Everyone deals with trauma in different ways. Getting violently attacked on a street late at night. Watching a loved one murdered in front of your eyes. Feeling the fire on your skin as your home burns. It's not just the pain of the experience, it's realizing afterward how your world has changed and that your life will never be the same.
There are two basic human responses to an assault. I will protect myself. I will make the world a better place. The first deals with the risk of an attack. The second with your feelings about the world. The first leaves you better able to cope with an attack. The second makes you feel better about the world.
The Jewish response to the Holocaust fell into these two categories. Never Again and Teach Tolerance. And the two responses were segmented by population. Never Again became the credo of Israel and Teach Tolerance became the credo of the Western Diaspora. There were many Israelis who believed in teaching tolerance and many Western Jews who believed in self-defense, but for the most part the responses were structural. And yet the divide between Nationalists and Universalists also predated the Holocaust.
The Holocaust was a transformative event, but only to a degree, the responses to it came out of earlier debates that had been going on for two generations. Before the Holocaust, the Czarist pogroms had led to the same fork in the road between a collective struggle for a better world and national self-defense. The current debates about Israel revisit an old argument that has been going on for well over a century.
To the Nationalists, the Holocaust was not an unexpected event. Nationalist leaders like Jabotinsky had warned repeatedly that it was coming. To the Universalists however, it was an inexplicable event because it challenged the entire progressive understanding of history as a march to enlightenment. Violent bigotry was a symptom of reactionary backward thinking, not something that modern countries would engage in. There might be anti-semitism in Berlin, but there wouldn't be mass murder. That was for places like Czarist Russia, but not for the enlightened Soviet Russia or Weimar Germany.
The Universalists seemed to have a point. The Beilis blood libel case had been treated as a medieval freak show by Western newspapers. Czarist pogroms received widespread coverage and condemnation. Some on the Russian left, Jewish socialists among them, justified and even excused the atrocities, but they were a minority. And when the Daily Worker, the organ of the Communist Party in New York, praised the Hebron Massacre, it resulted in a news vendor boycott that banished it from the shelves.
Even clear thinkers could have been forgiven for seeing two worlds, one modern and one backward. These worlds could worked best in the big picture, the details were often a little fuzzy. The USSR had begun repressing its Jewish minority, along with a whole range of groups the Communists did not care for, with no protests from the same press and intellectuals who had denounced the same behavior by the Czarist regime. And many liberal intellectuals had a habit of engaging in gutter anti-semitism that seemed at odds with their enlightened status, but like the followers of cult leaders who preached chastity and practiced debauchery, everyone knew better than to mention it.
The Holocaust dissolved that mirage of a better world. It was a mugging in broad daylight on the biggest street of the biggest city in the world. Its message was that there is no law or progress, that the world had not changed and that human beings had not magically become transformed into better people because Berlin had a subway and phone calls could be made across the Atlantic. Most people did not understand that message and to the extent that they did, they resisted it.
The Holocaust did not heal the divide between the Universalists and the Nationalists, it deepened it. Israel was the issue, but it wasn't the real issue, it was what a Jewish State symbolized, a turning away from the great dream of the Brotherhood of Man for another reactionary ethno-religious state. Beinart may play the fool and pretend that there is something new in a clash between liberalism and Israel, but that clash was there all along. It is the conflict between Never Again and Teach Tolerance.
To so many Jewish liberals, Israel is coded with the dangerous message that Jews are no longer committed to the great humanitarian revolution and the dream of a better world. That they would rather claim a chunk of real estate and protect it, than join the workers and peasants of the world in the ranks of the social justice movements, that they would rather cling to a narrow identity than melt into a borderless brotherhood of man.
That was why Israel was controversial long before 1948. It was why everyone on the left from Lenin to H.G. Wells denounced the idea and denounced the Jews as selfish counterrevolutionary bastards for wanting such a thing. It is why it is still controversial today.
The Holocaust temporarily silenced some of the criticism, not just because it made anti-semitism slightly unfashionable, but because it badly weakened the Universalist argument. And a showdown between the British Empire, some of their royal Arab puppets and a bunch of Jewish militias made it harder for the left to side against Israel-- that had to wait until the Arab puppets joined up with the Soviet Union and the progressive camp.
As the Nationalists began steadily winning elections in Israel, and the country became more of a madcap combination of Hong Kong and Amish Country, rather than the Kibbutz and cafe radical poets meeting that many Jewish liberals imagined it to be, the incompatibility deepened. Sure Israel has equal rights, gay bars, people who play guitars in public places and chant for a better world. But it also has skyscrapers, soldiers and soccer riots. It's a country with a capital C, a real place, rather than an ideal one.
Zionism led to a schism on the left, a raw angry split slowly being won by the Anti-Zionist camp which has been plugging away at the same bad universalist ideas that Jewish liberals like Beinart occasionally drag out of the trash can and display like some new discovery. The Zionist left tried to bridge the gap through bad economics and wishful thinking. The Peace Process was its last gasp. Israel has a Zionist center and a Zionist right, but no Zionist left.
Western Jewish liberals have always been vaguely ashamed of Israel. They used to understand the need for it and the desire for it in their gut, even as their ideological minds struggled against it. As time passed and the dust and ashes settled, that unspoken gut feeling faded, because things you do not say and cannot rationally defend are hard to pass down to future generations.
The Holocaust museums were built, the books were written and tours conducted into Anne Frank's attic, but the understanding of what these things meant was not passed down. The only lesson was to make the world a better place by teaching everyone to be tolerant so that history would not repeat itself. As if any amount of courses and slides on tolerance could stop history from repeating itself.
