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.