Israel’s Holocaust trauma is a myth

School children stand draped in Israeli flags outside Auschwitz

Israel sends thousands of school children to visit Auschwitz every year.

Wojciech Grabowski ZUMAPRESS

Responding to a journalist’s question in October, former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett fumed: “Are you seriously … asking me about Palestinian civilians? What’s wrong with you? Have you not seen what happened? We’re fighting Nazis.”

Bennett had been asked what would happen to babies in incubators and other patients who would die after Israel cut off the power to the Gaza Strip.

There are many other examples of prominent Israeli politicians making similar statements. South Africa’s genocide case at the International Court of Justice documented many of them, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloody invocation of “Amalek.”

In the wake of the 7 October attack, an exterminationist mood swept Israel. Israeli peace activist Adam Keller described how Roy Sharon, a radio and TV commentator on the main broadcasting corporation, spoke of his desire to see “a million dead bodies in Gaza.”

Keller wrote that “the streets of Tel Aviv are flooded with red stickers reading ‘Exterminate Gaza!’ Not ‘Destroy!,’ not ‘Flatten!’ – but clearly and explicitly ‘Exterminate Gaza!’ ‘Le-Ha-Sh-Mid!’ – ‘Exterminate!’ Every Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israeli knows from a young age exactly what this word means.”

The lazy explanation for Israel’s genocidal and exterminationist mentality is “Holocaust trauma.” Using the Holocaust as a catch-all explanation is convenient, because it absolves people of the need to look for the real cause of Israeli Zionist violence.

One exponent of the “Holocaust trauma” explanation is Hannah Starman:

The destruction of Beirut under the Israeli fire was the news item during my first school holidays. I was seven years old and I remember seeing Menachem Begin’s impassionate [sic] speeches, thinking that they made sense. Knowing that Hitler was the ultimate evil, and hearing that Arafat was like Hitler, how could it be wrong to destroy him? But when I looked among the images of people in Beirut to find the Nazis, all I could see were people who looked poor, quiet or scared.

Nothing like the tall and erect Nazis, shouting out orders in their uniforms and shiny boots. I was confused. And this confusion bred a lifelong interest in what was really going on in Israel. How could a people that had suffered so much cause so much suffering? Why were they telling the world that they were fighting the Nazis? And why did the world believe them?

“The inability of many Israelis to tell the difference between Nazis and Palestinians, and their inability to recognize their own military superiority so that they could understand that they are no longer a powerless people trembling at the threshold of the extermination camps of Europe is not a willed stupidity. It is, rather, a pathological distortion based on the trauma of victimization not yet overcome.”

The problem with this is that Israelis are not the victims – and very few Israelis are Holocaust survivors.

The Zionist project from its beginning in the late 19th century was a project committed to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The Israeli state was not the product of the Holocaust.

Is holocaust trauma transferrable? Can a political trauma be inherited? If so, why was this trauma absent in Israel’s early days?

Mythology of suffering

The first time the Holocaust became part of Israel’s school syllabus was in 1953. Just two hours were devoted to it. “Israel’s high priests believed that forgetting was essential to … the task of creating a nation, the banning of the Shoah from becoming part of the collective consciousness was no exception,” Israeli scholar Gulie Ne’eman Arad explained.

This “trauma of victimization” was not unique to Israel. It also occurred in South Africa. Historian Elizabeth van Heyningen wrote of the British concentration camps set up during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, that: “In the wake of the huge mortality of over 25,000 people, mainly women and children, Afrikaners established a mythology of suffering that fed into emerging Afrikaner nationalism.”

No one should minimize the brutality of British tactics in South Africa, where Britain’s commander in chief Lord Kitchener first developed the counter-insurgency tactics used against colonized peoples.

This mythology was responsible, according to Van Heyningen, for “morally legitimating the Boer way of life and the pre-war racial order.” In the process, “Blacks were simply excised from the record.”

