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Israel's Culture of Martyrdom

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  • World View
    Israel s Culture of Martyrdom by BARUCH KIMMERLING [from the January 10, 2005 issue] http://www.thenation.com/docprint.mhtml?i=20050110&s=kimmerling Nations
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2, 2005
      Israel's Culture of Martyrdom
      [from the January 10, 2005 issue]

      Nations like to imagine themselves as unique, but one belief they
      have in common is that it is noble to die in their name. Death and
      redemption are the themes of almost every form of patriotism. In the
      case of Israel, however, the connection between nationalism and
      death is especially visceral. For the Jewish state is a nation that
      emerged from the ashes of a project of extermination, and that sees
      itself as the best defense against the renewal of violent
      persecution. Zionism, the state's ruling ideology, is a triumphal
      creed shadowed by death.

      The Israeli historian Idith Zertal argues that the nexus of death
      and nationalism is essential to understanding Israeli society today.
      In her powerful new book, Death and the Nation (which will be
      published in an English translation this summer by Cambridge
      University Press under the title Israel's Holocaust and the Politics
      of Nationhood), she demonstrates how the catastrophes of Jewish
      history have been transformed into nationalist fables of heroism,
      victory and redemption. In debunking the official nationalist
      historiography, Zertal's book follows in the footsteps of works such
      as Nachman Ben-Yehuda's The Masada Myth and Yael
      Zerubavel'sRecovered Roots, both of which explored how ancient
      Jewish history was distorted to serve the needs of the Zionist
      movement. What sets Zertal's book apart is her focus on death. She
      believes that an obsession with death and martyrdom has vitally
      shaped the way Israelis understand themselves and their state. One
      of her recurring themes is "ancient graves produce fresh graves."

      At the center of this culture of death is the remembrance of martyrs-
      -Jews who, in Zionist ideology, had to die so that the state might
      be born. The central chapter in the construction of Israeli
      martyrology was, of course, the Holocaust, but it began well before,
      according to Zertal, who traces it to the cult surrounding Joseph
      Trumpeldor, the first hero of the Jews who settled in
      Palestine."Never mind dying," Trumpeldor is reported to have said
      shortly before his death in 1920. "It is good to die for our
      country." Born in a small town in the northern Caucasus, Trumpeldor
      was strongly influenced in his youth by a nearby farming commune
      established by followers of Leo Tolstoy, a model that soon merged in
      his mind with the Zionist ideal of settling Palestine. In 1912 he
      made his way to Palestine, hoping to establish agricultural
      communes. The kibbutznik, however, ended up achieving distinction
      not as a farmer but as a soldier. Drafted into the Russian army in
      1902, he lost an arm in the Russo-Japanese War. He went on to serve
      as the deputy commander of a Jewish brigade established by the
      British in World War I, participating in the Gallipoli campaign of

      When he returned to Palestine four years later, he was called by the
      Jewish community leadership to northern Galilee to help organize the
      defense of small frontier-zone outposts against attacks by Arab
      militias allied with the newly established, British-backed regime of
      Faysal in Damascus. These outposts had been created by Jewish
      settlers as a way of establishing the northern border of Palestine,
      an issue of contention between France and Britain. In 1920, a year
      after his return to Palestine, Trumpeldor was mortally wounded while
      defending the outposts at Tel Hai, a commemorative "holy place."
      Along with five of his comrades, he was buried near Tel Hai. In 1934
      a memorial was erected at his gravesite, and it soon became, for
      Zionist youth movements, a place of pilgrimage nearly as important
      as Masada, where, according to the Zionist interpretation of Flavius
      Josephus, Jewish rebels committed mass suicide rather than surrender
      to the Romans in AD 73.

      The remembrance of Trumpeldor's death at Tel Hai, argues Zertal,
      marked the beginning of a cult of death among Israeli Jews. The "new
      Jewish man," in this ideology, was ready to make the ultimate
      sacrifice, to die defending his land and people, in stark contrast
      with Diaspora Jews, who would later be depicted as weaker souls who
      went "like lambs to the slaughter" in the Holocaust. The voices
      arguing that it is better to live for one's country than to die for
      it were accordingly stifled and silenced. It is deeply ironic that
      the very same society now claims to be shocked by the "martyrdom
      culture" in the occupied territories.

      The Tel Hai affair also established the basic pattern of conflict
      management with the Arabs. As Zertal points out, the Zionist
      leadership made appeals to the defenders of Tel Hai to withdraw,
      citing their poor weapons and their immense numerical inferiority.
      After a heated debate, this option was rejected by the Jewish
      community leadership (with the exception of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the
      founding father of the Zionist right). In this moment, we can see
      the seeds of the idea that the construction of Jewish settlements--
      the creation of "facts on the ground," in contemporary Israeli
      parlance--should be the major tool by which to establish the
      geopolitical boundaries of Jewish control over Israel-Palestine. The
      line that runs from Tel Hai to "Judea and Samaria" may be twisted,
      but it is more direct than some would like to imagine.

