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Red Rag: Remembrance Days
Red Rag – Remembrance Days

By: Gideon Spiro

21 April 2010

Within the space of a few days, the State of Israel marks two Remembrance Days: Remembrance Day for the victims of the Holocaust and Remembrance Day for the soldiers who fell in Israel’s wars.

The Israeli government and propaganda and education establishments draw a link between the two Remembrance Days as marking the progression “from Holocaust to Rebirth,” and we are to understand that those commemorated in the first Remembrance Day died because they could not fight and those commemorated in the second Remembrance Day were killed as “war heroes,” and the message is clear: if another Holocaust is to be avoided it is necessary that a great many soldiers be willing to be killed for the State of Israel. The system has worked well so far. Before they enlist in the army, Israeli youth are taken, with the encouragement of the government of Israel and its army, on organized trips to the Auschwitz death camp, from whence they return prepared to volunteer for combat units in the army. The Holocaust has so far proved itself to be a very efficacious recruitment committee for the Israeli army.

The two Remembrance Days symbolize the Israeli death-cult. In the official ceremonies for Holocaust Remembrance Day there many speeches are given in which representatives of the government, the army and Yad Vashem speak in the name of the six million dead. It is very convenient to speak in the name of the dead. Every official speechifier can project his or her opinions and desires on them, and the dead cannot answer. That is a comfortable position for the heads of the Israeli regime to be in. They have converted the Holocaust into an effective political weapon and a source of money that does not let them down.

What spoils the picture are the firebrands that were saved from the flames and are still living. Tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors live in Israel in terrible poverty. Some are not able to pay for their medications, because the government of Israel is not willing to transfer to them what they should have received: a government stipend that would ensure them a human existence, including subsidized housing and free medication like Germany provides to Holocaust survivors. Successive generations of Israeli governments have received many billions of dollars on account of the Holocaust, but instead of providing proper support to the survivors who immigrated to Israel, the government as a nuisance, to which they occasionally throw a few crumbs to silence their protests. From the Israeli government’s point of view the best thing that could happen – which will happen within a few years in any case – would be to be rid of the remaining survivors as fast as possible. After their deaths it will be possible to attribute to them every repulsive thought that occurs to the government, for none of them will remain to say otherwise.

Although the government does not have money to support the Holocaust survivors, it has more than enough to support the settlers and the Occupation and to give subsidies to the rich and to provide generous lifetime pensions for those who retire from the army at age 40 or so.

The Holocaust could not have happened if not for racism. The Holocaust was a barbaric man-made volcanic eruption that was based on racist ideology. The obvious lesson is that we should struggle uncompromisingly against racism and its derivatives: xenophobia, tyranny and the violation of human rights. Not only has that lesson not been learned in Israel; Israel has turned into a receptacle for racist ideology and a cruel regime of oppression the primary victims of which are the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, but recently the number of victims within the Green Line has been increasing as well, due to racist laws directed against Arab citizens and incitement and vilification of human rights organizations and activists.

In Israel the army plays a central role in the events of Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the main ceremony in Jerusalem, with the participation of all the leaders of the government and the army, an honour guard stands on the stage, composed of paratroopers who were taken from their missions of Occupation, oppression, bullying and humiliation in the Occupied Territories, and no one, certainly not in the government, nor in the Establishment media for the most part, sees anything strange about that.

The Remembrance Day issues of the two highest-circulation newspapers in Israel, Yediot Aharonot and Maariv, published on their front pages pictures of two of the central figures in the security establishment as representing that day. In Yediot Aharonot it was Mossad chief Meir Dagan, the Dubai assassin whose record includes a long series of liquidations [Heb. “hisulim”] (which are considered murder in civilized countries) starting from the first days of the occupation of the Gaza Strip in June 1967. In Maariv it was Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, the “Butcher of Gaza” as he has been called in demonstrations in the USA. Those men are the face of Israel as it commemorates the Holocaust.

The Israeli memory has been captured not only by the army, but also by religion. Holocaust Day ceremonies all over Israel, just as at the Auschwitz death camp, are basically secular ceremonies, but most of the speakers and some of the participants who live secular lives, wear kippot, [1] even though there is no religious justification for that. In view of the fact that religion is an important component, maybe the dominant one, in Israeli racism and it walks arm-in-arm with the army in that regard, it is no wonder that it has taken control over many facets of the public sphere in Israel.

