Christians – the ancient self-designated heirs
to the Jews – commemorate Christ's tormented way to resurrection and redemption
in the weeks leading to Easter. Zionists – the modern self-designated heirs
to the Jews – have their Lent after Passover, commemorating what they construct
as their via dolorosa leading to the "Jewish State." In the weeks
following Pesach the country
indulges in a nationalistic orgy, hardly imaginable in any other modern state,
reminiscent of a primitive tribe. If you want to understand how a whole nation
is led to defy its own interests, to follow a corrupt,
de facto military leadership wasting the nation's fortune and blood
on unnecessary wars and immoral occupation for decades, pay a visit to Israel
shortly after Pesach.
A couple of decades ago, it all started with the Holocaust Remembrance Day,
about a week after Passover (all Israeli public holidays follow the Jewish
calendar, which is otherwise used only for religious purposes). This is no
longer the case: the weeks before that are an ever more popular time for Jewish
pilgrimage to Poland, where Israeli teenagers, a year or two before their military
service, are taken to a series of concentration camps, destroyed Jewish communities,
and other sites of memory. These journeys – at least eight days long – earn
the blessing of the state and are regulated by the Ministry of Education: an
official goal is "to boost national feelings." The ministry also demands
that all the young pilgrims, even the secular ones, consume only kosher food
flown from Israel and served soaked and lukewarm in Polish hostels. Parents,
however, have to pay the entire costs themselves, about $1,500 per child, which
makes it a privilege of the middle class and above. This makes sense, of course.
The middle class has to be persuaded ideologically; the obedience of the poor
is secured by more violent means.
I happened to be at the airport when a group returned from such a journey
last April: scores of their schoolmates were taken to the terminal to greet
them, drumming, dancing, and yelling "the People of Israel live." One
had the impression they were welcoming a group of Holocaust survivors.
The real Holocaust survivors, by the way, do not earn that much attention,
nor public investment: out of 80,000 survivors still alive in Israel, one
third live in poverty. Some of those elderly people even emigrate back
to Germany, where financial aid to survivors is much more generous – a march
of the living.
The climax is the March
of the Living, also called the March of Remembrance and Hope: the dire
past stands for Remembrance whereas Israel, ironically, stands for Hope. It
has a double highlight, in Auschwitz at the Holocaust Remembrance Day, and
then in Israel at Independence Day. The person behind the concept is Avraham
Hirschson, a politician who reached the position of minister of finance
and is now facing an indictment with a string of crimes including breach of
trust, aggravated fraud, theft, forgery of corporate documents, and money laundering.
This year, the key speaker in the March of the Living was Israel's chief of
staff, who used the opportunity to once again, at Auschwitz, incite violence
against Iran with an idiotic analogy to Nazi Germany. The millions massacred
there remained silent in spite of this demagogic abuse of their suffering.
It's amazing how the Israeli army managed to turn itself into a dominant player
– perhaps the most dominant player – not only in Israel's politics, education,
and economy, but even in the memory of the Holocaust, which had nothing whatsoever
do to with a military force created on another continent three years after
it was over.
The March of the Living then proceeds to Israel, where it ends a week later
at the Siamese twins: Memorial Day (for fallen soldiers) and Independence Day,
successively. The ideological messages are built in: the alternative to Auschwitz
is to live and die (and kill) for Israel. "They" wanted to kill us in Auschwitz
just as "they" want to kill us in Israel; "they," the goyim (gentiles),
hate us everywhere, and we are always innocent victims. Arabs and Nazis are
all the same. It's not the occupation, not Israel's refusal to make peace,
not even a particular political setting that can be rationally analyzed: it's
eternal, unchanging anti-Semitism. It's live or let live. Doubting Israel's
righteousness is like doubting the Holocaust. Criticizing Israel is supporting
the Nazis. Much like the hate-mail I get.
The Streets of Tel Aviv
On the evening of Holocaust Remembrance Day,
and again on Memorial Day a week later, the streets of Tel Aviv look as if
they're under curfew. From dusk to dawn, not a single shop is open. This law
is enforced and respected throughout the country. In the very Tel Aviv where
so many shops are open on Saturday (in spite of the law), where supermarkets
are proud of serving customers on a 24/7 basis, where just two weeks earlier,
during Passover, bread (which the law forbids to be displayed publicly) is
baked, displayed, sold, and eaten everywhere, you won't find a single kiosk
open on these state holidays. Religion is a fossilized, backward pastime for
medieval Jerusalemites; we in Tel Aviv are modern, Western, and secular – until
it comes to nationalism, where no ultra-orthodox can beat our devotion. Furthermore,
it's our pastime to rebuke the ultra-orthodox who refuse to stand still during
siren heard all over the country, like a muezzin calling for prayer. A
columnist of ultra-orthodox background who cautiously dared to cast doubts
about this tribal custom in Ha'aretz lured almost 500 responses, more
than the other four daily columns combined, most of them furious. And you won't
find the column in the English edition.
hardly a house without a flag; most cars have one or two as well. Hundreds
of thousands of flags are attached to the weekend's newspapers – thanks to
a certain bank that uses it to advertise. A friend of mine who does not put
a flag on her balcony finds one, year after year, pushed there by her patriotic
neighbors' balcony; after all, a flagless flat gives a bad reputation to the
whole building. The nylon flags will stay there for weeks after the orgy ends,
as a shabby reminder.
Display of Hubris
The public ceremonies are aired live on all public
TV channels; the only difference is the angle of the camera. For more than
two weeks, there's little else in the media than pure indoctrination: Holocaust,
war stories, the glory of the state. A march of politicians on screen, airing
empty slogans about Israel's "uniqueness." What else can they offer us?
As I am writing this column, military jets are flying above my head for the
Independence Day airborne display. It's the army again then, you never get
enough of it. The noise is unbearable, and there's no escape. I cannot help
thinking of the people in Gaza, who are regularly exposed to much more deafening
noises by the
The airborne display
has just ended; a paratrooper mistakenly parachuted into the stands where spectators
were seated, injuring eight. In days immersed in artificially produced symbolism,
one wonders what this accident stands for. The fall of Icarus?