Some want it darker – a plea to stop politi­ciza­tion of the Holo­caust

Jerusalem Post - - OBSERVATIONS - (Reuters) • By KARL SKORECKI

Is­rael’s Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence has no le­gal stand­ing in Is­rael, but nonethe­less, this bril­liantly crafted doc­u­ment has al­ways served as a state­ment of in­tent and a bea­con for di­rec­tion.

The doc­u­ment pro­vides the ba­sis for es­tab­lish­ing the le­git­i­macy of Is­rael’s ex­is­tence as the na­tion-state of the Jewish peo­ple. When it was drafted 71 years ago, Is­rael was about to face a bat­tle for life or death – and yet, the founders of Is­rael deemed it nec­es­sary to as­sert that Is­rael was com­mit­ted to democ­racy and full equal­ity for all of its ci­ti­zens, even know­ing that some of them would be Pales­tinian Arabs.

Not only did the doc­u­ment af­firm Is­rael as the na­tion-state of the Jewish peo­ple, it pro­vided the wis­dom for de­ter­min­ing Is­rael’s demo­cratic char­ac­ter by bas­ing it on the prophetic vi­sion and in­spi­ra­tion of the Prophets of Is­rael. Is­rael’s Jewish­ness is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to its demo­cratic char­ac­ter and values – and that, as the vi­sion, should be Is­rael’s foun­da­tion and its con­sti­tu­tion.

There is no doubt that the con­tin­u­a­tion of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict; the fail­ure of the peace process; the need to con­front the on­go­ing threat of ter­ror­ism and vi­o­lence; the oc­cu­pa­tion of the Pales­tinian peo­ple it­self; and the ex­is­tence of a sig­nif­i­cant 20% Pales­tinian minority of the ci­ti­zens of the State of Is­rael, have made Is­rael a “chal­lenged democ­racy”.

The chal­lenge to Is­rael’s democ­racy has been on­go­ing, with sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments as well as in­fringe­ments of civil rights hap­pen­ing through­out its his­tory. Over­all, de­spite the rise of na­tion­al­ism and racism in re­cent years, Is­rael has re­mained a thriv­ing and kick­ing democ­racy (within the Green Line pre-June 1967 bor­ders only). The bal­ance be­tween Is­rael’s Jewish­ness and its democ­racy has al­ways been dif­fi­cult; the ju­di­ciary has of­ten had to step in when the ex­ec­u­tive or leg­isla­tive branches crossed red­lines. At times, the ju­di­ciary failed as well. OVER­TIME THE strug­gles for free­dom, democ­racy and equal­ity all around the world con­front na­tion­al­ism, racism and chau­vin­ism. This is hap­pen­ing in Western Europe, which is be­ing chal­lenged by waves of im­mi­gra­tion from the Mid­dle East and Africa. In Is­rael post-Arab Spring, the ben­e­fits of Is­rael’s democ­racy have been ever the more ap­par­ent to its Pales­tinian ci­ti­zens. But the coun­try’s right-wing govern­ment and leg­is­la­tors com­pete for pub­lic at­ten­tion from their base by a stream of pro­posed laws that im­pact di­rectly on shrink­ing Is­rael’s democ­racy, and are an af­front against its Pales­tinian ci­ti­zens.

They may think that they are strength­en­ing Is­rael’s Jewish iden­tity, but only those who are not con­fi­dent of Is­rael’s le­git­i­macy as the demo­cratic na­tion-state of the Jewish peo­ple find a need to over com­pen­sate by leg­is­lat­ing anti-demo­cratic laws. One such law is propos­ing to le­gal­ize eth­ni­cally ho­mog­e­nized res­i­dency rights as a means of pre­vent­ing Pales­tinian ci­ti­zens from liv­ing in Jewish com­mu­ni­ties. Some of its ad­vo­cates have jus­ti­fied their po­si­tions for pre­serv­ing Jewish ma­jor­ity rights by in­vok­ing the old and wrong slo­gan “sep­a­rate but equal.” They for­get that the US Supreme Court had de­ter­mined decades ago (al­beit in a dif­fer­ent con­text) that sep­a­rate is not equal.

It is time that we all face what Is­rael needs to be­come to gen­uinely de­fine it­self in the world of 2018 – Is­rael must be­come the demo­cratic na­tion-state of the Jewish peo­ple AND all of its ci­ti­zens. A coun­try which iden­ti­fies it­self as democ­racy can­not ac­cept a set of laws which de­fines ci­ti­zens’ rights ac­cord­ing to eth­nic, re­li­gious or na­tional at­tributes. AL­LOW ME to re­visit a not so well know part of Is­rael’s his­tory. In 1954 the left­wing Hashomer Hatzair move­ment cre­ated the Arab Pi­o­neer Youth Move­ment. The APYM was es­tab­lished as part of the strug­gle for democ­racy in the young State of Is­rael. In a pam­phlet ex­plain­ing the move­ment they wrote: “These youth aim at lead­ing the strug­gle of the Arab youth in Is­rael for the re­moval of the Mil­i­tary Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the mod­ern­iza­tion of the Arab vil­lage... the lift­ing of the shack­les of eco­nomic stag­na­tion, the es­tab­lish­ment of a pro­gres­sive Arab so­ci­ety founded on re­la­tions of broth­er­hood and equal­ity with its Jewish neigh­bors, the de­vel­op­ment of the con­cept of co­op­er­a­tion and the in­tro­duc­tion of the pi­o­neer­ing so­cial­is­tic spirit in the new Arab gen­er­a­tion.” By 1957 there were 700 mem­bers.

