The Jewish enemies of Israel, if they are sufficiently profligate in the expenditure of claptrap, often come to the aid of her defenders. Early this summer (2014) I wrote the following paragraph in the prologue to a book (entitled Jews Against Themselves) that I was sending off to my publisher:
“I have not attempted a systematic taxonomy of all the species of Jews arrayed under the genus ‘enemies of Israel,’ a monumental task that would require an Encyclopedia to include the following: Jewish Progressives against Israel; Jewish Queers against Israel; Haredimagainst Israel; Holocaust Survivors against Israel; Children of Holocaust Survivors against Israel; Jewish Voice for Peace; Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors against Israel; Survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto against Israel; J Street; Jewish Postmodernists against Israel; Jewish Berkeley Professors against Israel; Post-Zionists against Israel; Jewish Members of MESA [Middle East Studies Association] against Israel; Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (JBIG, also called, seasonally, London’s Jewish Christmas Carolers against Israel); and so on and on, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Despite this, there will always be readers who express astonishment that there are Jews who question the Jewish right to live as a natural right, or hate Israel and are ashamed to have a state. Surely they are as rare as singing mice or card-playing pigs? Alas, no.”
I felt more or less content with that Swiftian list, yet also sensed that something was missing from it. The recent publication, first in Britain’s Guardian on August 15, and then in The New York Times on August 23, of an ad accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza and calling for “full economic, cultural, and academic boycott of Israel” told me what it was. The ad was placed by “Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors” and also “friends of survivors,” “friend of many survivors,” “cousins of survivors,” “cousins of victims of Nazis in Ukraine,” “the great niece of an uncle who shot himself,” “spouse of hidden child,” and “relative of victims.” Where defamation of Israel is concerned, imagination cannot keep pace with the fantastic moral coarseness of the defamers.
According to the 327 (mostly unknown) signatories of this fiery, vitriolic, and obscene assault on the state of Israel as the one true inheritor of Nazism, and on Elie Wiesel (who dares to say that Jews have done enough dying), the death factories and outdoor killing centers and vast machinery of murder of the Germans and their allies were, for those who managed to survive them, schools of moral instruction and intellectual acumen. These gifts have enabled them to pass judgment on the latest Hamas-Israel conflict and come down unreservedly on the side of Hamas, the Islamist version of Nazism whose declared purpose is to destroy Israel and “to kill Jews wherever you find them.”
It does not occur to the “survivors” (if that is indeed what they really are) and their progeny that persecuting governments and persecuting religions, while breeding vices in those who hold power, are well known to breed answering vices in those who are powerless and suffering. The signatories assume that the death camps were such seminal teachers of moral scruple that their influence has been passed on, to the children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren of survivors. I had failed to include these genetically privileged people in my list; and their numbers are vast, perhaps uncountable, among the variegated species of Jews within the genus “Jewish enemies of Israel.” A grievous omission on my part, to be sure, if the offspring of survivors, even unto the thousandth generation, are genetically authorized to decide which nations may live, and which must die.
Three names among the signatories caught my attention: Daniel Boyarin, Hedy Epstein, and Anna Baltzer. The first lists himself as “great grandson” of victims of Nazism. A University of California, Berkeley professor (of Talmud), Boyarin has identified himself as a Jew “destined by fate, psychology, personal history, or whatever, to be drawn to Christianity,” and has warned that “My Judaism may be dying at Nablus, Daheishe, Beteen,” (i.e., places the Israeli army has entered to pursue people inclined to massacre Jews). Boyarin belongs to what has been called the “sissy” school of contemporary Jewish thinkers. He calls himself “oddly gendered” and would replace the “muscular” Judaism of the Zionism he hates with a feminized Judaism that he claims to find in rabbinic texts. For him the moral center of Jewish history is a celebration of the renunciation of national interest, as if that were the only criterion of a just politics. He and others in the sissy school deem it praiseworthy in Jews never (or so they believe) in the past to have picked up the gun or the knife, as if a man unable to eat should be praised for his ability to fast. But when Israel is being bombed, Boyarin is less queasy about violence, and now takes the side of Hamas, which has been firing thousands of missiles at Israeli citizens for weeks on end. No matter the circumstances, Boyarin keeps repeating, with steam-engine regularity, that Jews are “collectively engaged in war/wars against Muslims,” and likens all Israeli self-defense to the Nazi Holocaust.
Then there is Hedy Epstein. a professional “survivor” (she left Germany as a child in 1939) and member of the pro-Hamas International Solidarity Movement. Since she believes that slavery, like the Nazi camps, also (unwittingly) provided ethical instruction and refinement to its victims, she makes a point of turning up in marches (most recently in Ferguson, Missouri) to support African-American race racketeers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and never misses an opportunity to spew venom at Israel. She is a 90-year old version of the late Rachel Corrie–inveterate “slumming” do-gooders who confuse doing good with feeling good about what they are doing.
Anna Baltzer, popping up in the “Grandchildren” category of the ad, is really Anna Piller. But after becoming a full-throated and virtually full-time apologist for Hamas, an activist (like Epstein) in the International Solidarity Movement, and in the BDS movement, she decided to conceal her identity from a still living grandmother who was both a Holocaust survivor and a strong supporter of Israel. For people like Baltzer, it is not the sin but its disclosure that must be taken seriously. The very grandmother who enabled Piller-Baltzer to preface all her solemn idiocies about Israeli “apartheid” with “As a Jew” was thus afforded some protection from knowing that her granddaughter was speechifying in Presbyterian churches and similar venues on behalf of a Jew-killing organization. (Was there ever a shrewder reply to the question “Who Is a Jew?” than the one given by the Hebrew novelist Yosef Haim Brenner when he said that “A Jew is someone with Jewish grandchildren”?) In the case of Piller-Baltzer (and no doubt in scores just like it) we have the epistemological paradox of a biologically-based claim to moral wisdom that is confuted by the very ancestor invoked to justify it.
Perhaps the last (though not infallible) word on this latest deformation of the Holocaust should be left to the late Primo Levi, whose decency and wisdom survived in but was not created by Auschwitz:
“The ‘saved’ of the Lager were not the best, those predestined to do good; the bearers of a message. What I had seen and lived through proved the exact contrary. Preferably the worst survived, the selfish, the violent, the insensitive, the collaborators of the ‘grey zones’, the spies. It was not a certain rule… but it was, nevertheless, a rule. I felt innocent, yes, but enrolled among the saved and therefore in permanent search of a justification in my own eyes and those of others. The worst survived, that is, the fittest; the best all died.” – (Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved)
Edward Alexander is the author of, among other books, The Resonance of Dust: Holocaust Literature and Jewish Fate (Ohio State University Press, 1979).