Invoking the Holocaust to Defend Occupations...
By John Mearsheimer 10 December 2008
A Review of 'The Holocaust is Over: We Must Rise from its Ashes'
by Avraham Burg.
For American readers, the great virtue of Avraham
Burg's important new book is that he says things about
Israel and the Jewish people that are hardly ever heard
in mainstream discourse in the United States. It is
hard to believe how stunted and biased the coverage of
Israel is in the American media, not to mention the
extent to which our politicians have perfected the art
of pandering to the Jewish state. The situation got so
bad in the recent presidential campaign that
journalists Jeffrey Goldberg and Shmuel Rosner -- both
staunch defenders of Israel -- wrote pieces titled
"Enough about Israel Already."
Israeli President Shimon Peres Brags about Jewish
Dominance, arrogance and savagery in attacking Lebanon...
Let's hope that The Holocaust is Over is widely read
and discussed, because it makes arguments that need to
be heard and considered by Americans of all
persuasions, but especially by those who feel a deep
attachment to Israel. The fact that Burg wrote this
book also matters greatly. He cannot be easily
dismissed as a self-hating Jew or a crank, as he comes
from a prominent Israeli family and has been deeply
involved in mainstream Israeli politics for much of his
adult life. Moreover, he clearly loves Israel.
Burg makes many smart points in his book, but I would
like to focus on what I take to be his central
arguments. His core message is that Israel is in
serious trouble at home and there is good reason to
think that things could go horribly wrong in the
future. He emphasizes that Israel has changed greatly
since 1948. He quotes his mother on this point: "This
country is not the country that we built. We founded a
different country in 1948, but I don't know where it's
disappeared." Israel today, he writes, "is
frighteningly similar to the countries we never wanted
to resemble." Talking about Israel's shift to the right
over time, he makes the eye-popping observation that
"Jews and Israelis have become thugs."
Burg makes it clear that he is not equating Israel's
past behavior with what happened in Nazi Germany, but
he does see disturbing similarities between Israel and
"the Germany that preceded Hitler." This raises the
obvious question: could Israel end up going on a
murderous rampage against the Palestinians? Burg
thinks it is possible. He writes, "The notion that
this cannot happen to us because our history as
persecuted people makes us immune to hatred and
racism is very dangerous...
A look inside Israel shows that the erosion has begun."
He even raises the possibility that there might be a
civil war inside Israel, which "will be not a war
between members of the Jewish people of different
shades of beliefs, but an uncompromising struggle
between good people and bad people anywhere."
Burg is aware that many American Jews will dismiss his
arguments because they are so at odds with the picture
of Israel that they have in their heads. Accordingly,
he reminds the reader: "I come from there, and my
friends and relatives are still there. I listen to
their talk, know their ambitions, and feel their
heartbeats. I know where they are headed." And where
they might be headed worries him greatly. Again, he
fears that Israel will end up following in the
footsteps of Germany, where "slow processes altered the
perception of reality to the degree that insanity
became the norm, and then we were exterminated. It
happened in the land of poets and philosophers. There
it was possible, and here too, in the land of the
prophets. The establishment of a state run by rabbis
and generals is not an impossible nightmare. I know how
difficult this comparison is, but please open your
ears, eyes, and hearts."
Many American Jews think that Israel is in trouble
today because of Antisemitism or because it is
surrounded by dangerous adversaries who threaten
Israel's very existence. Israelis themselves, Burg
reminds us, love to emphasize that "the entire world is
against us." He dismisses these wrongheaded beliefs:
"Today we are armed to the teeth, better equipped than
any other generation in Jewish history. We have a
tremendous army, an obsession with security, and the
safety net of the United States ... Anti-Semitism seems
ridiculous, even innocuous compared with the strength
of the Jewish people of today."
For Burg, Israel's troubles are self-inflicted.