      Death was an inescapable presence in the early days of the Jewish
      state, which had recently become a sanctuary for hundreds of
      thousands of Holocaust survivors. Israeli leaders have often invoked
      the Holocaust as the ultimate justification for the Jewish state
      (and, more cynically, for Israel's counterinsurgency tactics in the
      occupied territories). Yet as Zertal shows, Israel's relationship to
      Holocaust victims has been highly ambivalent, and the state's
      treatment of survivors has sometimes been strikingly manipulative.

      This point is clearly illustrated by Yosef Grodzinsky, a
      neurolinguist at Tel Aviv University, in his new book, In the Shadow
      of the Holocaust, a detailed and well-researched account of the
      struggle between the survivors of the Holocaust and the various
      Zionist agencies and emissaries who pressured them to immigrate to
      Palestine, regardless of the survivors' own wishes, through superior
      organizational skills and connections with the US military and
      civilian authorities.

      The Holocaust presented a unique set of challenges for the Zionist
      movement. On the one hand, the major reservoir of Jewish candidates
      for immigration to Palestine had been annihilated. On the other
      hand, between 1945 and 1951 millions of displaced people and
      refugees, 330,000 of them Jewish Holocaust survivors, were
      desperately wandering the roads of Europe in search of a home. Many
      of these survivors could potentially be directed to Palestine,
      especially since the immigration gates of the United States were all
      but closed. This created a unique opportunity to bring an
      unprecedented number of Jews to Palestine. At the same time, these
      potential immigrants suffered from high rates of malnutrition,
      physical degeneration and illness. Most had no family and no home to
      which they could return or be repatriated. They were completely
      disoriented and many were still influenced by the Nazi worldview,
      which regarded them as subhumans, as Bruno Bettelheim (himself a
      camp survivor) has described. However, until the camps for Jewish
      displaced persons and refugees were fully dismantled, less than 40
      percent of the survivors came to Palestine (or Israel, after its
      establishment in 1948), in spite of heavy pressures by the Zionist
      agencies: a disappointing proportion, given the movement's initial

      David Ben-Gurion, the leader of the Zionist movement and Israel's
      first prime minister, viewed the future Jewish homeland as the one
      and only destination for the survivors, as Zertal makes clear in an
      illuminating discussion of the odyssey of the 4,500 survivors from
      German camps who set sail in July 1947 as "illegal immigrants" on a
      ship later named Exodus. The real story of the ship was far less
      glorious than the one told in Leon Uris's 1958 bestseller and Otto
      Preminger's 1960 film. When the ship embarked, the UN Special
      Committee on Palestine was holding discussions and Ben-Gurion, the
      head of the Jewish Agency, the primary governing body of the state-
      in-formation, felt that the plight of Jewish refugees in Europe
      needed to be dramatized in order to attract more sympathy for the
      Jewish struggle over Palestine. The British authorities had refused
      to let the immigrants disembark in Palestine, or even to take refuge
      in transitional camps in Cyprus, forcing the boat to be redirected
      back to Germany. To prevent such a ghastly outcome, Zionist leader
      Chaim Weizmann persuaded the French Prime Minister, Leon Blum, to
      host the refugees. Ben-Gurion rejected this solution out of hand,
      and the poor survivors remained on board for seven months.

      Ben-Gurion's insensitivity was rooted in his "Palestine-centric"
      attitude, best exemplified by his 1938 remark that "if I knew it was
      possible to save all children of Germany by their transfer to
      England and only half of them by transferring them to the Land of
      Israel, I would choose the latter, because we are faced not only
      with the accounting of these children but also with the historical
      accounting of the Jewish people." This was not merely a rhetorical
      declaration. Grodzinsky tells us with great pain how Ben-Gurion and
      other Zionist leaders vetoed the immigration of 1,000 orphans, who
      were in physical and emotional danger as a result of the harsh
      winter of 1945, from the camps in Germany to England, where the
      Jewish community had managed to secure them permits. Another group
      of roughly 500 children of camp inhabitants was barred, after
      Zionist intervention, from reaching France, whose rabbinical
      institutions had offered them safe haven.

