What Israel still needs to learn from the Shoah

The memory of the Shoah cries out to the present generation not to take its military and political abilities for granted – and to be willing to use those abilities against those who wish for the Jewish people to be destroyed.

The March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site. (Credit: Y. Zeliger/Flash90)

This Thursday Israel will commemorate the six million Jews, who were murdered by the German Nazis and their many willing collaborators during the Second World War.

In Israel, the day is known as Yom Hashoah and on that day, every year, the country comes to a literal standstill for a few moments, as the sirens cry in commemoration of the six million. Every Israeli – man, woman and child – stops in his tracks and stands in silence to honor the memory of those who were forever silenced, hunted like prey and industrially mass killed in broad daylight in the middle of enlightened Europe. Just for being Jews.

It was only 74 years ago that the Nazi death camps were liberated by the Allies. In terms of history, especially Jewish history, that is nothing – it barely amounts to the blink of an eye. Europeans, many of whose parents and grandparents actively participated in the bloodbaths of the Shoah, do not appear to understand that it is not their place to be telling Israelis, when and how to defend themselves against military and terrorist threats, where to live and where to build houses in the land of Israel. Nor is it their business to be lecturing Jews on their own history through UN bodies such as UNICEF.

It is outrageous that the European continent, which spilled such an extreme amount of Jewish blood for no reason other than pure hatred and racism, should dare to not only dictate the rules of the game to the Jewish state, but also frequently, shamelessly and falsely, accusing it of behaving like the Nazis.

In Israel, however, the lessons of the Shoah have also still not been fully internalized. The first and most enduring lesson of the Shoah is not the tired slogan of ‘never again’, which is bandied about at every tired antisemitism conference, but that Jews need to be armed, able and not least willing to defend themselves from every conceivable threat. The Shoah was the most inconceivable threat to European Jews: The civilized Germans, such adoring acolytes of the finest aspects of European civilization, the progeny of Bach and Beethoven, still loved nothing better than to mass murder Jews in the most horrifying ways possible. Back then, it was not a question of Jews being willing to defend themselves, but lack of sheer ability. There was very little that unarmed Jews could do against the extremely efficient German attempt at industrializing mass murder to achieve the ‘final solution’.

Today, Israel does not lack the ability. Nevertheless, Israeli Jews are still killed on a regular basis: In terrorist stabbing attacks, ramming attacks, shooting attacks and in missile attacks. The Israeli leadership does not appear to have fully understood that its first and foremost task is to protect Jews from physical harm. After the Shoah, there can never be any excuse not to protect Jewish lives – all Jewish lives. This means actively acknowledging, in deeds and not just in words, that the primary role and responsibility of the military is to win over the enemy – which means to incapacitate it, permanently, so that it can no longer harm you. Confronted with security threats, including existential ones, Israeli leadership cannot possibly pay enough attention to the most important  lesson of the Shoah, paid at an exorbitant price: If Jews do not stand up for themselves, no one else will.

This means that voices from the EU, the UN and other sources who have unequivocally shown that they do not consider Jewish lives to matter, must frequently be ignored, and military matters settled in a way that permanently safeguards Israeli lives. Paying heed to voices that have publically declared themselves to be aligned with those who wish to annihilate Israel is an extreme example of not paying heed to the costly lessons of the Shoah.

As Israel awaits the publication of the Trump  administration’s peace plan, it is crucial that the political and military echelons in Israel remember that the Shoah is not just a historical event and a tragedy that we commemorate once a year. It is a testament to the horrors that are capable – in modern times, our times – of befalling the Jewish people and the need, therefore, to defeat those who would like to see the Jewish state annihilated. It is a cry from the past to never let up being vigilant and to not run any security risks, even small ones, for the political benefits of others. Israel made fatal mistakes in the past – with the Oslo Agreement and with the evacuation of Gaza – experimenting with Israeli lives to placate an international audience, among other things. There is no room left for more mistakes. There is only one Jewish state. The memory of the Shoah cries out to the present generation not to take its military and political abilities for granted – and to be willing to use those abilities to defeat the enemies that wish for Israel to be destroyed, and with it ultimately for the Jewish people to be destroyed. Only then, can one even begin to dream of peace.


Judith Bergman is a columnist and political analyst and a fellow with the Gatestone Institute.

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