By way of further preview to my personal “50 Most Influential Rabbis” (i.e. people who taught me something about being Jewish in the world), following Sunday’s salute to Primo Levi, it is timely to introduce Amira Hass, if only because of the profound op-ed she penned in Haaretz to coincide with Shoah Day in Israel.
First my Amira Hass entry on the Rabbi list:
7. Amira Hass
Like a Biblical prophet determined to confront the Biblical Israelites with their moral failings, Amira Hass has dedicated her life to holding up a mirror to the State of Israel so that it can see itself, and its actions, through the eyes of those it has most impacted: the dispossessed and disenfranchised Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. Her courageous work as an Israeli journalist determined to show her compatriots the effect their policies are having on their immediate neighbors makes her, for me, a living embodiment of Hillell’s insistence that being Jewish means weighing your actions first and foremost on the basis of their effect on others. The daughter of Holocaust survivors who had been communist partisans fighting the Nazis in Europe, Hass has taken up the plight of the Palestinians — she lives in Ramallah, as Haaretz correspondent there — with her parents’ blessing: “My parents came here to Israel naively. They were offered a house in Jerusalem. But they refused it. They said: ‘We cannot take the house of other refugees.’ They meant Palestinians. So you see, it’s not such a big deal that I write what I do – it’s not a big deal that I live among Palestinians.”
This week, in a Haaretz op ed, Hass castigated Israel for its cynical use of the Holocaust as a “political asset.” She draws attention to the shoddy treatment of survivors in Israel, many of whom see hardly a penny of the millions claimed in their name as reparations from Germany. But her primary concern is the political use to which the Holocaust is put:
Turning the Holocaust into a political asset serves Israel primarily in its fight against the Palestinians. When the Holocaust is on one side of the scale, along with the guilty (and rightly so) conscience of the West, the dispossession of the Palestinian people from their homeland in 1948 is minimized and blurred.
The phrase “security for the Jews” has been consecrated as an exclusive synonym for “the lessons of the Holocaust.” It is what allows Israel to systematically discriminate against its Arab citizens. For 40 years, “security” has been justifying control of the West Bank and Gaza and of subjects who have been dispossessed of their rights living alongside Jewish residents, Israeli citizens laden with privileges.
Security serves the creation of a regime of separation and discrimination on an ethnic basis, Israeli style, under the auspices of “peace talks” that go on forever. Turning the Holocaust into an asset allows Israel to present all the methods of the Palestinian struggle (even the unarmed ones) as another link in the anti-Semitic chain whose culmination is Auschwitz. Israel provides itself with the license to come up with more kinds of fences, walls and military guard towers around Palestinian enclaves.
Separating the genocide of the Jewish people from the historical context of Nazism and from its aims of murder and subjugation, and its separation from the series of genocides perpetrated by the white man outside of Europe, has created a hierarchy of victims, at whose head we stand. Holocaust and anti-Semitism researchers fumble for words when in Hebron the state carries out ethnic cleansing via its emissaries, the settlers, and ignore the enclaves and regime of separation it is setting up. Whoever criticizes Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians is denounced as an anti-Semite, if not a Holocaust denier. Absurdly, the delegitimization of any criticism of Israel only makes it harder to refute the futile equations that are being made between the Nazi murder machine and the Israeli regime of discrimination and occupation.
The institutional abandonment of the survivors is rightly denounced across the board. The transformation of the Holocaust into a political asset for use in the struggle against the Palestinians feed on those same stores of official cynicism, but it is part of the consensus.