Before We Lose the Protective Shell

It behooves our leaders to show prudence and forge an agreement with the Palestinians soon, before the world's guilt vanishes.

Some Israelis have hard hearts when it comes to the many Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies and restrictions in place for tomorrow night, when movie theaters, restaurants and cafes will be closed and only certain programs will be screened on television. There are those who want us to stop dealing with "Shoah business" and be a bit more normal, and others who lament the excessive "holiday" atmosphere surrounding the March of the Living to Auschwitz, saying the time has come for us to purge ourselves of this annoying "Holocaust syndrome."

Mostly, I'm not with these detractors. The Holocaust is, indeed, a syndrome, and it also turned us into something a bit abnormal, but that is entirely warranted. After all, this is an unfathomable event, one that is unprecedented in history: a systematic act of genocide.

Hundreds of years of anti-Semitic propaganda, persecution, blood libels and pogroms set the stage for the Final Solution. Even when Germany's military circumstances turned bleak and defeat was on the horizon, Hitler rejected requests made by army commanders to divert some trains from extermination missions and use them for military purposes on the front. The annihilation of the Jewish people was his supreme prerogative.

Nor was this the obsessive lunacy of one crazed leader who swept up an entire people. It suffices to mention the pogrom in Kielce, a Polish city located between Warsaw and Krakow. Dozens of Jewish survivors of concentration camps returned to Kielce after the war, trying to rebuild their lives. But a rumor broke out in the city, suggesting that Jews kidnapped a Christian child to use its blood for Passover matza. A mob surrounded a house where several Jewish families lived and slaughtered the 42 Jews inside; the massacre was so vicious that the bodies could not be identified. All this happened in 1946, a year and two months after the end of the war and the liberation of the camps.

So it's no wonder that remembrance of anti-Semitism old and new - the persecutions, blood libels, pogroms and, more than anything, the Holocaust - constitutes the bond between Jews in Israel and the rest of the world. Moreover, the Holocaust is part of a sequence that gave us life: had it not been for feelings of guilt around the world, the United Nations would not have decided in 1947 in favor of partition, and other countries would not have helped us during the critical hours of the War of Independence. Had there been no Holocaust, European countries would have long ago imposed paralyzing economic and military sanctions, a la South Africa, against us. European governments and companies would have ceased to do business with us, and would not have supplied us with arms or conducted normal diplomatic relations with us. After all, they bitterly oppose everything that is done in the territories: the occupation, the continued settlement construction, the apartheid policy and the lack of interest in proceeding with the peace process.

Israel's polices in the territories would not be condoned to the extent that they are, were it not for the deep feelings of guilt that other countries feel about the Holocaust. They know that Germany initiated the events, but that other countries either willingly collaborated in the extermination or didn't lift a finger to prevent it. But will this immunity last forever? Will these feelings of guilt persist for eternity?

Clearly not. The generation of Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans is vanishing, in Israel and everywhere else. Soon there will be no living witnesses to the atrocities, and a new generation will say: Our hands are not soaked by this blood, we know of nothing like this that occurred in our lifetimes, we have no such guilt feelings.

In democratic countries, public opinion is what ultimately determines leaders' policies. So when these guilt feelings disappear, and events of the apartheid occupation continue and grow worse, the result will be ferocious anger toward Israel. The result: South Africa-type sanctions that will cripple us. The deadly takeover of the May 2010 flotilla to Gaza, the provocative attempted "fly-in" of a few days ago, and the tape of the senior military officer hitting an activist in the face with the butt of his rifle on the Jordan Valley's Route 90 are just early signs of changes afoot in the world.

Since this change is inexorable, it behooves our leaders to show prudence and forge an agreement with the Palestinians soon, before the world's guilt vanishes - along with the protective shell of the Holocaust.