Shai Franklin, my Facebook friend (and real friend, it’s just that he made this point on Facebook today), picks up on something Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to DC, writes this week in The New Republic:
Recognizing the murder of six million Jews more than six decades ago is, in fact, vital for understanding the supreme dangers posed to six million Jews in Israel today by a nuclear Iran and by the Goldstone Report. Reasserting the factuality of the Holocaust is a prerequisite for peace.
Many factors contributed to the Holocaust–European anti-Semitism, mass murder technologies, and Allied indifference–but none more elemental than the Jews’ inability to defend themselves. Israel and its citizen Defense Forces represent the most palpable means for redressing that incapacity.
Accordingly, denying the Holocaust not only deprives Israel of its raison d’être, but, more nefariously still, it invalidates the Jews’ need to defend themselves.
Oren is defending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against charges that he cheapened the Holocaust by making it the emphasis of his speech last month to the U.N. General Assembly.
But his thesis works just as well against charges that President Obama emphasized the Holocaust at the expense of other Jewish claims to Israel in his speech this summer to the Muslim world.
Netanyahu, it is true, explicitly referenced Jewish historical ties to Zion:
The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the Land of Israel. This is the land of our forefathers.
Inscribed on the walls outside this building is the great Biblical vision of peace: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. They shall learn war no more." These words were spoken by the Jewish prophet Isaiah 2,800 years ago as he walked in my country, in my city, in the hills of Judea and in the streets of Jerusalem.
We are not strangers to this land. It is our homeland.
These are 90 words out of 2,300 in a speech that otherwise makes understanding the Holocaust a central tenet of understanding Israel. Obama’s 150 words allude to America’s "cultural and historical" ties with Israel, which proportionally covers the same territory:
America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.
Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed, more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction—or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews—is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.
Additionally, it would be a little odd if an Israeli prime minister, discussing history, did not note Jewish ties to ancient Israel; it’s a little nutty (well, more than a little nutty) to expect non-Israelis and non-Jews to run through the laundry list of what makes Israel Israel every time they mention it.
Both leaders were making the point that dismissal of the Holocaust in a sizable chunk of the world is a major impediment to peace. Both men have subsequently been subject to a calumny: That they were making Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s point for him by making the Holocaust the sole point of departure for understanding Israel.
As Oren puts it:
Perhaps because they were raised in a society suffused with Holocaust consciousness, some Israelis might be unaware of the extent of ignorance of the Final Solution throughout the world, even in the United States, and especially among youth. Confronted with the enormity of the horror, many young people today–much like American Jewish leaders in 1942–react with incredulousness, rendering them susceptible to denial. Millions of Muslims, moreover, subscribe to the syllogism: If Israel was created by Europeans out of Holocaust guilt, and the Holocaust never occurred, then Israel’s existence is unjust. Where better than the General Assembly, a body established in response to World War II and affording a global audience, to reaffirm the veracity of an event now so widely questioned if not refuted?
Or, where better than in Cairo, addressing Muslims?
And yet, oddly, Obama’s detractors — with the notable exception of Aluf Benn at Ha’aretz (who gets points for consistency, however wrong-headed) — seem to be mutually exclusive with those who scored Netanyahu for his speech.