Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why Israel Exists

I opened facebook this morning to find this request from my cousin D: PLEASE share this article by Daniel Finkelstein in today's Times. I am sharing it in the biggest way I know how, by putting it on my blog. After the cartoon that appeared in the Sunday Times on International Holocaust Memorial Day (that I am not even going to link to) I and many Jewish Britons are wondering.... let's just say we are wondering. 

Lessons from the Holocaust? Try these two
(An article by Daniel Finkelstein that appeared in today's Times)

The Jews have learnt all about Man’s inhumanity to Man. But also that you cannot rely on others to keep you safe. 
By the time my grandmother boarded the train from Belsen she was close to death. For a year she had given every scrap of food she had to her little girls, to my mother and her two sisters. Now starvation meant that she could scarcely stand. But somehow she managed to hold herself upright and stumble on board.
She had to, for this train was the only chance of liberty. A prisoner exchange had been arranged and somehow, using false passports, my family was on it. But the Nazis were excluding anyone whose illness might disclose to the Allies the hunger and disease in the camps. My grandmother knew that, starved though she was, she would have to walk to freedom. If she did not, her girls would die, as so many, many more had died and were still to die.
On board she collapsed as the train made its winter way through frozen countryside to safety in Switzerland. And then, stranded in the middle of nowhere, the train stopped. A guard appeared. He waved his hands at my family and told them that there were too many people on the train. They would have to get off. They would be left to die in the snow.
My aunt, the eldest child, protested. My grandmother was too ill to be moved, she said. The Nazi guard looked. He shrugged. OK, he said. And he moved on.
My grandmother lived just long enough to see her little girls through their ordeal, to deliver them from the camps to safety. She crossed the border to Switzerland and before the day was done, she died.
Last week, in anticipation of Holocaust Memorial Day, David Ward, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East, said that the Jews — my Mum, perhaps, her sisters — hadn’t learnt the lesson of the Holocaust. “It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treated.” I’ll give my Mum a call when I have a moment and pass on his complaint.
The comparison the MP made, between Jews and the Nazis, is a distressingly commonplace one. It pops up all the time in the anti-Semitic mail that I receive on a regular enough basis that I have developed a standard reply (“Dear Sir, Thank you for your note. It is kind of you to warn me about the Jews. I will certainly keep an eye out for them. They sound terrible. Daniel”). But in public, most people are subtle enough to use the word Zionist when they mean Jew.
Even in this more socially acceptable form, the charge is outrageous. It suggests a complete failure to understand the sheer scale and intent of the Holocaust. As it happens, I am very critical of the Israeli settlements policy. I regard it as both wrong and strategically disastrous. I am critical, angry, about its human consequences. But to compare Binyamin Netanyahu’s policy to that of the gas chambers of Auschwitz is shameful. Nauseating, actually. Which is not a word I am given to employing often in political debate.
Gerald Scarfe’s deeply misconceived drawing in The Sunday Times was, at least, not guilty of this error. But I hope I can be excused if I found his explanation that he hadn’t remembered that he was supposed to be remembering the Holocaust more darkly amusing than I usually find his cartoons.
While lecturing the survivors of the concentration camps and their children on the lessons they would have learnt if only they had been good people like him, David Ward did not only show a lack of proportion. He also showed a lack of insight.
It is true, as Mr Ward says, that what happened to my grandmother shows the dangers of Man’s inhumanity to Man and the need to avoid it. But that is not the only lesson it teaches. And not the only lesson Jews have learnt.
When the Nazis invaded Holland, and arrested my family in their home, and stole their property, and killed their friends, and destroyed their community, and put them on trains to go to death camps, they were able to do it because they had the army and the soldiers and the guns. They were able to do it because the Jews were defenceless. They were able to do it because speeches and books and ideas about liberty, for all their great truth and power, weren’t enough.
How could the Jews not have learnt that lesson? How could they not have learnt it, David Ward, when they went home to the East of Europe and found they couldn’t live in their houses or reclaim their property or be safe with their neighbours? How could they not have learnt it sailing round and round the harbour because no country wanted to take them?
The Jews have learnt the same lesson as everyone else about humanity and compassion, and been as good and as fallible as anyone else when trying to show it. But we have also understood a harder, harsher truth. That we cannot rely on others to keep us safe. And Israel exists precisely because of this.
On New Year’s Day, the artist Yoko Ono paid for a full-page advertisement in The New York Times. She then left it blank save for two words. In the middle of the page it read “Imagine Peace”.
After it appeared, The Guardian conducted an online poll, asking readers: “Will Yoko Ono’s advertisement help bring world peace?” A third of respondents, hundreds of people, reviewed the white space of the ad, then considered the massacres in Syria and Algeria, the murders in the Sudan, the conflicts of the Middle East, before responding that yes, in their carefully considered opinion, Ms Ono’s commercial would help world peace.
Wouldn’t it be marvelous to really think that? To really believe that the cause of peace can be advanced by imagining it? Wouldn’t it be good if no one ever had to die to allow others to live, and freedom didn’t need to protect itself with a rifle, and little girls could go to school in Pakistan without being shot? I want that world as fervently as anyone else.
But one of the lessons of the Holocaust is that wanting it is not enough. Israel is deep in a struggle to defend the Jews who live there against more death and confiscation and terror. Because the Jews have had enough of that, thank you very much.
It’s right to be critical when Israel gets it wrong. It is creditable to make the human rights of Palestinians a cause. But to forget that after genocide and destruction the Jews wanted a home they could defend? Never again.


