Holocaust historian Saul Friedlander, an Israeli who teaches at UCLA, was in Israel to receive a prestigious prize, and made these comments in an interview in Haaretz:
“I am connected to this country. My eldest son and grandchildren live here but I can’t call myself a Zionist. Not because I feel estranged from Israel but because Zionism has been taken, kidnapped even, by the far right. You could say I was a normal Zionist until 1968, when I wrote a short book in French about Israel’s future. I don’t think it was especially daring, but I already then I wrote that we couldn’t continue holding on to territories with Arab population; no one called them Palestinians then. I thought and still do that it would ruin the values of Israeli society from within.”
So we are beginning to see mainstream Jews distance themselves from an ideology that is as user-friendly as Communism was when Stalin destroyed that brand in the ’40s and ’50s. David Rothkopf calls Zionism “exactly the wrong” response to history. So it is necessary to talk about the idea content of Zionism, its claim that Jews must be sovereign in order to be safe. Even Norman Finkelstein, who dismissed that kind of argument two years ago by saying that Zionism might as well be a hairspray for all that Americans know what it means, goes right after Zionist ideology in his new book Old Wine, Broken Bottle.
“Like the tobacco industry after the Surgeon General’s warning in the 1960s, the formidable challenge confronting Zionist true believers is to repackage the old product such that it still sells despite its disquieting contents.”
In that Haaretz interview, Friedlander also says that people should be allowed to criticize Israeli policy by using the Nazi analogy. “[T]he political-messianism and its connection to religion and extreme nationalism we see in Israel today is similar to the main component of extreme European movements,” he says. Full context:
As an early member of Peace Now, Friedlander regrets that his colleagues in the Israeli left prefer not to base their arguments more on the lessons of the Holocaust. “It’s a mistake of the left to keep clear from such a major part of our history. They are afraid of dragging the Holocaust into the political game but we can turn around the way the right uses it.”
Friedlander is fundamentally opposed to making political use of the Holocaust, but believes the left has no choice, since the right has been doing so for over 30 years. “Since the 1970s when Menachem Begin described Yasser Arafat as a ‘second Hitler,’ we have seen how the political right in Israel has been using the Holocaust and its memory to justify more and more radical positions. It caused the left to refrain from even mentioning the Shoah. Personally, it caused me a dilemma when I saw how the subject which I devoted my life to has been used to prop up the most repulsive political attitudes.”
Friedlander knows the backlash awaiting anyone who compares what is happening today between Israel and the Palestinians with the dark days in Europe. But few know as much as he does about that period. “Things that are being said now remind us of some of the bad regimes of the 1930s, but not the 1940s,” he says, making a clear distinction. “But it’s dangerous to compare because the ordinary reader doesn’t distinguish between the thirties and the forties. The moment someone says Germany you immediately think of extermination; it’s a very slippery slope. But the political-messianism and its connection to religion and extreme nationalism we see in Israel today is similar to the main component of extreme European movements.”
Just like Max Blumenthal said in his book Goliath, and the pro-Israel crowd went nuts about what you can and can’t say.
Thanks to Nima Shirazi.