Ironically, in post-apartheid South Africa, “the mythology of the camps is now being recycled in the interests of reconciliation.” The Afrikaners too can empathize with Black South Africans because they also suffered!

If Israelis are suffering from trauma, it is the trauma of colonists who have experienced a long-suppressed nightmare that the indigenous people – who they have subjugated for so long – will rise up against them.

This too is not unique in Israel.

White slave owners also feared that those they had enslaved would rise up against them – as they did in Haiti in 1791 – and murder them in their sleep.

Whites in southern Africa also harbored these fears. I can vividly remember a Rhodesian woman in 1980 after the elections which brought ZANU-PF to power in the new Zimbabwe, crying in a BBC interview that she feared she and her children would be murdered in the night.

The reaction of British governor Edward John Eyre to the Morant Bay rebellion in Jamaica in October 1865 – when rioting killed 25 people – was to kill almost 500 Black people, brutally flog 600 and burn down 1,000 houses. It became known as the Governor Eyre controversy. Karl Marx described Eyre as ‘‘the unscrupulous tool of the West Indian planter.”

When Palestinian fighters broke out of Gaza on 7 October, cutting through Israel’s Gaza Division like a knife through butter, it was indeed traumatic for Israelis. However this had nothing to do with the Holocaust and everything to do with the traditional settler-colonial reaction to native uprisings.

Israel views its role as a colonial oppressor through the prism of the Holocaust.

Justifying colonial oppression

Another example of a traumatic settler reaction to native uprisings was in Kenya.

In response to the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s some 150,000 Kenyans were imprisoned in concentration camps and subjected to savage torture – one of the prisoners was former US president Barack Obama’s grandfather. Over 1,000 Africans were hanged. The Mau Mau fighters were perceived by Britain as “the face of international terrorism in the 1950s.”

It is a widespread myth that Israel was founded because of the Holocaust.

The belief grew up that Israel was “the world’s atonement for complicity in the Holocaust.” This myth was assiduously cultivated by the Western powers and Israel itself for political and strategic reasons. This despite the fact that during the Holocaust the Zionist movement ignored what was happening to Jews in Europe and even actively obstructed rescue attempts that didn’t involve Palestine.

In March 1988 Professor Yehuda Elkana, a child survivor of Auschwitz, wrote an article in Israel titled “The Need to Forget.” Elkana argued that the way Israel memorialized the Holocaust was responsible for Israelis’ “profound hatred” of Arabs and that it was better to forget the Holocaust than to let it provide the rationale for genocide.

Unsurprisingly, Elkana’s article caused a storm of protest. But 36 years later it is more relevant than ever. The way that Israel distorts and instrumentalizes Holocaust memory has led to it becoming the justification for genocide in Gaza.

Professor Idith Zertal of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University described how: “The transference of the Holocaust situation onto the Middle East reality … not only created a false sense of the imminent danger of mass destruction. It also immensely distorted the image of the Holocaust, dwarfed the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, trivializing the unique agony of the victims and the survivors, and utterly demonizing the Arabs and their leaders.”

Yet while Israel nationalized the memory of the Holocaust it “excluded the direct bearers of this memory,” the quarter of a million Holocaust survivors who were forced to emigrate to Israel. The Holocaust survivors were left to fend for themselves and a third of them were left to languish in poverty, forced to choose between eating and heating. Even German reparations intended for them were stolen by the Israeli state.

Exceptionalizing Jewish suffering

After the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann (a key Nazi architect of the Jewish genocide) the Holocaust came to play an increasingly important role in Israel’s portrayal of itself as a victim.

“By means of Auschwitz,” Zertal explained, “Israel rendered itself immune to criticism and impervious to a rational dialogue with the world around her.”

Rather than drawing universal lessons from the Holocaust about the need to combat racism, Zionism drew the opposite conclusion. Racism, ethnic cleansing and genocide were justified because of the Holocaust. Zionism exceptionalized Jewish suffering, isolating it from its political and economic origins and thus its universal lessons about the need to combat racism.

