Open Zion

09.25.12

Apparently, It’s Bad to Condemn Holocaust Denial

Writing for the Council on Foreign Relations today, neocon Elliott Abrams wrote an astonishing thing.

Taking issue with President Obama’s speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Abrams was particularly unhappy with the Obama’s statement that those who condemn slandering the Prophet Muhammad must also “condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated… or the Holocaust is denied.”

Abrams's response was as follows:

Islam has a prophet; Christianity has a savior, but Judaism has…. the Holocaust. The problem Jews and especially Israelis face, with apologies for having to spell it out, is not so much Holocaust denial as it the slander of the Jewish religion as a whole and the desire to eliminate the Jewish state.

Mr. Obama and his speechwriters should get over their equation of Judaism and Israel with the Holocaust.

Has Elliott Abrams, in fact, never met an Israeli? Never heard an Israeli speech? Never seen those pictures of Israeli high school groups and soldiers touring the death camps, holding Israeli flags and swearing "never again"?

As it happens, I agree with the underlying notion that we need to find a way to stop equating Israel and the Jewish People with the Holocaust, first and foremost to better honor the six million. Israel is forever trotting them out for fear mongering purposes, and the notion that the most powerful state in the Middle East (a nuclear power, no less) is somehow the 21st century equivalent of the slaughtered, abandoned masses of our forebears is not only grossly wrong, it is grossly offensive.

Moreover, Israel was not established, as we so often hear, "because of" the Holocaust. Zionism is a nationalist movement born in the same 19th century European coffee houses that gave birth to nationalism across the globe. The city of Tel Aviv was established in 1909—well before the First World War, much less the Second—and the cornerstone of Hebrew University laid in Jerusalem in 1918. Jewish nationalists were not sitting around waiting for the world to take pity, and neither did they accept the State of Israel as some kind of consolation prize for watching their people rise in smoke into the European sky.

And finally, it bears mentioning that, contra the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ, the Holocaust is not the cornerstone of the Jewish faith. While we surely must remember and honor our dead in our prayers, our hearts, and our lives, too much of Judaism has been reduced to fear and the words "never again." The study of Torah may be foregone, Shabbat forgotten, ham consumed on Yom Kippur and baguettes during Passover, but stop hounding Congress to support Israel against whoever Israel is calling the new Nazis (Nasser, Arafat, Ahmadinejad, etc.)? Then you’re in trouble.

Yet Elliott Abrams wants to suggest that President Obama is the one with the problem.

Not, of course, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said last Holocaust Day that "people who make light of the Iranian threat have learned nothing from the Holocaust," adding that while on a recent visit around the country, "for a moment I replaced Tel Aviv with Vilna; Haifa with Białystock; Degania, Nahalal, [and] Be'er Sheva with Plonsk, Riga, and Odessa."

Not legendary Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, who rejected a return to the 1967 borders saying “I do not exaggerate when I say that it has for us something of a memory of Auschwitz." (A view shared, not incidentally, by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Israel’s West Bank settlers).

Not the many American Jewish leaders who make Holocaust education a centerpiece of Jewish education, or, say, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, for whom "launch Jewish Heritage Week" and "educate President Regan about the Holocaust" were largely one and the same, and, in 2010, gave a speech to AIPAC entitled “Is It 1939?”

Sure, Mr. Abrams, I’ll agree. Let’s all get over our equation of Judaism and Israel with the Holocaust.

But I’d suggest that the State of Israel and our own Jewish community might give it a try, first. Then American politicians might be able to, as well.