      Ben-Gurion's strategy in the Exodus affair paid off. The fate of the
      refugee ship attracted considerable and sympathetic attention around
      the world, and served the Zionist cause well. Few observers at the
      time knew that many of the refugees from the Exodus had applied for
      immigration visas to the United States, and were hardly anxious to
      settle in Israel. By dramatizing the fate of the survivors, in whom
      he had little interest except as future residents of the state he
      was building (Good Human Material is the original Hebrew title of
      Grodzinsky's book), Ben-Gurion helped to make Israel the world's
      chief power broker over Jewish affairs. Under his leadership, Israel
      established a claim to represent all of world Jewry, and on this
      basis successfully claimed reparations from the Federal Republic of
      Germany. Indeed, as Zertal argues, Israel acquired the right to
      speak not only for living Jews but for the 6 million exterminated
      Jews, to whom Ben-Gurion suggested granting symbolic citizenship--in
      effect, turning them into martyrs for the Jewish state.

      Another affair described in detail by Grodzinsky concerns the
      preparation and conscription of the displaced persons in European
      camps for participation in the Arab-Jewish struggle over Palestine.
      From 1946, the Palestinian Jewish underground militia organizations--
      mainly Ben-Gurion's Haganah--attempted to recruit veteran Jewish
      partisans from Russia, Poland and France for the anticipated war.
      Moreover, in February 1948 the Haganah issued a call to every fit
      man and woman in the European camps between the ages of 17 and 35,
      seeking volunteers for the military forces of the embryonic Jewish
      state in Palestine. The Zionist movement's assumption that the
      survivors in the camps would become citizens of Israel and fight on
      its behalf aroused resentment among many of them.

      At the same time, the sense of existential fear in the Jewish
      community of Palestine, roughly 600,000 in number and short on
      weapons, was quite real. There was a deep anxiety that the coming
      intercommunal (and perhaps interstate) war could lead to their
      annihilation. The sense of urgency led a number of inhabitants of
      the camps in Europe to join the Haganah, which provided a degree of
      pride and some psychological compensation for the horrors they had
      suffered. In addition, it rescued them from their miserable lives in
      the camps.

      Yet the request for volunteers yielded only about 700 recruits. The
      majority of survivors were in no mood to take up arms for the Jewish
      state. "We have already smelled fire, let others smell it now," said
      one. As Grodzinsky shows, the low number of volunteers led, from
      April 1948 onward, to "compulsory conscription" in the camps in
      Germany and Austria. This "compulsory conscription" was implemented
      by the autonomous camp managers through a variety of means, among
      them firing employees from their jobs; evicting tenants from their
      houses; denying food supplies; arrests and beatings; and the threat
      of ostracism from the community. The number of draftees rose to
      7,800, many of whom disembarked from the ships only to be sent
      directly to the battlefield to die for their new homeland.

      After the war, under pressure from Holocaust survivors, Israel's
      Knesset passed the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law, in
      1950. The law, tailored in accordance with the Nuremberg precedent,
      required a mandatory death sentence for every person found guilty of
      genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, without any
      differentiation between the degree and scope of their crimes. The
      law's intention was mainly symbolic since, as Zertal observes,
      nobody seriously considered the possibility that Israel would bring
      Nazis to trial after Nuremberg, even if some Nazis succeeded in
      escaping justice. The passage of this law, however, would have
      unintended and far-reaching consequences.

      Initially intended to punish Nazis and their collaborators in
      Eastern and Central Europe, the law turned sharply against certain
      Jews themselves. During the 1950s dozens of Jewish men and women
      were sued by Holocaust survivors who identified them as kapos--
      Jewish supervisors in death and concentration camps--or as former
      members of the Judenr├Ąte, the Jewish community councils that
      provided the Nazis with lists of community members and organized the
      transports to the camps. In most of these cases the sentences were
      light, since the judges felt that most of the Jewish collaborators
      were themselves victims and that the 1950 act was not designed to
      apply to them. Nonetheless, the boundary between perpetrators and
      victims began to be blurred in disturbing ways, raising troubling
      questions about the role some Jews had played in the Nazi campaign
      of destruction.

      In the 1954 Kastner affair, the carefully policed boundary between
      victim and perpetrator all but evaporated, upsetting the stability
      of Israel's entire political system. The controversy broke out after
      a 71-year-old Hungarian Jew, Malkiel Gruenwald, published a pamphlet
      in which he accused another Hungarian Jew, 48-year-old Dr. Rudolf
      Kastner, of collaborating with the Nazis in Hungary between 1944 and
      1945. Kastner had assumed various leadership roles within the Jewish
      community in Hungary and Transylvania before and during the war,
      including the chairmanship of the "rescue committee" of Jews who
      escaped from countries occupied by Nazi Germany. After arriving in
      Palestine in 1946, he became a prominent member of Ben-Gurion's
      ruling Labor party (then known as Mapai) and was to be its candidate
      for the Knesset in the coming election. Kastner also occupied
      several influential positions, including spokesman of the Trade and
      Industry Ministry, director of broadcasting in Hungarian and
      Romanian, chief editor of Uj Kelet (a Hungarian daily) and chairman
      of the Organization of Hungarian Jewry in Israel.

