How Israel Reckons With the Holocaust

Here is an excerpt from a thoughtful piece by David Landau, who suggests that the instinctive condemnations of Benjamin Netanyahu by the Israeli left (of which he is a member) for invoking the Holocaust when issuing warnings about the intentions of the Iranian regime are not only unfair, but symptoms of an unwillingness to grapple straightforwardly with the enormity of the Shoah, and with the threat posed by an Iranian leadership that has embraced eliminationist anti-Semitism as a policy:

Israelis needed, as we know, an entire generation until they were able to look the sights of the Holocaust, its refugees, the very fact of its occurrence, straight in the eye. We needed another entire generation until we began to acknowledge, or at least to consider, the claim that there was something cold and aloof in the Yishuv's response (the Yishuv was the Jewish community in British-occupied Palestine) and in its conduct even during the time of the Holocaust itself.

He goes on to write:

Certainly, one can disdain the style of Bibi's speech. "If it looks like a duck ...," he bellowed, with tasteless humor, to the thousands of cheering Jews in the audience. "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then what is it?"

However, his critics' fastidiousness does not exempt them from having to answer his question. Nor does it discharge them from the duty of historical discernment.

Many of us feel loathing and contempt for the frequent recourse of our right-wing leaders, Begin chief among them, to invoking the Holocaust in their every political speech and action. In doing so, they devalued the Holocaust time after time and profaned its memory.

Begin's letter to Ronald Reagan in 1982, in which he compared Yasser Arafat hiding in besieged Beirut to Hitler in his bunker in Berlin, still echoes infamously in Israel's annals. But this is not to say that the right-wingers, most especially the Bergson (Hillel Kook ) group in the United States, were not correct during the Holocaust, when they fought to create political pressure on Roosevelt to save the Jewish victims of the Holocaust - and were rudely rebuffed by the Jewish and Zionist establishment.

Between the lines, in his speech Bibi was conducting a harsh reckoning with the predecessors of the Jewish leaders cheering him in that Washington auditorium. Many of those applauding understood this. Netanyahu himself all too often wallows in that Revisionist propensity for hollow rhetoric coupled with cynical abuse of the memory of the Holocaust. He is recognized, moreover, at home and abroad, after six years at the helm of the country, as a prevaricator, a dissembler and indeed an outright liar on peace and the two-state solution (and on many other, less fateful matters as well).

But this does not mean that on this particular fateful matter, the Iranian nuclear bomb, which he has been addressing incessantly for 20 years now - and rightly so as a leader haunted by the Holocaust - that here too his positions are necessarily unfounded and his statements worthy only of derision and condemnation.
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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