There’s an interesting dialogue at Standpoint Online (I’d never heard of it before) between Israeli author AB Yehoshua and British author Howard Jacobson. (Via Jeffrey Goldberg, of course.) I don’t agree with everything they say, but really appreciate their discussion the legacy of the Holocaust and how it intersects with discourse about Israel:
AB Yehoshua: …Where is this coming from, this extraordinary hostility, this attempt to deprive the Jewish people of its unique suffering?
Howard Jacobson: I can tell you what it is, but I’m not sure I can tell you where it comes from, because it comes from many sources; from outside Jews, and also very crucially from within Judaism. Lots of Jews are up to this trick, or whatever we call it. I see it as a new and much more sinister kind of Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial we can deal with now. Most of the world knows about it. We recognise the look of the people who do it and we know the nonsense of it, we just leave them alone and let them get on with it. But this is much more sinister and much more appealing, this one goes: “It was a terrible thing that happened to the Jews. We all know what a terrible thing Auschwitz was. Look, we concede it, you poor Jews.” It’s necessary that they demonstrate their degree of empathy for us. But what follows the sympathy is an analysis – a psychoanalysis – that is far from sympathetic: “You were traumatised by the Holocaust into visiting a Holocaust of your own upon the Palestinians.” It’s like the abused child who grows up and abuses the next child. We are now described as abusing the Palestinians in exactly the same terms as the Germans abused us – “abused” for God’s sake! And in this way, we are actually made to pay for the Holocaust itself. I talk about it as a kind of retrospective guilt for the Holocaust. It’s almost as if we’ve turned time the wrong way round, that because of what we are now doing to the Palestinians, we lose the right to the dignity of the Holocaust, if you can call it dignity.
This is a very sinister move. It’s at the heart of the Caryl Churchill play [Seven Jewish Children, performed at the Royal Court Theatre] and you get a lot of it at the universities, because it’s appealing in its neatness, it’s vaguely post-modern, you can mention Freud, you can chase around the names of several fashionable intellectuals. It is also very sinister, because it begs the question of what Israel is in fact doing or not doing to the Palestinians. Jewish trauma elides into Palestinian trauma, the cruelty Jews suffered into the cruelty Jews now dispense. It is not only that unequal things are equalised, but that the equalising settles the question of what is happening between the waring parties. Accept that the done-to have become the doers and the issue is settled…
I have to say I agree with Jacobson here. It’s an absurd and tragic symptom of the obsession with collective psychology that we are even engaging in this discussion. Despite all of Israel’s shortcomings when it comes to human rights,it is despicable to me to equate the Israelis with Nazis. I think that Jacobson begins to explain why.