The holocaust—again

“An abused child becomes a violent parent.” The most persecuted nation in the world has been transformed – almost naturally – into a persecutor. 

Avraham Burg

The holocaust has proven to be an indispensable weapon.

Norman Finkelstein

Charlie Angus wrote on Facebook.

75 years ago this week soldiers of the Red Army arrived in the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. They saw the face of pure evil in the mass killings and torture that had taken place in this place.

I am heading to Jerusalem to be part of the international commemoration of this historic moment. There is a small Canadian delegation, and we will be with our Governor General Julie Payette. I am honoured to represent Canada as we remember the dead and pay respect to those who survived the evils of the Holocaust.

Also attending will be Nancy Pelosi and  US Vice-president Mike Pence who join prime ministers and royalty from around the world  today in Israel for the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

I fear, though hoping for the best, that this may have a numbing effect on Charlie. Given historical antecedents  this will be more manipulation, stoking Christian guilt and buttressing the state of Israel. The holocaust has long been used to smother criticism of Israel and its abominable treatment of Palestinian indigenous. Payette and Angus need to visit Gaza and Hebron where the lessons of the holocaust “never again to anybody” has not been learned.

What will the beautiful Charlie Angus do or say after revisiting the horror of the holocaust? Every politician who comes to Israel  is taken first to Yad Vashem the great holocaust museum. The purpose has always been to mute any criticism of the state, The fundamental role of the holocaust now, to riff on Charlie’s post,  is enact a double solidarity— first pay respect to those who survived the evils of the Holocaust then secondly  to extend solidarity to those people enduring the ongoing brutality of the occupation.

Sadly, this is a bridge too far for world leaders. No international flights will land fo say no to the 72nd anniversary of the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

There is no finer member of parliament than Chuck Angus and so I proffer these wise words of the former Speaker of the Knesset, the kippah-wearing Orthodox Jew  Avraham Burg. These thoughts appear to me to be so redolent of the great gift of Judaism, the neviim (prophets).

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The constant presence of the Shoah is like a buzz in my ear. In Israel, children are always, it seems, preparing for their rite-of-passage “Auschwitz trip” to Poland. Not a day passes without a mention of the Holocaust in the only newspaper I read, Haaretz. The Shoah is like a hole in the ozone layer:unseen yet present, abstract yet powerful. It’s more present in our lives than God.

The Shoah is so pervasive that a study conducted a few years ago in a Tel Aviv school for teachers found that more than 90% of those questioned view it as the most important experience of Jewish history. 

That means it is more important than the creation of the world, the exodus from Egypt, the delivering of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, the ruin of both Holy Temples, the exile, the birth of Zionism, the founding of the state or the 1967 Six-Day War.

The Shoah is woven, to varying degrees, into almost all of Israel’s political arguments; over time, we have taken the Shoah from its position of sanctity and turned it into an instrument of common and even trite politics. It represents a past that is present, maintained, monitored, heard and represented. Our dead do not rest in peace. They are busy, active, always a part of our sad lives.

I cannot be an accomplice in such a way of life, with no spiritual compass or moral direction. Never — or so I’ve been taught from infancy — have the Jewish people existed only for the sake of existence; never have we survived only in order to survive; never have we carried on for the sole purpose of carrying on by itself.

The Jewish existence was always directed upward. Not only toward our king and father in the heavens, but also our gaze upward was an answer to the great call of humanity; an answer of liberty in the times of enslavement in Egypt, an answer to the need of a righteous and egalitarian law in the days of Sinai when we wandered through the desert, an answer to the call of human universalism manifest in the Scriptures of the great prophets, and finally, an answer to the cry opposing unjust and imperial occupation throughout late antiquity.

Even the Zionist idea was not merely an attempt to rescue the Jews from violent anti-Semitic prosecutors, but rather was a heroic attempt to establish a model society. Zionism meant to create a society that avoided any form of discrimination or oppressive policy toward non-Jews, of the kind under which Jews had suffered for more than two millenniums.

I believe Israel must move away from trauma to trust, that we must abandon the “everything is Auschwitz” mentality and substitute for it an impulse toward liberty and democracy.

I fully understand that this will require a slow process of change. It will take more than one or two years for a new Jewish humanism to be accepted, allowing Israel to become a less traumatic place, a country in which school trips do not only present Israel’s high school students with extermination camps. Israel must rethink its strict law of return (which defines Jewishness the same way Hitler did), its relationship with Germany, and it must reaffirm its commitment to being a democratic state of the Jewish people, a state that belongs to all of its citizens, in which the majority decides on its character and essence, with the utmost sensitivity to all the “others” — and especially the Arab non-Jewish minority.

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The holocaust’s unholy hold must end  and the Deutreronomists’s cry must rise up from Judaism tzedek,tzedek, tirdof   Justice, justice you shall pursue  16:20