A Knesset speech in a foreign language requires a preliminary authorization from the Knesset Committee. When the Chairman of the Knesset Committee requested of me, as a member of the Committee, to give my approval for a speech in a foreign language for the President of the European Parliament, I planned to agree, as is routine. But MK David Rotem was more alert than I was and asked, “In what language does the EU President plan to speak?”
“In German,” the Chairman answered.
I thanked MK Rotem for calling the issue to my attention. I was the only vote against approving the speech in German. Before EU President Schultz began his speech, I left the plenum – quietly. Of course, I had no idea what the content of Schultz’s speech would be. I assumed that it would be a positive speech. My decision not to be present was on principle, not tactical. It was the same principle that guided my decision not to travel with the Knesset delegation to the Death Camp in Poland.
We have been too quick to insert the quintessentially horrifying memory of the Holocaust into museums – and to leave it there. A memory that is relegated to a museum, no matter how tangible it is – even if it is Auschwitz, itself – becomes a museum memory. It is easy to figure out what would have happened if our Sages had instructed us to commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by an annual visit to a museum. Not only would the memory of the Temple have been forgotten after a few generations, but the entire culture drawn from the Temple and that aspires to it – would have disappeared. If we would go to the museum instead of fasting, instead of breaking a glass under the marriage canopy, instead of leaving a bare place on the wall at the entrance to our homes, I wouldn’t be here to write and you wouldn’t be here to read: We would have simply disappeared.
70 years ago, the world decided to rid itself of the Jews; some nations accomplished this actively, while others by default. Some built death camps, while others did not bomb them. In his book, Em Habanim Smecha, Rabbi Yissachar Teichtel, may G-d avenge his blood, noted how the Jews of the US, most of whom feared for their own future and did not stand up to save their brethren in Europe, actually faced the same decree. While they were not in physical danger, the legitimacy for their existence was lost. The real name for World War II should be “The World War Against the Jews.”
When the Parliament established by the Nation that arose from the ashes relates to the Holocaust as an historical accident, the problem of a certain generation; when we separate its memory from our current reality instead of attempting to actualize it in the here and now – we awaken sleeping monsters.
Today, we no longer hold up an accusing finger against the culture that led the world war against the Jews. We allow the language in which the destruction of our Nation was planned to be spoken from the podium of our parliament. We allow the Polish to lie and claim that it was just by coincidence that the Germans ‘stuck’ Auschwitz on their land – they are actually perfectly fine; there was no satanic anti-Semitism in Poland, there was no Polish massacre of the Holocaust survivors who attempted to return to their homes after the war. When we separate the memory of the Holocaust from our present lives, there is no real memory and the children of the murderers dare to point an accusing finger at us – in the Knesset of Israel, in German. We become the new Nazis and the ‘Palestinians’ the inheritors of the Jews who are being led off to the slaughter.
If we had demanded of the EU Parliament President not to speak in German, I believe that the entire incident in which the Jewish Home party loudly protested his words and then exited the plenum would have been avoided. Because our demand would have meant that Israel has an ethical claim against the world in general and the Germans, in particular. If we had demanded that Schultz not speak in German, he would have been on the moral defensive – and not on the moral offensive.
But as usual, we chose to flee our responsibility to our parents and our children. We chose to cut corners, to be pragmatic. For after all, we can’t fight with the entire world forever.
What was the result of our pragmatism? The exact opposite of what we wanted to achieve. Because we chose not to really deal with the memory of the Holocaust, our relationship with Germany is now worse than it was – both on our part and on theirs. For when that ethical accusing finger is not there, the sleeping monsters in their culture wake up in the middle of the speech – yes, in the most cultured and well-mannered fashion – and just ask an innocent question: “Is it true that he ‘Palestinians’ get less water?” Yes, those are the same monsters. How could the son of the nation of murderers dare to reprimand the ethics of the children of the victims? The answer is: From the moment that the children of the victims buried the memory of the Holocaust in museums.
I was spared the uproar in the Knesset because I was not ‘pragmatic’. When we restore the memory of the Holocaust to our daily reality, we will merit much more harmony with the nations of the world. The correct approach toward our past will allow us to be pragmatic – and just – in the future.