Common Grounds

Opinion | Holocaust Marketers Preserve Israel as the Perpetual Victim

Opinion | Holocaust Marketers Preserve Israel as the Perpetual Victim

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the opening ceremony marking Israel's national Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Jerusalem, Sunday.Credit: Ronen Zvulun/ Reuters


The most dangerous leader of the Jewish state has long since turned Holocaust Remembrance Day into an opportunity for fearmongering about "the Iranian threat."


The massacre of October 7 has given rise to a new competitor to the Nazi enemy from Tehran. The dimensions of the disaster, the cruelty of the perpetrators, and the intensity of the hatred that they radiated invite a comparison to the horrors of World War II. The helplessness of the defense establishment on that accursed Shabbat in the face of the acts of murder and rape arouses associations with "like lambs to the slaughter" being led to the gas chambers in Auschwitz.


Over six months after the disaster, almost no evening passes without the TV channels bringing new testimony from the massacre. Day after day the horrors are described, and the Jewish people sink deeper into trauma. On Holocaust Remembrance Day 2024, this trauma mingled with the endless trauma of World War II and reinforced it.


Around the Seder table, we said, "In every generation, they rise up to destroy us. But the Holy One, Blessed be He, delivers us from their hands." That means that the Holocaust isn't a one-time event in the history of the Jewish people. "The Holocaust" is a code name for a threatening situation, which over the years has become a tool in the hands of politicians and shapers of public opinion.


The Holocaust has no time and no place. It can happen at any time, anywhere, and in any context. The common denominator of all those "Holocausts" is the desire to destroy the Jewish people. Beginning with Pharoah, continuing with the kings of Babylonia and Persia, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Nazis, and ending with the Arabs.


Political scientist Charles Liebman wrote that "Jewish tradition finds that antisemitism is the norm, the natural reaction of the non-Jew." He said that the term "'Esau hates Jacob'" symbolizes the world experienced by Jews. It is deeply ingrained in Jewish popular tradition."


Psychoanalyst Vamik Vokan defines our Holocaust as "a chosen trauma, a shared psychosocial representation of a historical event, that bequeathed to an entire group a catastrophic and a traumatic defeat, loss and humiliation and even genocide. Such a trauma has a decisive influence on the sense of victimhood of members of society. The group didn't heal from this experience and is incapable of mourning it properly. Therefore, the event becomes externalized, which leaves an indelible mark on the soul of the group; it marks its memory and even shapes the collective identity of its members."


The chosen trauma is embedded in all aspects of life and is handed down from one generation to the next. It can be reactivated in times of threat and pressure, thereby perpetuating its existence. This is done by sending schoolchildren on trips to Poland, wrapped in Israeli flags, as a thread connecting the Holocaust to the Israeli-Jewish situation. Every official guest who comes to Israel is taken on a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and has his picture taken there.


Even before October 7, use was made of the Holocaust in the battle for awareness about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's enough to mention the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who repeated the claim that the grand mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini advised Hitler to commit genocide against the Jews. The Palestinian Liberation effigies of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat were set on fire on Lag Ba'Omer alongside the effigies of Hitler. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is dubbed a "Holocaust denier" based on an interpretation of a doctoral thesis that he wrote over 50 years ago.


The Jewish public in Israel is always suffering from a sense of collective victimhood. A feeling that stems from being harmed by another group, in violation of the laws of morality. That's why the group that suffered is entitled to an expression of sorrow and support. The harm doesn't have to be personal but is experienced because the person who suffered is a member of the suffering group.


The sense of victimhood is functional for a nation that is involved in an ongoing bloody conflict: It shapes the perception of the threatening situation against the cruel enemy and provides moral justification for harming it unrestrainedly and without mercy. Victimhood distinguishes between us and the Palestinians and provides a sense of moral superiority and permission to dehumanize them.


Victimhood focuses attention on the dangers and threats presented by the enemies in order to maintain alertness; it prepares the nation for living by the sword as though it were a decree of fate that the Jewish people are fated to bear, strengthens solidarity in the Jewish community, reinforces patriotism and encourages a general mobilization of members of the society to defend the homeland.


Memorials for victims murdered by Hamas on the roads on October 7.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum and Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Moreover, labeling a society as a victim entitles it to the support of other countries. That's what happened after the Holocaust, and that's what happened when, after the massacre of October 7, there were visits by leaders who wanted to express their anger at the criminal attack and to support Israel.


But along with the "benefits," the sense of victimhood leads to three dangerous phenomena: moral disengagement, moral entitlement, and moral silencing. Moral disengagement makes it possible to ignore moral norms, since the Jewish people were victims throughout history, especially in the Holocaust, and they're allowed to harm the enemy without taking moral codes into consideration. Victimhood severs society from a sense of guilt and leaves room only for feelings of anger and revenge.


Moral entitlement makes it possible to harm anyone who threatens us since the victim is allowed to use any violent means to prevent another blow. And moral silencing determines that other nations have no right to preach morality to us because we are victims, and mainly because they stood aloof and didn't rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Therefore, the criticism being voiced by these nations about the policy of the government of the Jewish state is seen as immoral, if not as an expression of antisemitism. This principle was well expressed by Prime Minister Golda Meir in 1973: "European nations that didn't help during the Holocaust have no right to preach to us."


It's not easy to be weaned from the sense of perpetual victimhood and from a chosen trauma. It's far more difficult in the midst of a violent conflict. Politicians and shapers of public opinion, who identify the society's need for these feelings, nurture and even reinforce them.


The weaning has to begin with replacing the ethos of the conflict that has become embedded in the school system, the media and in official ceremonies – in an attempt to end it. For that purpose, of course, we first of all have to replace the leader who is second to none when it comes to marketing traumas, and whose victimhood is his occupation.


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