      According to Gruenwald, Kastner, in his capacity as a Jewish
      community leader in Hungary, had provided indispensable assistance
      to SS Lieutenant Col. Adolf Eichmann in the latter's efforts to ship
      a half-million Hungarian and Transylvanian Jews to the extermination
      camps. At the time Eichmann was head of the Gestapo department in
      charge of Jewish matters and population evacuation. Eichmann had
      been largely responsible for the deportation to the East of nearly
      190,000 Austrian Jews from March 1938 onward. Eichmann had also
      participated in the January 1942 Wannsee conference, where the
      administrative and logistic details of the "final solution to the
      Jewish problem" were settled. He was not, it must be underscored, a
      policy-maker in the Third Reich, and his activities and decisions
      were mostly bureaucratic. Even his negotiations with the Jewish
      dignitaries and Nazi-appointed or self-appointed Judenr├Ąte were
      aimed at achieving a well-organized and well-run transportation
      process to the camps. His role, on arriving in Budapest in March
      1944, was to send a half-million Hungarian Jews to their death as
      swiftly and efficiently as possible.

      To accomplish this goal, Eichmann needed Jewish collaborators like
      Kastner, since he was understaffed, with an SS team of 150 men and
      only a few thousand Hungarian soldiers at his disposal. Eichmann
      knew that the Jews would not go voluntarily to the so-called
      resettlement areas at the behest of the Nazis or the Hungarian
      authorities. The only people they would trust were their own
      leaders. Here, Kastner played a major role. He and his staff had to
      make sure that the Jews were not informed of the real destination of
      the trains. Misled by Kastner and others like him, the Jews showed
      up dutifully at the trains in the belief that they were merely being
      resettled. Some even made efforts to get on the earlier trains in
      order to have a better choice of housing in the new settlements. In
      exchange for Kastner's help, Gruenwald alleged, the Nazis gave the
      gift of life in June 1944, organizing a special rescue train for him
      and 1,600 Jewish notables, including Kastner's relatives and

      Charged with slander by Israel's attorney general, Gruenwald hired
      the services of a young, able and highly motivated lawyer, Shmuel
      Tamir. Tamir had his own political agenda, as did Gruenwald and the
      judge presiding over the trial, Benjamin Halevi. All three men were
      veterans of the right-wing Lehi underground during the British
      colonial period and were vehement opponents of Ben-Gurion's
      government, which Kastner represented. During the trial, one of
      Israel's most dramatic ever, Tamir succeeded in turning the tables
      on his client's accuser, arguing that the Jewish leadership in
      Palestine had sabotaged a series of attempts to rescue Jews during
      the Holocaust. In his verdict, which cleared the accused of slander,
      Judge Halevi rejected most of Gruenwald's charges against the Jewish
      leadership (during Eichmann's trail, the judge would maintain a
      discreet silence about this painful issue), but he accepted the main
      one: that Kastner had collaborated with the Nazis and "sold his soul
      to the devil."

      Following the Gruenwald verdict, an appeal was submitted to the High
      Court of Justice, but in March 1957 Kastner was assassinated. Three
      people were arrested, accused and sentenced for the murder, but even
      today the assassination is a matter of contention. The official
      version is that the assassins belonged to a tiny right-wing
      underground group inspired by the fringe right-wing zealot Israel
      (Sheib) Eldad. Zertal's account, however, is closer to the
      alternative version, advanced by extremist right- and left-wing
      groups, according to which Kaster was eliminated by the state
      security services because he proved too much of an embarrassment for
      the government. Posthumously, the High Court cleared Kastner of
      responsibility for any of the crimes of which Gruenwald accused him,
      except for that of false testimony on behalf of Nazi officer Kurt
      Becher at the Nuremberg trial.

      Zertal's preference for the unofficial version of Kastner's
      assassination is not incidental. This version reinforces the link
      she makes between the Kastner trial and the extraordinary trial that
      followed it, that of Adolf Eichmann, whose capture by Israeli agents
      in Argentina Ben-Gurion announced in the Knesset in May 1960.
      According to Zertal, there were several motives behind Ben-Gurion's
      decision to bring Eichmann to trial in Israel. The first and most
      immediate was to correct the impression left by the Gruenwald-
      Kastner trial, namely that the Jewish leadership in Palestine failed
      to undertake any serious rescue efforts on behalf of their European
      brethren during the Holocaust. Second, in spite of his initial
      discomfort with the subject and his insensitivity toward survivors,
      Ben-Gurion sought to turn the Holocaust into the central pillar of
      Israeli identity and to use it as the main basis upon which to
      legitimize the Zionist project. Third, the Eichmann case could be
      used as a tool to equate Israel's Arab enemies with the Nazis.
      Fourth, the trial helped cast Israel as the representative and
      savior of world Jewry.

