The Unpacking of “Holocaustia”

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Even if you have never heard the term “Holocaustia,” you’ll be able to guess that it’s meant to indicate disdain for a supposedly undue pre-occupation with the systematic murder of six million Jews. The term may sound as if it was coined on neo-Nazi forums, but all the credit goes to Ian S. Lustick, Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

 Lustick first tried to present his musings about “Holocaustia” as a scholarly endeavor in the April 2017 issue of the journal Contemporary Jewry, whose editor described his essay as “provocative” and published it along with several critical responses in a new section devoted to “Controversy and Debate.” Having thus gained a modicum of academic respectability for a term that will obviously appeal to those eager to belittle the trauma of the Holocaust, Lustick is now hoping to popularize his thoughts about “Holocaustia” in a new book that blames Israel for failing to end the conflict with the Palestinians through a negotiated two-state solution. As Lustick explains in his book, “the way that the Holocaust and its ‘lessons’ were eventually construed and enshrined in Israeli political culture” is one of the main factors that have doomed a two-state solution, and the failure of the two-state solution will in turn lead to the inevitable end of Israel as a Jewish state – which is clearly an outcome Lustick eagerly anticipates.

Since this is by no means Lustick’s first attempt to write an obituary for the two-state-solution and to blame Israel for killing it, his barely disguised loathing for the Jewish state should be well-known. Yet, only one of the responses to his article in Contemporary Jewry pointed out that his ostensibly “academic essay” reflects “a politically motivated, agenda- driven interpretation that is masked in scientific jargon” and relies on carefully selected source material along with “abundant quotes from authors who share a post-Zionist outlook.”

 While Lustick is once again trying hard to pose as an objective observer in his new book, it reflects his previous writings as well as public statements that leave little doubt about his own eagerness to not only promote a “post-Zionist” vision, but to also blame the Zionists for the demise of the Jewish state.

 How deeply Lustick despises Israel as the Jew among the nations is hard to overlook when he writes in his book about the Eichmann trial and asserts that “the trial as staged reminded the world of the scale of Jewish suffering and the inadequacy of international responses so as to extend the period of usable gentile sympathy and guilt.” (p. 36, my emphasis) Here is a figure familiar to any Jew-hater: the vile and wily Jew who will cynically scheme to benefit from any disaster – even the murder of six million of his fellow Jews – by ‘staging’ the trial of one of the perpetrators “so as to extend the period of usable gentile sympathy and guilt.”

 As it happens, the authors of the Hamas Charter also thought that the Jews were able to benefit from any disaster: “They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. […] They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state. […] There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it.” (Article 22)

 Not long after the reader of Lustick’s book learns about how Israel “staged” the Eichmann trial in order to benefit from it, there’s a handy explanation of “Holocaustia”: according to Lustick, the Holocaust has become “a template for Jewish life,” which means that “the categorical imperative … for any Jew is ‘Don’t be a frier!’ (a sucker) by trusting non-Jews, relying upon their goodwill, or taking risks with Jewish interests or objectives to serve supposedly universalist purposes.” (p. 37).  Once again, Jew-haters will recognize the familiar figure of the clannish Jew, obsessed with safeguarding “Jewish interests” and deeply suspicious of the rest of humanity.

 If this was the first time Lustick wrote about these issues, one would perhaps have to give him the benefit of the doubt: maybe there was sloppy editing, and maybe for the sake of keeping the book at just 150 pages of text, some corners were cut. But Lustick’s track record unfortunately suggests a very different explanation: he has long been a deeply biased, if not downright bigoted detractor of the Jewish state.

 You don’t have to be the Bess W. Heyman Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania to know that the Islamist terror group Hamas has a genocidal charter that combines Nazi-style Jew-hatred with jihadist ideology and anti-Jewish texts from the Muslim tradition. By perpetrating suicide bombings against Israeli civilians starting in the early 1990s, Hamas demonstrated just a few years after its establishment that its charter should be taken seriously, and that it would try hard to derail the unfolding Oslo peace process. The deadliest of these early suicide bombings targeted a bus in downtown Tel Aviv in October 1994; 22 civilians were killed and 50 were injured. As the New York Times reported:

“Dizengoff [street] became a ribbon of horror, with corpses scattered on the ground, body parts blown into treetops and the copper-like smell of blood thick in the air. … Pieces of human flesh landed on terraces and in trees. Firemen trimmed branches to make sure no body parts were left there. Rescue workers, including Orthodox officials from burial societies, sifted through the wreckage for arms, legs, hands.”

Just a few months later, in the spring of 1995, Ian Lustick participated in a meeting of the Middle East Policy Council in Washington, D.C., where he suggested numerous demands that Israel should be expected to meet. He also insisted that Hamas should be seen as a legitimate party in any Palestinian elections “just as [Israeli right-wing parties] Tsomet and Likud are allowed to participate in Israeli elections, although they do not endorse the peace process.”

This callous downplaying of Hamas’s murderous terrorist record became a central feature of Lustick’s approach. As far as Lustick was concerned, it was irrelevant that Hamas continued suicide bombings together with other Palestinian terror groups throughout the 1990s. It was irrelevant that with the beginning of the murderous Al-Aqsa intifada in the fall of 2000, hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed in such attacks, and thousands more were injured. It was irrelevant that opinion surveys showed enthusiastic Palestinian support for terrorism, even if the victims were not Israelis: in 2003, a stunning 72 percent of Palestinians told pollsters they felt confident that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden would “do the right thing regarding world affairs.”

