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Which is why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent comments before the World Zionist Organization claiming that the Palestinian Mufti was the person responsible for the idea of exterminating Jews were so remarkably ahistorical and dangerous.
Netanyahu’s shameless exploitation of the Shoah to stoke fear of Palestinians doesn’t just create the strange consequence of taking Hitler off the hook for murdering six million Jews. It contributes to state-sponsored demonization and dehumanization of the Palestinian people, a form of incitement that essentially says anything goes when it comes to punishing Palestinians.
In some ways, this seemingly all-time low should come as no surprise. Netanyahu knows the best defense is a good offense, so in order to build power and distract from Israel’s unconscionable policies towards the Palestinians, he has built an entire career on the art of strutting victimization. After all, picking the wounds of a traumatized people to maintain power is easy in a country literally built from the ashes of genocide.
But the truth is Israeli governments have always justified all kinds of horrific policies, from stealing land to imprisoning children, by blaming the victim.
Netanyahu is using my family’s nightmare, many Jewish families’ nightmare, for his own expansionist political ends. Effectively, this is incitement for a deeply hurt people to go out and kill Palestinians. If we learned anything from the Holocaust, it was that we must never ever remain silent while a government incites hatred against an entire people.
Cecilie Surasky - Cecilie Surasky is the deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace
Israeli governments always found someone to blame for whatever violence came their way, and then they bombed them. This time around there’s nobody to blame. Except for that one thing.
I can’t imagine the frustration at Netanyahu’s cabinet meetings. Israel’s knee-jerk reaction is to blame a certain party, and then bomb them. That’s why it was so useful having Yasser Arafat from mid-1990s until his demise. Whatever happened, whoever did it, Arafat was always to blame. I was a journalist covering the story at the time, and I can still see the tanks at the presidential compound, the Muqataa, in Ramallah.
Arafat is obviously no longer with us, but since 2005 Israel found a new scapegoat in the form of the Gaza Strip. Before it blamed Arafat and bombed his compound, nowadays, consecutive Israeli governments have blamed Hamas and bombed the entire Gaza Strip. When rival factions fire rockets from Gaza, Israel blames Hamas and bombs Gaza. When the three Israeli teens were kidnapped and later found dead, Israel blamed Hamas and bombed Gaza.
But now who is Israel going to bomb? I’m certain at least one security official has uttered the words, “let’s bomb them,” and I really do sympathize with the Israeli government at this juncture. It’s got to be really tough not having anyone to blame and not being able to just bomb them.
Most tragic of all, perhaps, is that not only internationally but in Israel itself the distinction between the state’s Jewish character and its democratic regime is growing more acute. According to data of the Israel Democracy Institute, in the past five years there has been a consistent decline in the proportion of Israel’s Jewish citizens who consider the fusion of democracy and Judaism important. If in 2010, 48.1 percent of Jewish citizens replied that the two elements are equally important to them, in 2012 this fell to 41.9 percent, and in 2014, it was 24.5 percent. At the same time, the proportion of Israeli Jews for whom the Jewish element is the most important rose to as high as 38.9 percent; 33.5 percent of the respondents opted for democracy as most important.
The story here is not only the fact that for so many, Judaism “outranks” democracy in importance, though that is a disturbing situation in itself. The crux of the matter is that for the majority of Israel’s citizens the belief that the two of them can exist simultaneously is becoming increasingly impossible. The tragedy, then, is that, as in the Western world, in Israel, too, more and more people consider “Judaism” and “democracy” to be mutually exclusive entities.
The debacle here is above all cultural: It concerns the failure of Israeli society to forge a Judaism that is substantively democratic, a Judaism that self-evidently does not contradict democracy but, on the contrary, buttresses it. Instead, Judaism is being shaped as a violent ethnic identity, a Spartan religion of a nation of masters, an atavistic, nationalist entity, which instead of conducting a dialogue with modernity is choosing to divest itself of liberal traits it had already internalized, including some that were always ingrained in it.
This cultural debacle will become a historical disaster if, heaven forbid, Israel truly becomes exclusively “Jewish” in the future. Democracy will obviously suffer in that case, and along with it the population between the Jordan and the sea. A terrible period will ensue, but as with every past tyranny, this one, too, will collapse. When that happens, the true tragedy will be revealed: It will emerge that for the whole world, Judaism has become synonymous with apartheid and occupation, violence and oppression, despotism and subjugation.
Judaism has survived many disasters. This is one disaster it will not survive.
Dr. Tomer Persico is a fellow at the Elyachar Center for Studies in Sephardi Heritage at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and teaches in the religious studies program at Tel Aviv University.