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17 April 2007

Abusing the Holocaust: Taking Chutzpah to an Entirely New Level

Abusing the Holocaust: Taking Chutzpah to an Entirely New Level
John Sigler*, 15 April 2007

“We will not let anything or anybody endanger the full and complete moral victory of the ghetto fighters and Holocaust survivors, the survivors of the extermination camps, who have decreed to us by their exemplary lives the double mission: To guarantee the construction, prosperity, security and peace of the State of Israel, the state of the Jewish people - and to concurrently guarantee to deepen the awareness of the Holocaust and disseminate its lessons.” – Prime Minister Ehud Barak [1]

“Finally, by challenging the ingathering into Auschwitz with the ingathering into Zion, Israel salvaged the credibility of Judaism. For many Jews, Israel's existence restored faith in the God of Israel. For if Jews could see the Holocaust as proof that God had abandoned his people, then the sudden restoration of Jewish power meant that he had returned to them.” - Yossi Klein Halevi [2]

“I, Danny Gillerman, born in Israel to parents who fled the Nazis, but whose grandparents and family perished, stand before you today, as an Israeli, a Jew, and a citizen of the world - moved and filled with pride as the world embarks on a journey beyond remembrance. I stand here as a representative of the Jewish state that arose out of the ashes of the Holocaust. A Jewish state whose cabinet yesterday convened a special session at the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem. A Jewish state that has become, against all odds, a beacon of beauty, excellence, creativity, and justice for the whole world.” – Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Gillerman [3]

Anyone that has dared to be critical of Israel or the nationalist ideology of Zionism knows that it is well nigh impossible to do so without the Hasbaraniks (Israeli propagandists) raising the issue of the Holocaust as some sort of all encompassing defense for Israel, its ethnocentric [4] definition as an exclusively “Jewish State” and by extension virtually any Israeli policy or practice. The utterly ubiquitous exploitation of the Holocaust by the Zionist movement is nothing new and has been explored and discussed in Jewish circles for a long time. By far one of the most well known and aggressive critiques of this reality is “The Holocaust Industry” by Professor Norman Finkelstein, himself the child of Holocaust survivors.[5] Finkelstein writes:

“Indeed, The Holocaust has proven to be an indispensable ideological weapon. Through its deployment, one of the world’s most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, has cast itself as a ‘victim’ state, and the most successful ethnic group in the United States has likewise acquired victim status. Considerable dividends accrue from this specious victimhood – in particular, immunity from criticism, however justified.” [6]

Despite the harm that this exploitation does to the Holocaust’s value as a universal lesson against racism, it is still a mainstream tactic used to defend the ethnocentric ideology of Zionism and is often accepted as legitimate by many non-Jewish observers. It is pretty much a given that if one criticizes Zionism one will be confronted with some argument alluding to the Holocaust, thus the notable increase in Holocaust denial among some anti-Zionist elements looking for an “easy way” to derail this standard Zionist defense.

Another technique for confronting this tactic used by some Jewish activists supporting justice for the Palestinian people is to “hop on the bandwagon” and cite the Holocaust – and their own personal connections to it – as a justification for opposing any ethnocentric ideology or practice, including that of Israel against the indigenous Palestinians. That is, following the Zionist example, they simply cite the Holocaust as an argument against Israel’s policies and practices toward the Palestinians and other Arabs.

These activists, that openly follow the Israeli lead in using the Holocaust for ideological purposes and do so against Israel’s ethnocentric ideology and practices, recently came under attack in the Jerusalem Post in an article entitled “Abusing the Holocaust” by Gerald Steinberg [7]. What makes the article so incredibly audacious is that it attacks several activists that have been critical of Israel for citing their own personal connections to the Holocaust while completely ignoring how constantly and shamelessly Israel-supporters exploit the Holocaust to defend Israel and the Zionist ideology.

