In recent years, the Holocaust has been subject to an increasingly sickening blend of ruthless politicization, deliberate distortion, crass commercialization and an often abject sentimentalism.
More ominously, it has also become a weapon of choice for many of Israel’s worst enemies and for a resurgent anti-Semitism which brands the entire enterprise of Holocaust memory as nothing but a “Zionist plot.”
In contemporary Europe, Holocaust guilt is used more often than not to promote the Palestinian cause rather than to recognize the necessity of having a Jewish state. Arab and Islamist propaganda, aided and abetted by many liberals and leftists (including some vocal Jewish anti- Zionists), hammers away at the grotesque libel that Israeli policies towards the Palestinians are worse than those of the Nazis. Many Europeans believe these fables.
In Israel itself, there are even academics who trumpet such absurdities which have become all-too- commonplace on certain campuses abroad, especially in Britain, North America and Scandinavia.
This systematic degradation of the Holocaust has many causes as well as consequences that must give us pause. It has been accompanied by an ignominious competition for the mantle of ultimate victim-hood that exudes a perverse resentment at the fact that Jews have allegedly “monopolized” the martyr’s crown of suffering and pain. Efforts to elevate the Palestinian Nakba to equal status with the Shoah are only the latest in a long line of such gross distortions.
Some years ago, the Hungarian Nobel Prize Laureate Imre Kertész analyzed the negative reactions to any reminder of Jewish sufferings. In 1998, he caustically observed that “the anti-Semite of our age no longer loathes Jews; he wants Auschwitz.”
This fact has not, however, prevented some Jewish intellectuals and Israelis from pursuing their own narrow political agendas and demanding that we abandon any engagement with Holocaust memory or universalize it out of existence.
This is one of several well-made points in Alvin Rosenfeld’s recent sobering study, titled The End of the Holocaust. No intelligent person reading this book or remotely familiar with the subject could still believe that the banal pieties that have grown up around the mass murder of European Jewry could serve as an effective antidote against present-day anti-Semitism.
Another striking result of the polemics surrounding Holocaust memory is a certain fatigue or plain distaste for hearing any more about the Jews and their specific sorrows. There has been a notable shift over the past 20 years to searching for almost any light at the end of the Holocaust tunnel, some kind of a happy ending or emotionally uplifting stories about human brotherhood, altruistic rescuers and easily digestible universal moral lessons to be drawn from this tragic history.
This trend may be humanly all-too-understandable but it ultimately involves a dangerously naïve level of escapism with regard to the bi-millennial Christian European Jew-hatred that made the Holocaust possible in the first place.
Worse still, it diverts us away from the nightmarish but not inconceivable possibility that nearly six million Israeli Jews (as well as many Muslim Arabs) could be destroyed by a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of Iran or one of its proxies. In other words, there could indeed be a second Holocaust.
The originally Greek term “Holocaust,” with its unacceptable implications of a wholly burned sacrificial offering to the gods, is of course a misnomer for the wartime mass slaughter of Europe’s Jews, providing the grisly event with a false glow of transcendent significance.
Like the term “anti- Semitism,” “Holocaust” is a misleading rationalization of the gigantic massacres perpetrated by German Jew-haters and their fascist collaborators.
But semantics aside, we must more than ever keep our minds focused on the cruel reality of the early 21st century concerning the Shoah, which I have explored extensively in my recent book on global anti- Semitism, A Lethal Obsession, namely, that the constant efforts to deny, relativize or invert the Holocaust – especially against Israel – are a conscious (or unconscious) invitation to repeat it.
This was already apparent about 10 years ago in the very public statement by former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani that “the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything.... It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.”
Iranian “rationality” is evidently very different from that of Israel and the West. In their bizarre perspective, obtaining nuclear weapons may well accelerate the coming of the Mahdi (the Islamic Messiah). This is the dark cloud that hangs over International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2012, and it is not likely to go away.
This article originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post.