Specifically, he maintains that the principal cause of
Israel's problems is the legacy of the Holocaust, which
has become omnipresent in Israeli life. "Not a day
passes," he writes, "without a mention of the Shoah in
the only newspaper I read, Ha'aretz." Indeed, Israeli
children are taught in school that "we are all Shoah
survivors." The result is that Israelis (and most
American Jews for that matter) cannot think straight
about the world around them. They think that everyone
is out to get them, and that the Palestinians are
hardly any different than the Nazis. Given this
despairing perspective, Israelis believe that almost
any means is justified to counter their enemies. The
implication of Burg's argument is that if there was
less emphasis on the Holocaust, Israelis would change
their thinking about "others" in fundamental ways and
this would allow them to reach a settlement with the
Palestinians and lead a more peaceful and decent
There is some truth in this defensive psychological
argument, but Burg also provides much evidence for a
different interpretation of how the Holocaust relates
to Israeli life. In particular, he shows that Israeli
society is plagued with a host of serious problems that
are threatening to tear it apart and that the Holocaust
is a "tool at the service of the Jewish people," which
they use to protect Israel from criticism and to keep
those centrifugal forces at bay. He identifies three
basic problems: 1) Israelis are badly divided among
themselves; "the Jewish world always had colossal
disputes between colossal figures"; 2) the grave danger
that large numbers of Israelis will emigrate to Europe
and North America; and 3) the Occupation, which has
had a corrupting effect on Israeli society and has
drawn criticism from all around the globe. Playing
the Holocaust card, Burg shows, is thought to be the
best way to deal with these problems. He quotes the
Israeli writer, Boaz Evron, to! make this point:
the Shoah "is our main asset nowadays.
This is the only thing by which we try to unify
the Jews. This is the only way to scare Israelis
into not emigrating. This is the only thing by
which they try to silence the gentiles." Of
course, there is another instrument that Israel
and its defenders frequently employ, which is
the charge of anti-Antisemitism...
To take my instrumentalist argument a step further,
Burg provides evidence that the main reason that
Israelis and their supporters constantly invoke the
Holocaust is because of the Occupation, and the
horrible things that Israel has done and continues to
do to the Palestinians. The Shoah is the weapon that
Israelis and their supporters in the Diaspora use to
fend off criticism and to allow Israel to continue
committing crimes against the Palestinians. Burg
writes: "All is compared to the Shoah, dwarfed by the
Shoah, and therefore all is allowed -- be it fences,
sieges, crowns, curfews, food and water deprivation, or
unexplained killings. All is permitted because we have
been through the Shoah and you will not tell us how to
The best evidence that Israel's obsession with the
Holocaust is linked with the Occupation is found in
Burg's discussion of the evolution of Israeli thinking
about the Holocaust itself. He shows clearly that
Israeli thinking about the Shoah has varied
considerably over time. The leaders of the Yishuv "did
very little in response to the annihilation of Europe's
Jews" when it was happening. "They did not want to
waste emotional resources that could otherwise be
channeled into building the Jewish state." Moreover,
Israelis did not focus much attention on the Holocaust
in the first decade or so after 1948 and they showed
surprisingly little sympathy for the survivors who came
to Israel after the war. But all that changed in the
1960s, starting with the Eichmann trial, but picking up
a head of steam after Israel conquered the West Bank
and Gaza in 1967 and began the Occupation. "To
understand the wrong turn we took," he writes, "we need
to go back to the 1960s, the Eichmann trial! , the
Six-Day War, and all that lies in between." He goes
even further and notes that the 1990s -- and remember
that the First Intifada broke out in December 1987 --
was the "decade of transition from the mythology of the
early state to the obsessive journeys to the scene of
the crime." The pattern seems clear: the Holocaust has
been the main weapon that Israelis (and their supporter
abroad) have employed to provide cover for the horrors
Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians in the
All of this is to say that the best way to rescue
Israel from its plight is not simply to get beyond the
Holocaust, but to end the Occupation. Then, the need to
talk incessantly about the Holocaust will be greatly
reduced and Israel will be a much healthier and secure
country. Sadly, there is no end in sight to the
Occupation, and thus we are likely to hear more, not
less, about the Holocaust in years ahead.