While Palestinians couldn’t vote for bin Laden, they did vote for Hamas in the elections that took place in early 2006, a few months after Israel had completely withdrawn from Gaza. Ignoring all evidence to the contrary, Ian Lustick explained the election victory of the Islamist terror group by fantasizing that “Hamas is mainly popular because one of the things it is trusted to do is probably be ready to live with Israel, even if not officially, for a very long time.”

But Hamas knew better what made them popular and promptly teamed up with other terror groups to infiltrate Israel through a tunnel under the border fence in order to attack an army post. The terrorists managed to kill one officer and a soldier and to injure four, another soldier was taken hostage. After Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, rocket and mortar fire from the territory also sharply increased; in 2006 alone, Israeli communities near the border with Gaza were targeted by almost 1000 rockets – more than the combined count of the previous five years.

While many in Israel had hoped the Palestinian leaders who vowed to turn the territory into a Singapore on the Mediterranean would succeed, Hamas lost no time to demonstrate that they had other plans. Since 2006, more than 10 000 rockets have been launched from Gaza, and the ever increasing range of these rockets threatens millions of Israelis.

But as far as Ian Lustick is concerned, it doesn’t matter that Hamas destroyed all hopes that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would encourage Palestinians to create a precedent for peaceful coexistence. Indeed, as far as Lustick is concerned, the withdrawal from Gaza didn’t even give Israel the right to defend its border with the terrorist-ruled territory – which is of course also the view of Hamas.

In May of last year, Lustick wrote an impassioned defense of weekly violent border riots that Hamas had started to instigate in the spring of 2018. Lustick’s article almost reads like a sanitized version of speeches that Hamas leaders were giving at the time. While Lustick naturally leaves out chants of “Death to Israel” and calls to slaughter the Jews like in Muhammad’s time, he fully shares the view of Hamas leaders that no Jewish state should exist in the land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea.

As Lustick asserts right at the beginning of his article, it is only malice that motivates Israeli efforts to secure the border to Gaza: “The barrier enclosing the two million Palestinians ‘living’ in the Gaza Strip is not a border between two countries, as the media have insistently called it. It is a wall erected by Israel to make the suffering of those living inside the Gaza ghetto as invisible as possible to those living outside it.”

Evoking comparisons with the Warsaw Ghetto and Nazi concentration camps, Lustick adamantly denies that Israel has any right to defend its citizens against rioters who were told by Gaza’s Hamas leader to “tear down their border and tear out their hearts.” Politely ignoring such bloodcurdling threats along with the frank admission of a senior Hamas official that “when we talk about ‘peaceful resistance’ we are deceiving the public,” Lustick lashes out at Israel:

“the mounting Israeli gun violence the world has been forced to witness along the Gaza ghetto wall is, without a doubt, disgusting. For any human being, no matter what their political views or ties to Israel or to Palestinian Arabs, the continuous mass shooting of Palestinian civilians is, or should be, emotionally and spiritually intolerable. […] that it is psychologically and politically possible for Israelis to murder and maim so many men, women, and children trying to escape from the ghetto within which they have been concentrated […] is a tragic and humiliating stain on the Jewish state and the Zionist movement that created it.”

 Lustick’s message is clear: just like the Nazis, Israelis now wantonly “murder and maim … men, women, and children trying to escape from the ghetto within which they have been concentrated.”

 It may not make much sense to counter such “narratives” with facts, but it is at least worth remembering that Lustick’s Gaza “ghetto” also has a border with Egypt, where the tight restrictions and frequent closures can hardly be blamed on Israel. It is also noteworthy that in the supposedly indiscriminate “mass shooting” Lustick decried, 53 of the 62 Palestinians who were killed had been already identified as members of Hamas and other Gaza terrorist groups before his article was published. Among the Hamas casualties were eight gunmen who tried to breach the border fence. Of course, Lustick makes it clear in his article that he considers any effort to overrun Israel’s borders as entirely justified.

 While Lustick poses as a sober analyst offering an objective explanation why Israel is to blame for the failure of the two-state solution, he doesn’t really hide his conviction that the Palestinians are fully entitled to consider Israel’s existence in any borders as an intolerable evil that must be eradicated by any means. It arguably takes real cynicism to

accuse Israel of “Holocaustia” and, at the same time, insinuate that the Jewish state is as evil as the Nazi regime and that its elimination will therefore make the world a better place.

 As long as supposedly reputable academics can whitewash the murderous hatred of Islamist terror groups like Hamas and justify the goal of a Palestine “from the river to the sea” where Jews would once again be – at best – a barely tolerated minority, it shouldn’t be hard to understand that Jews in Israel and elsewhere are not quite able to view the Holocaust as some kind of distant trauma that needs to be remembered mainly when it suits a progressive universalist agenda.

Petra Marquardt-Bigman is a German-Israeli researcher and writer with a Ph.D. in contemporary history. Her recent work has focused on antisemitism and anti-Israel activism.

The Unpacking of “Holocaustia”

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