Ck has already voiced his opinion about the mistake of imbuing modern Jewish culture with the Holocaust. For the most part, I tend to agree, although not to the degree that he states. I also probably think much of the emphasis on Holocaust education misses some of the smaller stories that have the most impact. I will post one of these in the near future.

Anyway, This op-ed in the New York Times is getting a great deal of publicity and strikes me as inappropriate. In this Shabbat day editorial, Ami Eden, editor of The Forward, refers to the term “Holocaust card. ”

In fact, there it is in the headline: “Holocaust Card.”

I hate it when people refer to claims about antisemitism as “playing the Holocaust card.” Do they mean that the Holocaust didn’t happen and didn’t begin with a small group of fervent antisemites speaking out publicly against Jews?

Or do they mean that this is merely a “strategy” used by Jews to improve their current circumstances using the graves of their deceased co-religionists as a stepping stone?

What they mean, of course, is that Jews are making a cynical use of this great tragedy that befell the Jewish people (and others, but this article by Eden is about Jews). It could be to advance a cause, a case, or to prevent others from advancing their agendas, but the idea of a “card” suggests an inappropriate use; a devious use; a self-serving use; a dishonest use.

It’s a little disturbing to see it, and typically I expect this unfortunate expression from people who talk about a holohoax and how sickness caused many Jews to die in WWII, not pre-meditated genocide. Here it’s being used by a prominent Jewish editor of an important Jewish newspaper.

I can only ask, at what point did the moral bankruptcy of the Holocaust stop being a factor in considerations of what could happen in today’s world? Did it stop being a factor because Israel has a strong army? Did it stop being a factor because that generation is mostly deceased or very old? Did it stop being a factor because Jews in certain Western societies are accepted more readily and appear to be succeeding in certain areas where they have a powerful impact, such as the sciences, arts and business?

Ami Eden writes,

[The] bankruptcy of the old strategy has become glaringly apparent. In several recent controversies – including the debates over Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” the role of neoconservatives in promoting the invasion of Iraq war, and the public celebration of Christmas – we have seen a new willingness, whether by borderline bigots, respected celebrities or policymakers, to express aloud ideas about Jews and Israel that until recently were taboo. The protests by anti-Semitism watchdogs did nothing but embolden these people.

Strategy?! What strategy?

The protests by “anti-Semitism watchdogs” were relatively muted in two out three of those matters while they were loud and correct in the third (Neo-Cons). For example, very little criticism came out of the Jewish community about The Passion. Gibson turned a letter from the ADL, that politely mentioned that his movie could set off age-old hatreds, into a marketing tool where he depicted himself as the victim of some massive Jewish conspiracy, um, kind of like, you know, the way Jesus was supposedly killed because of certain, you know, bad Jews. Gibson pretended that he required heroic bravery to proceed with his project while Jewish groups were conspiring against his holy movie, but in truth while there was curiosity and concern on the part of the Jewish community, virtually nobody spoke out against the movie in any serious way.

Same with the Prince Harry business and the Christmas celebration issue. In both matters, there are many other groups, including newspapers and other media, that take on the role of watchdogs and critics. Most of the lawsuits involving Christian symbols in cities and during Christmas are brought forth by atheists, not by Jews. Harry was criticized primarily for the offense he caused to Britons and by the assumption by media outlets that it would be Jews who would be the most offended. This was an assumption. Even Hier’s remarks encouraging the young man to visit Auschwitz, can be taken to mean that Harry obviously has certain gaps in his education, and there are ways to fix those holes. The Jews didn’t “own” this mistake by Harry, rather, they were presumed and accused of owning this, uh, fashion faux pas.

In a similar vein, I enter numerous conversations and debates about the Middle East conflict where before I utter a word on the subject, the other person says to me something like, “Now you should know I’m not an antisemite and my negative views are about Israel and Zionists, not Jews.”

Huh? Did I say something to you? Or are you feeling so insecure that you’re worried your views are going to be called into question? Argue the facts and don’t pretend to be my victim. You’re not my victim, and nobody called you an antisemite. I’ll let you know if it’s a concern. However, in this person’s mind and the minds of many others, he needs to “be careful.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t situations when Jews bring up the Holocaust when they should not. However, that is not “playing a card.” Rather, it usually stems from a belief that what happened then, could happen again, and what had happened was so reprehensible that it actually creates a new language of morality. It is prudent to only bring this up when the topic is important enough to mention it and to be careful about the claims made, and about that I agree with Eden, but that is not playing a “Holocaust card.”