For another review of this book please see:
1. Resolution 106: "... 'condemns' Israel for Gaza
2. Resolution 111: "...'condemns' Israel for raid on
Syria that killed fifty-six people"
3. Resolution 127: "...'recommends' Israel suspend
its 'no-man's zone' in Jerusalem"
4. Resolution 162: "...'urges' Israel to comply with
5. Resolution 171: "...determines flagrant
violations' by Israel in its attack on Syria"
6. Resolution 228: "...'censures' Israel for its
attack on Samu in the West Bank, then
under Jordanian control"
7. Resolution 237: "...'urges' Israel to allow
return of new 1967 Palestinian refugees"
8. Resolution 248: "... 'condemns' Israel for its
massive attack on Karameh in Jordan"
9. Resolution 250: "... 'calls' on Israel to refrain
from holding military parade in Jerusalem"
10. Resolution 251: "... 'deeply deplores' Israeli
military parade in Jerusalem in
defiance of Resolution 250"
11. Resolution 252: "...'declares invalid' Israel's
acts to unify Jerusalem as Jewish capital"
12. Resolution 256: "... 'condemns' Israeli raids on
Jordan as 'flagrant violation""
13. Resolution 259: "...'deplores' Israel's refusal
to accept UN mission to probe occupation"
14. Resolution 262: "...'condemns' Israel for attack
on Beirut airport"
15. Resolution 265: "... 'condemns' Israel for air
attacks for Salt in Jordan"
16. Resolution 267: "...'censures' Israel for
administrative acts to change the status
17. Resolution 270: "...'condemns' Israel for air
attacks on villages in southern Lebanon"
18. Resolution 271: "...'condemns' Israel's failure
to obey UN resolutions on Jerusalem"
19. Resolution 279: "...'demands' withdrawal of
Israeli forces from Lebanon"
20. Resolution 280: "....'condemns' Israeli's
attacks against Lebanon"
21. Resolution 285: "...'demands' immediate Israeli
withdrawal form Lebanon"
22. Resolution 298: "...'deplores' Israel's changing
of the status of Jerusalem"
23. Resolution 313: "...'demands' that Israel stop
attacks against Lebanon"
24. Resolution 316: "...'condemns' Israel for
repeated attacks on Lebanon"
25. Resolution 317: "...'deplores' Israel's refusal
to release Arabs abducted in Lebanon"
26. Resolution 332: "...'condemns' Israel's repeated
attacks against Lebanon"
27. Resolution 337: "...'condemns' Israel for
violating Lebanon's sovereignty"
28. Resolution 347: "...'condemns' Israeli attacks
29. Resolution 425: "...'calls' on Israel to
withdraw its forces from Lebanon"
30. Resolution 427: "...'calls' on Israel to
complete its withdrawal from Lebanon'
31. Resolution 444: "...'deplores' Israel's lack of
cooperation with UN peacekeeping forces"
32. Resolution 446: "...'determines' that Israeli
settlements are a 'serious obstruction'
to peace and calls on Israel to abide by the Fourth
33. Resolution 450: "...'calls' on Israel to stop
34. Resolution 452: "...'calls' on Israel to cease
building settlements in occupied territories"
35. Resolution 465: "...'deplores' Israel's
settlements and asks all member states not to assist
Israel's settlements program"
36. Resolution 467: "...'strongly deplores' Israel's
military intervention in Lebanon"
37. Resolution 468: "...'calls' on Israel to rescind
illegal expulsions of two Palestinian mayors
and a judge and to facilitate their return"
38. Resolution 469: "...'strongly deplores' Israel's
failure to observe the council's order not
to deport Palestinians"
39. Resolution 471: "... 'expresses deep concern' at
Israel's failure to abide by the Fourth
40. Resolution 476: "... 'reiterates' that Israel's
claims to Jerusalem are 'null and void'"
41. Resolution 478: "...'censures (Israel) in the
strongest terms' for its claim to Jerusalem
in its 'Basic Law'"
42. Resolution 484: "...'declares it imperative'
that Israel re-admit two deported Palestinian
43. Resolution 487: "...'strongly condemns' Israel
for its attack on Iraq's nuclear facility"
44. Resolution 497: "...'decides' that Israel's
annexation of Syria's Golan Heights is 'null and
void' and demands that Israel rescind its decision
45. Resolution 498: "...'calls' on Israel to
withdraw from Lebanon"
46. Resolution 501: "...'calls' on Israel to stop
attacks against Lebanon and withdraw its troops"
47. Resolution 509: "...'demands' that Israel
withdraw its forces forthwith and unconditionally
48. Resolution 515: "...'demands' that Israel lift
its siege of Beirut and allow food supplies to
be brought in"
49. Resolution 517: "...'censures' Israel for
failing to obey UN resolutions and demands that
Israel withdraw its forces from Lebanon"
50. Resolution 518: "...'demands' that Israel
cooperate fully with UN forces in Lebanon"
51. Resolution 520: "...'condemns' Israel's attack
into West Beirut"
52. Resolution 573: "...'condemns' Israel
'vigorously' for bombing Tunisia in attack on PLO
53. Resolution 587: "...'takes note' of previous
calls on Israel to withdraw its forces from
Lebanon and urges all parties to withdraw"
54. Resolution 592: "...'strongly deplores' the
killing of Palestinian students at Bir Zeit
University by Israeli troops"
55. Resolution 605: "...'strongly deplores' Israel's
policies and practices denying the human
rights of Palestinians
56. Resolution 607: "...'calls' on Israel not to
deport Palestinians and strongly requests it to
abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention
57. Resolution 608: "...'deeply regrets' that Israel
has defied the United Nations and deported
58. Resolution 636: "...'deeply regrets' Israeli
deportation of Palestinian civilians
59. Resolution 641: "...'deplores' Israel's
continuing deportation of Palestinians
60. Resolution 672: "...'condemns' Israel for
violence against Palestinians at the Haram
61. Resolution 673: "...'deplores' Israel's refusal
to cooperate with the United Nations
62. Resolution 681: "...'deplores' Israel's
resumption of the deportation of Palestinians
63. Resolution 694: "...'deplores' Israel's
deportation of Palestinians and calls on it to ensure
their safe and immediate return
64. Resolution 726: "...'strongly condemns' Israel's
deportation of Palestinians
65. Resolution 799: "...'strongly condemns' Israel's
deportation of 413 Palestinians and calls for
their immediate return.
