Last week the Goethe institute in Tel Aviv postponed the event “Understanding the pain of the others” that was scheduled for November 13th, 2022.
According to the Goethe Institute, “The remembrance of the Shoah and the commemoration of the victims is of utmost importance to the Goethe-Institut and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. The Goethe-Institut dedicates numerous projects to it in Israel and worldwide and stands for understanding and dialogue. The event “Understanding the pain of the others” was originally set to take place on November 9th in Tel Aviv. It was a very unfortunate decision to choose this date which we corrected. The public discourse that has developed in Germany and Israel in the run-up to the event has made it impossible to carry out the event appropriately. Since we are expecting disruptions to the event, we cannot guarantee a safe implementation of the panel discussion at this point. The important topic of remembrance culture cannot be addressed in the way it needs to under these circumstances. The Goethe-Institut and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation have therefore decided to postpone the event that was scheduled to take place on November 13th to a later date. We will go back to the drawing board and listen to different opinions and voices from the public discourse. We regret that this event was subject to public criticism before it even took place to an extend that we had no choice but to postpone it again.”
However, Dani Dayan, the chairman of Yad Vashem, announced that the event would be canceled entirely. Dayan wrote on Twitter, “Earlier today, I spoke at length with the Chairman of the Board of the worldwide Goethe Institute Mr. Johannes Ebert. At the end of our in-depth conversation, Mr. Ebert assured me that the event will not take place. Wise decision.”
The event was to feature a dialogue between three people, Amos Goldberg of the Hebrew University, Bashir Bashir of Van Leer Institute Jerusalem, and Charlotte Wiedemann, a journalist expert on intercultural communication and postcolonial thought, with a focus on Islamic life. She has authored seven books, including on Iran. Her most recent book, Den Schmerz der Anderen begreifen. Holocaust und Weltgedächtnis (Understand the pain of others. Holocaust and world memory). In an interview after the publication of her book, she said, “we can see the most striking contrast between colonial victims and Holocaust victims, but if we take a closer look, we can also see a pattern of hierarchies applied to Nazi victims. Roma and Sinti used to be very close to Jews in the Nazi ideology, also constituting a race which had to be exterminated entirely. But their status in the public memory culture of today is much closer to African colonial victims: no voice, no respect. I call them “the victims who are not missed” in my book. Roma and Sinti in fact remain the most discriminated minority in Europe today. To conclude, there is an economy of empathy which is at the same time an economy of values attached to different lives. We should include in the picture that this economy has also been structured by recent wars and by the treatment of victims in these wars. Victims of drone strikes in Afghanistan were considered ‘collateral damage’ or – as I put it in my books – as neglectable lives. ‘As if they had never existed’ is a common statement by the relatives of those victims whose deaths have never been acknowledged, not to speak of the lack of payment of any compensation.”
Wiedemann’s narrative fits well with the accounts of Goldberg and Bashir.
Goldberg and Bashir’s thesis can be described as “the Shoah [Holocaust] and the Nakba are two interlinked catastrophes.” When a Palestinian is asked about the Holocaust, he often brings up the Nakba, “the displacement of Palestinians associated with the founding of the state of Israel.” Goldberg, an Israeli Holocaust researcher, and Bashir, a Palestinian political scientist, have “developed a concept aimed at promoting dialogue about these two interlinked national traumas.” At a linguistic level, there is a parallel between the two terms because both words mean “catastrophe.”
The Goldberg-Bashir collaboration goes some years back. In 2007, the Jerusalem-based Van Leer Institute invited Jewish and Arab educational theorists to discuss the issue of the Holocaust. It soon became evident that the Israelis and Palestinians were having great difficulties “relating to the trauma experienced by the other.” The meetings received financial support from the Heinrich Boll Foundation, a German think tank with close ties to the German Green Party.