And then of course there is the “March of the Living” at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, to which, as we have seen above, Israeli youth are taken like cattle for brainwashing. They leave there innocent of any humanism, precisely as they had entered; the official guides from Israel make sure of that. Therefore I was not surprised when I read reports according to which Israeli youths had consorted with Polish escort-girls after that “March of the Living” in Auschwitz. We should not be surprised if those who have taken military power to be the main lesson of the Holocaust also exhibit moral decadence in other domains after their visit to the crematoria.

What has been said about Holocaust Remembrance Day also applies for the most part to the Remembrance Day for Israel’s war victims, which takes place the day before Independence Day. The army plays a central role in the commemoration events. In ceremonies at cemeteries all over the country, the leaders of the regime and the army talk a great deal about how “we are fulfilling the legacy left to us by the fallen.” Very nice, but what is that legacy? Did all 22 thousand war victims leave one legacy? Of course not.

I know more than a few war victims who participated in wars in which they did not believe because they lacked the courage to refuse. Their legacy is completely different from that of Israel’s extreme right-wing governments. As on Holocaust Remembrance Day, here too the dead could not reply, and the official spokespeople make wanton use of shallow and mendacious slogans. It is fortunate that there are some who remain alive and who express a different truth. They are still the minority, but they will not be silenced, and they will continue to offer an alternative, whether openly, whenever possible, or covertly, if the fascist Right comes to power in Israel.

What is of course not said in the official ceremonies is that many of the victims fell in superfluous wars of choice, in military actions that were expressions of Israel’s provocations against its neighbours and the consolidation of the Occupation. A substantial share of the fallen would still be among us if Israeli governments had adopted peaceful policies instead of wars, Occupation and expansion.

Several years ago the government of Israel added those who are called “the victims of Palestinian terror,” a little over three thousand people, to the Remembrance Day for “the victims of Israel’s wars.” If we replace the laundered official language with language that expresses concrete reality, those victims should be called victims of the policy of Occupation and colonization or victims of the Palestinian struggle against the Occupation, or at least victims of Palestinian counter-terror against the terror of the Israeli Occupation.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue. [2]

A moment of satisfaction

For many years now I have not attended any of the events connected to Independence Day. It is hard for me to join in celebrations in Israel while independence is denied to the Palestinian people by the celebrating State. But one event is different: the alternative torch-lighting evening that is organized by the Yesh Gvul organization, in the square in front of the Bank of Israel in Jerusalem, where the peace activist and Yesh Gvul member Emil Grunzweig was murdered at a demonstration against the Lebanon War in February 1983.

That ceremony has been taking place for 13 years now, and I make a point not to miss it.

This year the Yesh Gvul torch-lighting ceremony had more importance in the view of the campaign of incitement and slander that organizations of the extreme Right are conducting, with the help of journalists and Knesset Members as well as the singer Amir Banyon in a shameful song that contains more than a few brown stains against human rights organizations and activists.

Every year the torch-lighters represent a range of human rights activists who are working to correct social and political injustices and shortcomings, as reflected in the wording of the announcement of the ceremony: “For the immediate cessation of the unnecessary violence and the Occupation of the Palestinian Territories, to rectify injustices in Israeli society, to improve the treatment of the weak among us, and for peace with all our neighbours.” (Haaretz 16 April 2010)

The alternative ceremony takes place at the same time as the official ceremony on Mount Herzl, but what a difference! Whereas on Mount Herzl, the torch-lighters read propagandistic texts that were dictated by the government, on Emil Grunzweig Square the torch-lighters read texts they wrote themselves, each one following the inclinations of his own heart and outlook.

The alternative texts are instructive, sometimes moving and always inspiring. If I were the Education Minister I would make those texts compulsory material for civics classes, because they express what should be but is not.

This year I was moved by the words of Sara Benninga, who represented the activists who hold the weekly demonstrations at Sheikh Jarrah. She came out with some real pearls: “What kind of State can evict people into a second refugeehood under the pretext of the rule of law, and still call itself a democracy?”; Elana Lakh from the organization Psycho Active, who stressed the importance of mourning in the wake of trauma. As if it were not enough that Israel has traumatized the Palestinian people, it forbids them to mourn, as expressed in the Nakba Law that cuts funding for the budgets of municipalities and organizations that commemorate the Nakba; Yasin Musa of the Darfur refugees, with whom I felt special solidarity for I too am a refugee, who emphasized the indifference the government exhibits towards the suffering of the refugees; Ahuva Tasfai and Gil Shatah, members of the Ben-Gurion University Contract Workers’ Committee who stressed the shameful exploitation and violations of rights from which workers are suffering, and called on the president of the university to accept the cleaning workers as university employees: Human dignity is more important than saving a little money for the institution’s budget; Sharon Dolev of Greenpeace, who called for the preservation of Planet Earth and a world free of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. And the other torch-lighters as well: the poet Matti Shmueloff, the Occupation refuser Shir Regev, the artist Danny Amir who is an activist with Power to the Workers, Elisheva Milikovsky of the Refugee Aid Organization, Michael Menkin from Breaking the Silence, the peace activist Yehoshua Rozen, Mazen Ghnaim, the mayor of Sakhnin, who was unable to attend but sent greetings in writing, and Yishai Menuhin who moderated the proceedings with intelligence and good taste. All of them represented the beautiful and sane Israel that seeks justice, peace and equality.

