Defiance, not denial

In Ha’aretz, Amnon Be’eri Sulitzeanu’s analyses apparent Holocaust denial on the part of Israel’s Arab citizens:

“In a correct reading of the situation of Arab citizens, the “denial” of the Holocaust should not be understood as a lack of knowledge of the subject or as a failure to recognize its importance for the Jewish people, but as simple defiance: “If you don’t recognize us and our pain, we will retaliate by not recognizing your pain.” Paradoxically, the painful use of “denial” by the Arabs polled in the survey actually implies recognition of the Holocaust and of the depth of the pain it represents for the Jews.

This complexity assumes an additional current and tragic dimension, because the decision of the Education Ministry regarding the matriculation exam is being made parallel to a series of steps by the government, including legislation, whose objective is to forbid Arab citizens and groups from teaching or commemorating − even in a low-key manner − the historical story of the Palestinian tragedy that took place with the establishment of the State of Israel, the Nakba, and to persecute and punish those who do so. In that sense, we can assume that if the above-mentioned survey were to be conducted now, the percentage of Arab “Holocaust deniers” would skyrocket.”

Read the whole thing. Denial is a dangerous game to play. For the adults it may be a tactic, but what will the children understand?

8 Responses to “Defiance, not denial”

  1. Comment is not free Says:

    This is a somewhat problematic reading.
    The correspondent is probably right to a degree. However,

    1. Many outside Israel have been taught about the Holocaust, but many (nowhere near the same percentage of Arab citizens in Israel) still deny its existence.

    2. Holocaust denial exists in the Arab world in the strict meaning of the term; one need only think of Iran who, of course, is both an ideological and material backer of Hamas.

    3. Palestinian ideologies are not only the products of what Israel does or does not teach or what they do and do not do. They exist independently of Israel (although relate to Israel). Arab citizens of Israel are nowhere near as parochial as the correspondent thinks.

    Is it not about time that Israelis, not matter their good intentions, allow the Palestinians both inside and outside Israel the dignity of agency?

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      I agree with you to an extent, CisnF. Even where Holocaust denial can be explained away as a tactic, it is antisemitic, regardless of its intentions. The most threatening version of Nakba narrative (as I understand it, that Israel is a catastrophe which happened to Palestinians and which needs to be eliminated) is bound to entrench conflict positions. If the refusal to recognise the Holocaust is a tactic, and the suppression of the Nakba is a tactic, what isn’t a tactic? Is mourning the Nakba a tactic? My worry is that for the children raised in this weird world where truth is sacrificed for political tactics, the distinction won’t be clear, and the largely consensual mosaic approach to multiculturalism in Israel will ratify these stupid and wounding games, if they haven’t already. You’re right that Palestinians have agency. But the Israeli government has ultimate power over the curriculum of state schools and this act of increasing Holocaust studies and outlawing public Nakba mourning doesn’t address the politics underlying this tactic of Holocaust denial (if such it is).

  2. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    The comments above, and the understanding of the situation offered in the article, suggest that the notion of freedom of thought in the Israeli education system is under threat. If true, this is a great shame. While no education system (at least, not in societies that proclaim themselves – and would appear from outside – to be free, liberal and democratic) can or should permit outright untruths to be promulgated to impressionable minds, neither should the existence of alternative interpretations of the world be denied.

    Thus, as noted in the Ha’aretz article and in the comments above, there is a very real alternative narrative around the events of 1947-48, depending on ethnicity. It matters not that the influx of Zionist Jews from c1870 was legal and property purchases by them sanctioned by the Turkish authorities, that the communal violence of the first half of the 20th Century was initiated by the Arabs, that the events of 1947-48 (whether called the Israeli War of Independence or the Nakba) can be argued as being caused by the Arabs refusal to accept the UN 1947 Resolution on Partition, the effects were large and catastrophic for the Arab population of Palestine.

    I have relatives all over the world, from the Americas to the antipodes. Subject only to my wishes to do so and my financial resources, I am able to visit all of them freely. The same cannot be said for the Arab families separated by the events of 1948.

    For those in the Israeli government and bureaucracy responsible for overseeing the education system available to Arab-Israelis not to permit an appropriately nuanced teaching of this can only perpetuate the situation described in the article. After all, we are frequently told that opinion polls carried out among the Arab-Israeli population show a marked preference for living in Israel rather than in a single, bi-national state, likely to be dominated by Islamists and Jihadists, however much life in Israel falls short of genuine equality.

    How long will this last, if genuine concerns about their place in the world are not addressed through the education system?

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Israel would have to go some before it became as unstable and repressive as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon or Syria. But that doesn’t change the fact that unfreedoms make people miserable, and this particular unfreedom is discriminatory – Jewish heritage in that strip of land is officially and systematically celebrated (as it should be), but Palestinian history – after a brief window of Yuli Tamir’s Nakba Studies from 2007 – is once again suppressed.

