Last week, Israel hosted the World Holocaust Forum. This is a considerably expanded version of the article Middle East Eye published a few days ago, which profiled it.
I guess it should come as no surprise. Everything about contemporary Israel is embroiled in exploitation of traditions and history for political gain. So why should the Holocaust be any different?
Well, for one thing, it’s the most profound catastrophe in Jewish history. And that includes some pretty devastating events like the Roman conquest, Spanish Inquisition, Crusades, Cossack massacres and Czarist pogroms. So you’d think the memory of six-million dead would make the hucksters and charlatans stop and take notice. But no such luck.
Israel decided that it alone was permitted to mark the 75th anniversary of the Allied liberation of Auschwitz in 1945, with an international gathering of the world’s leaders in Jerusalem to mark the momentous occasion. It ceded control of the event to a Russian oligarch, Moshe Kantor, who is a bosom buddy of Vladimir Putin. Kantor is a fertilizer magnate who parlayed the looting of state assets into a business worth $2.7-billion according to Forbes in 2016. In essence, Israel is renting itself out to him for this dog and pony show.
No reference was made to acknowledging Auschwitz at the site itself on this anniversary. The Polish museum dedicated to the memory of the dead there also planned its own commemoration. But it was given the cold shoulder by the Israelis. And Poland’s president was denied an opportunity to speak at the Jerusalem event. As a result he cancelled his participation.
Memorial Riven by Political Disputes and National Rivalries
There are many reasons for the recriminations. First, the Poles and Israelis have engaged in a war of words for the past year as the right-wing government in Warsaw took an increasingly nationalist and begrudging approach to the Holocaust, placing sole blame for the genocide on the Nazis. History shows that while the Poles were not the originators of the extermination, many participated willingly in the project once the Germans got it underway. This has become a taboo subject in Poland: no Poles killed Jews; Poles were victims no less than Jews were. There are now laws on the books making it a crime to say otherwise.
Though Bibi Netanyahu began several years ago with a charm offensive toward the Polish governing party, which shared many xenophobic tendencies with other rightist Euro-parties with whom the PM enjoyed a warm relationship, 3-million Polish Jewish dead is some very heavy baggage. And the Poles made it exceedingly difficult for Netanyahu to excuse their shameful distortions. Though he did try ever so valiantly to do so, even signing an agreement with the Polish prime minister which made neither side happy. By then, even he realized that this was a bridge too far.
The Holocaust memorial event was orchestrated by Kantor’s European Jewish Congress at a cost of millions or tens of millions of dollars. It was a one-man-show despite having all the trappings of a grand international event. Turning the event into a Russian production caused even more friction with the Poles, who historically despise the Russians. Add to this, that a Polish president and his entourage were killed in a plane crash on their way to a commemoration of the massacre of Polish officers by Stalin in Katyn Forest, and you have a truly toxic stew.
Israel is nothing if not brutally pragmatic in its foreign relations. So Poles were the losers, Russians the winners. There is yet another even more critical reason for Israel siding with the Russians: Netanyahu’s relationship with Putin has been critical to protecting Israeli interests in Syria, and in constraining its arch-enemy, Iran. Not to mention, that Israel just as Russia arranged for the return of an IDF soldier who died in Syria decades ago, Netanyahu hopes Putin can do the same regarding, Ron Arad, a downed airman lost over Lebanon in 1986. Further, Russia recently arrested an Israeli-American tourist who was transiting through the Moscow Airport on her way home from India to Israel. She was found to have a small amount of drugs and was detained.
The Russians tend to manufacture such situations when they have something they want to bargain for. It appears that Putin may want a piece of Russian Orthodox Church property in Jerusalem restored to his country’s sovereignty. There are reports that the Israeli woman may be traded in return for a transfer to Russian ownership. Putin is known to have an exceedingly close relationship with the Orthodox Church, and doing such a favor for it will certainly redound to his credit somewhere down the road.
Abandoning Victims and Survivors
Given all this political posturing, you may ask where was the original purpose of the event–to honor the end of the Holocaust and the memories of the six million? As always, to paraphrase Voltaire: political interests are the enemy of the good.
This is why a distinction must be made between Israel and Zionism on the one hand; and the Diaspora and Judaism on the other. Israel’s interests are national and political. They are not, despite claims to the contrary, the same as those of world Jewry. Israel did not lose six-million. In fact, Ben Gurion exercised very little effort in saving European Jewry. And when he did, it was solely to advance the interests of the Yishuv.
Not to mention that Israel itself has treated its own Holocaust survivors in shabby fashion. Despite the fact that these poor souls endured unbearable privation, Israel expected them to transition smoothly as citizens in the new state. It showed no recognition of that suffering. It offered few services and benefits to aid them in recovery from their trauma. And those who would never recover went on to lead lives of penury. The State did very little to intervene on their behalf.