Shortly af­ter­wards, the move­ment died and dis­ap­peared. I searched very hard to un­der­stand why this suc­cess­ful move­ment per­ished so sud­denly. When I first be­gan to ex­am­ine this part of his­tory I thought that per­haps the APYM might have be­come too na­tion­al­is­tic, turn­ing into a group like Al-Ard, an Arab po­lit­i­cal move­ment which was con­sid­ered anti-Is­rael and which the Is­raeli govern­ment later out­lawed.

I dis­cov­ered, how­ever, that what pri­mar­ily un­did the APYM was that the Arab mem­bers were too suc­cess­ful in ab­sorb­ing the values and prin­ci­ples of the so­cial­ist-Zion­ist Youth Move­ment, Hashomer Hatzair. When they com­pleted high school and went on to uni­ver­sity or to the work­ing world, they wanted to be­come mem­bers of kib­butzim. In their minds, this was a ful­fill­ment of the values they were be­ing taught. The kib­butzim in ques­tion – the Kib­butz Artzi–Hashomer Hatzair move­ment – had no in­ten­tion of hav­ing Arab mem­bers in their closed com­mu­ni­ties.

Af­ter be­ing re­jected by the kib­butzim, some mem­bers of the move­ment de­cided to try and form a kib­butz of their own, for grad­u­ates and ac­tivists of the move­ment. But they soon learned that the Is­raeli govern­ment and the Jewish Agency would not of­fer them land or any other sup­port for this idea. The move­ment fell apart amidst its own hypocrisies. Since the es­tab­lish­ment of the State of Is­rael, with the ex­cep­tion of the “reser­va­tions” es­tab­lished to con­cen­trate Be­douins off of their land, no new Arab com­mu­ni­ties have been built in the state.

The cur­rently pro­posed na­tional law, which at­tempts to main­tain the right and le­git­i­macy of seg­re­gated com­mu­ni­ties, is an anachro­nism. Is­rael is a shared so­ci­ety of Jews and Arabs, and within each of those com­mu­ni­ties there are many sub-groups. Cre­at­ing part­ner­ships for build­ing a shared Is­raeli so­ci­ety across cul­tural, eth­nic, re­li­gious and na­tion­al­ist lines will not di­min­ish the Jewish­ness of the State of Is­rael. Le­gal seg­re­ga­tion will do great harm to Is­rael in the eyes of the world’s na­tions and will not strengthen Is­rael’s Jewish­ness in the eyes of its own ci­ti­zens. As Is­rael’s founders un­der­stood, build­ing Is­rael as a so­ci­ety shared by all of its ci­ti­zens will strengthen Is­rael and its le­git­i­mate right to be the na­tion-state of the Jewish peo­ple.

The au­thor is a po­lit­i­cal and so­cial en­tre­pre­neur who has ded­i­cated his life to the State of Is­rael and to peace be­tween Is­rael and her neigh­bors. His lat­est book In Pur­suit of Peace in Is­rael and Pales­tine was pub­lished by Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­sity Press. 6997. That is the num­ber that was tat­tooed on the fore­arm of my late beloved mother, Sabina Skorecki (née Sil­ber­spitz). She was 15 on Fri­day Septem­ber 1, 1939, when Ger­many in­vaded Poland. Be­tween that day and her even­tual lib­er­a­tion from Ravens­brück women’s con­cen­tra­tion camp by Rus­sian troops in 1945, she had ex­pe­ri­enced the hor­rors of the Bochnia Ghetto, 22 months at Auschwitz, the death march of Jan­uary 1945, and the loss of her en­tire fam­ily.

My late beloved fa­ther, Elias Skorecki, 13 years her se­nior, was a “grad­u­ate” of Płaszów and Mau­thausen be­fore be­ing lib­er­ated by Amer­i­can troops at Ebensee. He lost his first wife and two small chil­dren dur­ing the Nazi liq­ui­da­tion of the Krakow Ghetto be­tween the 13th and 14th March 1943.

My par­ents mar­ried in Krakow on July 7, 1946, and lived in com­mu­nist Poland for five years af­ter the war. My fa­ther wit­nessed the trial and ex­e­cu­tion of the Płaszów camp com­man­der, Amon Leopold Göth, whose evil im­age is por­trayed in Schindler’s List.