Every year Israel takes thousands of school children to visit Auschwitz in Poland, the former Nazi death camp. It does this not to warn against the dangers of a recurrence of fascism but in order to instill a militaristic nationalism and hatred of non-Jews in its young.

As Israeli columnist Gideon Levy wrote in 2019: “I have yet to hear a single teenager come back from Auschwitz and say that we mustn’t abuse others the way we were abused. There has yet to be a school whose pupils came back from Birkenau straight to the Gaza border, saw the barbed-wire fence and said, Never again. The message is always the opposite. Gaza is permitted because of Auschwitz.”

Zionism was founded on the basis that anti-Semitism was a unique and eternal hatred of Jews totally different from other forms of racism. Anti-Semitism was the product, not of the society around them but of the Jews themselves, Zionists claimed. Jews had caused anti-Semitism by living in “other people’s countries.”

Zionism scorns the idea that Jews share a common experience of racism and genocide with other minorities.

Zionist ideology has always held that because anti-Semitism was inherent in the non-Jew it was impossible to fight. In the words of the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl: “In Paris … I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognize the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism.”

This was at a time when over half the French nation was conducting a successful fight against the framing for treason of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Herzl was not interested in the Dreyfus Affair.

Nazi-inspired laws

In “The Need to Forget,” Elkana told how “what happened in Germany could happen anywhere, and to any people, also to my own.”

He argued that “the very existence of democracy is endangered when the memory of the dead participates actively in the democratic process.” That is exactly what has happened.

Everything that Israel is doing today it justifies in the name of the fight against the “Arab Nazis.”

Elkana’s prediction 36 years ago is now coming true with a vengeance in Gaza. He wrote of:

a profound existential “Angst” fed by a particular interpretation of the lessons of the Holocaust … that we are the eternal victim. In this ancient belief … I see the tragic and paradoxical victory of Hitler. Two nations, metaphorically speaking, emerged from the ashes of Auschwitz: a minority who assert, “this must never happen again,” and a frightened and haunted majority who assert, “this must never happen to us again.”

When 31 years later I called Israel “Hitler’s bastard offspring” the Jewish Chronicle affected to be shocked but the Israeli state was constructed in Nazi Germany’s image. The definition of a Jew under Israel’s Law of Return mirrored that in Nazi Germany.

As Hannah Arendt noted, quoting Philip Gillon, despite all the condemnation of Nazi Germany, marriage between Jew and non-Jew was impossible in Israel too: “there was certainly something breathtaking in the naiveté with which the prosecution denounced the infamous Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which had prohibited intermarriage and sexual intercourse between Jews and Germans. The better informed among the correspondents were well aware of the irony, but they did not mention it in their reports.”

Nazification

As Israeli historian Tom Segev wrote in his book The Seventh Million, Palestinians were seen as Nazis almost as soon as Germany had been defeated. It was emphasized to Holocaust survivors who took part in Israel’s so-called War of Independence in 1948 that the Arabs they were fighting were the successors to those who had once tried to murder them.

Quoting the diary of one of the fighters from the Zionist militias that carried out the mass expulsion of the Palestinians during the Nakba, Idith Zertal explained that “the most eager [to carry out atrocities] were those who had come from the [concentration] camps.”

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, explained, “we do not want the Arab Nazis to come and slaughter us.” Zertal later noted that the “Nazification of the enemy … [seems] to have characterized the way of speech of Israel’s political, social and cultural elites.”

American political scientist Ian Lustick described how “Israel’s conflict with Arabs” was constructed as “equivalent to its struggle with the Nazis.” German imperialism’s Judeocide was the pretext for the creation of a state that began life with the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

Every enemy of Israel was a “new Hitler.”

Ben-Gurion remarked, just before the Eichmann trial that “when I listen to the speeches of the Egyptian president [Gamal Abdel Nasser] … it seems to me that Hitler is talking.” To former Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chairman Yasser Arafat was “like Hitler, who wanted so much to negotiate with the Allies.”