      The trial lasted from April to August of 1961. Eichmann was
      sentenced to death and executed in Ramleh Prison in May 1962. It was
      a show trial, not because the accused was innocent--Eichmann was
      responsible for staggering crimes against humanity--but because the
      trial was a grand attempt to shape Jewish and Holocaust history and
      memory by a single man, Ben-Gurion, and because it had far less to
      do with the task of proving Eichmann's guilt. (Ben-Gurion went to
      great lengths to keep post-Holocaust Germany--the "New Germany," as
      he called it--and the West German leadership out of the trial, so as
      not to embarrass Israel's new military and economic ally, West
      German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.) The entire narrative was set in
      motion from the very first statement made by Attorney General Gideon

      When I stand before you here, judges of Israel, to lead the
      prosecution of Adolf Eichmann, I am not standing alone. With me are
      6 million accusers. But they cannot rise to their feet and point an
      accusing finger toward him who sits in the dock and cry: "I accuse."
      For their ashes are piled up on the hills of Auschwitz and the
      fields of Treblinka, and are strewn in the forests of Poland. Their
      graves are scattered throughout the length and breadth of Europe.
      Their blood cries out, but their voice is not heard. Therefore I
      will be their spokesman and in their name I will unfold this awesome

      Over four months, day after day, witnesses recounted the horrors of
      the death camps, the heroism of Jewish partisans and soldiers who
      fought the Nazis, especially the hopeless uprising in the Warsaw
      Ghetto. As Zertal observes, the Jewish resistance was presented as
      having been organized and led solely by Zionist movements and their
      leaders, while the role of the Bundists, Beitarists and Communists
      was either downplayed or ignored. Marek Edelman, one of the heroes
      of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the deputy commander of the
      uprising under Mordechai Anielewicz, was not even mentioned.
      Edelman, who represented the Jewish Socialist Party (Bund), opposed
      Anielewicz's decision to commit suicide (accompanied with the murder
      of one's relatives). After the war, Edelman rejected the very idea
      that one could draw "lessons" from the Holocaust, as well as the
      notion that Zionism provided the "answer" to the Jewish question. He
      remained in Poland and achieved fame as a leading cardiologist and a
      key figure in the Solidarity labor movement of the 1980s. In 1946 he
      published one of the first accounts of the ghetto uprising, The
      Ghetto Fights, in Polish, Yiddish and English. The book was
      translated into Hebrew only in 2001.

      The Eichmann trial received extraordinary attention in Israel, where
      much of it was broadcast live on state radio (the country's only
      radio station at the time), which functioned, in the words of media
      expert Elihu Katz, as Israel's "tribal campfire." The state radio
      supplemented its live broadcasts with follow-ups and daily and
      weekly summaries and comments. For most of Israel's Jewish
      population, the trial provided a rite of passage, imbuing them with
      the sense that they were all, in a way, Holocaust survivors and that
      another Holocaust might be imminent. Had it not been for the
      Eichmann trial, Zertal suggests, Israelis might not have seen the
      1967 war as an "existential threat" of Holocaust proportions but as
      a secular war over disputed land.

      The trial also attracted considerable attention abroad. Hundreds of
      foreign reporters descended on Jerusalem to cover the remarkable
      story. (Adding to the drama--and raising questions about the trial's
      legality--was the fact that the accused had been kidnapped in
      Argentina by the Israeli secret service, and that the Israeli law
      was invoked retroactively.) Among these reporters the best-known was
      the political philosopher Hannah Arendt, who had recently achieved
      fame for her 1951 tome The Origins of Totalitarianism. A German Jew
      who had studied under Heidegger (with whom she had a brief affair),
      Arendt had a long, troubled relationship with the Jewish state. In
      her early 20s she was a Zionist. In the 1940s, as she became a
      critic of any form of nationalism, she drew close to the tiny Brit
      Shalom movement, which espoused an Arab-Jewish binational state in
      Palestine. In 1945 she published an article titled "Zionism
      Reconsidered"--which forecast most of the wrongdoings of Zionism
      while still demonstrating a deep emotional and intellectual concern
      for the future of Israel and its people.

      Arendt arrived in Jerusalem as a reporter for The New Yorker, but
      her interest in the trial went far beyond that of a foreign
      correspondent. She saw the trial as an opportunity to re-examine her
      thesis about the uniqueness and modernity of the Nazi regime and to
      find answers to the enigmatic question of how it was possible to
      implement the Final Solution so easily and efficiently. Elaborating
      on an argument in The Origins of Totalitarianism, she asserted that
      the bureaucratization and rationalization of the nation-state made
      possible a new, industrialized kind of mass murder. Sitting at his
      desk in a sterile office, organizing the logistics of properly
      managing transportation and extermination camps, Eichmann was, in
      her view, a symptom of the "banality of evil" rather than a prime
      mover in the Nazi machinery of organized killing.

