And Where Is the Silence?

The sense of victimhood that the state has fostered over the years has grown to replace the Zionist ethos.

Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor
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Israelis standing as a siren sounds for Holocaust Remembrance Day in Tel Aviv, April 9, 2011.
Israelis standing as a siren sounds for Holocaust Remembrance Day in Tel Aviv, April 9, 2011.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor

It is hard to find your own space in the totality of the Israeli culture of mourning. From the outset, this culture was intended to create subjects of its realm, harness immigrants and reproduce offspring into nationalism, dependent on death and its imagery.

It is customary to measure our lives with the help of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. So let’s do that, by checking television broadcasts. There is no other country within the OECD that shuts down its programming on a day resembling Yom Kippur or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The State of Israel takes from the Jewish religion not only the central motif of destruction (the Jewish religion, after all, was born of the ancient labor of mourning), but also inherited from it the social control common in premodern religious communities.

Thus, we get modern patterns of controlling consciousness from which there is no escape. The ideological mechanisms of the state – army, education, media – are recruited, and recruit their subjects to jointly shrink before the uniform story, which is gradually taking over our lives. Even the lives of kindergarten children.

And so, from all the windows we hear fragments of bereaving phrases, edited into television programs made to order by journalists who grew up into this uniform culture.

However, on Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers, they do not interview parents who curse the day their son joined a combat unit. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, they do not interview survivors who demanded, and who still demand, to cease this cheap preoccupation with the horrors. Of course, they do not interview the people whom the Holocaust taught a “lesson” different from the “national lesson.”

Television is a key instrument in this totality. It was born in Israel with the occupation, from which – in its early days – nostalgia for “our” innocent past was fostered, through programs that venerated the prestate pioneer spirit. Commercial television, in contrast, was born with the “separation” from the Palestinians in the early 1990s.

The symptoms seem coincidental. They may have been at first. In any case, in the age of commercial TV, the Israeli as victim and hedonist was fostered – two motifs whose main purpose was to permit and conceal the apartheid and colonization of the Palestinians.

This culture of commemoration – even Tisha B’Av has been cultivated into a day of mourning in these “neoliberal” years – has turned the entire public into “victims”: casualties, murder victims, partisans, survivors and army veterans. And it allows everyone to enjoy themselves – a remembering collective, caressed, passive and cruel.

This sense of victimhood grew to replace the Zionist ethos as glue and reins, to replace the torments of building this country, to replace faith in action and responsibility (the pioneer, the fighter, the socialist, welcomer of immigrants, immigrant, etc.), which cannot exist in neo-capitalism.

Yet even in this Israel, the state remains in control of consciousness. The shared memory nurtures hacks, who involve all of us retrospectively in “our past.” No longer “them” and “us,” as the early culture of memory had it, with a distance that also had moral advantages over the current appropriation of “we were all there.”

Here, too, “Ego” culture wins out: I am also a victim when I take pride in the uncovering of Gaza tunnels, and when the success of blockading Gaza arouses in me the thrill of the sentry in a guard tower. Mourning has become chatter, orchestrating the political community and its broadcasters. It works: There is no more efficient control over citizens than fostering their mourning.

And as if this one-dimensionality were not enough, a Western European discourse on the Holocaust has appeared since the mid-1990s. Its motives are varied, but it also indulges our “advanced” academe: funding and trips for manufacturers of “our Holocaust.”

Huge wreaths given by the institutions that sponsor the trips at the memorial in Warsaw, attest to this combination of fun and grief. People distribute flyers in Kraków’s cathedral square, mumbling “Auschwitz-Birkenau, only 68 zlotys.” And where is the silence?

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