As Zertal explained, there hasn’t been a war involving Israel “that has not been perceived, defined, and conceptualized in terms of the Holocaust.” Israel has mobilized the Holocaust “in the service of Israeli politics.”

The Holocaust industry

What scholar Norman Finkelstein memorably termed “The Holocaust Industry” began with the passing of the Yad Vashem Law in 1953. This established a Holocaust propaganda museum which fashioned a Zionist narrative of the Holocaust which not only ignored non-Jewish Holocaust victims but also the anti-Zionist Jewish resistance.

A wall was established at Yad Vashem devoted to Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Palestinian leader that the British appointed Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921, and who later collaborated with the Nazis. As Israeli historian Tom Segev wrote, its purpose was to ensure that “the visitor is left to conclude that there is much in common between the Nazis’ plan to destroy the Jews and the Arabs’ enmity to Israel.”

Although the Mufti was a reactionary, claims that he played a significant part in the Holocaust are without foundation. This did not stop the Mufti playing a “starring role” in Yad Vashem’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. The article on the Mufti is longer than the articles on Nazi leaders Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich combined and longer than the article on Eichmann. It is only slightly exceeded in length by the entry for Hitler.

There has been a concerted effort by Zionist leaders to portray the Palestinians as the authors of the Holocaust. In 2015 Netanyahu told the 37th World Zionist Congress that it was the Mufti who had given Hitler the idea to exterminate rather than expel the Jews from Germany. Netanyahu had previously written that the Mufti was “one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry.”

This has long been a constant Zionist theme. Ben-Gurion asked one critic, “Is he not aware that the Mufti was a counselor and a partner in the extermination schemes?” It was suggested that Eichmann and the Mufti had been friends; in fact, Eichmann never even met the Mufti.

Conscripting the Holocaust dead

In a funeral oration for a settler militia leader who had been killed by a Palestinian refugee who infiltrated from Gaza, Israel’s top general Moshe Dayan claimed that “millions of Jews, who were exterminated because they had no country, are watching us from the ashes of Israeli history and exhorting us to settle and to build up a land for our people.”

The Jewish Holocaust dead were retrospectively conscripted into the Zionist project.

It was through the Holocaust that Israel could portray itself not as the aggressor, but as the eternal victim. The Holocaust was Israel’s get-out-of-jail-free card. To Israel, the Holocaust is a gift that has never stopped giving.

When Germany gave military and economic support to the Israeli state they could justify it as compensation for the Jewish Holocaust. As Yad Vashem explained, “paying reparations would help accelerate West Germany’s acceptance by the Western powers.” And so it proved.

When the Palestinian resistance attacked Israel on 7 October, the Zionists’ immediate response was that this was a second Holocaust.

It was as if the reason for the break-out was not 17 years of a suffocating siege and 75 years of occupation, but the fact that Israel was a Jewish state. Presumably if Gaza’s occupiers had been Christians then the Palestinians would have happily accepted their fate!

Despite exploiting the Holocaust survivors, Israelis had contempt for them as sheep who had gone to the slaughter; unlike them – the “new Jews” in Palestine, who were waging war against the Indigenous population. As Segev documented, the survivors were popularly called sabon – Hebrew for soap – due to a belief that the Nazis used human fat to make soap during the war.

The prevailing view among Jewish settlers in Palestine was that Holocaust survivors represented the “survival of the worst.” In the eyes of Ben-Gurion, they were “hard, evil and selfish people and their experiences destroyed what good qualities they had left.”

To Zionism the Holocaust was inexplicable, beyond history. It was “a sacred and essentially incomprehensible event.”

Its very irrationality enabled Israel to use it to defend the indefensible.

Even the extermination of Palestinians is justified by the Holocaust. In a so-called “Friendship Song,” Israeli school children in November sweetly sang about the annihilation of the Palestinians of Gaza whom they called “swastika bearers.”