      As the Arendt scholar Jerome Kohn has argued in an illuminating
      essay, one of the major reasons for the controversy provoked by her
      book Eichmann in Jerusalem

      was and remains the failure of many readers, both Jews and non-Jews,
      to make the tremendous mental effort required to transcend the fate
      of one's own people and see what was pernicious for all humanity.
      The notion of a "crime against humanity" was introduced in the
      Nuremberg trials of major war criminals in 1946, but in Arendt's
      opinion the crime was confused there with "crimes against peace"
      and "war crimes" and had never been properly defined nor its
      perpetrators clearly recognized.

      In Arendt's view, the Nazi genocide, while "perpetrated upon the
      body of the Jewish people," was a crime that "violated the order of
      mankind." What stood out for her as a political philosopher was
      less "the choice of victims" than the extraordinary "nature of the

      Unlike some Israeli-Jewish intellectuals, such as Judah Magnes and
      Martin Buber, Arendt did not object to the trial being held in
      Jerusalem. She did not argue for an international court, nor did she
      oppose the capital sentence. She did, however, object to Attorney
      General Hausner's understanding of Jewish history, and of the nature
      of Nazism as a form of genocidal anti-Semitism. In his opening
      speech, Hausner presented Jewish history as a narrative of eternal
      victimization. Far from being an unprecedented program of mass
      industrialized killing, the Holocaust was discussed as if it were
      merely an immense pogrom. The effect of Hausner's speech, in
      Arendt's view, was to define Zionism and Israeli nationalism as the
      only guarantors of Jewish survival and continuity. She also objected
      to the ideologically motivated characterization of Eichmann as the
      incarnation of the ultimate evil. Arendt in no way sought to
      diminish the magnitude of Eichmann's crimes. But with her concept of
      the banality of evil, she sought to underscore the bureaucratic
      machinery in which Eichmann was a cog (however enthusiastic), and
      without which he could never have committed his crimes.

      However, Arendt did not believe that the rise of the nation-state
      and its bureaucratization sufficed as an explanation of the Nazi
      genocide. More controversially, she also turned to an examination of
      the social structure of the Jewish communities and the nature of
      their leadership and representatives. Drawing upon Raul Hilberg's
      exhaustive research in The Destruction of the European Jews (a book
      that has never been translated into Hebrew and is not quoted in
      Israel), she provided an unsparing anatomy of the ways in which the
      European Jewish communities facilitated Nazi purposes--for example,
      by providing lists and addresses of their members and their
      property. She also analyzed the ways in which most of the Jewish
      leadership consciously collaborated with the Nazis. Law-abiding to a
      fault, they filled out endless forms (about their property), policed
      themselves, funded the "project of resettlement," went to the
      concentration points and entered the trains of "resettlement," while
      most of their leaders were fully aware of the railroad destination.
      The Nazi officers and clerks were surprised at how obediently the
      Jews went to their death.

      Thus, the Kastner case cannot be considered as an isolated one, but
      should be seen as part of a syndrome that characterized both Eastern
      and Western organized Jewish communities. As Arendt pointed out, in
      cities where the Jews were less tightly organized, or where the
      leadership warned the population or refused to collaborate with the
      Nazis, many more Jews survived. Had the Nazis been forced to hunt
      individuals or families, they would have needed more time and
      manpower to accomplish their mission. By a uniquely cruel twist of
      fate, what had been for generations a vehicle of Jewish survival
      became, in the hands of their enemies, one of the major tools for
      their physical annihilation. Contrary to Arendt's often vituperative
      critics, this analysis does not reduce the perpetrators'
      responsibility--if anything, it makes the Holocaust even more

      Eichmann in Jerusalem sparked "a civil war...among New York
      intellectuals," as Irving Howe recalled in his memoirs. Writing in
      the New York Times Book Review, the noted historian Barbara Tuchman
      accused Arendt of seeking to aid in Eichmann's defense, despite the
      fact that her book was published only after Eichmann's execution.
      According to Zertal, in the mid-1960s alone more than a thousand
      articles and books were published in response to Arendt--most of
      them in the spirit of Tuchman's attack. Arendt's descriptions of
      Eichmann's pettiness struck many American Jewish readers as a coded
      apologia for his behavior; her discussions of trial evidence
      regarding Jewish collaborators, as well as of non-Zionist Jews and
      their role in the resistance, were widely seen as attempts to blame
      the Jews for the Holocaust and to undermine the Zionist cause. A
      refugee from Hitler's Germany, Arendt found herself subjected to a
      vehement campaign of vilification by the Anti-Defamation League and
      other Jewish organizations, and denounced as a self-hating Jew, an
      anti-Semite and even a Nazi.