And let us not underestimate the importance of a gathering of hundreds of peace and human rights activists from various parts of the country who had not seen each other for a long time. New acquaintanceships are always made, for it is a multi-generational gathering between young people and “elders of the community” who join hands in a joint struggle. People who represent a different Israel, the one that we would like to see. There is something about this gathering that expands the mind, recharges the batteries and strengthens the feeling that even though we are in the minority, we are not alone.

“They hate us more”

The Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism is located in Tel Aviv University. Every year before Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Institute publishes a report on the state of anti-Semitism in the world. In its latest report, which surveyed the year 2009, 1,129 anti-Semitic incidents are recorded, double the number for 2008.

It is a picture that confirms what many Israelis already thought in any case: “the whole world is against us.” The headline of the news report on the survey in Yediot Aharonot, the highest-circulation newspaper in Israel, “They hate us more,” reflected that view.

But those who read not just those headlines but also the small print will learn that the source of the drastic increase in 2009 is the war crimes that Israel committed during the Gaza War. In other words, this is not the classical anti-Semitism which hates Jews because they are Jews, with no connection to anything they do; but hatred of Israel, or a feeling of revulsion with it in light of the harsh images that were broadcast all over the world from Israel’s war in Gaza. If hatred of Israel due to war crimes is an expression of anti-Semitism, then there can be no avoiding the conclusion that the State of Israel is the most efficacious agent for the spread of anti-Semitism today.

The official name of the Institute is “The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism.” I asked one of the employees of the Institute whether the Institute also publishes an annual report on the state of racism in the world, or at least on the state of racism in Israel, and the answer was no. Is Professor Dina Porat, who is the head of the Institute, not interested in the phenomenon of racism in the world, or at least in Israel? Is that not worthy of a Report? Is the connection between racism and anti-Semitism restricted to the official name of the Institute? That is a narrow approach, even a nationalistic one, and certainly not one that is professional or academic.

Every sixth person

Recently there was a parliamentary election in Hungary. The neo-fascist party did quite well. The headlines in the Israeli press noted that “every sixth person” voted for the extreme right-wing party that is characterized by hatred of Jews and Roma. This insult is apparently hard for Jews to take: to hate Jews and Roma in one breath? There are Jewish communities all over the world, including Israel, that make every effort to dissociate themselves from the Roma. The Jewish community in Germany managed to convince the government of Germany not to build a single memorial for the Jews and Roma who were victims of genocide, but rather to designate a separate monument for the Jews, that would not be visited – God forbid – by Roma.

What the newspapers did not write was that the situation in Israel is a lot worse. Whoever would say that one out of every six Jews in Israel is a racist and neo-fascist would certainly be paying Israel a compliment in light of the reality here. If we add to that all the votes in the Knesset that are infected with racism (Shas, Agudat Yisrael, The Jewish Home, The National Union, Yisrael Beitenu, at least three Likud MKs and at least three Kadima MKs) as representing the Israeli voters, we find that the situation here is much worse than that in Hungary, and that Hungary still has quite a ways to go before it reaches Israel’s level of racism.

And this is also a reminder to the Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Tel Aviv University, that the attempt to separate anti-Semitism from racism, to separate hatred of Jews from hatred of Roma or Arabs or Blacks in research and publications is contrived and condemned to failure.

Translator’s notes

1. A kippa (pl. kippot) is a ritual skullcap worn at all times by religious Jewish men, and typically worn by non-religious Jewish men – and even non-Jewish men – when they enter synagogues or attend Jewish religious ceremonies or visit Jewish holy places such as the Western Wall, and often at ceremonies commemorating the Holocaust and at Holocaust memorials such as Yad Vashem as well.

2. Proverbs 18:21

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent.

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