I am uncomfortable to the degree to which the Holocaust is used to justify [the existence of the modern state of] Israel. I feel the linkage between the two is often overplayed. Is there a way to remember the Holocaust and also fully justify the Jewish homeland without necessarily always linking the two?
You raise and interesting and complicated question. The Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel are the two defining events for the Jewish people of the 20th century (and beyond) and as a result their treatment is one of the most sensitive issues in the Jewish community. One can understand easily the impulse to make the link between the Holocaust and creation of the State of Israel.The Holocaust in the clearest terms made the case for a Jewish homeland that would not restrict the immigration of Jews and would stand to defend Jews everywhere. Additionally, the proximity of the Holocaust to the creation of the State of Israel, points to changing global sentiments and sympathies after the Holocaust to the need for a Jewish state. We can see this in the way that each foreign dignitary who visits Israel is brought to Yad Vashem as the first stop on their tour. I think these arguments are powerful and hold great meaning for many Jews and that these arguments have their merit.
I also think that, there are ways to make a meaningful justification of the State of Israel without, to use your words, “overplaying” the Holocaust. Zionists worldwide were hard at work to create a Jewish homeland in Israel well before WWII and the subsequent creation of the State of Israel and the last 63 years are about a lot more than reaction to the Holocaust. I think it is hard to separate the Holocaust from the story entirely, but you can certainly balance it with other components of Israel’s narrative.
As for remembering the Holocaust without connecting it to the creation of the State of Israel, you could do so. However, it seems to me to be a sad omission from the story of the Jewish people. The Holocaust is one of the darkest moments of our history and while nothing can mitigate the tragedy of those events, the creation of the State of Israel, is one of the ways that we have found meaning and purpose as a people since that time.
I think what is most important to keep in mind is that you phrased this question in terms of your own comfort. That means that while you can make decisions about the ways you discuss both Israel and the Holocaust, I hope you will respect the expressions of others who see things differently. There is a great deal to be gained from listening to those who see things differently than you.
The Shoah (Holocaust) and Israel are inexorably linked. The Holocaust was the ultimate culmination of anti-Semitism and powerlessness. Israel is the counter testimony to powerlessness. Having said this, it is important to note that the Holocaust can be misused to demonize all Israeli's opponents as Nazi's. Opposition to Israeli policy and genocidal intent are not synonomous. However, with Holocaust deniers such Iran's President and certain extremist Islamist group who desire the destruction of Israel, the dangers of ignoring real threats which evoke the Shoah as their model are a grave error. The Holocaust must be studied and commemorated so that we may be faithful to the memory of those who were murdered and to understand the human potential for genocide against which we must work assiduously. Although at least in most of the Western world we are no longer the subject to blatant anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism remains a potential threat. Today when Jews are threatened in any place in the world. We know that there is a politcal entity committed and able to defend us.
Israel's existence is the fulfillment of a two millenia dream. We are people and our return to the land is a sacred opportunity to build a naiton and a society based on Judaic principles in a land and culture all our own. It is a grand experiment in statecraft which we hope will be a "light to the nations." Our emphasis should be on Israel's vibrant democracy and its technological and cultural achievements. Its existence is a given which needs no justification. The Shoah helps to explain why it emerges fully when it does and reminds us of its role as refuge in a world which refused to save six million of our people but the Zionist Movement and a religious hope had already paved the way for Israel's emergence as a state. The Shoah is important but we are a people of Torah and Mitzvot who have a vision of a better world. Our future depends on our ability to work toward that future.
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