If you want to understand Israeli thinking, the quickest, surest way is to glance through Yediot Aharonot, “the nation’s newspaper.” Knowing how to get a rise out of the public, how to push Israelis’ buttons, is what made Yediot as hugely popular, influential and rich as it is. The paper’s Monday edition for Holocaust Remembrance Day showed in typically lurid fashion that what Israelis want to be told is that they are eternal victims. People here are so eager for words and images that tell them they’re no different from the Jews of 1930s Europe, that they’re still one step from Auschwitz, that their backs are to the wall.
It’s when I see the political uses the Holocaust is put to on that day – not only on that day, of course, but especially on that day – that I think I’m living in an insane asylum.
From listening to the speeches and the media, you wouldn’t know that Jews are no longer running from anti-Semitism anywhere on earth – not even in Iran, whose 25,000 Jews could all leave if they wanted to.
And if you try to tell people to look around, to see that a few things have in fact changed in the last 65 years, that the balance of power between us and our enemies has been turned on its head, that maybe the Iranians aren’t in such a rush to commit mass suicide, that maybe their hatred of Israel, while important to them, isn’t that important – then people glare at you. They say you’re naïve; you’re like the Jews of Europe in the ’30s – they didn’t take Hitler seriously either. You want us to go like lambs to the slaughter like they did, well, never again!
Israelis get mad when you tell them we don’t have to keep going to war, that we’re strong enough to deter our enemies, that Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas and the rest are scared of us and well they should be, that our military superiority and stockpile of unmentionables can pretty much keep us safe from enemy attack – unless of course we insist on occupying our enemies’ land or blockading their borders or attacking them first.
People don’t want to hear anything about possibilities for peace, or even just de facto peace, just nonbelligerency – no, all they want to hear is ein breira, we have no choice, it’s either fight or die.
Why do we still insist on seeing ourselves as the Jews of 1930s Europe when we’re so obviously the opposite? Two reasons, I think: 1) Because when your back is to the wall, you have no doubts, no indecision, no stress – it really is fight or die, and 2) When your back is to the wall, you don’t have to restrain yourself, and nobody can tell you to.
This is the political meaning of Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s a day for rousing the nation with the liberating power of victimhood.