Even at the Jerusalem ceremony, Israeli Holocaust survivors were barely be recognized as speakers before the world gathering. Only 30 of 800 seats at the ceremony were reserved for survivors. As a result, Ukrainian President Vlodymry Zelensky offered on behalf of his delegation to give up their seats to them.
It was as if Israel wished to disappear its own survivors for being an inconvenient remembrance of the weakness of Jews in the face of the Nazi Final Solution. That, after all, coincides with the Zionist view that the Diaspora will eventually disappear and leave only Israel as the last remnant of the Jewish people (a notion rejected by much of world Jewry).
It was world Jewry, not Israel who lost six-million. It should be the former’s commemoration, not Israel’s. There should have been joint Holocaust memorial gatherings throughout Europe, at every camp in which Jews died and every square where they were rounded up like sheep to the slaughter. Survivors and their descendants should have had pride of place. They are the last witnesses to the horror inflicted on the Jewish people. Not corrupt prime ministers desperately clinging to power. Not Russian oligarch toadies of the Kremlin.
Another oddity which conveys the perverse Israeli Zionist mentality toward the Holocaust is the annual custom of an Israel Air Force F-16 flyover of Auschwitz, about which an IAF commander-participant said:
“We, the Air Force pilots in the skies of the camp of horrors, rose up from the ashes of the millions of victims. We carry their silent cry; we salute their bravery and promise to protect the Jewish nation and its land, Israel”. [Their] home, a place they’d never been to before.”
This is nonsense. The answer to crematoria is not an F-16. And if the answer is an F-16, it only reinforces the false notion that every missile the IAF fires into Syria or Gaza, every killing the IDF commits is legitimized by the horror of Auschwitz. Remember the Jewish prophet who declared: “Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit says the Lord of Hosts.” I’m afraid this is a rather quaint and cynically dismissed attitude for most Israelis.
In his own address to the world leaders at the event, Netanyahu echoed these specious claims:
He called Auschwitz “the ultimate symbol of Jewish powerlessness,” adding, “Today, we have a voice, we have a land, and we have a shield,” the Israeli armed forces.
This is a profound insult to the victims and survivors. Nor are Jews in the Diaspora powerless. Further, world Jewry has deliberately refused to accept the notion that there is only one legitimate response to this evil: aliyah to Israel under the umbrella of overwhelming Israeli force. In fact, it is arguable that Israeli Jews are safer under that umbrella than they are in the Diaspora. The price of being a garrison state in a state of perpetual hostility with its neighbors as Israel is, is that danger and violence lie just around the corner.
Political Posturing in the Guise of Commemorating the Holocaust
The worst outrage regarding the Holocaust gathering was its exploitation by Netanyahu to prop up his rapidly capsizing political career and propagate a pro-Israel narrative co-opting anti-Semitism to fend off criticism of Israel. There was one purpose and one alone to hosting the world’s leaders at this gathering on the hallowed ground of Yad Vashem. It was to wrangle them together so they may understand what they must do when they return home: protect Israel at all costs. Israel is focussed on one particular goal, to attain universal adoption of the IHRA (faux) definition of anti-Semitism. It wants every national legislature in the EU to ratify it. In effect, the goal of the Holocaust event is to wipe out any distinction between the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and Israel. They are all one: an insult to one is an insult to all.
This is a noxious approach. It is ahistorical; it tramples on the memory of the six-million; it bestows on Israel a legitimacy it has done nothing to deserve. It is sheer trickery.
Returning to Yad Vashem, the western portion of its current site was the Palestinian site, Hirbat al-Hamama. It was the agricultural fields of the adjacent village of Ayn Karem. All of the Palestinian settlements were occupied by the Palmach in July 1948. Their inhabitants were driven out. The hill immediately adjacent to the current museum site is where Deir Yassin once sat. And on another nearby hill in the Jerusalem Forest, Mohammed Abu Khdeir was brutally murdered in an incident portrayed in the HBO series, Our Boys. As conference-goers discuss weighty subjects of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Europe, they ought not to lose sight of the fact of Israeli Nakba and ethnic cleansing. As the Jewish people recovered from the Holocaust, the Yishuv repeated a similar crime against the Palestinian people.
Netanyahu has also exploited this remembrance by lobbying the thirty world leaders in attendance to sanction the International Criminal Court for agreeing to take on the war crimes case against Israel:
Netanyahu is expected to ask the leaders he will meet – chief among them U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and others – to publish official statements that will back the Israeli claim that the court in The Hague has no jurisdiction in Palestinian territories.
It is terribly convenient for Israel to argue that it is being singled out unfairly for acts of self-defense; and that such accusations are themselves anti-Semitic. After all, this is one of the most “useful” pro-Israel tools offered by the IHRA’s faux definition of anti-Semitism.
How does Israel love using anti-Semitism for its own purposes? Let me count the ways…
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.