In the summer of 2009, the group met for a workshop at the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin. This is when Holocaust researcher Goldberg, who was part of the team running the dialogue group, met Palestinian political scientist Bashir. Bashir gave a lecture about Arab attitudes to the Holocaust and mentioned the Nakba in his lecture. At the same time, Arab Palestinian participants from Israel also insisted on discussing the Palestinian catastrophe. The controversial nature of the discussions spurred Goldberg and Bashir to consider another form of dialogue. They wrote a paper that compared the Shoah and the Nakba (without equating them with each other), reflected on their comparable importance in the collective memory of the respective groups, and called for “mutual empathy.” Bashir and Goldberg’s introduction to the book translates as “Reflections on memory, trauma and nationalism in Israel/Palestine.”
Goldberg and Bashir published a shorter version in the Journal of Genocide Research in 2014. The authors wanted to discuss in detail the differences in attitudes. They said that the “Shoah was, in terms of its scale, not comparable with any other event that as such is considered singular.” But since “the Holocaust has become the ultimate symbol of evil… any attempt to connect it even loosely with other chapters of the history of violence is quickly suspected of being an attempt to trivialize the Holocaust.”
They argue that “while the Shoah is over as an historical event and the Jewish people have, despite the trauma, been able to get back on its feet again, the Palestinians are to this day, in a position of political, military, economic, and cultural weakness because of the consequences of the Nakba.”
According to Goldberg and Bashir, there is an “asymmetry in the national catastrophes of both peoples from a moral point of view: the Palestinians were not to blame for the Holocaust, but the Israelis were responsible for the displacement and flight of the Palestinians and for their discrimination in Israel and oppression in the Occupied Territories.”
According to Goldberg and Bashir, a “rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians, who both see themselves as victim communities, is made more difficult above all because the Shoah and the Nakba are used equally to legitimize national claims.” Both scientists feel that it should be possible to integrate the catastrophe of the other into one’s own narrative without abandoning the “ultimate claim to justice.” Both scientists considered American historian Dominick LaCapra’s concept of “empathic unsettlement” to be helpful in this.
Despite all the scientific-sounding jargon, efforts to equate the Holocaust and the Nakba are essentially propaganda exercises by those who want to demonize the Jewish state. Diminishing and distorting the Holocaust is the newest trick in this game. Holocaust denial became too crude a tool for the more sophisticated circles of anti-Zionists. Incidentally, Dani Dayan is now on a speaking tour in the United States, where he warns that Holocaust distortion is now more dangerous than Holocaust denial.
In some ways, the Goldberg-Bashir comparison is even more insidious than simple Holocaust distortion.
Jews had no choice whatsoever when they were loaded on the trains and dispatched to Auschwitz, Treblinka, and other extermination camps. The Palestinians had a choice and made the wrong one. The Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin al Husseini, a Nazi collaborator, ordered the riots of 1936-39, where numerous Jews were killed. His ultimate goal, which he discussed with Hitler in Berlin, was to establish extermination camps in Palestine; only the British victory in El Alamein over the Nazis spared the Jews the fate of their European brothers. In 1947, when the United Nations voted for a division of Palestine into two states – a larger one for the Palestinians and a smaller one for the Jews – the Palestinians and their Arab supporters started a war that they had the misfortune to lose. In 1993, when Israel and Yasser Arafat negotiated the Oslo peace, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, under orders from Iran, started a terror campaign that squashed all chances of peace. This is the real reason that “the Palestinians are to this day, in a position of political, military, economic, and cultural weakness because of the consequences of the Nakba.” This is on top of the fact that the Palestinian Authority has run a highly corrupt state, according to Transparency International.
Goldberg, whom IAM profiled before, is essentially an academic activist. As a rule, activists use their writings to tarnish the West, the United States, and, in his case, Israel. On the flip side, the same activists burnish the image of the enemies of the West, especially Iran. Not incidentally, Wiedemann was criticized for her pro-Iranian regime views by Danyal Casar in the German weekly paper Jungle World.
Goldberg was hired to teach and research the Holocaust. His incessant activism detracts from his primary duty.
נדחהלהבין את כאבו של האחר
מכון גתה והנציגות הישראלית של קרן רוזה לוקסמבורג מודיעים על דחיית האירוע “להבין את כאבו של האחר”, שהיה עתיד להתקיים ב-13 בנובמבר, למועד אחר.