Steinberg’s article specifically attacks Kenneth Roth, the current head of Human Rights Watch for his reporting on Israeli war crimes during the Summer War of July 2006; Reed Brody, who was actively involved in the effort to have Ariel Sharon charged as a war criminal in Belgium [8], and of course Israel’s favorite bogey, Professor Finkelstein. What these three activists have in common beyond being Jewish, supporting justice for the Palestinians, and a willingness to criticize Israel is that all three are the children of Holocaust survivors and have publicly mentioned this. The entire premise of the article, coming from a defender of Israel and Zionism, is so brazenly hypocritical that it really does take the notion of “chutzpah” to an entirely different level. A couple quotes with juxtaposition:

[Gerald Steinberg] “Roth's (and Brody's) frequent use of this issue suggest that their parents' relationship to the Holocaust gives them special standing and immunity to criticism.”

Speaking of using Holocaust rhetoric to obtain immunity to criticism:

The Commission provides a platform for unending speeches and resolutions criminalizing the State of Israel. ... By doing all this, the Commission permits the criminalization of the Jewish people world wide as actual or perceived supporters of the State of Israel. Yesterday the perceived criminality of the Jewish people as killers of Christ led to the Holocaust. Today the perceived criminality of the Jewish people as supporters of Israel threatens another Holocaust. ... The Jewish community world wide is today suffering from an upsurge of antisemitism we have not seen since the days preceding the Holocaust. That antisemitism, wherever Jews are found, is directly connected to anti-Zionism. And the headquarters of that anti-Zionism is right here, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. … The exaggerated anti-Israel rhetoric at this Commission is not mere criticism about the behaviour of the State of Israel; it is directed against Israel’s existence.” [9]

[Gerald Steinberg] “In this situation, the constant invocation of the Holocaust by Roth and his defenders is unconvincing and odious.”

On the topic of constant invocation of the Holocaust for odious purposes:

“There is a problem today, and I am very sensitive to it. The Holocaust should guide us in many matters. It should guide us by showing us how to value the fact that the Jews have a state. It should guide us as human beings in rejecting racism and in avoiding humiliation and brutalization of others, coercing of minorities, and so on. However, some consider the Holocaust a secret weapon to brandish in political negotiations and an accusation against the entire world. Today the Holocaust is starting to look like a tool of sorts that gives us a preferred status and lets us demand and obtain things that others, who did not experience the Holocaust, cannot obtain. Matters are not as unequivocal as that, to be sure, but there is such a trend.” [10]

After the above, Steinberg moves on to attack all criticism of Israel by Human Rights Watch, to flatly deny Israel’s indiscriminate strikes on civilians, collective punishment, and war crimes as exercised on a daily basis against the Palestinians and to argue that essentially any criticism of Israel undermines the very notion of human rights in general. Not surprisingly, Steinberg exclusively cites the “NGO Monitor” project – which he serves as the editor of [11] – to substantiate his all-encompassing attack on Human Rights Watch. None of this is particularly surprising considering the source [12], however he does go a bit further than one would expect when he presumes to speak on behalf of “vast majority of Jews who escaped or survived the Nazis.”

To quote an actual Holocaust survivor that might take exception to Steinberg’s presumption:

“So I went to Palestine as a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to observe the difficult conditions of daily life under military occupation. It would have been enough to reach out and touch just one Palestinian and place my hand on her shoulder and tell her that I was with her in her pain. But I saw and did much more. … At the end of the journey I had a shocking experience. … So I did not imagine that the Israeli security force that guards Ben-Gurion Airport would abuse a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor, holding me for five hours and performing a completely unnecessary strip search of every part of my naked body. The only conceivable purpose for this gross violation of my bodily integrity was to humiliate and terrify me. … It is a cruel illusion that brute force of this sort provides security to Israel. Degrading me cannot silence my small voice. Similarly, humiliating Palestinians cannot extinguish their hopes for a homeland. Only ending this utterly unnecessary occupation will bring peace to the region.” [13]

However, despite the ritualized denial of all wrong doing by Israel and the normal ad hominem attacks against Roth and Brody, in the end the key sentence of the entire article was clearly this one: “If a Jew and son of a Nazi victim can use such terms, then others who follow are immune to accusations of anti-Semitism.” This is what Steinberg and his fellow Hasbaraniks most fear, Jews that put human rights and justice above the Zionist conception of proper tribal/ethnic/national loyalty. The writing is on the wall today and everyone knows that Israel – and its ethnocentric ideological basis – is fighting a losing battle to maintain its oppressive stranglehold over the Palestinian people, thus internal Jewish dissent is utterly anathema and deserving of all scorn. The very universalism of the Jewish tradition is one of exclusivist Zionism’s worst enemies.


