What Will Happen When the Holocaust No Longer Prevents the World From Seeing Israel as It Is?

For anyone who wanted to see, the truth was already abundantly clear in 1955: “They treat the Arabs, those still here, in a way that in itself would be enough to rally the whole world against Israel,” wrote Hannah Arendt.

For anyone who wanted to see, the truth was already abundantly clear in 1955: “They treat the Arabs, those still here, in a way that in itself would be enough to rally the whole world against Israel,” wrote Hannah Arendt.

But that was 1955, barely a decade after the Holocaust – our great catastrophe, and at the same time, Zionism’s protective suit. So no, what Arendt saw in Jerusalem at the time wasn’t enough to rally the world against Israel.

Almost 70 years have passed since then. Meanwhile, Israel has become addicted to both its regime of Jewish supremacy over the Palestinians – and the ability to leverage the memory of the Holocaust, so that the crimes it commits against them won’t rally the world against it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t inventing a thing: not the crimes, and not the exploitation of the Holocaust to silence the world’s conscience. But he has been the prime minister for almost a generation. During this period, Israel, under his leadership, took another big step toward a future in which the Palestinian people are erased from the stage of history – certainly if the stage in question is Palestine, the historical homeland.

All this was not only carried out gradually – another dunam and another goat, another outpost and another farm – but in the end it was also declared publicly, from the 2018 Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, to the guiding principles of the current government, first and foremost the statement that “[t]he Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel.” And the truth is that the consensus on these is far broader and more sweeping than support for Netanyahu himself. After all, who in Israel didn’t like the brilliant move, on the eve of October 7, 2023, of normalization with Saudi Arabia, in order to etch into the awareness of the Palestinians the fact that they are a defeated people?

But the Palestinians, those stubborn people, didn’t leave the stage. Somehow, through all the years and the oppression and the settlements and the pogroms in the West Bank, and the “rounds” of conflict with Gaza and the violence of the army and the absence of accountability and the expropriation of land in Jerusalem and the Negev and the Jordan Valley, in effect wherever a Palestinian tries to hold onto his land, after many years and a lot of blood and a lot of crimes, the recycled trick of Israeli hasbara has begun to lose its sting, since the trivial truth is that no, not everyone who sees the Palestinians as human beings with rights is an antisemite.

Meanwhile, came the war in Gaza, with the destruction of biblical proportions that we have brought upon the Strip and upon the tens of thousands of dead Palestinian. There has been so much blood and destruction that the question of whether this is genocide began to be seriously discussed at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

In Arendt’s words, what we’re doing to the Palestinians – those who are still in Gaza – is still not rallying the world against Israel. But the world is already permitting itself to think about it aloud.

All this still isn’t making us rethink the way we “treat the Arabs.” Instead, we are once again trying to breathe new life into the used hasbara balloon. If in 2019 Netanyahu declared that the investigation at the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an “antisemitic decree” (that didn’t stop the investigation) and in 2021 he asserted that this was “pure antisemitism” (and that didn’t stop the investigation), then a week ago he started to shout about an “antisemitic hate crime.”

Netanyahu, as usual, embeds a few words of truth between one lie and the next. In his speech on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, it was true when he described the ICC as a body “established in response to the Holocaust and other horrors, to ensure that ‘Never Again.’” But with exceptional chutzpah, if one considers the setting and the timing, everything Netanyahu said surrounding this statement was a lie, especially when he asserted that if an arrest warrant is issued against him, “[t]his step would put an indelible stain on the very idea of justice and international law.”

The truth is that the stain on the foundations of international law is the fact that even after years of investigation, as far as we know, there has yet to be an arrest warrant issued against Netanyahu or other Israeli war criminals. That’s in spite of the fact that for decades, Israel has been perpetrating, in broad daylight, crimes against the Palestinians, crimes that are government policy, crimes that are approved by the High Court of Justice, which are protected by the opinions of attorney generals and whitewashed by military advocate generals – although all that is overt and known, reported and published, nobody is being held to account for it, neither in Israel nor abroad, at least so far.

We’re approaching the moment, and perhaps it’s already here, when the memory of the Holocaust won’t stop the world from seeing Israel as it is. The moment when the historic crimes committed against our people will stop serving as our Iron Dome, protecting us from being held to account for crimes we are committing in the present against the nation with which we share the historical homeland.

Even if that moment is delayed, it is time for it to arrive. Israel will be without the Holocaust. Its image, to now be protected by two of this year’s torch lighters at the prestigious national Independence Day ceremony at Mt Herzl, the Arab Israeli hasbara genius Yoseph Haddad and the content creator Ella Travels. Come on.

Maybe we would do better, to open our eyes and adopt a different attitude toward the Palestinians: to treat them as equal human beings. That certainly is a far better lesson from the Holocaust. Arendt would probably agree.

  • This piece was originally published in Hebrew on May 11, a week and a half before the ICC prosecutor announced on May  20 his applications for arrest warrants in the situation in the State of Palestine.