Why we must always ‘use’ the Holocaust

In 2007 Israel carried out ‘Operation outside of the box’ — using the Begin doctrine of preventative first-strikes — in Syria, taking out a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor. This operation was hitherto never publically acknowledged until very recently, although the Prime Minister at the time, Ehud Olmert came pretty close to it at the time in his office with a prominent journalist. The seasoned hack asked Mr Olmert directly whether he had authorised the bombing run. Olmert said nothing but raised his eyes and nodded to a picture hanging on his wall. Immediately the journalist understood the answer. The picture was of three Israeli fighter jets flying over Auschwitz.

‘Remember and never forget’ and ‘we rely on ourselves and nobody else’, are two maxims that govern the Israeli psyche. The Holocaust, that Israelis remembered during Yom HaShoah on Wednesday has framed (or scarred, depending on which way you look at it) the entire ethos of the Nation.

So, when Olmert looked up at the picture, the journalist immediately understood the context. The Israelis had asked the Americans, under then President Bush, to help. The Americans refused. So, Israel fell back to its second maxim.

What made the operation so effective was (despite this unspoken confirmation from the Prime Minister) was that Israel maintained total and complete silence regarding the attack, and Syria covered up its activities at the site. Israel wasn’t interested in crowing about it, and Syria certainly couldn’t admit that it was working on nuclear weapons with the North Koreans, much less that it had been humiliated by the strike, so the incident was very much swept under the diplomatic carpet.

So why did it emerge now? Israel is sending a very clear message to Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. Our borders are sacrosanct. What we have we hold. And anyone or anything that threatens those borders will be dealt with – unilaterally by us if needs be.

It’s a strong message, some might even say hard-nosed, but it’s how you stand up to bullies. It’s a message that sits particularly badly with some forums such as the EU and the UN, but those bodies are reliant on consensual decision making to such an extent that in order to reach ‘agreement’ nothing is agreed. And one need only look at the images of children affected by chemical weapons to see where such toothless ‘diplomacy’ gets you. Sorry guys, but a stern wagging of the finger or the dispatching of unarmed blue helmeted observers isn’t going to cut it in this very brutal neighbourhood.

The most important thing, with any message, whether that be no more candies before dinner to your children, or a blunt diplomatic ‘do not mess with me’ such as Israel’s, is that it must be stuck to. Any chink in the armour will be exploited and, so the rationale goes, the entire edifice cracks.

Which brings us to Gaza. Advocates for Israel, such as myself, have been at pains to point out what these ‘peaceful’ protests are really all about: testing Israeli resolve and attempting to find weak spots in the impenetrable armour that is Israel’s territorial integrity. Hamas, just like the Syrians, understand that the strength of this armour, and that to defeat Israel, you must break it. And just like Syria, Hamas is quite content to use women and children, the elderly and anyone else, to seek to try and do so. The tactic is designed to attract world attention and sympathy, but I ask people to think of it as a predator that wounds itself whilst trying to attack a turtle, all the while complaining that it just wants the turtle to stick its neck out a bit so it can get at it.

Some less than savoury people often say that Israel uses the Holocaust as an excuse for its actions, as if the murder of 6 million people is just a footnote in the history that can be forgotten in a little over 70 years. Israel does indeed ‘use’ the holocaust. It uses it as a savage reminder of what can happen if you are not prepared in the face of hatred, of those who seek your destruction. As I said to people this week, if they had any Israeli friends take a minute, right there and then, and look at their Facebook page. Most had posted a picture of a loved one lost in the Shoah. So, can anyone in their right mind blame Israelis for sticking so tightly to these maxims? Would they not do the same? So, to these unsavoury characters I say: Do I ‘use’ the holocaust? You bet I do. And you know what? We all should. Every day when it comes to Israel.

About the Author
Alex Benjamin is the director of EIPA, a multi-disciplined pro-Israel advocacy Group based in Brussels, with offices in Paris and Berlin. He is also the Director of Public Affairs for EJA: European Jewish Association, a Brussels based NGO which represents and acts on behalf of Jewish communities across the EU and wider European continent, at the heart of the European Institutions and at bilateral level with Member States.
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