‘Second Holocaust,’ Roth’s Invention, Isn’t Novelistic

The Second Holocaust. It’s a phrase we may have to begin thinking about. A possibility we may have to contemplate. A reality we may have to witness. Somebody has to think about the unthinkable, about the unbearable, and the way it looks now, it’s at least as likely to happen as not. One can imagine several ways it will happen: the current, terrible situation devolves from slow-motion mutual slaughter into instantaneous conflagration, nuclear, chemical or biological. Scenarios that remain regional. Scenarios that go global.

What is harder to imagine are ways in which it won’t happen. A peace process? Goodwill among men? An end to suicidal fanaticism? In your dreams.

Instead we must begin to examine the variety of nightmare scenarios.

The Second Holocaust. It’s a phrase first coined, as far as I know, by Philip Roth in his 1993 novel Operation Shylock. It’s a novel that seemed incredibly bleak back then. And yet, reexamining Mr. Roth’s use of the phrase “Second Holocaust” less than a decade later, even his darkest imaginings seem optimistic now. Especially when examined by the glare of burning synagogues in France.

I was reminded of Mr. Roth’s Second Holocaust scenario when I came across an excerpt from Operation Shylock on the Web site of a Canadian blogger (www.davidartemiw.com) via the all-seeing Instapundit.com.

Here’s the crucial exchange between a character Roth calls the “Diasporist” and the novel’s narrator:

“The meanings of the Holocaust,” says the Diasporist “are for us to determine, but one thing is sure-its meaning will be no less tragic than it is now if there is a second Holocaust and the offspring of the European Jews who evacuated Europe for a seemingly safer haven should meet collective annihilation in the Middle East … but a second Holocaust could happen here all too easily, and, if the conflict between Arab and Jew escalates much longer, it will-it must. The destruction of Israel in a nuclear exchange is a possibility much less far-fetched today than was the Holocaust itself fifty years ago.”

“The resettlement in Europe of more than a million Jews … It sounds to me that you are proposing the final solution to the Jewish problem for Yasir Arafat.”

“No. Arafat’s final solution is the same as Hitler’s: extermination. I am proposing the alternate to extermination [the return of the Jews from Israel to Europe].”

“You speak about resettling the Jews in Poland, Romania, Germany? In Slovakia, the Ukraine, Yugoslavia, the Baltic states? And you realize do you … how much hatred for Jews still exists in most of these countries?”

“Whatever hatred for Jews may be present in Europe … there are ranged against this residual anti-Semitism powerful currents of enlightenment and morality that are sustained by the memory of the Holocaust, a horror that operates now as a bulwark against European anti-Semitism.”

Here, it is clear, is where Roth’s darkest fantasy is too optimistic. Here is where we have to examine the dynamic going on in the mind of Europe at this moment: a dynamic that suggests that Europeans, on some deep if not entirely conscious level, are willing to be complicit in the murder of the Jews again.

The novel’s narrator believes that there are in Europe “powerful currents of enlightenment and morality that are sustained by the memory of the Holocaust … a bulwark against European anti-Semitism,” however virulent. It may be true in the case of some Europeans, although if so they have been very quiet about it. In fact, it seems that the memory of the Holocaust is precisely what ignites the darker currents in the European soul. The memory of the Holocaust is precisely what explains the one-sided anti-Israel stance of the European press, the European politicians, European culture. The complacency about synagogue burnings, the preference for focusing on the Israeli response to suicide bombers blowing up families at prayer, rather than on the mass murderers (as the suicide bombers should more properly be called) and those who subsidize them and throw parties for their families ….

There is a horrid but obvious dynamic going on here: At some deep level, Europeans, European politicians, European culture is aware that almost without exception every European nation was deeply complicit in Hitler’s genocide. Some manned the death camps, others stamped the orders for the transport of the Jews to the death camps, everyone knew what was going on-and yet the Nazis didn’t have to use much if any force to make them accomplices. For the most part, Europeans volunteered. That is why “European civilization” will always be a kind of oxymoron for anyone who looks too closely at things, beginning with the foolish and unnecessary slaughters of World War I, Holocaust-scale slaughter that paved the way for Hitler’s more focused effort.

