I wrote last night about Meir Dagan’s famous office photo, ostensibly showing his grandfather on bended knee wrapped in his tallis before what appear to be German or Polish soldiers or police, one of whom wields a billy club. Dagan claims, according to Ronen Bergman and this Ynet story (thanks to IlanP for drawing my attention to it), that the photo was taken moments before his father was shot. Dagan uses the picture as a prop in his motivational speeches to Mossad operatives before they embark on important covert missions:
“Look at this photograph,” Dagan tells the Caesarea fighters. “This is what must guide us and lead us to act on behalf of the State of Israel. I look at the picture and vow that I will do everything I can to ensure that something like this will never happen again.”
In yesterday’s post I wrote about my disquiet at this use of such past personal family tragedy to justify Israel’s current political agenda. I have some further thoughts on this subject because the image and way Dagan uses/exploits it still bother me.
First, let me say that the Holocaust is undoubtedly a singular trauma in Jewish history and one that has left an indelible mark on all Jews, certainly today and likely for all time. There can be no doubt that survivors and descendants of survivors each have to find a way through the pain of this experience. In most cases, I refuse to judge the ways in which victims and those related to them (several great uncles and aunts of mine perished in the Holocaust though I never knew them) do this. But in the case of those who exploit the Holocaust for political or nationalist purposes, I draw the line.
Dagan, like Israel itself, treats the Holocaust not just as a historical event, but as one that continues to happen or threatens to happen to Israel today. Dagan’s enemies (and those of the State of Israel) are no different than the Cossacks, Nazis and Inquisitors who’ve inflicted pain on Jews throughout our history. The genocide perpetrated on our people during World War II is the same genocide that our current enemies (in Gaza or Iran) would inflict on us given half a chance.
Whatever one thinks of this psychological profile, one has to admit that it is a powerful one. One that roots itself indelibly in one’s identity and provides basic, rock-solid principles to carry one through life. It is how Dagan can be such a focussed, monomaniacal advocate (or killer) on behalf of his people.
But really when you look at this set of beliefs, it is pathological. It views the Holocaust as an event that happened but never ended. It views every possible threat to the Jewish people as a looming Holocaust. It sanctions grievous acts against our fellow human beings in order to protect us from these imagined dangers.
Here is the illness: the conditions and context in which Israel finds itself now have nothing to with the Holocaust. It has everything to do with where Israel finds itself in the contemporary Middle East. It has to do with the precise set of Arab neighbor states it has and their own political conditions. Israel must come to terms with the real conditions in which it finds itself, and not imagined historical ones which are irrelevant to latter-day circumstances.
If your policies are governed by historical trauma instead of clear-eyed analysis of where you find yourself at the present moment, you are doomed. You will be fighting the battles of 1938 instead of 2011.
The final grave disservice that the Holocaust-obsessed do to contemporary Israel is that they turn today’s enemies into eternal sworn genocidal monsters (i.e. Amalek). You cannot negotiate with a monster. You cannot make peace with a monster. Nazis were monsters. But Palestinians are not monsters. Iranians are not monsters. Neither people seek to annihilate the Jewish people as the Nazis did. Perhaps in their wildest dreams the most extreme among them might harbor such delusions. But rational human beings do not act based on what the most lunatic human beings do or say. They act out of pragmatic self-interest.
We must not let the Bibi Netanyahus or Meir Dagans turn the Israeli-Arab conflict into the Holocaust. This is not a Holy War nor a Crusade nor a fight to prevent the annihilation of the Jewish people (or even Israel). This is a political struggle over land and power. Political conflicts can be resolved. Existential conflicts between good and evil cannot. For the Dagans of this world it is a fight to the death between Israel and its enemies. We must not allow it to become that, because that way lie death and self-destruction.