Israeli Militarism Subsists in the Shadows of Auschwitz

The week of national remembrance exists, among other reasons, to ensure that a leadership will never arise in Israel that will cut the defense budget.

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Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

On the way to school my daughter, who is in the second grade, asked me, "Dad, why do we need to stand when there is a siren? Is it so if World War III breaks out, we'll be ready?"

Here you have a complete summary of the intended message. "Citizens of Israel, in every generation they rise up to destroy us," declared the prime minister in his speech at Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Square at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum and memorial. "In every generation a person is expected to see themselves as if they survived the Holocaust and established the [State of Israel]Iran has declared openly its intention to destroy the State of Israel." He continued: "What has changed since the Holocaust is our ability to defend ourselves by ourselves."

Netanyahu of course is distorting the historical record for his own purposes with his regular cut and paste speech. He is telling only a very small part of the story. It's true that three years after the Holocaust the State of Israel was established; It's also true that this happened half a year after the limited international mandate over Palestine expired. The Zionist model was just one of the solutions. I, my family and every Jew who choose to live here since supports this model on one level or another. But there were also millions of displaced persons, refugees and survivors who chose to live in the United States, Europe or Australia. Their personal safety has also been well-protected since then, because of other armies. But historical precision and rectitude has never bothered Netanyahu, this son of a historian.

Neither has it troubled President Shimon Peres, who made sure to back Netanyahu up with some verbal embellishments of his own that connected the crematoria to the Iranian leadership.

Everything works quite well and is based on democratic principles. The political leadership sets course from Jerusalem. Our long military arm is sent beyond the ocean. Auschwitz is in our hands. The Israel Defense Forces' chief of staff again leads the March of the Living. A decade has passed since the heroic aerial flyover over the camp, in which our air force brazenly flew over the camp in contradiction to instructions of Polish authorities and under their noses. The photograph of that fly-over – which three air force commanders, Dan Halutz, Ido Nehushtan and Amir Eshel, knew was taking place – decorates the wall of every self-respecting Israeli general's office. The IDF ceaselessly continues to send large delegations of officers and soldiers for heritage trips to the camps. "Witnesses in uniform," they call it. The connection has become automatic.

The holy trinity is completed by prayers. The last military Holocaust memorial ceremonies were marked by the conspicuous presence of soldiers holding Jewish bibles and holy objects, as if the Master of Legions, God himself, really made his presence known at Auschwitz.

Before we talk seriously about defense budget cuts, there will be a need to downsize the sanctity of national security, to cut the Gordian knot between the IDF and the Holocaust. A caliber of leadership that could do this has yet to arise in Israel. The week of national remembrance is intended, among other things, to ensure that such a leadership won't arise and that the public will not demand that it arise. There always was and always will be bitter enemies. Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat along the banks of the Suez Canal were replaced by the Palestine Liberation Organization's Yasser Arafat in his bunker in Beirut and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran. Even Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion would frequently speak about "Hitlerism." Among all of Ben-Gurion's heirs to the premiership there was just one – Yitzhak Rabin – who dared to stray from the choir of instilling fear of a second Holocaust; He was dressed in a Gestapo uniform and executed in the city square.

Last week, President Peres presided over a toast held at the headquarters of the Binyamin Territorial Brigade next to the settlement of Beit El, in the occupied West Bank. He reiterated the eternal claim that the defense budget is determined in proportion to security threats and said that he will support a cut in the defense budget when our enemies will decide to cut theirs. This is a lie and a falsehood. The defense budget has continuously grown despite the internal collapse of our enemies and the disappearance of ground threats to Israel from front after front. The Israeli public agrees to this ongoing madness because the defense budget is determined in proportion to Auschwitz and not in regard to anything else.

Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks as soldiers stand at the opening ceremony of Holocaust Remembrance Day.Credit: AP
Participants of the March of the Living walk along rail tracks Auschwitz-Birkenau on Monday April 8, 2013.Credit: AP

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