The Holocaust may be the prism through which Israel justifies genocide but it is not the reason. It is not Holocaust trauma but a self-induced trauma of victimization which has enabled Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

Tony Greenstein is the author of Zionism During the Holocaust.

Comments

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Israel is the wife beater who finally murders he and then claims he is the true victim.

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A truly excellent article by Tony which must go viral.

I have just written 'The Elephant in Gaza' (https://the-great-rising.org/g...) which details the outright terrorism used to create Israel in 1948. Whether it is the Zionists' bombing of the King David Hotel, the Nakba or the murder of Count Bernadotte, the UN peace envoy, what happened to create Israel was morally no different to what Hamas did on October 7. And who actually created and funded these 'Islamist' terrorists anyway?

For 75 years, we have had a running sore that oozes the blood of innocent people, both Palestinian and Israeli, in order to keep an appalling mind-set in power. Surely the time has come to mobilise the good people to stand up and to be fearless about being called 'anti-Semitic'. We all know that the so-called 'Two-State Solution' is completely dead in the water and can't happen anyway as Zionist settlers continue to invade the West Bank.

No, we must start a new movement to create a new country - 'Judeo-Palestine'. A whole new peace process must now begin to completely undermine the men and women of violence and hatred. Zionism must be fully exposed and properly assigned to the dustbin of history. It is a political process dependent upon instilling fear into people by use of terrorism. Let's now begin harnessing the experience and wisdom of South Africa as they put apartheid into that same dustbin of history. Let's look at the Swiss-style 'Canton' system of governance which keeps apparently disparate people in political harmony. And let's restore this geographical area of strife back to the peace, harmony and mutual respect that all three Abrahamic faiths had for each other before the Balfour Declaration and the arrival of the Zionists.

We must do something. And we must have a vision to aim for. Otherwise, the genocide by these appalling Zionists will just continue. We have got to stand up to them. We need to find our courage and come together for Judeo-Palestine!

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There is no doubt Zionists exploit the Nazi Holocaust as a way to justify their occupation of Palestine and the wholesale murder of Palestinians. In a similar way, they also exploit the evil of antiSemitism which in fact they encourage, as shown by Jewish historian Avi Shlaim and others. Likewise, the discredited IHRA definition has been deliberately used to exaggerate the degree of antiSemitism and instill fear into Jewish children in Israel and elsewhere. Prof Nurit Peled explains it well here: https://youtu.be/rXs1zkvHDGc?s...
Jack T

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I could post many thoughts on this illuminating article (for which thanks), but I'll stick to just one memory that popped up in relation to the school visits to Auschwitz. Alan Bennett once wrote of them, 'I wonder where they eat their sandwiches.'

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An excellent, thouroghly researched article which lays to waste one of the myths of Zionism. I did detect one error , Kitchener wasn't the first general to develop modern counter insurgency methods against colonised people.That honour falls to General Weyler who developed the policy of reconcentration camps, during the Cuban rebellion against the Spanish Empire.

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I don't understand the last sentence: "It is not Holocaust trauma but a self-induced trauma of victimization which has enabled Israel’s genocide in Gaza."

What is the basis of having an undertaking of "self-induced trauma". This simply reads to me as masochism. Who would want that, or perhaps it is really something else?

Perhaps this particular query is connected to another observation that there is no class content mentioned anywhere in this article, even as I otherwise found the article thought-provoking.

Thanks.

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When i was about eleven, mu father a teacher of history and a bomber command survivor gave me the "Case Against Adolf Eichmann" to read. For weeks i read and re-read it. I would wake in the small hours and under a weak bedside light stare at the white naked heaps of skeletal bodies, the heaps of shoes and spectacles, and the there was the lamp of human skin. The images and text tormented me and I carry the tormenting memory still. I suppose I had a mild case of PTSD, a thin shadow of what a Holocaust survivor would have incurred, but to this day I cannot look at Holocaust images, the thought of them is just too horrible.
I do not see holocaust trauma on those children's faces, they look to me as kids out on a school outing, full of the joy and BS of youth. I do not see Holocaust trauma on the faces of the genocidal IDF soldiers gloating over today's latest atrocity, or relating something they did as mildly as if they had a good steak today. I see the SS officers stooped over the gas chamber vent about to tip in the Zyclon B. All humans can commit genocide, just as all humans can be its victim. Israel should know her nation is now forever stained with this awful crime.

