A Knesset speech in a foreign language requires a preliminary authorization from the Knesset Committee. When the Knesset Committee’s chairman requested of me, as a committee member, to give my approval for a speech in a foreign language by the president of the European Parliament, I planned to agree – as is routine.
But Likud MK David Rotem was more alert than me, asking, “In what language does the European Parliament president plan to speak?”
“In German,” the chairman answered.
I thanked Rotem for calling the issue to my attention. I was the only vote against approving the speech in German. Before European Parliament President Martin Schulz began his speech, I quietly left the plenum.
Of course, I had no idea what the content of Schulz’s speech would be. I assumed the speech would be positive. My decision not to be present was not tactical; it was based on principle. It was the same principle that guided my decision not to travel with the Knesset delegation to a death camp in Poland.
Israel has been too quick to insert the quintessentially horrifying memory of the Holocaust into museums – and to leave it there. A memory that is relegated to a museum, no matter how tangible it is – even if it is Auschwitz itself – becomes a museum memory.
It is easy to figure out what would have happened if our Sages had instructed us to commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by annually visiting a museum. Not only would the memory of the Temple have been forgotten after a few generations, but the entire culture drawn from the Temple would have disappeared as well. If we would go to the museum instead of fasting, instead of breaking a glass under the marriage canopy, and instead of leaving a bare place on the wall at the entrance to our homes, I wouldn’t be here to write and you wouldn’t be here to read. We would have simply disappeared.
Seventy years ago, the world decided to rid itself of the Jews; some nations accomplished this actively, while others by default. Some built death camps, while others did not bomb them.
In his book, Eim Habanim Semeichah, Rabbi Yissachar Teichtal, may God avenge his blood, noted how U.S. Jews, most of whom feared for their own future and did not stand up to save their brethren in Europe, actually faced the same decree. While they were not in physical danger, the legitimacy for their existence was lost. The real name for World War II should be “The World War Against the Jews.”
When the parliament established by the nation that arose from the ashes relates to the Holocaust as a historical accident, the problem of a certain generation, and when we separate its memory from our current reality instead of attempting to actualize it in the here and now, we awaken sleeping monsters.
Today, we no longer hold up an accusing finger against the culture that led the world war against the Jews. We allow the language in which the destruction of our nation was planned to be spoken from the podium of our parliament. We allow the Poles to lie and claim that it was just by coincidence that the Germans “stuck” Auschwitz on their land; that they (the Jews) were perfectly fine; that there was no satanic anti-Semitism in Poland; and that there was no Polish massacre of the Holocaust survivors who attempted to return to their homes after the war.
When we separate the memory of the Holocaust from our present lives, there is no real memory and the children of the murderers dare to point an accusing finger at us – in the Knesset of Israel, in German no less. We become the new Nazis, and the Palestinians become the inheritors of the Jews who are being led off to the slaughter.
If we had demanded that the European Parliament president not speak in German, I believe the entire incident whereby the Jewish Home Party loudly protested his words and then exited the plenum would have been avoided. Why? Because our demand would have meant that Israel has an ethical claim against the world in general and the Germans in particular. If we had demanded that Schulz not speak in German, he would have been on the moral defensive – not on the moral offensive.
But as usual, we chose to flee from our responsibility to our parents and children. We chose to cut corners, to be pragmatic. After all, we can’t fight with the entire world forever!
What was the result of our pragmatism? The exact opposite of what we wanted to achieve. It is because we chose to not really deal with the memory of the Holocaust that our relationship with Germany is now worse than it was – both on our part and on theirs.
For when that ethical accusing finger is not there, the sleeping monsters in their culture wake up in the middle of the speech – yes, in the most cultured and well-mannered fashion – and just ask this innocent question: is it true that the Palestinians get less water? Yes, those are the same monsters. How could the son of the nation of murderers dare to reprimand the ethics of the children of the victims? The answer: this occurred from the moment the children of the victims buried the memory of the Holocaust in museums.
I was spared the uproar in the Knesset because I was not “pragmatic.” When we restore the memory of the Holocaust to our daily reality, we will merit much more harmony with the nations of the world. The correct approach toward our past will allow us to be pragmatic – and just – in the future.
This article originally appeared in Hebrew in Makor Rishon.