      In Israel, by contrast, the language barrier insulated most of the
      population from Arendt's heterodox ideas. Few Israelis were aware of
      intellectual controversies beyond the country's borders, unless they
      passed through the filters of the local intelligentsia. Although
      Eichmann in Jerusalem was translated into Hebrew by the Israeli
      thinker Boas Evron soon after its publication, it was not published
      in Israel for almost four decades, and even today none of Arendt's
      other work is available in Hebrew.

      This state of affairs did not protect her from attacks in the Hebrew
      press. Shortly after the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem,
      Gershom Scholem, the distinguished scholar of Jewish mysticism,
      wrote an open letter in the Hebrew daily Davar accusing Arendt of
      lacking ahavat Israel--"love for the Jewish people." In her reply,
      published in Encounter, she explained that the notion of allegiance
      to a group--particularly one to which she would be bound by birth--
      was highly suspicious to her, since it is rooted in self-interest.
      Her love, Arendt sharply remarked, was reserved for her friends. In
      her political commitments, she professed a "love of humanity" and
      not of a distinct people. Scholem and Arendt agreed to publish their
      exchange, and indeed both letters were printed in a book, but not in
      Hebrew. Thus, Hebrew-speaking readers only had the opportunity to
      read Scholem's criticism of a book that was not available to them
      and, unless they read English, they had no access to the author's
      response. In Death and the Nation, Zertal presents, for the first
      time in Hebrew, considerable portions of Arendt's letter to Scholem.

      One striking effort of the attorney generalduring Eichmann's trial
      was to equate the Arabs with the Nazis. This was achieved by
      inflating the role of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the prominent
      Palestinian political and religious leader (chairman of the Supreme
      Muslim Council and the mufti of Jerusalem) in the extermination of
      the Jews. In 1937, a year after the outbreak of the Arab Revolt, the
      British tried to arrest Husseini, among other Arab rebels, in the
      hope of quelling the uprising. Husseini escaped to Fascist Italy and
      then to Germany, where he offered his services to Hitler. There is
      no doubt that he saw in Nazi Germany an important ally against
      Zionism and, in at least one case, he tried to intervene to prevent
      the rescue of 10,000 Jewish children to Palestine. Husseini probably
      knew and approved of the Nazi plan to annihilate the Jewish people
      and hoped to receive a proper position in "liberated Palestine." He
      helped the Nazis form a collaborationist Muslim brigade in Bosnia,
      and to broadcast propaganda to the Arab world. However, the argument
      that he was a chief adviser to the Nazis on the "solution of the
      Jewish problem"--an argument on prominent display at Yad Vashem,
      Israel's Holocaust Museum--is preposterous. The Germans did not need
      Husseini's advice and in fact scorned the non-Aryan religious

      Since then, however, "the mufti" has become one of the major assets
      of pro-Israel propaganda. The argument was and is as follows: The
      Arabs do not accept the establishment of a Jewish state in
      Palestine, therefore they are anti-Semites who want to annihilate
      all the Jews and to accomplish the Nazi program--the best example
      being the mufti's alliance with Nazi Germany. This social
      construction of reality ignores not only the complexity and the
      fundamentally different basis of the Israeli-Arab conflict but also
      some inconvenient historical facts. One such fact is that while
      assisting the Nazis, the mufti lost almost all his influence over
      the Palestinian Arabs, which he never regained. Another is that
      during the 1930s and '40s Palestine was the only country in the
      region (and perhaps in the whole world) where no Nazi party or
      organization was established. During the 1930s, some Arab, as well
      as some Jewish, leaders expressed admiration for fascist regimes,
      but this was before the racist bases of these regimes became clear.
      It was only much later that Arabs borrowed anti-Semitic literature
      and motifs from the Europeans and used them in their propaganda.

      It's true, of course, that the native Palestinian Arabs, as well as
      the Arabs of the region, did not like or welcome the European Jews
      who colonized Palestine. They perceived the Jewish claims of
      ownership over the land based on a distant and ambiguous past and on
      some holy scriptures as unjust and ridiculous. They opposed this
      colonization with all the means at their disposal, sometimes with
      indiscriminate violence and terror. The confrontation between Arab
      and Jew in Palestine was a conflict of mutually exclusive interests,
      much like any other ethno-national conflict. To be sure, there were
      some racist undertones and expressions on both sides. But it is
      dangerously misleading to regard the Arab resistance against the
      Jewish presence and the gradual conquest of the land as an
      expression of historical anti-Semitism. Ironically, the Zionist
      effort to "Nazify" the Arabs--a strategy that began in the 1940s--
      ends up diminishing the extraordinary genocidal crimes committed by
      Nazi Germany.