That is the Holocaust in its universalized form. Never Again made the Holocaust a teachable moment for Jews. Teach Tolerance made it a teachable moment for all mankind. The Nationalist and the Universalist draw two opposite lessons from the Holocaust. The Nationalists focus on resistance while the Universalists focus on persecution. The Nationalist aspires to be a ghetto fighter while the Universalist aspires to be a good German.
The Universalist version of the Holocaust is a lesson on how we must all aspire to be good Germans, its natural lesson is that our governments, at least the non-progressive ones, are embryonic Third Reichs, which are only one flag waving leader away from opening concentration camps, and must be opposed and undermined. And so there are plenty of young Jewish and non-Jewish boys and girls who smash Jewish store windows and throw stones at Jewish soldiers, out of a desire to be good Germans. If they manage to destroy Israel and all its Jews, then they'll be the best Germans of all.
This madness follows naturally from Universalist doctrine which does not mention the English boys, who were being good Germans before the time when those words meant anything to anyone, were gathering at anti-war rallies or the role of the left in undermining military action against Hitler, particularly after the Hitler-Stalin pact. It does not mention the leftist intellectuals who insisted that the Allies were no better than the Nazis. Why would they? People might draw sordid conclusions about their modern peers who insist that America is no better than Al-Qaeda or that Israel is no better than Hamas.
The Holocaust did not divert most Jewish Universalists from their course, no more than the pogroms or any other pivotal event did. For every Herzl who realized that the Universalist vision was bunk and worked toward a Jewish state, there were far more who went on preaching the same tired mantras of peace and justice for all, a new red dawn for the human race. And when the gulags and gas chambers were done, after wars of extermination launched three times by Arab Muslim alliances and all the rest of it, they are still holding on to the podium and denouncing Zionism as an obstacle to the progress of mankind.
The debate over Israel is only one of many such fights between Universalists and Nationalists of every creed and from every nation. It is a struggle between those who believe that nations, religions and cultures have innate worth, and those who believe that they can only exist on sufferance as vehicles of progressivism, until the time comes when mankind will have moved beyond the need for such crutches and becomes one great jello bowl of togetherness.
The Universalists go on commemorating the Holocaust, but they don't understand what it means. They don't believe that they are living within history, but at some tail end of history, a cosmic event horizon before a new era of global awareness kicks in. To them left-wing anti-semitism is "The New Anti-Semitism", though only people who have not been paying attention could call it that. And the Holocaust was also a new event to them, rather than part of the continuity of Jewish history which had seen massacres in every age. To them there is no Pharaoh, Haman, Chmelnitsky, no sack of Jerusalem, poisoned wells and bodies burning in the public square. Everything is new to them and they are always being surprised by all the old things that keep showing up.
Anti-Semitism? Didn't that go away in 1945? The Holocaust? Do you mean the one in Sudan or Rwanda? And on and on, they step out of doors only to find its raining and then debate the need for an umbrella and its impact on the environment. They are forever being surprised by events because they have no context. They are certain each time that the world has become a better place, and there is no need, as Einstein testified shortly after the Holocaust, for a Jewish State, as surely such an event could never happen again. History to them is always ending, and yet it never seems to finally end.
The significance of the Holocaust is the significance of history, and those who do not believe in history, who have cut themselves off from their own history, have no hope of grasping it. When the left looks at the Holocaust, as when it looks at anything else, it sees only the mirror of its own ideology, it manipulates everything into its own template until all the organic significance is gone, and its agenda sits enthroned on the corpse of history.
Israel did not emerge out of the Holocaust, it emerged out of a history in which the Holocaust was only another link in a chain of events, a pattern of outcomes. To say otherwise is to reject history, which is a thing the Universalists habitually do. The only way for them to continue repeating their folly is to kill history, so that everything is always new and so that no one learns anything from the past except to repeat their homilies and history becomes their educational theme park.
The Universalists, like the Nazis, sought to wipe out the Jewish people, as they seek to wipe out all people. Their genocide was to be a soft genocide, as H.G. Wells envisioned in a book that was published the year that Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, "Between 1940 and 2059 in little more than a century, this antiquated obdurate culture disappeared. It and its Zionist state, its kosher food, the Law and all the rest of its paraphernalia, were completely merged in the human community."
The method of the Wellsian final solution was fundamentally different from the Hitlerian one, where Hitler believed that the Jewish people had to be exterminated by physically forcing them out of the body of the Aryan race, Wells believed that they had to be exterminated by forcing them into the body of a shapeless human community. The final outcome either way was the same.
While we remember the Nazi Holocaust, those who want the Jewish people to disappear are still working toward 2059. And they have no shortage of Jewish assistants who are eager to complete the task, believing that a humanitarian utopia waits on the other side of the gas chamber door. The Jewish Universalists lost faith in G-d, but they did not lose faith in humanity. They still believe with all their hearts that if we strum the guitar loudly enough and sing, "Imagine", that a better world will appear behind that door. Disbelieving in history, they have forgotten that the last time that door was opened in Russia, there was barbed wire and bitter cold on the other side.
Jewish Nationalists understood what was coming last time. They understand what is coming this time. Yet no matter how many times they are proven right, from Warsaw to Jerusalem, the beautiful dreamers refuse to listen to the pattern of history which proves them wrong. They're still waiting for the European Union, the United Nations, for the dead hand of history to let go and the better world to be born out of the ashes of the old, out of the ashes of the Zionist state, its kosher food and its law.
We all die, sooner or later. It is what we leave behind that ventures into the uncertain future that gives us life. History is the road map that charts where the past lives that made ours possible has gone and shows us where the lives that we make possible may go. The Universalist Holocaust would burn those maps and kill our future for their better world. The Nazis have been defeated, the last of them is dying now, but the Universalists continue their long war against us.