity, Zionism was an answer to European anti-Semitism and one solution to the oppression of the Jews and the mortal danger they were in. Escape to the New World was the favored solution for 90 percent of those who fled Europe before the gates of the United States were closed in the early 1920s.

The Zionist solution proved itself because all other doors were locked, and after the Holocaust it gained worldwide legitimacy. But now the nationalist right is trying to expand this legitimacy for freedom and independence to include occupation and annexation. This is the epitome of the cynical and shameful exploitation of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism for the Israeli government’s political needs.

Now comes the question: How to make the liberal world understand that there is no connection between anti-Semitism and savage criticism of the occupation and annexation, or of other aspects of Israeli policy in the territories?

The German president expressed remorse in a way that inspires respect. Under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, his country absorbed a million non-Christian and non-European refugees in an attempt to show that it is free of racism. But Germany and France, which has its own anti-Semitism issues, act like they’re afraid of their own shadows when touching on the sensitive nerve of criticism of Israel.

The right’s propaganda has managed to convince many of the best West European liberals that such criticism amounts to opposition to Zionism, which amounts to denying Israel’s right to exist – and therefore amounts to anti-Semitism. This is a total lie, and Israelis should be the first to shout this truth from the rooftops.

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