      Zertal cogently demonstrates how a social construction of a "second
      coming Holocaust" was built before and during the wars of 1948 and
      1967 for the mobilization of domestic public opinion, world Jewry
      and Western nations. In fact, this campaign of fear directly
      contradicted the Zionist dogma asserting that a Jewish state in
      Palestine would insure Jewish security (and normalize Jewish
      existence). This inherent paradox was ironically expressed by
      Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, who referred to the Jewish state
      as Shimshon der Nebedicher (in Yiddish "the Wretched Samson"), the
      mighty military superpower that considers itself a victim. By
      invoking the Holocaust as a catastrophe whose repetition had to be
      avoided by any means (such as Abba Eban's famous definition of the
      Green Line as "Auschwitz borders"), Israeli leaders unburdened
      themselves of almost any moral restrictions, or even obedience to
      internal and international laws, whether it came to the making of
      nuclear weapons (with France's assistance and America's tacit
      acceptance), the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza or the
      invasion of Lebanon. Faced with political problems, Israel saw only
      existential threats. Once the Palestinian national movement was
      defined as a mortal threat to Jewish survival, any response to it,
      from the demolition of homes to the bombing of refugee camps, could
      be justified as legitimate self-defense.

      The worst abuses of the Holocaust in Israel, however, have occurred
      in the midst of debates between Jews, particularly the controversies
      around the territories occupied in 1967. The frequency and
      casualness with which Israeli Jews accuse one another of Nazi-like
      or anti-Semitic behavior today is a disturbing measure of the
      coarsening of the country's political culture.

      The example of such invective best-known outside Israel was the left-
      wing philosopher Yeshayahu Leibovitz's description of settlers
      as "Judeo-Nazis." More common and far more dangerous, however, has
      been the abuse of the Holocaust by the Israeli right wing. As Zertal
      points out, almost every Israeli politician who has tried to make
      peace with the Arabs has been likened to Neville Chamberlain, the
      British prime minister who tried to avoid the Second World War by
      appeasing Hitler, or as a "Nazi" whose secret desire is nothing less
      than the annihilation of the Jewish people. Any "concession" to the
      Arabs signals, in these terms, the destruction of Israel, the end of
      Zionism and the end of the Jewish people. Another symbol often seen
      at right-wing demonstrations is the yellow Star of David, the single
      most emotive symbol of Jewish victimization. If Ariel Sharon is
      Israel's prime minister today, it is in large part because of this
      right-wing campaign of vilification against supporters of a
      negotiated peace with the Palestinian people. Now, it seems, it is
      his turn to be demonized as his proposed evacuation from the Gaza
      Strip settlements comes to be labeled as a process aimed at making
      the Land of Israel judenrein--i.e., cleansed of Jews.

      In October 1995 Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu and the late Rafael Eitan
      attended a rally in Jerusalem organized by the extremist right-wing
      organizations Chabadand Zu Artzenu. The assembled mob called for the
      deaths of the "Oslo criminals" Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and
      Cabinet minister Shimon Peres, calling them the "Judenrat." One
      month later Rabin was shot dead by Yigal Amir, a religious
      nationalist youth who hoped to stop the implementation of the Oslo
      Accords. Rabin's assassination was the culmination of months of
      unprecedented incitement and violent demonstrations against the
      accords and the prime minister himself, who was blamed for betraying
      the idea of a Greater Israel. At right-wing rallies protesters held
      up posters depicting Rabin in an SS uniform. Opposition leaders
      played a major role in these incitements by using an unrestrained
      rhetoric of blood, land and treason.

      "Never forget" has been the mantra of Jewish and Israeli politics
      for three decades. But in Death and the Nation, Idith Zertal argues,
      daringly and I think rightly, that one can "remember too much." The
      obsessive commemoration of the Holocaust and of Jewish victimhood
      has blinded much of the Jewish community to Israel's real position
      in the world and to the humanity of the Palestinian people. The
      result has been to make ever more distant a reasonable political
      solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is the victory of death
      over life, of the past over the future. To be sure, there are
      periods in the history of a nation when ultimate sacrifices are
      necessary, and a cult of death unavoidable. The question in Israel
      today is whether this heroic period has come to an end or whether
      the prevailing ideology of the 1948 war will last another hundred
      years, until the entire "Land of Israel" is "liberated." To choose
      the former option is to grant priority to the lives of Israel's
      citizens, Jewish and Arab. To choose the latter is to remain a
      community of victims, joined in a mythical communion of Jewish
      sacrifice in an eternally hostile gentile world. Tragically, most of
      the organized American Jewish communityseems to prefer the mythic
      option, a course that can only lead to disaster.



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