The Holocaust and Israeli identity (BBC) 01/27/05 12:29 GMT)
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Israeli historian and journalist Tom Segev talks to the BBC´s
Jerusalem correspondent Barbara Plett about the legacy of the Shoah,
the Hebrew term for Holocaust, in contemporary Israel society. Mr
Segev is author of the Seventh Million, a book about Israel and the
Q : What does the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz mean
to Israelis today?
The commemoration itself does not necessarily mean so much but the
Holocaust obviously means a great deal. The Holocaust has in recent
years become a very central element of Israeli identity. There is not
a single day in the Israeli media, for example, without some
reference to the Holocaust.
The Israelis carry the Holocaust in themselves very much and that is
also true for Israelis who do not even come from European origins. So
it is an all-Israeli experience, very deep.
Q: Is there any difference in attitude towards the Holocaust between
survivors and those born since?
Most Holocaust survivors experienced the Holocaust as children and
for that reason the Holocaust is today regarded very often as a crime
against children. But there is a difference between those people who
remember the Holocaust and those who just experience it as part of
their identity obviously.
There was a time in fact when Israelis would not talk about the
Holocaust at all. Parents would not tell their children what happened
to them and children would not dare to ask. There was a big silence
surrounding the Holocaust and that has changed over the years. I
think it is a growing-up process that led Israelis to become able to
identify with the victims. That was a very difficult thing for us to
Very early on in our history, when we had this heroic self-image and
we actually felt ashamed of the Holocaust. We no longer do. The
Holocaust is very much part of all of us.
Q: How has the legacy of the Holocaust shaped the politics of Israel
the state, both historically and today?
It is somewhat difficult to distinguish between genuine Holocaust
sentiments and manipulated Holocaust arguments - you have both in
Israel. But if you look at the history of Israel, you can see that
some of the most crucial decisions in our history were taken under
the influence of the Holocaust.
For example, a small country like Israel really does not need an
atomic bomb unless the people who make that decision act under the
influence of the Holocaust. The Six Day War broke out in 1967 very
much under the influence of the Holocaust.
But today, of course, the Holocaust is often used by everybody in
Israel - the Israeli government is using the Holocaust, the
opposition is using the Holocaust, the left and the right. Everybody
uses the Holocaust as an argument. But make no mistake, we do
manipulate the Holocaust but we also feel very, very deeply about it.
Q: Do you think that the legacy of the Holocaust has affected how
Israel deals with its current conflicts, including with the
I feel that Israeli society has not learnt the full humanitarian
lesson of the Holocaust as we should and I feel that if we had given
more attention to the humanitarian legacy of the Holocaust, we may
act differently on the occupied territories.
Still the policy on the occupied territories is influenced by a very
deep-rooted fear which we all carry in us. Perhaps without the
Holocaust we would be a more normal people, but we are not.
Memory is something that comes to you naturally. Obviously a
traumatic event like the Holocaust you cannot forget. But there is
also a lot of politics of memory involved here.
There is an on-going conflict in Israel about the legacy and the
lessons of the Holocaust and that is basically a political argument.
So if you look at the way Israelis commemorate the Holocaust you will
detect a lot of politics in it. (© BBC MMV 01/27/05)
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