The Holocaust is Not Our Moral Compass

Don’t dare tell me that we, of all people, should know better. I do not accept this from anyone – not the non-Jew and not the Jew. The Holocaust was something that happened to us. Period. It has nothing to do with who we are.

The Syrian Refugees and the Jews of World War II

In the latest attempt to use the Holocaust against us, the Syrian refugees have been compared to Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany. An analogy with “Voyage of the Damned” was even made in a letter signed by over 1000 American rabbis  to describe the scene of Syrians piling into unworthy vessels in a desperate attempt to make it safe and sound across the Mediterranean and into Europe. A small lifeless boy washed up on the shores, pulled on the heartstrings of all but the most hardened of hearts.

Comparing the Syrians seeking asylum with the Jewish refugees of World War II, there are those who say that we Jews have to remember our own desperate status from back then and extend a hand to help these newest of refugees, even admitting a number of them into Israel, perhaps even into our own houses. Good neighbours, right?

The Israeli “Nazis”

The most vicious among those using the Holocaust against us are those calling us Nazis for how we supposedly treat the Arabs who have come to refer to themselves as Palestinians. The less obviously hateful implore us to remember how badly we suffered at the hands of others as they try to get us to “play nice” with those they accuse us of oppressing and treating inhumanely.

How can you treat the “Palestinians” so horribly after all that you have been through! Have you forgotten what it is like?

they say.

No, the Holocaust is Not Our Moral Compass

I am very sorry, but it is not. We will not be kind, empathetic, helpful, etc. because we Jews were victims of horrible people doing horrible things. What happened to our fellow Jews is not something that should guide our individual behaviour, nor should it guide our national policy. We do not need that. We have our own compass, thank-you — unrelated to what was done to us.

Jewish Code of Ethics

I am well aware that we do not always follow our own moral principles as well as we should, but we do not have to remember what others have done to us in order to get us to act ethically. Instead, we need to remember who we are and what kind of moral worldview is supposed to characterize us as a People.

And what should set the direction for our behaviour is not what was done to us in the past. We are not to compare ourselves to those evil souls who perpetrated crimes against us. Basing our behaviour on aiming to be different from evil sets a very low standard indeed, and it causes us to look back and down.

Rather, we have an injunction to treat others as we, ourselves, would like to be treated today.  By thinking of how we would like to be treated were we in a similar position as someone in need, we are inspired to look forward and up. Up to our better selves, up to the ideals we would like to define us.

Of course, this does not mean that we should put our ideal self above our safe self. A dead or injured Jew is not the goal. We need to weigh our values and our desire to help against a realistic assessment of danger or safety in offering help. In advanced swimming classes, for example, we learned that helping someone in danger of drowning meant taking precautions he or she would not pull you under in panic, causing you both to die.

Ethical Behaviour Expected of the Jew in the Middle East

Therefore, we should aim for more nuanced debate among ourselves – debate that includes examining what morality demands of us at the same time as we consider what survival demands of us.

That is what we cannot seem to achieve – that is what pits so-called Left against so-called Right. As long as we stubbornly maintain our dichotomous thinking, we remain stuck in pointless name-calling and bad-mouthing and are no closer to who we can be. We are letting our differences pull us apart and down rather than allowing them to enrich us.

Don’t tell us that having been a victim means we have any other lesson to learn than: Never again lose the State of Israel!

About the Author
Sheri Oz, owner of, is a retired family therapist exploring mutual interactions between politics and Israeli society.
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