What is the fundamental lesson of the Holocaust for Israel and the Jewish people? There is a divergence of opinion.
Many Liberal Jews believe the main lesson of the “six million” is that we Jews should never do to others what was done to us. We know first-hand what the horrors of hatred look like, and therefore, we must distance ourselves in every possible way from behaviors which are like those of the Nazis. This way of thinking posits that every mortal person has the potential to be a Nazi and when given power, every human and even every Jew can become abusive. But after the Holocaust, we Jews were tasked with being more ethical and virtuous than the barbarians. We took it upon ourselves to be the archetype of restraint, lest our very human Inner-Nazi is unleashed and we end up mirroring the tormentors we escaped. I call the folks in this camp Fear-of-Inner-Nazi Jews.
The other perspective is very different. It posits that the main lesson of the Holocaust is that Jews, having survived the hell of the Holocaust as a people, should “never again” allow anyone to do that to us. The Zionist revolution effectuated a return to the land, to agriculture, a revival of Hebrew, and, so meaningfully, a resurrection of Jewish physical courage and military strength. Israel’s ability to put up a fight, and even to be a global leader in defense techniques and technology, is, for subscribers of this outlook, a source of pride. This group I call the Never-Again Jews.
But not only are these outlooks divergent, they also clash. For those in the Fear-of-Inner-Nazi faction, the Jewish state, when acting with force, can come dangerously close to being like the dreaded Nazis. The latest trigger of this phobia took place when a soldier in Hebron shot a downed terrorist. The Inner-Nazi group immediately sensed danger: Israel was slipping morally, carrying out extrajudicial killings, vigilantism, field execution — the Inner Nazi was coming out!
For those of the Never-Again viewpoint, the Hebron terrorist came to kill Jews, like a classic Nazi, and ended up dead. Was it OK to shoot the terrorist when he was down? Maybe yes, maybe no — but that’s not the big issue. The Jewish people are at war with a global jihad that seeks to destroy Israel and to kill Jews for being Jews. The bottom line is that Israel must, first and foremost, protect Jews, and be the “never again” country which prevents the Nazis of today from harming one hair on one Jewish head.
However, for Never-Againers, it’s not only that Jews have the right to kill Nazis or jihadists because all is fair in war. For many of us, the very assertion that Jews have an Inner-Nazi and the given the “right circumstances” will herd people into gas chambers is preposterous. The father of Nazism, Adolf Hitler, hunted Jews precisely because we were the embodiment of morality, the “conscience of the world” that he wanted to wipe out. Anyone who really knows the Jewish and Israeli people knows that we have never been in danger of becoming Nazis. To the contrary (and contrary to global media), we are a source of light, liberty and progress, regionally and globally.
Yet, the Fear-of-Inner-Nazi Jews are not the only ones who subscribe to the idea that Israel’s actions, unchecked, can easily approach Nazism. Anti-Israel propaganda harps endlessly upon those liberal Jewish fears by insinuating a nexus between Israel’s actions and Nazism. Once the accusation has been lobbied, Fear-of-Inner Nazi Jews face a dilemma: If they believe the propaganda, they become anti-Israel. If they don’t, they bend over backwards to prove that Israel is not like that all, that we are a moral people with a moral army, and we have the Inner-Nazi in check. For Inner-Nazi Jews, the only solution is to throw the soldier who shot the downed terrorist in Hebron into the slammer and throw away the key after making a public example of him. Shackle the Inner-Nazi and hope the world sees the truth of our goodness!
In the meantime, the real Nazis of our time — Hamas, ISIS and Hezbollah — arm themselves and prepare for war. We know they are digging tunnels and we know they are building up their supplies of rockets with the intent of wiping Israel out. But we don’t hit them hard and we don’t strike with fury; we are chained down, stymied by our fear of unleashing the Inner-Nazi or by the fear of being accused of having one. We can only strike when we are under full attack, and then retaliate with only a measured response. A roof-knocking rocket, a kinder-gentler moral army, which makes sure to never fully win, and certainly would never use the word “vanquish” at the end of the war. Don’t crush the enemy, be merciful to the weak, even though moments ago he tried to kill you — Remember the Holocaust!
Some people say that we Jews talk too much about the Holocaust. I don’t think so at all. I think we don’t talk about it enough. We should take a minute every day to view photographs of dead-Jew-piles being tractored or burned. Then, after watching that, we should make a commitment each day to “never again” allow this, and act upon it by striking mercilessly at the jihad and sending a clear signal that we have zero tolerance for Jewish injury; we have zero tolerance for neo-Nazism. Now that we have the power to stop them, we should “never again” allow for the 6,000,001st victim. This should be our fundamental take-home lesson from the Holocaust.
And let’s take it one step further: instead of fearing the Inner-Nazi who will never appear, imagine embracing our inner “never again” Jewishness, not only to protect our own, but rather to use our newly found strength in the role of liberator. Israel — post-Holocaust-empowered Jews — would go out and fight today’s Nazism wherever it is, and help the world defeat the very same forces that murdered six million when we were weak.
Yishai Fleisher is the International Spokesman for the Jewish Community of Hebron. Follow him @YishaiFleisher.