A “Holocaust card” is what we see when a Gazan settler puts on an orange star, equating the Jewish state with Nazis (or the Judenrat). However, this is a rare situation, and the circumstances are undeniably painful and confusing. This is, for all intents and purposes, an extreme example.

But Eden isn’t talking about extreme situations, he means commonplace matters. In that vein, I don’t understand why people like Eden are buying into this general assertion that Jews are overstating the case and are hurt by it. As a journalist, and as an editor of a very good paper, he should instead investigate how valid the claims are in the first place; just how many Jewish organizations or individuals are using the Holocaust as a “card?”

On the other hand, how many people who might be saying harmful things about the Jews or Jewish community are the ones complaining about a “Holocaust card” so as to cloak their intentions with their victimhood to the oh-so-poweful-yet-evil Jews?

How often do people and publications assume there’s a problem and contact leading Jews with leading questions to inquire if there is a problem when those leading Jews would otherwise not have discussed the matter in public?

Why is it that if one or two organization speak on behalf of their benefactors and supporters, the entire Jewish community suddenly falls under the umbrella of their comments? If Foxman or Hier make a public statement, does that mean that all Jews stand behind it? If the public statement is made in a gentle manner but depicted as harsh, should they be blamed for the extreme interpretation given the statement by the supposedly aggrieved and victimized party (Buchananan; Gibson)?

Also, why is Mr. Eden proposing that we, as Jews, pre-empt our public voice about something that might be important enough to warrant bringing up the Holocaust? Should Hier, who runs an organization committed to remembering the Holocaust and preventing a recurrence, remain quiet when he is asked about Prince Harry doing something moronic with a swastika? Why should he remain quiet? So as not to “embolden” critics? Um, I thought that we were a little past the stage in our Western societies where we need to worry about “emboldening” critics. Aren’t we?

If we aren’t, then shouldn’t we make it a point to stick it to these critics of Jews? Are we afraid suddenly? Or is this just a note of caution from a man who feels the winds of antisemitism beginning to blow a little stronger, and who believes the best way to avoid the gust is to lay low? That’s acceptable if that’s what Eden believes, but perhaps he should put it that way instead of placing the blame on Jews, using an offensive term like “Holocaust card” (and thus opening the door for people who don’t like Jews to freely use the term “Holocaust card”), and making this into a “Jews have power now so stop playing the victim” type of statement. Ironically, he didn’t even publish this in his newspaper with its Jewish target audience and instead took his claims and this phrase to the nation’s most prominent paper

Really, what is he thinking?

PS I have a renewal letter from the Forward in my bills pile. I am offended by the publication of this editorial in the NY Times, for the reasons I mention above, and doubt very much that I will renew my subscription to The Forward any time in the near future.

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  • It is quite an offending piece of writing.

    Regarding the Prince Harry issue it would have been worthwhile for Eden to mention the recent BBC poll conducted in December (using a representative national sample of British adults): six out of ten people under the age of 35 have never heard of Auschwitz.

    Is it the fault of “Jewish organizations” that British education is so that WWII is only about Coventry, V-2, U-boats, D-Day and Dresden..?

    Also, I don’t think Jews were really ever perceived as being the “David”. The image of Jews having global clout has been around forever – it was just not so ‘mainstream’ to voice this aloud for a few decades after the Shoah. Now it is, again.

    Just my .5 cents.

    Shavua tov.

  • Just some rambling;

    we often like to remember the holocaust for numerous reasons and get all pissed off when the goyim forget..

    I’m in England right now and have had access to the media, and last week was ‘Auschwitz week’ for all intents and purposes. It was always stated that either 1.5mil Jews died there, or over 1mil, or 1.5 died, mostly Jews. The whole thing came across to me that they were trying to add it to their WWII vocabulary, or maybe they just like to remember their ‘glorius’ past when Britain was a superpower. The was a royal memorial with all important English people including Queen & family and that was even televised live. Maybe it was just an opportunity to remind the English population of the ‘fuckin’ Nazis’ because whether they killed Jews is important or not, they were a real enemy once that bombed the shit out of them.

    all this holocaust talking last week, and I still find a lack of discussion within the tribe in the issue ‘why it happenned to us’ and what we can learn from that. All too often, we learn why the goy snapped, and not why why/if we were responsible for anything.

    Let the flames fly…

  • I’m hesitant to explain because I know that most people don’t understand a more spiritual frame of mind, and judge purely on superficial words.

