The theory of Holocaust education, I think all except Jennifer Peto will agree, has been one of the great failures of our time. But it’s important to know how it has failed--and even more, to understand that our sentimental attachment to Holocaust memorialization can fail us with greater consequence in the future, as can our sentimental horror at those villains who deny the reality of the Holocaust. What happened as we learned about the Holocaust? Generally, nothing at all. Those politicians who speechified at the Holocaust Museum in the ’90s looked the other way, just as their predecessors in the 1930s did, as mass murders continued to take place. On the anti-Semitism front, the Maginot line of Holocaust education, human nature has not only refused to improve, but seems to have gotten worse. In one European country after another, observers--non-Jewish observers--remark levels of anti-Semitism unprecedented since 1945, despite Europe’s generous application of the Holocaust-memorial carrots and Holocaust-denial sticks. Jewish populations in Sweden are leaving entire cities; the retired chief of Holland’s major conservative party last month advised Jews who are "identifiably Jewish" to leave the country, because the Dutch state cannot protect them from anti-Semitic violence. It’s not Holocaust-deniers who commit attacks on individual Jews in Dutch cities; far from it. The Amsterdammers who jostle and taunt Rabbi Raphael Evers on streetcars are well informed, shouting "Joden aan het gas"--Jews to the gas chambers.Thought-provoking.
Holocaust education may have done more than fail. It might also have produced an unintended, but measurable effect that is even worse. . . The current generation of university students--Holocaust-educated from the nursery on--have been given ideas. And on campuses around the world, not just in Protestant Europe, it is fair to say that the more the current student generation have been taught about the evil of the Holocaust, the more Israel seems to them to resemble Nazi Germany rather than itself. Even if we resist the false suggestion that Israel is conducting a genocide of Palestinians, our Holocaust-instruction has left us all with an equally false notion: that Israel was created by Europeans in the Middle East in order to make amends to European Jews for a European Holocaust.
The falseness of this idea is not merely a matter of historical interest; it is false in a brilliantly focused way. Because in fact, quite apart from the unbroken continuity of Jewish life in Palestine since antiquity, and the recurring affirmation of the connection of the Diaspora to the land of Israel, the creation of Israel was an event that coincided with the creation of most of the modern states of the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The Jewish state in Palestine was created by those who fought and won the First World War, not the Second; and its raw material was the same as the raw material of the majority of the members of the EU and the Arab League: the broken territories of the great colonial powers, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. The beneficiaries of this impulse were to create new states for Arabs and Arabic speakers throughout the Ottoman empire, for South Slavs, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews, Armenians, Kurds, Estonians, Latvians, Ukrainians. Israel’s origin, then, is postcolonial, not imperialist. And those concerned with Israel’s survival should properly be concerned with the survival as free democracies of other postcolonial states on the periphery of tyranny elsewhere, such as Lebanon, Georgia, Ukraine, and even Lithuania and Poland.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Sam Schulman in the January 3rd Weekly Standard about how Holocaust teaching may inadvertently undermine the legitimacy of the nation of Israel: