Is this really the lesson from the Holocaust?

by tobybee

I was at a conference at the ACJC today, called Aftermath: Holocaust Survivors in Australia, at which Yehuda Bauer was the first speaker and Zeev Mankowitz the second. The two of them are Holocaust studies ‘experts’ at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and it seemed like they came to Melbourne to talk to us about how central Israel and Zionism was in providing an ending, a resolution to the Holocaust, and the rebirth of the Jewish people. It was mostly nothing I hadn’t heard before, but it was continuous for a couple of hours, and it definitely did my head in a little on a Sunday. So the narrative presented to us was that all the survivors longed to go to ‘Eretz Yisrael’; that some failed, but they always felt sad that they missed out; that they wanted a Jewish state because they had experienced what happened when Jews lived in non-Jewish states and that was always inevitably bad. One story Mankowitz told in this vein was kind of amazing: that in an interview someone had said that, after the War, they met a member of the Israeli army (or something like that – I wasn’t listening close enough. sorry!), who was wearing a magen david in blue and white, and was carrying a gun. And the interviewee said that they never imagined that Jews could be carrying a gun: they always thought that Jews were only to be killed. This Jew carrying a gun, in this story was a symbol of hope. To me and the friend I was sitting with, it was a symbol of the idea that now Jews are not only killed, they also can kill. There’s no hope in that.

Other lovely offerings from Bauer and Mankowitz came in their disparagement of post-zionists… Bauer: ‘You know those post-zionists, or postmodernists, or post-whatever. [laughter from the crowd] put them in the post. post-zionists are just wrong.’ Mankowitz: ‘post-zionists don’t do any research.’ delightful!

And then I come home, and read in The Age that Israel has extended their closure of the West Bank. Apparently, the Israeli Government is worried that there will be violence carried out by Palestinians, in retaliation for Israel’s announcement last week that they are going to be constructing further buildings in the illegal settlements in East Jerusalem. It’s a neat formula: Israel announces increased colonisation, Palestinians protest, Israel seals off the West Bank, further imprisoning Palestinians. Win win for Israel, increased oppression for Palestinians. How is this the redemption for the Jewish people after the Holocaust? How is a violently exclusivist nation-state the object of desire after the Holocaust?