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The pogrom as heritage!

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BeitragVerfasst am: So Dez 14, 2008 5:23 am    Titel: The pogrom as heritage! Antworten mit Zitat

The pogrom as heritage!
By Mark Baker

Try calling a Jew a Liebling or the Jewish state a form of Judeo-Nazism, and the wrath of the community will descend upon you.

Yet a fine historical distinction has been drawn these days to judge by the epithets used to describe a community of Jews committing acts of violence against Palestinians. Last week, I counted no less than five articles in Haaretz (including an editorial) that referred to the rioting Hebron youths as pogromists, reserving the Na.zi tag for the Mumbai terrorists. Even outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was compelled to resort to these historical parallelisms, labeling the Hebron riots a pogrom, whose Jewish perpetrators must be mercilessly stopped.

The comparison between Jews and the descendants of Bogdan Chmielnicki is no small irony. After all, Zionism was born less out of the Holocaust than amid the cyclical turbulence of Russian pogroms.

The pogrom is backdrop to Zionist awakening, the opening chapter in the memoirs of Israel's founders, who recall parents cowering under tables or barricading ramshackle doors against the force of marauders on horseback. These stories are fashioned to demonstrate that Zionism is not only a response to the pogroms, but also an answer to it.

The sovereign Jew no longer cowers behind doors but holds the keys to usher in a new history. The native-born sabra stands tall and armed, a masculine warrior who answers power with power. Thus, the image of the pogromist has always been buried deep in the psyche of Zionism, scarring the modern state with traumatic memories. Last week the festering wounds opened, and the Jew's psyche was exposed for the world to analyze. In the Israeli popular imagination, the sight of Jews desecrating Muslim cemeteries with Stars of David and threatening to burn families in their homes stirred the ancestral demons from their resting places. In what way are the riots not a pogrom, suggested Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Yet in the mind of the Hebron settlers, it is Olmert and the state that trigger images from the past: As in the Gaza disengagement, the government, courts and army are evicting Jews from their homes and homeland, making the territories Judenrein and acting like obsequious leaders from a shtetl. The state has become the new gentile enemy, a secular tool of anti-Semitic interests that has betrayed the biblical destiny of the Chosen People.

The question of identity struck home for me this week through an encounter I had with an Australian friend. We acknowledged that we are both cut from the same cloth, the children of Holocaust survivors who took refuge in Australia. In her eyes, the lessons of the past have led her to offer unconditional support for the Hebron settlers. There will only be peace, she said, when the Arabs achieve their goal of erasing Israel from the map. Politics in this worldview is a zero-sum game; the world is Auschwitz, writ large, and the Jewish state is an embattled shtetl that has to make the fateful choice: to either die behind the doors, or stand in front of them and use any means to ensure its survival.

History has also scarred me but in a different way: While I know that the circumstances in this century are different, I cannot help but recognize in the ideology and actions of the settlers a distinct relationship with our persecutors in their old and present guises.

The distant mirror that frames my view of the future is repulsed by the settlers, who lean on the conflict to rationalize the racism and culture of their synagogues and holy streets.

It compels me to reject the nationalist fervor of those who worship the land and their identities above others. It recognizes the need for security walls, yet fears what these walls conceal on the other side.

But I also recognize an image of the entire Jewish collective that would prefer to regard these extremist youths as stray weeds rather than as products of the garden we have all tended.

Avraham Burg in his new and controversial book, "The Holocaust is Over," has called for the demons of the past to be exorcised; they cannot, because the past shapes who we are.

The real choice is what to do when we awaken each morning from our dreams or nightmares and remember...

Mark Baker is director of the Australian Center for Jewish Civilization at Monash University and associate professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

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