By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Aaron, the brother of Moses, received the news of the sudden and inexplicable death of his two sons – as told in last week’s Torah portion – in silence. In our days, many of those who state that silence is also the most appropriate reaction to the Holocaust – the annual commemoration of which took place earlier this week, only days after we read the story of Aaron in synagogue – take many words to say it. Others, on the other hand, use the Holocaust as an opportunity to make much noise and to justify it.
Jewish organizations all over the world dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism almost invariably, and for good reason, invoke the Sho’a as evidence of what may happen again unless every manifestation of the hatred of Jews isn’t exposed and condemned. It seems, however, that they may also deliberately distort incidents of Jew hatred today, especially in countries other than their own, in order to add legitimacy to their cause.
Norway has become a target for many such accusations. Though nobody denies the prevalence of anti-Semitism in this and other Scandinavian countries, Jews who actually live there tend to be less perturbed. On Holocaust Memorial Day I happened to have a conversation with someone intimately connected with the Norwegian Jewish community. He told me that most of the descriptions of what’s actually happening there are tendentiously distorted. Of course, we could always say that he’s in denial – just as were many Jews in Germany when the Nazis came to power there – but it’s at least equally plausible that outsiders are pursuing their own agendas at the expense of locals.
More troubling, however, is the noise that many Israeli politicians are making in commemorating the Holocaust when silence would have been more appropriate. The Prime Minister of Israel comes particularly to mind. At this year’s formal Sho’a commemoration in Jerusalem he once again linked the Holocaust with the threat of a nuclear Iran and the military might of Israel as a deterrent.
Of course, it would be irresponsible to minimize the dangers posed by Iran – particularly now when North Korea is giving ominous signals – but it’s possible that the rhetoric of the kind Netanyahu deploys may plunge Israel into a war that’s neither necessary nor winnable, but one that puts us, indeed the rest of the world, at great risk.
Israel must be well prepared and use every diplomatic tool to act in ways that will inhibit Iran from manufacturing nuclear weapons. But is it really necessary and helpful to use the day the Jewish people remembers its six million dead for yet another speech on the subject when the two minutes’ silence the country observes seems more appropriate?
An attempt to answer this question leads to a speculation whether by repeatedly speaking about Iran the prime minister of Israel is trying to avoid addressing more pressing issues of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Is it possible, I’ve heard people ask, that, now in his third term in office, Binyamin Netanyahu has lost much control of the government he leads and, therefore, escapes into rhetoric?
Needless to say, his supporters will vehemently deny the implied accusation. His detractors, on the other hand, point to evidence that would support it. Perhaps, like those international Jewish organizations, Netanyahu too uses the Holocaust to justify his existence. If that’s the case, the memory of the victims will have been callously desecrated. To remain silent may still be as close to respectful homage as we can come.