In the never-ending quest amongst Middle East studies academics to demonize Israel, a trendy new approach has appeared: employing the Holocaust.
A recent lecture co-sponsored by UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies, “Traumatic Memory Discourses in Israel: Holocaust History, Territory and Self-Critique,” fit the pattern. It was delivered by Joseph Rosen, a postdoctoral fellow in Montreal at Concordia University’s department of history & the Centre for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence.
Rosen’s emphasis on the “cultural production of the memories of violence in relation to contemporary sites of suffering and oppression” was intended to explain the Arab-Israeli conflict from a psychological standpoint. Stated briefly, it holds that Israelis are so paranoid about a second Holocaust that they exaggerate the nature of threats and, in response, overreact. As a result, Israeli self-defense is conditioned not by facts on the ground, such as terrorism or openly genocidal enemies, but by irrational fear.
His audience consisted of 15 people, of whom only three appeared to be students. Rosen came across as a sincere, likable individual, which made his presentation all the more threatening. He spoke in a friendly manner and clearly believed what he said. But being well-intentioned did not make him any less wrong.
Rosen began by stating unambiguously that, “Israelis construct memories of violence for political purposes” and by providing examples from two groups: the “settlers” and the “refuseniks.”
As to what he described as the “territorialization of Holocaust memory,” Rosen claimed that at some point, “the memories become complicit.” As he put it, “fear of a second Holocaust leads to continued occupation.”
He bolstered his case with several examples of Israelis using inflammatory language against each. Citing the disengagement from Gaza under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Rosen stated that:
The settlers were wearing armbands. They compared the Holocaust to the Gaza withdrawal. There were graffiti attacks on Sharon. He was called the [sic] Jewish word for ‘collaborator’ [kapo].
Apparently, it was lost on Rosen that the Gaza pullout was relatively peaceful; even the most ardent settlers ended up hugging the soldiers who were removing them. Collaborators in Palestinian Gaza fare much worse: summary execution.
Rosen quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—incorrectly it turns out—as saying that “Withdrawing from the settlements was the equivalent of making Europe Jew-free.” He went on:
In 1952, Israel refused to negotiate with Germany over reparations. Menachem Begin compared reparations to another Holocaust. Jews accusing each other of being Nazis goes way back.
Rosen then contrasted the different time periods:
In 1952 the armbands [yellow armbands worn by those protesting against reparations from Germany] were for a non-economical end. In 2005 they served a material end, that being territory.
He claimed that, “During the 1967 War, fear of annihilation was disclosed as a second Holocaust. This is a result of the 1961 Adolf Eichmann trial.” Because of the horrible visuals of the Eichmann trial, “Holocaust ‘remembrance’ was repressed. . . . [This] then gave Israel a connection and they were able to identify with the survivors.”
Rosen’s theory fails the test of logic. The fear of annihilation in 1967 was based on not only the Holocaust two decades earlier, but on the creation of Israel in 1948, which was met with a very real attempt at annihilation on the part of the Arabs.
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