Netanyahu on Holocaust Remembrance Day: Fight Evil

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Last Sunday in his speech on Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the point that he believes the lessons of the Holocaust are three: “fortify your strength, teach good deeds and fight evil.”

His speech should be read in its entirety. But one of the elements that stood out to me was his frank discussion of the ways the lessons of history should not be lost on the world, including Jewish people, today.

He notes that what he believes to be the first lesson of the Holocaust, the need for Jewish people to fortify our strength “relates first and foremost to us, the people of Israel who were abandoned and defenseless when faced with murderous hatred that rose against us time after time.”

Today, while there exists a Diaspora of smaller Jewish communities around the world, the two main centers of Jewish population are Israel and the United States. Certainly Jewish communities in both nations have internalized this lesson and live it daily: in Israel, the imperative to stay strong and fortify the national defense has made Israelis resilient and self-sufficient. On a related note: although it is a socialist country, Israel’s science and high-tech industries and universities are so successful that the country is becoming more economically successful and self-sufficient every day.

Jewish-Americans have found a great home and haven in the U.S. since its inception, when George Washington wrote a letter, housed today in Rhode Island’s Touro Synagogue, welcoming Jews to the U.S. with a blessing, the only requirement that we comport ourselves as good citizens. From early on, that is a responsibility and privilege Jewish-Americans have taken to heart. Our ancestors and today’s Jewish-Americans have built strong communities, achieved remarkable professional successes, and contributed much to this great country.

Netanyahu spoke of the Holocaust’s second lesson as being the need for tolerance of others across racial, religious, or ideological lines. This lesson forms the backbone of Holocaust education efforts the world over. It is of tremendous importance, for as the Prime Minister eloquently put it, “This is the essence of a free society. This is the basis that would prevent the growth of a Nazi ideology or any other fanatic ideology that preaches genocide and carries it out.”

Netanyahu went on to discuss what he sees as the third lesson. This is the lesson that I would humbly submit has not been sufficiently absorbed, neither by enough people in free world who happen to be non-Jews, nor by many of the Jewish people ourselves: Fight evil.

On this eve of mounting genocidal threat towards Israel, Netanyahu said, “But, ladies and gentlemen, this teaching of good deeds has a complimentary side, and that is the third lesson of the Holocaust: fight evil. It is not enough to simply do good and be tolerant. A free society must ask itself what it will do when faced with the destructive forces of evil that seek to destroy and trample man and his rights.

“There is no tolerance without boundaries and the boundary of tolerance must be outlined. And that is the answer that all free countries must define for themselves.

“The historic failure of the free societies when confronted by the Nazi animal was that they did not stand up against it in time, while there was still a chance to stop it.

“And here we are today again witnesses to the fire of the new-old hatred, the hatred of the Jews, that is expressed by organizations and regimes associated with radical Islam, headed by Iran and its proxies.

“Iran’s leaders race to develop nuclear weapons and they openly state their desire to destroy Israel. But in the face of these repeated statements to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the earth, in the best case we hear a weak protest which is also fading away.

“The required firm protest is not heard–not a sharp condemnation, not a cry of warning.

“The world continues on as usual and there are even those who direct their criticism at us, againt Israel.

“Today, 65 years after the Holocaust, we must say in all honesty that what is so upsetting is the lack of any kind of opposition. The world gradually accepts Iran’s statements of destruction against Israel and we still do not see the necessary international determination to stop Iran from arming itself.

“But if we learned anything from the lessons of the Holocaust it is that we must not be silent and be deterred in the face of evil.”

Click on this link to read the speech in its entirety.

Israel and Jews worldwide are facing grave trials. As someone with dear friends in Israel, who plans herself to spend time in Israel in the coming months, I do not write the next lines lightly. I am no military strategist, and I do not know what the best way forward is in tactical terms.

But I know that Jewish people bear a responsibility to defend ourselves this time around. This is not a politically correct lesson. It is not the way the Holocaust is generally taught, but it is an element of the truth about how the Holocaust happened. It was the evil of the Nazis, yes. It was not the fault of the innocent victims. Most of them could not comprehend, could not imagine, what was about to happen to them. They were also an unarmed civilian population, and no countries in the world would accept them, which meant that even those who were aware of the danger were extremely limited in what they could do to help themselves and their families. Even so, some fought bravely and with unbelievable tenacity, including several hundred, mostly teenagers, in Poland’s Warsaw ghetto who held out against the Nazis for longer–literally–than numerous nations of Europe did. Not to mention the many partisans who fought from the forests in Poland and Russia, and many whose names we may not know who fought thousands of battles alone, with courage in the face of death.

The Holocaust a mere 65 years in the past, the Jews of this world simply cannot afford ignorance, passivity, unwarranted trust in authority or expectations that the world and “our neighbors won’t let them take us.” It may be that, if we allow an intolerable threat to progress, we can hope for a few remarkably heroic individuals to come to our defense, but we should not count on it. Yes, it is unfair for the burden of stopping Iran–which surely threatens the entire free world–to fall on Israel. But who will – or frankly, should be expected to – come to our defense if we do not defend ourselves? The Germans needed to learn about tolerance, and some of them have come a long way since the 1930’s. For Jews, the number one lesson of the Holocaust is the need for self-defense. For Jewish-Americans at this time, that consists of the (frankly) far easier battle than our Israeli brethren are fighting. We are not on the front lines, but we are in a position to fight the ideological battle for Jewish survival, which at this juncture requires self-defense. What a gift and a blessing to be in a great nation, filled with people – our fellow Americans – who are far more receptive to this message than any other neighbors we have had in history.

Jews, whether American or Israeli, must not be ashamed or afraid as we face the future. G-d helps those who help themselves. Of course we must at every turn seek peaceful solutions with every fibre of our being. But that is not a lesson that is generally lost on us. Israelis, who comprise a nation that has spent the past two decades offering concessions to its neighbors in the earnest hope for peace, have embodied that truth – and sacrificed dearly for it.

American Jews can do our part to support Israelis in doing whatever they must in order to defend themselves. Hopefully, a military operation will not be required, but if it is we must support it and persuade others to recognize its necessity. That is, quite simply, the absolute least we can and must do. Any American Jew who fails that test in the coming months has no right, no standing, and no basis to ever again mouth the words “Never Again.”

This entry was written by and posted on April 12, 2010 at 11:58 pm and filed under Blog.