Is denial of the Holocaust irrational
Holocaust denial can only be fought with common sense
Today is Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day, and events are held across the country to honor their memory. These are the last few years Holocaust survivors are still attending these events: most are over eighty years old, and we need to familiarize ourselves with the fact that in a decade or two there will be no one with direct testimony to one of the most terrible crimes in human history can exist. That is why projects such as Spielberg's video documentation of such testimonies - he has collected more than a quarter of a million - and the various documentation centers such as Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and other Holocaust museums are of so great importance. Last night all restaurants and other entertainment venues in Israel were closed, but my wife and I watched a deeply touching documentary at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque by a friend who described the survival of her mother and part of the family thanks to the tremendous courage and admirable human decency of one of them poor, Christian, Slovak peasant family.
But this morning I also found some emails that attacked me - something that I've got used to on the one hand, but which still doesn't pass me by without a trace. The motivation for these emails was an article entitled "Memo to American Jews: It's Pro-Israeli To Find Netanyahu Embarrassing" that I published last week in Israel's leading left-liberal newspaper, Haaretz, and a few days later in the Huffington Post. Many American Jews are torn: on the one hand, they want to stand by Israel in general, but especially in this difficult time, in which the Middle East is sinking into ever more dangerous chaos and radical Islamist organizations control ever larger parts of the Arab world. On the other hand, there is Netanyahu's behavior, such as the public support for Mitt Romney in the last US presidential election, and his appearance in the US Congress before the elections in Israel, in which he discussed the negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program, led by the US and five world powers criticized, led to a deep rift between Israel and the United States. My thesis was simple: you can stand by Israel and criticize Netanyahu at the same time. In a democracy, political leaders do not need to be loved (a term that smells like totalitarianism to me), nor are they above criticism.
To me, Netanyahu's ongoing abuse of the Holocaust is both oppressive and repulsive. For years he has been comparing Iran with Nazi Germany: the attempt to come to a compromise on the nuclear program with Tehran, with the Munich Agreement, which made it possible for Hitler to annex the Sudetenland, and thus implicitly Barack Obama with Neville Chamberlain. A nuclear-armed Iran could bring another Holocaust over the Jewish people and over Israel. Of course, the idea of Iran with nuclear weapons is deeply troubling. The Ayatollah regime repeatedly proclaims that the destruction of Israel is a sacred goal and supports terrorist organizations around the world. What is particularly worrying for Israel is that Iran armed Hezbollah with over a hundred thousand missiles that can now reach any city in Israel. Hezbollah has already shown that it is willing to bomb the Israeli civilian population for weeks.
Despite the very real dangers, I cannot accept Netanyahu's constant Holocaust analogies. Israel is a strong country, and the US has made it clear that it would react harshly militarily to any attack by Iran on Israel, whether nuclear or conventional - not to mention Israel's own military might. Netanyahu's use of the Holocaust has two goals: one is to keep the US and Europe under moral pressure; the other is to politically exploit the fears that are inevitable in the Jewish psyche and associated with the Holocaust.
As I said, since the article was published in Haaretz and the Huffington Post, I have received many emails accusing me of stabbing Israel in the back and demanding loyalty to Netanyahu. Some of the writers make use of the fact that they lost family members in the Shoah. The latter is particularly outrageous since a large part of my mother's family was also murdered in the Holocaust, which I cannot find acceptable either as a legitimation of my own views or as an argument for Netanyahu. In doing so, I do not suffer from pacifist illusions: Israel will have to remain a military power for generations, but the defense of the country will not be made easier by irrational propaganda. In this regard, I agree with the arguments of Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad. Many of his family members perished in the Shoah, and Dagan is legendary for daring operations carried out by the Mossad under his leadership - he uses force when absolutely necessary. But he has vigorously attacked Netanyahu's exaggerated Iranian rhetoric over the past few years, even saying that he would have resigned if Netanyahu had ordered a military attack against Iran.
And yet all of this is not easy for me. As I wrote here a few months ago, Holocaust denial is deeply troubling today. In the Islamic world in particular, this has increased massively in recent years and is by no means limited to states that are in direct or indirect conflict with Israel: In Kuwait and Bangladesh, around 70 percent of those questioned deny the Holocaust. The Iranian regime has also consistently pursued Holocaust denial, including through “scientific” conferences of Holocaust deniers - although it should be emphasized that Iran’s President Rouhani condemned the Holocaust two years ago, after which he was severely attacked in his own country. Some of the theories are hair-raising: The Zionists would have collaborated with the Nazis to justify the creation of the State of Israel, and would continue to uphold the Holocaust myth today to justify the oppression of the Palestinians.
I can't help but wonder if I'm not making a mistake: Given the almost psychotic denial of the Holocaust and the paranoid conspiracy theories that are often directly related to the infamous forgery of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," which are also used in Hamas -Charter are quoted, are taken from Netanyahu's constant evocation of the Holocaust not a necessity, or at least understandable? Is the criticism of Israel's right-wing national rhetoric with regard to the murderous anti-Semitism that is increasing in the Muslim world tactically correct? Shouldn't we close the ranks?
I think this would be a short circuit. Madness and murderous hatred must not be reacted to with exaggerated rhetoric and flat propaganda. Madness must not be fought with counter-madness, but only with reason. Netanyahu's abuse of the Holocaust analogy does not lead the world to stand behind Israel - he has only deeply isolated Israel for the past six years of serving as prime minister. Of course, the civilized, free world must condemn all forms of Holocaust denial in the strongest possible terms - but the means must be those of enlightenment: We must counter ignorance with knowledge and clear evidence, not with over-emotional and exaggerated propaganda means. Sigmund Freud wrote that the voice of reason is quiet but persistent until it makes itself heard. If we allow the fanaticism and murderous hatred of Holocaust deniers to rob us of our sanity, then we have already lost the battle between insane inhumanity and the moral and intellectual clarity and integrity on which our culture and civilization are based.
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