-- May 1 2011 Holocaust Memorial Day and the Israel Political Psyche

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A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman

May 1 2011 Holocaust Memorial Day and the Israel Political Psyche

I was planning to write more about the Hamas-Fatah deal, or the developments in Syria and Libya, or about the troubling announcement today by the Egyptians that they are going to open the borders to Gaza. However, after watching the National Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony at Yad Vashem today, I decided to take a different approach.

Yom Hashoa is an appropriate moment for reflection on one's political views, and the views of those with whom one may or may not agree. For someone like me, who has been particularly critical of Israel’s right wing, today's commemoration provided a particularly good opportunity to try to understand some of what drives their views. I am not talking about those who hold the view that God gave us the entire land of Israel, and therefore, there is no room for territorial compromise. I have always understood that position. I just never agreed with that world view. Rather, it is those on the Israeli political right, who come to their views from a security perspective that I would like to take this opportunity to examine and reflect upon.

Tonight. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres spoke at the Yad Vashem commemoration ceremony, which officially begins Yom Hashoa in Israel. In their own ways, both men spoke to the same theme: that the Jewish people can not forget there are really people out in the world who want to kill us. With that fact as a given, it's the Israel Defense Forces that protects us all. Furthermore, we must not ignore or belittle those who say they want to destroy us. We must take their threats seriously.

While the Holocaust is part of all of our memories, it is often too easy to underestimate its impact on the Israeli political psyche. To almost all Israelis and most Zionists, the singular message chosen by both Netanyahu and Peres are self-evident...if we do not protect ourselves, someone will come and kill us, AND, the only one we can rely on, is ourselves. The events of the last dozen years, where the Israeli pull-outs from both Lebanon and Gaza, only fueled additional attacks, have convinced an even larger number of Israelis that the only way to protect Israel is by having a strong army and holding on to key strategic territories.

Many believe that the opinions of the world be damned. After all, where was the world during the Holocaust? This position has only been strengthened by the many successful years of Holocaust education in Israel; an education that has brought tens of thousands of Israeli students on visits to the concentration camps in Poland.

Herzl believed there was a fire burning under the feet of the Jews of Europe. That belief fueled his zeal to try to establish the Jewish state. He was obviously right in his concerns. Sadly, as we know, the Jewish state came too late to save the vast majority of the Jews of Europe. Though it did provide a haven for the survivors.

Israel’s founding, and by far greatest Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, believed in Jewish self-sufficiency. Ben Gurion, however, was enough of a realist to know that Israel's survival was also dependant on ensuring Israel was always aligned with a least one of the world's major powers. In a world in which political fluidity is at the highest level since the establishment of the State, Israel's leaders are going to need to know how to balance these two needs, in ways their predecessors were never called upon to do. Let's hope they are up to the challenge.

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