Saturday, August 09, 2003

Israeli blogger Shai discusses a recent Israeli television documentary about second- and third-generation descendants of Holocaust survivors, now living in Israel, applying for German passports as a hedge against worsening conditions in the Middle East. Apparently, some Israelis view this embrace of Germany as a shameful betrayal of Zionism and the memory of the Holocaust. Others consider it admirably "normal" and "post-Zionist", and see no reason why an Israeli should hesitate to obtain a German passport--any more than would, say, any other citizen of the EU (whose passport is already a de facto German passport, and who probably can also point to his or her country's mistreatment at the hands of Germany during World War II).

Surprisingly, Shai doesn't mention a plausible third view of the act: as a perfectly rational, historically informed reaction to the Holocaust. For if the traditional Zionist lesson is that the Jewish people need a politically independent homeland to survive, an understandable alternative lesson is that the Jewish people, forever on the precarious brink of annihilation, cannot afford to turn their backs on any potential source of sanctuary, however improbable. Today's Israelis may well believe that "it can't happen here"--that the nation they call their own will defend them. But then, so did the Jews of prewar Germany.

It is precisely this idea, I suspect, that some Israelis find threatening and disloyal to Zionism. For it undermines the aforementioned Zionist principle that it is only a Jewish state that can protect the Jewish people. It also implies a weakening of Israelis' resolve to hold onto their country to the bitter end, and thus might perhaps encourage Palestinian terrorists to believe that their murderous deeds are having the desired effect: demoralizing Israelis to the point of military collapse and mass population flight.

But the Jews, of all people, should have learned by now the necessity of not averting one's eyes from even the harshest, most painful of possible outcomes. Israelis who secure a secondary haven for themselves in Germany should their own home country become unsafe are still displaying far more national loyalty, after all, than the thousands who actually move abroad, to the US or elsewhere. And if--heaven forbid--the worst should happen, the very survival of the Jewish people could one day rest on the shoulders of those Jews who sought shelter in seemingly unlikely places.

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