I was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1953, an only child, and en­graved in my very ear­li­est mem­o­ries are tales of these hor­rors. I won­dered why, un­like oth­ers in my kin­der­garten, there were no grand­par­ents or close fam­ily mem­bers. In time, I grew to ad­mire my par­ents’ re­silience de­spite the scars of their six years of suf­fer­ing Nazi atroc­i­ties. While they re­lated in great de­tail all of the hor­rors they ex­pe­ri­enced, they were punc­til­iously care­ful in point­ing the blame where it most be­longed. Both my par­ents, who had ex­pe­ri­enced Pol­ish gen­tile an­tisemitism grow­ing up, in­sisted on not con­flat­ing the brute evil and geno­cide per­pe­trated by Nazi Ger­many with the wrong­do­ings and short­com­ings of any other na­tion dur­ing that dark­est pe­riod in hu­man his­tory.

Long be­fore the con­tro­ver­sial “Pol­ish Death Camp” law, my par­ents cor­rected me if I were to in­ad­ver­tently use this term, in­sist­ing that Poles were not ac­tive as guards or as sys­tem­atic col­lab­o­ra­tors in the mass mur­der of Jews, and point­ing out that a cor­rect term would be Ger­man Nazi death camps in Poland. Nazi Ger­many pre­ferred cruel mur­der­ous ac­com­plices and ex­e­cuters from other na­tion­al­i­ties, and didn’t trust Pol­ish gen­tiles in the Nazi mis­sion of ex­ter­mi­nat­ing Jews. There were many acts of be­trayal, some un­der unimag­in­able duress, and oth­ers glee­fully per­pe­trated by Pol­ish gen­tiles. There were also many known and un­told acts of hero­ism. As pointed out in a re­cent ar­ti­cle by Marc San­tora in The New York Times ti­tled “Poland’s ‘Death Camp’ Law Tears at Shared Bonds of Suf­fer­ing With Jews,” Yad Vashem, the Holo­caust re­mem­brance cen­ter in Jerusalem, rec­og­nizes more than 6,700 gen­tiles in Poland as “right­eous among the na­tions” who risked their lives dur­ing the war to save Jews – more than from any other Euro­pean na­tion.

My fa­ther was far more an­guished by the col­lu­sion of some Pol­ish Jews with Nazi atroc­i­ties than he was with that of Pol­ish gen­tiles. He viewed the most de­spi­ca­ble, cruel and heinous crime of the Nazis to be that of mur­der­ing the soul of those Jews who were co­erced to serve as ka­pos and po­lice op­er­a­tives. Given the duress of their plight, he did not stand in judg­ment, but rather con­sid­ered them to be the most mu­ti­lated vic­tims of Nazi bar­barism.

Even­tu­ally, more than 20 years ago, while still em­brac­ing Canada as the most wisely tol­er­ant coun­try on the planet, we moved to Is­rael. I visit my par­ents’ graves just north of Haifa, ev­ery month, and re­call these many lessons.

While it seems in­con­gru­ous to us that free­dom to study the true facts of Pol­ish in­volve­ment in the Holo­caust could be curbed by re­stric­tive leg­is­la­tion, this is a sep­a­rate is­sue of in­fringe­ment on free­dom of speech and democ­racy. Poland is show­ing def­er­ence to Is­raeli and Jewish sen­si­tiv­i­ties in the cur­rent still-con­tro­ver­sial pro­posed amend­ment, which re­duces con­fla­tion of Pol­ish in­volve­ment with Nazi atroc­ity from a crim­i­nal to a civil of­fense. The Pol­ish re­ac­tive out­cry at be­ing put in the same bas­ket as the ul­ti­mate evil of Nazi Ger­many with terms such as “Pol­ish death camps” should be un­der­stood, most of all by Jews.

There are fewer and fewer sur­vivors, but the six mil­lion who were ex­ter­mi­nated cry out for truth and jus­tice. Such truth can­not be achieved by mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing the source and per­pe­tra­tors of ul­ti­mate evil, nor by turn­ing a sa­cred me­mory into a blame-and-vic­tim­hood com­pe­ti­tion. It is time to honor the me­mory of six mil­lion peo­ple who were mur­dered only be­cause they were Jews, in a way that is re­spect­ful of truth and avoids grand­stand­ing and dis­tor­tion.

As if it wasn’t dark enough, it seems that some “want it darker” by politi­ciz­ing the Holo­caust. As Elie Wiesel put it, “There may be times when we are pow­er­less to pre­vent in­jus­tice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” This is why I feel the need to­day to bring the first­hand tes­ti­mony of my beloved par­ents, which may shed a dif­fer­ent light on the painful, but sa­cred search for truth.

When Poland amends the Holo­caust law, the only child of Holo­caust sur­vivors brings the first­hand tes­ti­mony of his par­ents.

WHAT KIND of so­ci­ety are we? A man surfs near the mostly Arab area of Jaffa.

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