    I apologize that I do not have time at this point to explain in more detail, perhaps as we build up to this years yom hashoah, we’ll have time to discuss this more.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the holocaust ‘occured’ because us Jews were not living up to our responsibilities described in the torah. ‘Kol yisrael arevim ze lezeh’ = all Jews are responsible for each other. I do not for one millisecond absolve the Nazis/Germans for one calorie of energy expended for the shoah, or the Arabs for continuing the effort to destroy us. I do not believe in the current train of thought to justify ‘aggressive’ ‘behaviour’ of any kind by rationalizing the motives or flawed character development, or ‘poverty’, or ‘occupation’, or whatever ‘oppressive’ reason.

    Maybe it is still too early to say ‘why’ the holocaust happened ‘davka’ now, what made God bring this ‘judgement’ on us. But I’m just afraid that we are on our way to another ‘judgement’ day in the near future.

  • I don’t buy it. I’m religious, and I don’t buy it. If 60 years ago G-d decided to purge the Jewish people in “judgment” why were millions of the dead some of the most devout Jews in the world? Why did G-d cut down millions of the faithful? Because of a few maskilim not hewing to the Torah millions of Chasidim, mitnagdim, and just plain ol’ religious Jews had to die?

    If sixty years ago, when the majority of the Jewish people was still religious, G-d “judged” us with the Shoah, today, given that now the majority of Jews are not Orthodox, he should be wiping us off the face of the earth as I type this. At least by your logic.

    How does saying “The Jews brought this destruction on themselves” differ from the average German sixty years ago saying the same thing?

    If Hashem is the Magen Avraham, the Tzur Yisrael, then why would he kill six million as “judgment”? And if you believe that the Shoah occured because Jews were not being true to the Torah, then why blame Germans at all? I mean, according to you, were they not merely doing G-d’s will?

  • Michael, I understand Josh’s remarks based upon his faith. I wonder how you reconcile what happened with your faith?

  • Actually, I haven’t really worked it out for myself yet. But I know I don’t like the idea of G-d just laying waste to people because somebody ate pork.

    If the Shoah could be glibly brought into line with faith, it wouldn’t have destroyed so many people’s.

  • Michael,
    one of the points I’m trying to make is that us religious people are not the tzadikim we think we are. I personally meet too many religious and haredim who are frankly just ‘living life’ as religious people rather than trying to continually make themselves, the community, and the world a better place. If someone thinks they are a tzaddik, or just a plain good Jew, then chances are that they aren’t.
    Now it’s one thing for a religious guy to claim he has faults, but it’s utter arrogance for some non-religious guy (or goy) to then come along and use those self-introspective arguments against him.
    Have you heard of the term ‘tinok s’nishba’? It’s used to describe non-religious who don’t practice mitzvahs for lack of knowledge, or lack of education. Many Jews today fall into this category. It sort of explains that these Jews are not and should not be judged on the same level of Jews who have access to Judaism, know the torah, and/or are religious all of whom ‘should know better’.
    As for good people dying with the bad, on one hand, like I claim, who says these people were ‘really’ good, and on the other hand (and I’m sorry for not remembering the exact terminology), I’ve been told that when ‘judgement’ comes, and hashem brings his wrath/din upon the ‘guilty’ sometimes good people are taken as well and I think we have endless examples of this from the tsunami, to plane crashes, terrorist attacks on Passover seders, etc…

  • I recently came accross something about Yitz Greenberg saying that the fact the Holocaust happened at all is proof that we are in an era where God has given mankind complete responsibility for the state of the world. That at this point, it’s our show.

    I don’t totally buy it (the statement is they don’t cover the 6-day war at West Point, because they teach strategy, not miracles) but thought it interesting and worth throwing in here.

  • I never claimed I was a tzadik…the interesting thing about being a religious Jew is that there’s always more observance to bring into your life, more learning, so at least in my experience it’s a consistently humbling process.

    You may have a point about some of the religious — I mean, I don’t think most people think the guys in Mea Shearim marking their throwing rocks so they won’t be muktzeh are the most shining examples of goodness and morality, even though they follow the Torah to the letter. But still, even if not all the religious Jews in Europe were “good,” it would be difficult to argue that all six million of them weren’t.

    As far as educating those who are tinok s’nishba, thank G-d for those Lubavitchers. They may veer into eerily Christian-esque quasi-idol worship of their rebbe, and have a certain predilection for quashing other people’s minhagim, but they sure have done a lot for bring Jews into greater observance. I wish one could say the same for other groups of Orthodox Jews.

