In a powerful book written in 2006, Avram Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, argued that Jews have been so traumatized by the horrific events of the Holocaust that they have lost the ability to trust the world around them. Burg used his own family history–his parents were Holocaust survivors–to suggest Jews need to move on and eventually live in peace with their Arab neighbors and feel comfortable in the world at large. That fear still haunts most Jews in Canada today. But not all. Here are candid recollection on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and Zionism by two Canadian Jews who are members of the Advisory Council of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine. Watch and learn.
It is often easy to overlook or minimise another person’s trauma or phobia – whether it is a fear of heights, fear of the dark, or fear of spiders or snakes. To those not directly affected, it can appear irrational and be easily dismissed. This also applies to the fear of persecution.
Modern-day Israel, and the Jewish community around the world, are still strongly influenced by the memory and horrors of Hitler and the Holocaust.
The deep concern of many Zionists is the survival of the Jewish people as a whole. Many believe that Israel is an “insurance policy”. If and when anti-semitism arises again in Canada, or around the world, Jews will have a place to flee to and the Jewish people will survive.
But non Jews, whether in Canada or elsewhere, often find that fear exaggerated. After all, Canada has now recognized its shameful anti-Semitic past (from refusing Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, to excluding Jews from clubs and limiting university enrolment for Jews, but fortunately most (though not all) of that now appears to be well behind us.
And looking at Israel’s formidable military arsenal today and its “Qualitative Military Edge (“QME”), a US foreign policy directive which GUARANTEES that Israel has the military equipment to ensure it could win any war with any combination of enemies, most Canadians find it hard to accept the idea that Israel’s existence is really threatened by its neighbours at all.
But that does that mean that the trauma is not real, or that it is not a powerful motive? Those interested in promoting human rights for all, Palestinians and Israelis, make a mistake if they underestimate the trauma that remains in the Jewish community including in Canada, and ignore its effects on its actions.
Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes…
During the confinement of COVID, CTIP interviewed two members of the Advisory Council of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine, both Canadian Jews. They agreed to share, in the form of a series of short personal video interviews, what they know about the Holocaust, reflections on growing up Jewish in Canada (and the USA), their first trips to Israel, and their changing views on today’s Israel, Zionism and the situation of the Palestinians.
Arthur Milner’s parents spent several years in a refugee camp in Frankfurt, Germany, right after the war. They were Polish Jews and had lost almost all of their family – disappeared without a trace. In 1951, they brought their two kids to Montreal, where he grew up. Arthur has been very active in the Canadian theatre community, has written many plays and was Artistic Director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. His play, Facts, toured Palestine and Israel in Arabic in 2013. He currently lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Dr. David Lorge Parnas
David Parnas’ story is rather different, though with the same background of horrific events in Germany/Austria/Poland which led to the deaths of many of his own family members. Dr. Parnas’ parents (both doctors) escaped to the USA just prior to the war. He became a world famous software engineer invited to speak and teach at many universities around the world (including Israeli and Palestinian). He retired in 2008 and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Is it time to “forget” the Holocaust?
Of course not.
The Holocaust, which resulted in the deliberate extermination of nearly 19 million unwanted and unarmed civilians (including nearly 6 million Jews – almost all of Europe’s Jewry) was an unthinkably horrific act which still casts a long and dark shadow today. It should never be forgotten.
The trauma it inflicted on Jews, and the shame it rightfully cast on those who stood by and did so little to stop it, are the chief reasons that still today Israel benefits from a great deal of support around the world, despite its dispossession (and continued oppression) of the Palestinian people.
What is the issue relating the Holocaust and Palestinians?
Sometimes people defending Israel argue that two wrongs make a right. “We suffered so much in the Holocaust, that we have a right to create a Jewish state to serve as a refuge in case another Holocaust comes along. The Palestinians have to accept this.”
The issue is not whether the Jews have suffered but whether the Holocaust provides any justification for the Nakba, or for Israel’s present policies which continue to cause so much pain and loss for Palestinians?
Understanding the depth of the trauma for many and how some Jews have learned to “rise from its ashes”, is important for those who hope for a just and fair solution to the Israel/Palestine issue.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.
Want to learn more about us? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org.