Less than a month after 17 people were killed in terror attacks in Paris, including four in a kosher supermarket, the world marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on Tuesday, with ceremonies throughout Europe, Israel and North America. The remembrance takes place amid reports that European anti-Semitism is on the rise and that Jews, especially from France, are moving to Israel in increasing numbers to escape a hostile climate.
The memory of the Holocaust continues to shape the policies and international relations of the country that came out of World War II as a homeland for Jews, experts say.
“The Holocaust profoundly shapes Israeli foreign policy. I would describe it as being the original trauma -- a trauma that cast a long shadow on everything Israel does internationally,” Dov Waxman, professor of political science, international affairs and Israel studies at Northeastern University in Boston and the co-director of its Middle East Center, told International Business Times. “Even now, 70 years later, the traumatic impact is still affecting how Israel behaves in the world, how it perceives the world and how it interacts with its neighbors.”
The most direct example may be the current Israeli government's effort to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that the Iranian government has denied the Holocaust and has called for the destruction of Israel and Jews -- and that therefore it must never be allowed to possess anything that may lead to building nuclear weapons.
“The secular political right use it as an explanation for standing firm, for standing against the Iranian nuclear program,” Brent E. Sasley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington who specializes in Israeli politics and international relations, told IBTimes. He pointed to how Netanyahu frequently refers to the Holocaust in his rhetoric on the issue.
“To live under threat of another annihilation is something real,” Waxman said. “It colors the perception of the Iranian nuclear issue. It’s not just irrational regimes but sometimes dictators with genocidal ambitions.”
The Israeli right-wing parties have used the memory of the Holocaust in policies closer to home. Waxman pointed to the unending conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The Israel-Gaza conflict in the summer of 2014, settlement construction and lone-wolf terrorist attacks by Palestinians have exacerbated the conflict, and the hostility of many Israelis towards Palestinians.
“One of the reasons why so many Israeli Jews find it hard to empathize with Palestinians’ suffering is related to their own notion of victimhood,” Waxman said. Some argue, however, that the Israeli political right fails to acknowledge the suffering average Palestinians face in their daily lives. In an op-ed piece for the liberal-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Alaa Hamdan, co-director of Sikkuy, an Arab-Jewish organization working to promote equality between Arabs and Jews in Israel, pointed to how Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnapping of three Israeli teenage boys in June, but Netanyahu did not do the same when young Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in July. The piece had an eloquent title: "Jewish Israelis have no monopoly on victimhood and pain."
Outside of the Middle East, the Holocaust continues to play a role in how Israel views Europe. Waxman defines the relationship between Israel and Europe as one filled with “angst and acrimony”; many Israelis see Europe as a place that continues to harbor anti-Semitic sentiment, as seen in recent terrorist attacks that targeted Jewish institutions and individuals.
“No matter how much Europe supports Israel, trades with Israel, there is a deeply ingrained suspicion of Europe, primarily because of the Holocaust,” Waxman said. After the kosher supermarket attack in Paris where Jews were killed while buying food for the Sabbath, media reports predicted an exodus of French Jews to Israel. Other stories told of anti-Semitism in other countries, including Britain and Belgium. However, not every European Jewish community feels threatened.
“The fear is that Europe is not safe place for Jews now -- many European Jews disagree with that view,” Waxman said. This kind of rhetoric was seen after the Paris attacks, when Netanyahu told French Jews that Israel “is also your home” in an apparent reference to immigrating to Israel.
Waxman, who is Jewish and originally from Britain, says the Holocaust belongs to a broader Jewish experience. Jews everywhere, he said, “see it in nuanced terms -- through their own lives."