    Sometimes I wonder if the Shoah immediately followed by the reestablishment of Jewish autonomy in Israel for the first time in 2000 years was all part of Hashem’s plan, but then again, a) I don’t see why it required all that death and b) if Medinat Yisrael was the first flowering of the messianic redemption, G-d’s probably changed his mind, given all those pork-eatin’, rabbi-kickin’ Israelis out there. (And they say Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.)

    Laya, I saw Yitz Greenberg speak in Washington DC a while ago. For one of the most esteemed Jewish thinkers in the country, he was quite the rambler. But the statement is interesting. Although I kind of agree with you — if G-d had left the world up to itself, the State of Israel would have already been destroyed. If we needed a reminder after the Shoah that someone up there liked us, it was that.

    Honestly, that’s a large part of how I keep religious. It’s hard not to believe in G-d when you see those ’67 images of the tzanchanim at the Kotel, or hear the hardened secular Israeli reporters start to cry as Jerusalem is whole again for the first time in two millennia. (Of course, if it had happened now, it would have been “Israeli soldiers make incursion into Palestinian Jerusalem, illegally annex territory and threaten Islamic holy sites, news at 10.”…but I digress)

    I don’t know. It’s a very theologically difficult time to be a Jew, especially since our luck seems to be on the downturn again. I suppose we’ll just have to see.

  • Michael,
    when a child gets a nice gash in the skin that hurts, and it must be given stiches that hurt some more, we adults ‘know’ that it’s for the better. That the extra pain is so that the healing can progress faster.
    We are God’s children and God is helping us along. The vast majority of us cannot fathom why bad things are happening to the nation, but I just believe that everything is for the better. When a loving parent punishes his/her children, it’s to correct bad behaviour. Six million Jews is a hell of a punishment and I refuse to think that in a SPIRITUAL sense, we deserved it for some reason. To have some goy anti-semite tell us that is bullshit, they are not absolved from industrializing our genocide or not bombing the tracks, but from a religious perspective, it never seems to be discussed openly. We all openly talk about the spiritual reasons that both temples were destroyed and usually don’t talk about the knee high flowing rivers of blood when that occured because the hundreds of thousands (or millions) of Jews killed back then was eclipsed by the destruction of the temples. Just a couple of weeks ago, we learnt that during the darkness plague, 4/5 of us died as well, but we’re not taught that in dayschool, why?

  • I think the wound may be too fresh to be discussed openly on spiritual terms. It’s very easy to talk about sinat chinam destroying the Temple, because it was 2000 years ago. When you talk about six million dead sixty years ago…it’s more difficult.

    But I’m curious — if you refuse to think that Jews deserved the Holocaust in a spiritual sense, then what do you mean by saying that the Holocaust occured because Jews weren’t living up to their obligations in the Torah? One seems to follow from the other.

    Is not ascribing the destruction of the Temple and the purging of Jews from Jerusalem to sinat chinam therefore pretty much saying it wasn’t really the Romans’ fault, in as much as they were a tool of G-d’s wrath? I mean, I don’t feel like absolving the Germans for killing us or the American government for failing to save us when they had the chance any more than you do, but I find it difficult to reconcile viewing the Shoah as a result of religious transgression and continuing to hold the goyim responsible. You know?

    I just hope you’re right about everything being for the best. I suppose the fact that we can still be optimistic after 2000 years of having our blood spilled on the four corners of the earth is in itself a good sign.

  • If the gentiles find out six million jews didn’t die, then according to Talmud the messiah won’t come!

  • The only people that have the right to reference the holocaust in order to gain sympathy are the survivors themselves. Everyone else is pretty much on equal, purely scholarly footing.

    I had one member of my family die in a russian camp and another survive a german camp. However, I am too young to even remember her well, as she died of old age shortly after I was born. Should I be able to mention this every time I want people to shut up, I think not. Nor would I wish to.

    When people who do not have victims of the holocaust as family members do this, it’s just obscene, whether they are Jews or not.

    Same goes for Israel, which was conceived by religious fanatics long before the war, and who’s actions certainly don’t represent all, if any, survivors. We at least owe it to them to fight the cause of their suffering, that is nationalism in ALL it’s forms.

    The use of this argument by Netanyahu is especially disgusting, not only because he is not a victim himself, he has no familial connection to one, but that he is a son of and represents conservative Zionists, who were too busy with political struggles and lobbying for the creation of Greater Israel to help Jews escape from Germany, like those of MS St. Louis.

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