  1. brilliant article and one of the main reason I have moved my family to live is Israel. I would rather the danger of living in Israel but giving my children the opportunity to defend themselves then the perceived comfort of living anywhere else in the world.

    1. One of the things I always have in the back of my mind when I think I would like to live in England again. Thank you for commenting.

  2. This gave me goosebumps. A shocking but great article.

  3. Eloquent and moving. I'm horrified to read your family was so directly affected by the genocide.

    1. This is an article by Daniel Finkelstein that was published in today's Times. My family escaped from the pogroms in the 1880s and were living in London during the war. Sorry if this wasn't clear. I've added a line under the title to make it more clear. But yes, it is eloquent and moving.

    2. Sorry, it was me being stupid. I did see the intro about the article but got so caught up in the content I forgot all about that...

    3. Actually I feel better having made it more clear who wrote the article so thanks for that.

  4. If one were to follow up a reading of this article with a reading or rereading of Elie Wiesel's Night, one would draw close enough to the horror that such fatuous statements as Mr. Ward's would not be likely to issue from one's lips, regardless of one's agreement or disagreement with current Israeli policies.

    Certain moral equivalencies used by politicians in both the UK and the US reveal either extreme shallowness or insidious intent.

    1. I think some ignorance is involved as the lies and successful propaganda of the Arab world have been so successful many people form an opinion without doing any research of their own. Also there is a very real fear in the UK of offending the Arabs because they fight back out of all proportion and they have oil reserves.

    2. Diane and Conor in Cary,NCFebruary 2, 2013 at 8:35 PM

      M.S.M.- and William Holt, I think that you are both so very right and I wish that you weren't! Living here in North Carolina in the land of the Baptists (amongst others) the ignorance is appalling. Not only do they not understand where their Old Testament comes from, but my son is subjected to hearning all the time the old propaganda that the Jews killed Jesus, and that Jesus was not a Jew! Unbelievable lies that many US politicians in the Republican Tea party perpetuate. It is sad to hear Britons still hanging on to their old belief systems concerning oil and the Arabs. reminds me of the book Uris. The propaganda really came out during the Gaza shelling of Israel. We are so thankful for Birthright. My family did not survive, only the ones in NY. My son is the last.

    3. That's so sad about your family. And yes, Birthright does a wonderful job. I also find it unbelievable how ignorant people are when it comes to the historical and political facts about Judaism and Israel.

  5. Thank you for sharing Daniel Finkelstein's compelling response to the disgusting blood libel published last Sunday in the London Times.

    This article should be required reading for every Jew who feels "it can't happen here." The lessons of the Shoah were many, but the miracle of the aftermath was in reclaiming our homeland and in defending it with our IDF. Every single day, from here in the US, I pray for Israel and for our soldiers who protect and defend not only the Jewish homeland but the Jewish people worldwide. They, and our land, are the only barrier to the next Shoah.

    1. Thank you for your comment and for your support.

  6. Thank you for copying this article out in full when it was still available. I wanted to share it again for Holocaust Memorial Day and your blog was the only place I could find it not behind a paywall. I have shared it and linked to your blog from my Facebook.