And so, at some deep level, there is a need to blame someone else for the shame of “European civilization.” To blame the victim. To blame the Jews. And the more European nations can focus one-sidedly on the Israeli response to terror and not to the terror itself, the more they can portray the Jews as the real villains, as Nazis, the more salve to their collective conscience for their complicity in collective mass murder in the past. Hitler may have gone too far, and perhaps we shouldn’t have been so cowardly and slavish in assisting him, but look at what the Jews are doing

–––––––––––––––

Isn’t it interesting that you didn’t see any “European peace activists” volunteering to “put their bodies on the line” by announcing that they would place themselves in real danger-in the Tel Aviv cafés and pizza parlors, favorite targets of the suicide bombers. Why no “European peace activists” at the Seders of Netanya or the streets of Jerusalem? Instead, “European peace activists” do their best to protect the brave sponsors of the suicide bombers in Ramallah.

One has to put the European guilt complex not just in the context of complicity during World War II. One must also consider the malign neglect involved in the creation of the state of Israel. The begrudging grant of an indefensible sliver of desert in a sea of hostile peoples, to get the surviving Jews-reminders of European shame-off the continent, and leave the European peoples in possession of the property stolen from the Jews during the war. And that was when they didn’t continue murdering Jews, the way some Poles did when some Jews were foolish enough to try to return to their stolen homes.

Someone remarked recently at the astonishing hypocrisy of European diplomats and politicians in supporting the Palestinian “right of return” when so many Europeans are still living in homes stolen from Jews they helped murder.

Make no mistake of it, the Palestinians are victims of history as well as the Jews. The last thing the nations of Europe wanted to do was the right thing, which would be to restore the Jews to their stolen homes, and so they acquiesced in the creation of a Jewish state and then did nothing to make it viable for either the Jews or the Palestinians, preferring to wash their hands of the destruction: let the Semites murder each other and blame the Jews, the Semites they were more familiar with hating.

And now it’s so much easier for the Europeans to persecute the Jews, because they can just allow their own Arab populations to burn synagogues and beat Jews on the street for them. The way Hitler used the eager Croatians, for instance, as death-camp guards. Still, there’s something particularly repulsive about the synagogue-burnings in France. I think in a way it goes a long way toward explaining why the Israeli government is acting the way it is now-with a little less restraint against those who murder their children. Yes, restraint: If Israel were to act with true ruthlessness to end the suicide bombings, they would tell the prospective bombers-who go to their deaths expecting that their families will celebrate their mass murders with a subsidized party and reap lucrative financial rewards courtesy of the Saudis and Saddam-that their families instead will share the exact same fate of the people the bombers blow up. That might put a crimp into the recruiting and the partying over dead Jewish children. But the Israelis won’t do that, and that is why there’s likely to be a second Holocaust. Not because the Israelis are acting without restraint, but because they are , so far, still acting with restraint despite the massacres making their country uninhabitable.

Consider that remarkable Joel Brinkley story in the April 4 edition of The Times , in which the leaders of Hamas spoke joyfully and complacently of their great triumph in the Passover massacre and the subsequent slaughters in Jerusalem and Haifa. Two things made this interview remarkable. One was the unashamed assertion that they had no interest in any “peace process” that would produce a viable Palestinian state living side-by-side with a Jewish state. They only wanted the destruction of the Jewish state and its replacement with one in which “the Jews could remain living ‘in an Islamic state with Islamic law.’”

That defines the reality that has been hidden by the illusion of hope placed in a “peace process.” The Palestinians, along with their 300 million “Arab brothers” surrounding the five million Jews, are not interested in a “negotiated settlement.”