      (The most radical thing would be a movement for children to be educated together, hear each others’ grandparents’ stories. I hasten to add that England is moving the other way, having just legislated against any new local authority schools.)

  3. Gideon Swort Says:

    Suppressed is a strong word Mira. You can point out Government policy, and yet the reality is that children are taught their own people’s historical narrative at schools. Some of the History I was taught at school (UK) directly contradicted another nation’s narrative (France/Germany/India/Kenya/Palestine/Rhodesia etc…).
    Teaching in Israeli schools (where my children are concerned) includes a much wider perspective than I encountered in the UK. My kids understand the Nakba on many levels, and yet they got their knowledge at school. I can assure you in this instance that “suppression” doesn’t hold water here.
    Check your premises.

  4. Isca Stieglitz Says:

    I would really like to hear directly from schools and children on this. My friends’ children were well versed in the Palestinian-moslem-christian-jewish-et al situation and accompanying histories. Of course, as Gideon above says, there is a natural bias as in any country’s history classes.
    Having had history lessons in many countries I could say we are all guilty of gilding the lily. As with most schools, it really depends on one’s teacher.
    My friends’ children are very cogent and empathic and I experienced that in the majority during my time in Israel, at all levels. Naturally, there were examples of the opposite view.
    There’s hope yet I feel.

  5. Brian Robinson Says:

    I should like to inject this piece of information, although it’s not directly related to the discussion on Holocaust denial, but it does relate to the poverty of attention the left has given to oppression within Arab states compared to the obsessive focus on Israeli human rights abuses.

    A friend writes that as a result of correspondence with me, he investigated and could find no Yemeni or Bahreini opposition groups in the UK. It seems that the Syrians have a tiny group with a radio station which, according to a report in the Independent, has been funded by the USA for 5 years, and this is felt to have compromised it.

    I don’t think the anti-Israel left has really been able to deal, yet, with what is being called the Arab awakening. It has disturbed their easy Manichaeism.

  6. Noga Says:

    Ruth Gavison (Israeli Law professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; also a Senior Fellow Emeritus at the Israel Democracy Institute) on the question of narratives, education and nationality:

    “A third example concerns education policy, and in particular the question of whether Israel’s educational system should openly promote Jewish identity and the state’s Jewish character in its Jewish public schools. In recent years, this has been the subject of a lively public debate, a fact that is itself highly commendable.32 However, in the heat of the argument several important issues have frequently been overlooked. For example, while it is agreed that education for Jewish and Zionist identity should not take the form of mindless indoctrination, neither is it possible to reduce education to a dispassionate exercise in the comparative study of cultures. A proper education will give students the tools they need to examine their Jewish identity with a critical eye, and in some cases this education might even lead a student to disassociate himself from that identity. But even if education cannot be value-neutral—and by definition it never is—it has to be committed to both truth and a sense of perspective. Jewish education in Israel cannot ignore the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict and the disagreements about it that prevail today. Ignoring the more unpleasant parts of the historical record only weakens students’ ability to address the conflict properly, and makes it harder for them to criticize Israel’s actions while maintaining a sense of national loyalty. The richer and more complex the sense of identity, the stronger and more secure it will be.
    Obviously a different approach must be taken in the Arab sector. The educational system for Israeli Arabs should strengthen Arab cultural identity and, as a result, alleviate fears that life in a Jewish state means weakening the bonds that have traditionally connected them with the Arab people. The Israeli Arab educational system should also promote awareness of minority rights and emphasize the fact that Israel is a democracy committed to the principle of non-discrimination, even if it may fall short in practice, and that it allows a variety of legal means for defending one’s rights and dignity. Importantly, it must instill in Israeli Arabs an understanding that their Israeli citizenship is part of their identity, even if they find it wanting. This citizenship means, among other things, allegiance to the state and respect for its laws, and acknowledging the right of the majority to determine the basic character of the state.
    From the argument that the ongoing presence of a Jewish state is justified, one should not draw the conclusion that Arab citizens unhappy with the state’s character should resign themselves to it. The Arabs’ political struggle to change the character of Israel is legitimate, even if I do not share their aspirations. Yet it is crucial that this struggle be conducted under two constraints: First, it should take place only within the confines of the democratic “rules of the game”; second, so long as the majority prefers to maintain Israel’s Jewish character (again, without violating the basic rights of Arab citizens), this choice is legitimate. The state is justified in acting to preserve Israel’s Jewish nature, and this fact should not be used to delegitimize the state at home or abroad. In recent years, the commitment of Arab citizens to these two conditions has been anything but clear-cut, further complicating Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. ”

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