Yad Vashem

With the exception of "Lapid" (an organization for educating the public about the "lessons" of the Holocaust) and the Mapam Party youth movement, no Israeli political, cultural, or religious institution or organization has, to the best of my knowledge, voiced criticism of any sort of Serbia's genocidal assault on its western neighbors or the atrocities the Serbs have been committing in its course. Nor has any individual prominent in Holocaust research in this country or in the various activities whereby Israeli society commemorates it and tries to transmit its "lessons" ever done so.

In this connection, one might have expected that at least Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, would not keep silent. According to the Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance (Yad Vashem) Law, 5713/1953, its cask is to commemorate the Holocaust, but also "to bring home its lesson to the people." But then, it all depends on just what "the lesson" is taken to be. On this, and on the more general subject of how the Israelis have related to the Holocaust, I have found helpful Tom Segev's book The Seventh Million. In his chapter on Yad Vashem, Segev writes:

What, then, is the lesson of the Holocaust according to Yad Vashem? I asked Arad [Dr. Yitzhak Arad, Chairman of the Board]... [He]... said that he assumed that over the years a national consensus had developed in Israel, largely independent of party affiliation. Everyone agrees chat the Holocaust teaches what awaits a nation in exile that has no state of its own: had Israel been established before the Nazis came to power, the murder of the Jews could not have been possible. Everyone agrees that the Holocaust led to the establishment of the state and that its survivors were at the center of the struggle for its independence.[11]

One might think this an overly narrow conception of "the lesson of the Holocaust", both on account of its ethnocentrism and because the "lesson" turns out to be exclusively political. This conception was indeed questioned at the time of the Lebanon War.

A few weeks after the war began, Begin responded to international criticism of Israel by repeating a premise that his predecessors had shared: after the Holocaust, the international community had lost its right to demand that Israel answer for its actions. "No one, anywhere in the world, can preach morality to our people," Begin declared in the Knesset. A similar statement was included in the resolution adopted by the cabinet after the massacres in Sabra and Shatila, the Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut.[12]

This particular application of the "lesson of the Holocaust" to the war in Lebanon seemed unacceptable to some Israeli intellectuals, and in particular to Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz.[13] At that stage, Yad Vashem became involved, albeit against its will:

For the first time since [it] was built, a Holocaust survivor began a hunger strike there: Shlomo Schmelzman, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and of Buchenwald, protested both the war and the use of the Holocaust to justify it. His strike prompted more polemics in the press. The Yad Vashem management decided to forbid him to sit on the institution's grounds, and after seven days he gave up.[14]

Later in the same year a military court was trying several soldiers charged with unjustified violence against Arabs in the occupied territories. One of the defendants was alleged to have ordered his soldiers to inscribe numbers on the arms of Palestinians. The board of Yad Vashem was asked to condemn the act. Mr. Gideon Hausner, Chairman of the Board at the time, "squelched the initiative, ruling that it had no relevance to the Holocaust."[15]

If "the lesson of the Holocaust" that Yad Vashem is supposed to "bring home to the people" amounts to nothing more than Jewish statism, that does explain the complete silence it has maintained in the face of genocide in the Balkans. What still remains unexplained is the way the 5Oth anniversary of the destruction of the Jews of Serbia was commemorated in Yad Vashem on 4 May 1992 - that is, after Vukovar and Dubrovnik, and after the beginning of the Serbian onslaught on Bosnia-Herzegovina. The high point of the commemoration was a lecture by the sole academic member of the Serbian lobby in Israel, a lecturer in history who has been promoting "the Serbian truth" in this country so enthusiastically that he is probably the only academic in these parts certified by his university, black on white, that the rules of professional ethics do not necessarily apply to everything he publishes in his capacity as a university lecturer in history. The lecture consisted, for the most part, in a restatement of some of the main tenets of Greater Serbian propaganda, including an attempt to rewrite the history of Yugoslavia in World War II so as to whitewash the Serbian quislings' role in the extermination of the Jews of Serbia.[16]

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