Israelis are forever being criticized for not negotiating, for not giving away enough of their security, but they have no one to negotiate with who doesn’t, in their heart of hearts, want to exterminate their state and their people as well, if necessary.

The other thing that made the Times interview such a defining document was the description of its setting. The interview with one of the four directors of the Hamas mass murderers, a Dr. Zahar, was conducted in a comfortable home in which “Dr. Zahar, a surgeon, has a table tennis set in his vast living room for his seven children.”

If the Israelis were as ruthless as the Europeans take great pleasure in calling them, there would be, let’s say, no ping-pong playing for the murderer of their children.

Now let’s talk further about the relationship between the first Holocaust and the next. The relationship between the European response to the first one and the likely Israeli response to the one in the making.

I think it might best be summed up by that old proverb: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

The first time, when the Jewish people were threatened by someone who called for their extinction, they trusted to the “enlightenment” values of the European people, as Philip Roth’s character put it.

Civilized people wouldn’t let something like that happen. Pogroms, well yes, but death camps, extermination? Never. They’re transporting us to camps, yes, but what could it be, labor camps at worst? The world wouldn’t let such a thing happen.

Well, the world did let it happen-with extraordinary complacency, a deaf ear, a blind eye and not a little pleasure on the part of some. And it’s clear from the reaction of Europe today that the world is prepared, is preparing itself, to let it happen again.

But I suspect that deep in the heart of most Israelis is the idea that this time we’re not going to depend on others to prevent it from happening. We’re not going to hope that the world will care that they’re killing our children. This time, we won’t go quietly; this time, if we go down, we’ll go down fighting and take them with us and take more of them if we can, and the rest of the world be damned. Fool us twice, shame on us.

I feel bad for the plight of the Palestinians; I believe they deserve a state. But they had a state: They were part of a state, a state called Jordan, that declared war on the state of Israel, that invaded it in order to destroy it-and lost the war. There are consequences to losing a war, and the consequences should at least in part be laid at the feet of the three nations that sought and lost the war. One sympathizes with the plight of the Palestinians, but one wonders what the plight of the Israelis might have been had they lost that war. One doesn’t envision spacious homes and ping-pong for their leaders.

But somehow the Israelis are told that they must trust the world-trust the European Union as guarantors of their safety, trust the Arab League’s promises of “normal relations,” trust the Saudis who subsidize suicide-bomber parties and ignore the exterminationist textbooks the Arab world tutors its children with. The Israelis must learn to make nice; the Jews must behave better with people who want to kill them. I don’t think so.

As a secular Jew, I’ve always been more of a diasporist than a Zionist. I’ve supported the Jewish state, but thought that it was a necessary but not ideal solution with a pronounced dark side: The concentration of so many Jews in one place-and I use the word “concentration” advisedly-gives the world a chance to kill the Jews en masse again. And I also thought that Jews flourished best where they were no longer under the thumb of Orthodox rabbis and could bring to the whole world-indeed, the whole universe-the exegetical skills that are the glory of the people: reading the universe as the Torah, as Einstein and Spinoza did, rather than the Torah as the universe, as the Orthodox do.

But the implacable hatred of Arab fundamentalism makes no distinction between Jewish fundamentalists and Jewish secularists, just as Hitler didn’t. It’s not just the settlements they want to extirpate, it’s the Jewish state, the Jewish people.

This is the way it is likely to happen: Sooner or later, a nuclear weapon is detonated in Tel Aviv, and sooner, not later, there is nuclear retaliation-Baghdad, Damascus, Tehran, perhaps all three. Someone once said that while Jesus called on Christians to “turn the other cheek,” it’s the Jews who have been the only ones who have actually practiced that. Not this time. The unspoken corollary of the slogan “Never again” is: “And if again, not us alone.”

So the time has come to think about the Second Holocaust. It’s coming sooner or later; it’s not “whether,” but when. I hope I don’t live to see it. It will be unbearable for those who do. That is, for all but the Europeans-whose consciences, as always, will be clear and untroubled.