Israel, the Shoah, and Yom ha-Atzmaut
Israel exists not because the Europeans dumped the surviving Jews in the colonially controlled Middle East. Israel exists because the Jews willed it into existence. The modern state of Israel exists because the Jews who created it believed themselves to be descendants of the Israelites and Judeans who were sovereign there in ancient times and paid a high price for preserving their separate existence as a people. The modern state of Israel exists because for centuries and millennia Jews kept yearning for Israel, ending the Passover Seder with the words, “next year in Jerusalem.”
The modern state of Israel exists thanks to visionary Jewish thinkers and leaders who realized that changing times created an opportunity to turn the messianic hope to return to Israel into a political program, and who were able to mobilize sympathy and support in critical junctions for their project. President Obama finally got it right when in his speech to AIPAC on March 4, 2012 he spoke of Shimon Peres as having had “his heart always in Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people.”
In fact, if it were not for Arab resistance and Britain’s betrayal and submission to Arab pressures, the Holocaust as such might not have taken place. Jews would have been able to escape Europe to their ancient homeland in what was already a widely supported embryonic state. They would have had a destination country to which to immigrate freely at a time when Hitler was still willing to let the Jewish people go.
Israel came into being after World War II not ‘thanks’ to the Holocaust, but thanks to Britain’s imperial dissolution. Just as India and Pakistan required no Holocaust to attain their independence and come into being, so too Israel. To think that only the act of absolute evil against the Jews could legitimate a state for the Jews is to deny the Jews what is taken for granted for all others. The Jewish people would have achieved their state sooner or later as part of the wave of liberation of peoples around the world. Their vision, determination, industry and willingness to fight for their state would have ensured it.
To portray Israel as the outcome of the Holocaust is to engage in Zionism Denial. It robs the Jews of their agency, their history, their historical connection to the land of Israel and their yearning to return to it. It erases all that was dreamt, written, done and achieved by the Zionists before World War II. It turns Israel into a colonial project of guilty Europeans rather than a national liberation project of an indigenous people reclaiming their homeland. In remembering the Holocaust, Israel mourns not only all that was and still is lost, but Zionism’s greatest tragedy and failure.
A description of the establishment of Yom ha-Shoah can be found here. There Rabbi Yitz Greenberg wrote the following:
Had the Orthodox gotten their way in the final negotiations, Yom Hashoah would have been deferred to the month of Iyar or beyond. Had that happened, there would have been no connection between Yom Hashoah and Yom Ha’atzmaut. But, in fact, Yom Ha’atzmaut is the fundamental response to Yom Hashoah.
Now Yom Hashoah occurs one week away from Yom Ha’atzmaut, and nothing could more profoundly capture the fundamental relationship of Holocaust and Israel than that positioning. The State of Israel is not a reward or a product or an exchange for the Holocaust; it is a response. The Jewish people responded to the total assault of death by an incredible outpouring of life. The survivors came and rebuilt their lives. Jewish life was made precious again. The great biblical symbol that, according to the prophets, would some day prove that the covenant had endured is the reestablishment and repopulation of the land of Israel.