It is at this time of year that those predictable op-eds materialise warning against the dangers of the politicisation of the Holocaust. You know what they are going to say before you begin reading and find yourself none the better for having done so by the time you finish. Hardly surprising; the argument that the Holocaust shouldn’t be discussed politically is after all an utterly baseless one. The Holocaust was a radically political act perpetrated in the real world by people with a political (albeit diabolical) agenda. The only meaningful response is a response that also takes place in this world with reference to the world as we actually find it today. Candle lightings and poetry readings alone can only ever prove inadequate.
Inevitably it is Israelis and Jews who are most berated for drawing political conclusions from Nazi Germany’s genocide. Yes, misuse of the memory of the Holocaust is obviously wrong, such as when anti-Israel activists compare Zionism to Nazism. But this is wrong because it is a lie, not because it is political.
Passive lamentation as a response to the Holocaust is simply the same kind of inaction that makes such atrocities possible. ‘Never again’ becomes a hollow mantra repeated annually at solemn memorial ceremonies that provide participants with the illusion of having done something by keeping alive the memory of those lost. Yet Jewish people have to ask themselves the stark but inevitable question, would they rather have their deaths commemorated in plush museums and at well meaning interfaith gatherings or would they rather be alive, watching their children and future generations grow and prosper?
To say that self-reliance and independence in the form of a sovereign and well defended Jewish State is the logical antidote to the Holocaust is not an abuse of the memory of its victims. Indeed, none of us can afford to forget the disgrace of the Evian conference when the international community convened to agree that the participating countries could not possibly make room for those Jews attempting to escape the Third Reich. Nor should we put from memory of the shameful story of the SS St Louis, turned away from so many countries, its Jewish passengers sent back to Europe to try their fate there. Since its creation, the State of Israel has airlifted Jews to safety from Yemen and Ethiopia and provided safe haven to Jews from any part of the world that have been in need of it. And so it is no ‘politicisation’ of the Holocaust to articulate the simple truth that, had Israel already existed by the 1930s, it is reasonable to argue that the loss of life in the Holocaust would almost certainly have been much reduced.
The other great objection put together by those claiming to oppose political reference to the Holocaust is the argument that Israel’s politicians and statesmen are wrong to draw comparisons between Israel’s enemies in Iran and its proxies and the annihilationist anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany. Yet there can be no escaping the fact that Ahmadinejad, who made Holocaust denial a national pastime for Iran, talks constantly of perpetrating a second Holocaust by destroying the Jewish State, something that becomes a more viable possibility every day that Iran’s race to nuclear weapons goes unstopped. Those such as Netanyahu who remind Israelis of the parallels between their current situation and the one faced by Jews just a few decades ago are entirely justified in doing so. Israelis and the world must be cognoscente of the fact that those who threatened to destroy the Jewish people have indeed acted upon those threats before.
The Holocaust becomes meaningless if it ceases to be a real event and is instead turned into some untouchable and unfathomable supernatural phenomenon beyond reference or comparison. But the truth is that the Holocaust was one of the most profound and traumatic events in the history of the Jewish people and it is only right that it should inform all future Jewish considerations about any continued collective existence. The industrialised and annihilationist genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany’s totalitarian regime serves as a spectacle for all humanity to take note of, an example of where mankind ends up when he dispenses with the moral absolutes of Judeo-Christianity in favour of a purely materialist worldview as represented by Social Darwinism. For the Jewish people more specifically the Holocaust speaks of what can happen when failing to act to secure your own fate and survival. The Holocaust was undeniably a political act and anyone wishing to contemplate political subjects would do well to make its lessons their starting point.