* John Sigler is a writer and activist based in Denver, Colorado. His current projects include the Jewish Friends of Palestine website http://www.jewishfriendspalestine.org and the Online One State Bibliography Project http://www.onestate.org He is currently working with the Colorado-Palestine Solidarity Campaign http://colorado-palestine.blogspot.com and supporting the June 10-11 mobilization in Washington DC marking the 40th year of Israeli occupation in the Palestinian Territories: http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?list=type&type=162

[1] Ehud Barak, “Prime Minister Barak’s Speech Concluding Holocaust Remembrance Day,” [Israeli] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2 May 2000, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Speeches%20by%20Israeli%20leaders/2000/Prime%20Minister%20Barak-s%20Speech%20Concluding%20Holocaust

[2] Yossi Klein Halevi, “An Israeli Perspective: Israel at 50,” 1998 Americans Jewish Yearbook (American Jewish Committee), 1998, Reproduced online by the World Zionist Organization: http://www.hagshama.org.il/en/resources/view.asp?id=1275

[3] Danny Gillerman, “Statement by Amb Gillerman at UN memorial ceremony, International Holocaust Remembrance Day,” [Israeli] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 27 January 2006, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Anti-Semitism+and+the+Holocaust/Documents+and+communiques/Statement+by+Amb+Gillerman+at+UN+Holocaust+memorial+ceremony+27-Jan-2006.htm

[4] According to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which Israel is a signatory, “racial discrimination” is defined as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” (Article 1.1; bold emphasis added).

Since the legal definition of “racial discrimination”, and by extension “racism” as popularly used, includes “descent, or national or ethnic origin” it would be perfectly reasonable to use these terms in discussing Zionism. Nevertheless, in popular usage, such terms tend to be used almost exclusively to denote discrimination based on skin color and this is not applicable to the situation in Israel/Palestine. Though there has been discrimination based, at least in part, on skin color in Israel, in general both the Israeli Jewish population and the Palestinian Arab population includes people that could be northern European, sub-Saharan African, and everything in between. Therefore, in order to avoid confusion this article uses the term ethnocentrism, or ethnocentric, as a substitution.

[5] Norman G. Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry, (2000, Verso Books), http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/content.php?pg=3

[6] Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry, ibid. p. 3

[7] Gerald Steinberg, “Abusing the Holocaust”, Jerusalem Post, 14 April 2007, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1176152793901&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter

[8] This author was also involved in the effort to have Sharon indicted as a war criminal in Belgium, see for example: Frederick Bowie, "Untried, Untested," Al-Ahram, 11-17 July 2002, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2002/594/re51.htm

[9] Statement by the Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations Statement on Israel delivered to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights by David Matas, B’nai Brith Canada’s Senior Honourary Legal Counsel. Representing Canada, he was part of the B’nai Brith International delegation to the 2004 session of the Commission in Geneva. This statement was presented to the Commission on behalf of the Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations under Agenda Item 8. Reproduced online by B'nai Brith Canada: http://www.bnaibrith.ca/briefs/matas/matas040325.html

[10] Prof. Yisrael Gutman, Yad Vashem Chief Historian, "An Interview With Prof. Yisrael Gutman," Interviewed by Amos Goldberg, 28 October 1998, Yad Vashem Shoah Resource Center, http://www1.yadvashem.org.il/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%203846.pdf

[11] Yacoub Kahlen and Robert E. Foxsohn, "NGO Monitor should not be taken seriously," The Electronic Intifada, 18 October 2005, http://electronicintifada.net/v2/printer4255.shtml

[12] To learn more about Gerald Steinberg, visit his website: http://faculty.biu.ac.il/~steing/index.shtml

[13] Hedy Epstein, "Holocaust survivor protests wall," The Stanford Daily, 20 October 2004, http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2004/10/20/holocaustSurvivorProtestsWall

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