Saturday, March 11, 2006

Europe's Distortion of the Meaning of the Shoah's Memory and Its Consequences for the Jews and Israel

From an Interview with Shmuel Trigano, from Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, No. 42 1 March 2006 / 1 Adar 5766 (the original is a lengthy article, but a "must read" - unfortunately Trigano's books are only available in French) ...

  • The challenge the Shoah's memory poses to the Jews, concerns the Jewish people's legitimacy, that is, its right to exist in Europe and the Middle East. The European discourse on "the Shoah's memory" is a delusion that conceals the nonrecognition of this right.
  • There are two fundamental explanations for Europe's unwillingness to recognize the political dimension of the Jewish people and its suffering. The first has ancient Christian origins. The second is directly linked to the concept of modernity, which is incapable of accepting the identity of a collective such as the Jewish people.
  • On the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Europeans primarily remembered the Jews' victimhood. The commemorations were held in an unhealthy, sacral fashion. They abruptly followed an ongoing period of violent verbal hostility of European public opinion toward Israel and the Jewish communities. This phenomenon is significant for the European relationship to the Jews.

(Interviewed by Manfred Gerstenfeld)

...Shmuel Trigano's most recent book...refers to Europe's desire to have Israel return to its indefensible 1967 borders, understood as metaphysical borders of its sacrificial condition....Trigano discusses "the New Jewish Question," which he defines as the denial of the moral, historical, and political legitimacy of the Jewish existence as a people and therefore the negation of the state of Israel's right to sovereignty.

Trigano teaches sociology at Paris Nanterre University. In 2002 he founded L'Observatoire du Monde Juif, a research center on Jewish political life. Its publications rapidly became a prime source for understanding the position of the Jews in French society....

Europe's Distorted Matrix of Identity
...when Europe was founded, the matrix of its identity included a distorted vision of the Jews that has manifested itself over the centuries in many ways. "By now Europe has a soul that is so heavily historically loaded that it cannot change.

"I believe that the major identity crisis in Europe concerns America's overtaking it. A new 'empire,' the European Union, aspires to establish itself today in Europe. It may or may not emerge, but leads Europe into rivalry with the United States. In this process the Jews fulfill a symbolic role because they are intimately linked to European identity's own rationale while being identified with the Americans.

"Even if there will be no Jews left in Europe, there will be a Jewish question. In Poland where once millions of Jews lived and now hardly any do, this was very evident in the 1960s. There is much anti-Semitism there with almost no Jews in the country."

Trigano adds: "Europe is again dangerous for the Jews. The first years of the new century have amply demonstrated what she harbors. The Jews have become a symbolical tool for Europeans to avoid confronting as long as possible the problems posed to them by the Arab and Muslim immigration. The Middle East conflict has become a tool to mediate the complex of relationships between Europe and this immigrant population. Condemning Israel is a way for her to keep civil peace at home".

Denying Aggressors Were Muslims
"In 2001 the French Jews published a list of the numerous aggressions against them. They stated that many aggressors were Muslims. The government, instead of helping the Jews, initially accused them of being racists and tribalists.
"These accusations should have been addressed univocally against the criminal aggressors, but the Jews are the weak link in European society, which can most easily be turned into scapegoats. The French Jews were entirely powerless in confronting this. They thus become again a tool in a discourse that they have to accept passively.
"The second danger is the way in which Europe, feeling guilty, has a need to cultivate the image of the suffering Jewish victim. On the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz an entire continent came to celebrate the Jews' victimhood. This was done in an excessively sacral way, the more unhealthy because it came so abruptly after an ongoing period of violent hostility of European opinion toward Israel and the Jewish communities. It is evident that Europe adores Jews provided they are deceased. Only the dead Jewish peoplehood can be recognized. The living one is a problem."

The Passion Play of the Jews
Trigano explains that this is the recycling of a profound Christian motif. "Only if one identifies with the suffering of Jesus can one find salvation. Now this theme resurfaces in a contemporary attire. If a Westerner identifies with the suffering of the Shoah he can redeem himself of the Nazis' culpability. The memory of the Shoah becomes a modern version of the Passion of Christ. The victims are being reduced to dead bodies - a great similarity with Christ's corpse on the cross.
"Contemporary Jews do not have to accept the imposed role of (sacral) corpses. Unfortunately, all the Jewish institutions and much of the Jewish public are willing to play today this dangerous - both for their political condition and mental health - part. Here we face a conflict between two strategies: the memory of the Shoah as a basis for legitimizing the Jewish right to exist, and the Zionist position that founds this right on a positive, historical, and political (democratic!) basis.

"The creation of the Jewish state has shown the Europeans that the old Israel has not definitively died in the Shoah, and that the Diaspora is not eternal as a punishment for deicide. This is difficult to accept for old Europe. That makes the Israeli soldier a monster in the new Passion Play, in which the dead Jewish people takes the place of the Christ. They ask, how can the victim carry a gun?

"To fulfill Europe's moral needs and enable it to virginize itself anew through identification with Jewish victims, Europeans need to represent Israel as a refugee camp.

"When one identifies with the victim one is no longer an executioner. But if the victim no longer wants to play this role in today's society, then he must be presented as an executioner. Many Europeans consider Israelis as persecutors only because they are fed up with being victims. It has little to do with the Europeans' attitude toward the Palestinians, about whom they do not really care at all. They became the new victims to be exalted so as to cleanse European culpability. The Zionist Jews, however, do not want to fulfill the role destined for the Jewish people in the European mythology."

* * *
Prof. Shmuel Trigano is a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and professor of sociology at the University of Paris-Nanterre. He is director of the College of Jewish Studies at the Alliance IsraƩlite Universelle, editor of Pardes, a journal of Jewish studies, and author of numerous books, especially on Jewish philosophy and Jewish political thought. Trigano is also the founder of L'Observatoire du Monde Juif, a research center on Jewish political life.

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