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I saw a poll of Israelis recently that showed it was those without any direct experience themselves with the Holocaust who thought about and were scared the most about the it. The picture of students going to visit Auschwitz every year reminded me of the documentary "Defamation". Yoav Shamir goes on one of those trips to Poland with the students and it's really quite disturbing. You can see indoctrination in action.

I disagree somewhat with calling it a myth because I think the trauma is real, except I think it's inflicted as a key component of Zionist ideology and also serves Israeli unity. It's become part of Israeli national identity. Small children who are far too young to be exposed to images and stories of graphic atrocities and cruelty experience it as trauma. It is part of the school curriculum so the trauma is repeated over and over and then used for the benefit of zionism and Israeli militarism.

What strikes me is that most populations battling generational trauma work to heal while Israel works to perpetuate and transfer the trauma to each generation. Healing the trauma would hurt zionism. And Israel.

I also wonder what explains growing up in the US, or France, Britain etc and moving to Israel.. Is it the same process but by different means? I assume it's the same indoctrination and it works on some but not on others.

I don't know but it's makes people so aggressive, it's wild.

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While I appreciate this article and its attempt to set Zionist distortion of the Holocaust story within a larger framework, I have to disagree with the title. The Holocaust was not entirely fiction, but what Zionist's DID with it certainly was.

I also have to disagree with the Tony Greenstein when he says that the notorious Mufti was a "reactionary." I don't think so. The Mufti was no a reactionary; he was a nationalist. His flirtation with the Nazis resulted in his being discredited BY HIS OWN PEOPLE.
The premier Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi describes the history of the Mufti and his influence in Palestine in the thirties and forties at some length in THE IRON CAGE: THE STORY OF THE PALESTINIAN STRUGGLE FOR STATEHOOD.

Khalidi talks about all the mistakes that the Palestinian leadership has made over the course of the last century, and surely the Mufti made a grand mistake in getting involved with the Nazis, but that involvement has been seized upon by Zionists to discredit ALL of his efforts, and ALL of ALL the efforts of ALL the Palestinian leadership, however misguided, weak or just plain wrong. Let us try not to fall into their trap, but rather see the failed efforts by a people who were somewhat naive about the depth of deviousness and depravity to which Zionism sank and would sink. Their experience of Turkish colonialism in no way prepared them for the arrogance of British imperialism, and the even more brutal and intransigent evil of Zionist imperialism.

May God correct me if I am wrong.

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Zionists have sacralized the mass murder of Europe's Jews. They have surrounded the abyss with spears and wreaths. They send their children on pilgrimages to the extermination sites. They hurl them allegorically from the heights of Masada. And like the Holy Office of the Inquisition they sift the faithful for signs of deviation from this death cult. The quote from Elie Wiesel is entirely apposite- that the Holocaust was “a sacred and essentially incomprehensible event.” Which is a serviceable definition of what in religions is called a mystery.

It should not surprise us that what began as a secular, ethnically sectarian, largely atheistic republic ends now as a cauldron of mystified supernatural dread. The tools of reason were never going to build a wall high enough or supply the necessary fanaticism to sustain the project. Of course, this violent embrace of the irrational, and its transmission with ever increasing ferocity to succeeding generations, can only hasten the downfall it's designed to avert. All the same, it is a cause for the most bitter regret and mourning that as Israel falls, it is falling on the Palestinians. Their lives, their suffering, and their ongoing resistance must impel each of us to do whatever we can and everything possible in coming to their aid.

From the river to the sea-

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