Holocaust Remembrance Day will be marked beginning this evening by official ceremonies and speeches. As time passes, and despite the dwindling number of survivors, the Holocaust appears to be occupying a more and more prominent place in the life of the State of Israel.
A reminder of this surfaced several days ago following the publication of an anti-Israeli poem by German Nobel Prize laureate Gunter Grass. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately responded, saying of Grass that it was no surprise someone who had hidden his past in the Waffen SS would view Israel as a threat. Interior Minister Eli Yishai went one better by declaring Grass persona non grata in Israel.
The Grass affair is just one small example of the use of the Holocaust in connection with the Iranian nuclear issue. Behind the weighty arguments for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons lies the fear of a second Holocaust. Netanyahu is constantly feeding this fear.
As far back as 2006, as Likud chairman, he addressed what is now known as the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, saying: "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany." Since his reelection as prime minister, Netanyahu appeared before a conference of AIPAC, the American pro-Israel lobby, with letters written in 1944 by the World Jewish Congress showing that the United States had refused to bomb the Auschwitz death camp. "As prime minister of Israel," he told his audience, "I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation."
It appears that the use of Holocaust rhetoric in connection with external threats also reflects a sense of internal threat. Fundamental problems are gnawing at the self-assurance of the State of Israel: the absence of agreed-upon borders, the conflict with the Palestinians, social tensions and the inability to come to agreement on a constitution.
When such basic issues that remain unresolved for years meet up with external threats, the shadow of the Holocaust comes to the fore as a traumatic reminder of what the future could hold. Netanyahu must understand that the use of the Holocaust as a warning sign is not a substitute for concrete efforts to resolve the problems. The end of the conflict with the Palestinians, finalizing borders and buttressing civil rights are the true guarantee of Israel's continued existence as a Jewish and democratic state.