(Findley's Deliberate Deceptions, 1998 pages 188 -
192).UN Resolutions against Israel Vetoed by US
from September, 1972 to May, 1990
1. ....condemned Israel's attack against Southern
against southern Lebanon and Syria..."
2. ....affirmed the rights of the Palestinian people
to self-determination, statehood and
3. ...condemned Israel's air strikes and attacks in
southern Lebanon and its murder of
innocent civilians..." at least 10.000 incursions per year since decades.
4. ....called for self-determination of Palestinian
5. ....deplored Israel's altering of the status of
Jerusalem, which is recognized as an
international city by most world nations
and the United Nations..."
6. ....affirmed the inalienable rights of the
7. ....endorsed self-determination for the
8. ....demanded Israel's withdrawal from the Golan
9. ....condemned Israel's mistreatment of
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza
Strip and its refusal to abide by the Geneva
convention protocols of civilized nations..."
10. ....condemned an Israeli soldier who shot eleven
Moslem worshippers at the Haram
al-Sharif/Temple Mount near Al-Aqsa Mosque in the
Old City of Jerusalem..."
11. ....urged sanctions against Israel if it did not
withdraw from its invasion of Lebanon..."
12. ....urged sanctions against Israel if it did not
13. .withdraw from its invasion of Beirut..."
14. ....urged cutoff of economic aid to Israel if it
refused to withdraw from its occupation
15. ....condemned continued Israeli settlements in
occupied territories in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip, denouncing them as an obstacle to
16. ....deplores Israel's brutal massacre of Arabs
in Lebanon and urges its withdrawal..."
17. ....condemned Israeli brutality in southern
Lebanon and denounced the Israeli 'Iron Fist'
policy of repression...."
18. ....denounced Israel's violation of human rights
in the occupied territories..."
19. ....deplored Israel's violence in southern
Lebanon..." at least 10.000 incursions per year since decades.
20. ....deplored Israel's activities in occupied
Arab East Jerusalem that threatened the sanctity
of Muslim holy sites..."
21. ....condemned Israel's hijacking of a Libyan
22. ....deplored Israel's attacks against Lebanon
and its measures and practices against the
civilian population of Lebanon..."
23. ....called on Israel to abandon its policies
against the Palestinian intifada that violated the
rights of occupied Palestinians, to abide by the
Fourth Geneva Conventions, and to formalize a
leading role for the United Nations in future peace
24. ....urged Israel to accept back deported
Palestinians, condemned Israel's shooting of civilians,
called on Israel to uphold the Fourth Geneva
Convention, and called for a peace settlement under UN
25. ....condemned Israel's... incursion into
Lebanon..." at least 10.000 incursions per year since decades.
26. ....deplored Israel's... commando raids on
Lebanon..." at least 10.000 incursions per year since decades.
27. ....deplored Israel's repression of the
Palestinian intifada and called on Israel to respect the
human rights of the Palestinians..."
28. ....deplored Israel's violation of the human
rights of the Palestinians..."
29. ....demanded that Israel return property
confiscated from Palestinians during a tax protest and
allow a fact-finding mission to observe Israel's
crackdown on the Palestinian intifada..."
30. ...called for a fact-finding mission on abuses
against Palestinians in Israeli-occupied lands..."
(Findley's Deliberate Deceptions, 1998 pages 192 -