As Israel marks its national Holocaust Remembrance Day, many around the world will secretly roll their eyes. ‘There they go again the Zionists, using their precious Holocaust to justify their state, their power, their faults, reveling in a world guilted into silence.’
There are those who believe, too many, that without the holocaust there would have been no Israel. Most of them make this assumption in good faith. The American President himself, in his June 4, 2009 Cairo speech, spoke of “the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”
But when so many believe that without the Holocaust there would have been no Israel, those who want Israel erased from map and memory, or isolated as an illegitimate state come to resent the Holocaust, or at least its association with Israel.
The American President wanted to make an important stand against Holocaust denial in the capital of the Arab world. He did not understand that by reaffirming the dangerous equation that the global legitimacy for Israel is rooted in the Holocaust, he fanned the motivation to engage in Holocaust denial for those who continue to believe, as they always have, that Israel is not a legitimate state.
Holocaust denial, Holocaust minimization (‘6 million is an exaggerated number’) Holocaust ‘equalization’ (‘there were other genocides and ethnic cleansings, the Holocaust was no different’), Holocaust reversal (‘what the Nazis did to the Jews is what the Jews are doing to others’), Holocaust marginalization (‘other people were also killed in the War’) and Holocaust by association (‘the Palestinians are the secondary victims of the Holocaust’), are all but different facets of the same effort—to rob Israel of what seems like a powerful and indisputable source of legitimacy.
The deceptively seductive canard that ‘the Palestinians are the secondary victims of Europe’s crimes’ is one of the worst of all these lies, since to the untrained ear it sounds logical. In this tale, after World War II, when it became clear that the Final Solution was not final and the Jewish survivors could not be expected or welcomed to stay in Europe the Europeans decided to ‘dump’ the surviving Jews on unsuspecting Arabs who were living in an area that colonial Europe controlled.
This convenient solution for Europe resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have been homeless and occupied ever since. Ergo, the Palestinians are the secondary and still uncompensated victims of Europe’s crimes against the Jews.
Israel exists not because the Europeans dumped the surviving Jews in the colonially controlled Middle East. Israel exists because the Jews willed it into existence. The modern state of Israel exists because the Jews who created it believed themselves to be descendants of the Israelites and Judeans who were sovereign there in ancient times and paid a high price for preserving their separate existence as a people. The modern state of Israel exists because for centuries and millennia Jews kept yearning for Israel, ending the Passover Seder with the words, “next year in Jerusalem.”
The modern state of Israel exists thanks to visionary Jewish thinkers and leaders who realized that changing times created an opportunity to turn the messianic hope to return to Israel into a political program, and who were able to mobilize sympathy and support in critical junctions for their project. President Obama finally got it right when in his speech to AIPAC on March 4, 2012 he spoke of Shimon Peres as having had “his heart always in Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people.”
In fact, if it were not for Arab resistance and Britain’s betrayal and submission to Arab pressures, the Holocaust as such might not have taken place. Jews would have been able to escape Europe to their ancient homeland in what was already a widely supported embryonic state. They would have had a destination country to which to immigrate freely at a time when Hitler was still willing to let the Jewish people go.
Israel came into being after World War II not ‘thanks’ to the Holocaust, but thanks to Britain’s imperial dissolution. Just as India and Pakistan required no Holocaust to attain their independence and come into being, so too Israel. To think that only the act of absolute evil against the Jews could legitimate a state for the Jews is to deny the Jews what is taken for granted for all others. The Jewish people would have achieved their state sooner or later as part of the wave of liberation of peoples around the world. Their vision, determination, industry and willingness to fight for their state would have ensured it.
To portray Israel as the outcome of the Holocaust is to engage in Zionism Denial. It robs the Jews of their agency, their history, their historical connection to the land of Israel and their yearning to return to it. It erases all that was dreamt, written, done and achieved by the Zionists before World War II. It turns Israel into a colonial project of guilty Europeans rather than a national liberation project of an indigenous people reclaiming their homeland. In remembering the Holocaust, Israel mourns not only all that was and still is lost, but Zionism’s greatest tragedy and failure.
Israelis do not ‘revel’ in the Holocaust as a source of legitimacy for their state. They mourn a vision of a state that could have been home to so many more. Zionism sought a state for the Jews not so that “never again”. Zionism sought a state for the Jews so that never at all.