Thursday, January 28, 2010

Politicizing the Holocaust

Gideon Levy goes a bit overboard in today's Haaretz editorial about politicizing the Holocaust. But he makes some good points about the myopic thinking of the Israeli government and the extent to which the memory of the murder of millions of innocent human beings is being used for political gain. Which is categorically unacceptable.

On the one hand it's really important that Israel be proactive about anti-Semitism around the world. Israel is the representative of global Jewry in many ways and having been in Israel on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) I can tell you its an experience like no other. The way in which the Holocaust pervades deep into Israeli society is important to understand.

At the same time though, the way the current Israeli government has politicized the Holocaust vis-a-vis Iran is a poor model for other countries. Urging countries to not politicize the Holocaust while comparing Ahmedinejad to Hitler is hypocritical, and it makes other nations resent Israel's self-awarded monopoly on Holocaust suffering. Many people in many countries besides Israel suffered as a result of the Holocaust, and while Israel represents global Jewry it does not represent them exclusively.

The way the Lieberman Foreign Ministry has hounded countries that have encountered domestic anti-Semitism is percieved as arrogant, and was thoroughly unproductive. As abhorrent as the Swedish article about IDF organ harvesting was, the Swedish government had no role in the publication of the article whatsoever, and apologized without being asked. Hounding the government as Israel did was damaging to its global image, and it did absolutely nothing to prevent future anti-Semitism in Sweden. And let's face it, apologizing to Lieberman for racism is like apologizing to the Westboro Baptist Church for intolerance (check out their website at www.godhatesfags.com. Or don't).

A far more productive strategy would be to work together with governments, helping to facilitate programs which marginalize anti-Semitic voices. Israel could help create alliances between Jews and other minority groups in Europe and around the world. This would not only improve Israel's relations with foreign governments, it would be taking the steps to actually help diaspora communities. As it is, the government is deluding itself into thinking that ultra-sensitive arrogance is akin to effective prevention. It is not. And fetishizing the Holocaust is a dangerous distortion of history that Israel must seek to avoid by leading through example.

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