International Holocaust Memorial Day – What is the Message in Israel 2016?

Sixty years after the conclusion of WWII, the UN decided to make January 27th, the date of the Red Army’s entrance into Auschwitz, the official date of the International Holocaust Memorial Day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. The UN issued a decision encouraging member states to develop curricula to teach the younger generations the lessons of the Holocaust in order to prevent such crimes in the future, to preclude any attempt to deny the Holocaust, and to denounce all instances of religious intolerance, racism and violence against ethnic or religious groups. Here in Israel, we focus on anti-Semitism, so Naftali Bennett, who is both Minister of Education and Minister of the Diaspora, presented The Anti-Semitism Report in this week's cabinet meeting. According to the daily paper “Yisrael Hayom," this Report indicates that more than 40% of EU citizens hold anti-Semitic views and agree with the statement that Israel behaves as did the Nazis or that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians. But anti-Semitism is not limited to Europe, it raises its head in America as well: 75 percent of Jewish students on campuses in the United States have experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism. Minister Bennett concluded, "Anti-Semitism is quietly gaining a stronghold in academia and under the roofs of organizations allegedly dealing with human rights, and from there it intensifies its propagation of incitement and hatred."

Here we have the whole of the narrative – as seen by the Prime Minister and his chief ministers – that explains what has been happening around us here in Israel during recent months: The world is anti-Semitic. Everyone hates us and everyone is against us. That’s the way it is in Europe, that’s the way it is in America, that’s the way it is in the Da’esh-ridden Middle East, and that’s the way it is among Arab Israelis as well, those citizens who are not loyal to our state. Since that’s how it is, the Prime Minister recently affirmed that we are forever fated to “live by the sword”, and the Ministers of Education and Justice and the right-wing organizations with whom they have close ties explained that human rights organizations in Israel are traitors who must be exposed and prosecuted. Minister Yariv Levin added that they should be outlawed, just as we outlawed the northern branch of the Islamic movement, contrary to the recommendations of the Shin Bet and although there were no charges of terrorism against them. Meanwhile, the Education Minister continues to reject books and works of art that may interfere with the teaching of the “correct” narrative, and the Minister of Culture adds that she will make sure there will be no budget for anyone who does not adopt this narrative.

I have a feeling that in our minds today we are not commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 71 years after the defeat of the Nazi enemy. In our minds we are still as much victims of the world’s anti-Semitism and hatred today as back then. We are still in the bunker at 18 Mila Street with Anielewicz and his besieged fighters, and all around us is only evil and catastrophe. Since this is the situation, according to the government we must use International Holocaust Remembrance Day to instill the lesson, to foster the politics of fear and strengthen the de-legitimization of the "traitors" / "the infiltrators" / "the leftists".

In July 1948 my father was ten, a Holocaust refugee and orphaned of his father, a survivor of the camps of horror in Transnistria. The Zionist movement and the State of Israel saved him and gave him freedom and a new future. But today we have reversed our roles: we, the State of Israel, are ourselves destroying the Zionism that enabled the Jewish people to establish a national state, without which the Jews would have no future. Today the world does not hate Jews; it is angry with Israel. What we are seeing and experiencing is not anti-Semitism, it is anti-Israel. The narrative we have developed leads us to maintain policies of oppression and discrimination against Palestinians in the occupied territories and of inequality for the Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel. This is what the world sees and is no longer prepared to accept. This is why we are being attacked, and not because we are Jews. The State of Israel was created by the Zionist movement to provide existential security for the Jewish people, a physical refuge and a spiritual and cultural home. Today it is the state that we have established here to ensure the safety of the Jews that is now the source of insecurity felt by Jews worldwide. With our own hands, we are destroying the very essence of Zionism.

The lesson I would want to teach on International Holocaust Day is precisely the one decided upon by the United Nations 11 years ago: to act against any discrimination, lack of religious tolerance, racism and violence against groups based on ethnicity and religion. This is the lesson that will ensure there will never be another Holocaust. Neither for us nor for any other nation in the world. This is the lesson that will help us to build a state that will serve as a source of pride and security for the Jewish people throughout the world, and also for all non-Jewish citizens of Israel, those Palestinian citizens of Israel with whom we are meant to live together.

Yaniv Sagee,
Givat Haviva


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