זכר השואה וקורבנותיה הוא נר לרגליהם של מכון גתה וקרן רוזה לוקסמבורג. רבות מפעילויות מכון גתה בישראל וברחבי העולם הוקדשו ומוקדשות להנצחתם. המכון דוגל בהידברות ובדיאלוג. הבחירה בתאריך המקורי שנקבע לאירוע “להבין את כאבו של האחר” בתל אביב, ה-9 בנובמבר, הייתה החלטה מצערת שתוקנה מאז. אך לצערנו, השיח הציבורי שהתפתח בגרמניה ובישראל בימים שקדמו לאירוע אינו מאפשר את קיום האירוע באופן הולם.
מאחר שצפויות הפרעות משמעותיות לקיומו, אין באפשרותנו להבטיח את ביטחון הדיון והדוברים.ות בו. זאת אינה הדרך הראויה לדון בנושא החשוב לאין ערוך של תרבות הזיכרון.
לפיכך, מכון גתה וקרן רוזה לוקסמבורג החליטו במשותף לדחות למועד אחר את האירוע שתוכנן ל-13 בנובמבר. את הימים הבאים נקדיש לדיון מעמיק בתכנונו מחדש בהתייעצות עם מומחים.ות מן התחום.
אנחנו מצרים על כך שההתנגדות לאירוע עוד לפני שהתקיים לא הותירה לנו בררה אלא לדחותו בשנית.
Statement in English
The Goethe-Institut and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation are postponing the event “Understanding the pain of the others” that was to take place on November 13th to a later date.
The remembrance of the Shoah and the commemoration of the victims is of utmost importance to the Goethe-Institut and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. The Goethe-Institut dedicates numerous projects to it in Israel and worldwide and stands for understanding and dialogue. The event “Understanding the pain of the others” was originally set to take place on November 9th in Tel Aviv. It was a very unfortunate decision to choose this date which we corrected.
The public discourse that has developed in Germany and Israel in the run-up to the event has made it impossible to carry out the event appropriately. Since we are expecting disruptions to the event, we cannot guarantee a safe implementation of the panel discussion at this point. The important topic of remembrance culture cannot be addressed in the way it needs to under these circumstances.
The Goethe-Institut and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation have therefore decided to postpone the event that was scheduled to take place on November 13th to a later date. We will go back to the drawing board and listen to different opinions and voices from the public discourse.
We regret that this event was subject to public criticism before it even took place to an extend that we had no choice but to postpone it again.
דיון בהשתתפות: שרלוטה וידמן (Charlotte Wiedemann), בשיר בשיר, עמוס גולדברג
מנחה: אינגה גינתר
כמעט 75 שנה לאחר הקמת מדינת ישראל, הזיכרון נותר שטח שנוי במחלוקת מבחינה פוליטית. היהודים מתמקדים בשואה, ואילו הפלסטינים מתמקדים בשנה הגורלית 1948, שבה מאות אלפים מהם היו קורבנות של בריחה וגירוש בידי לוחמים יהודים, שנה המכונה בערבית ה”נכבה” (אסון). בספרה “להבין את כאבו של האחר” מציעה העיתונאית שרלוטה וידמן זיכרון אמפתי חדש שמקדם צדק וסולידריות בין הצדדים השונים על פני תחרות בין קורבנות. בכל הנוגע לפרקטיקות הזיכרון בגרמניה היא משוכנעת שיש לפתח מודעות לפשעים הקולוניאליים של התקופה האימפריאלית וכי אין בכך כדי להטיל ספק בייחודיותה של השואה.
שרלוטה וידמן היא פובליציסטית וכתבת זרה. מאמריה הופיעו בין היתר ב-Die Zeit, Geo ו-Le Monde Diplomatique. וידמן בעלת טור ב”taz” ומעבירה הרצאות. היא פרסמה ספרים רבים בנושאים בינלאומיים.
„Den Schmerz der anderen begreifen. Holocaust und Weltgedächtnis“ (Propyläen, 2022) (להבין את כאבו של האחר. השואה וזיכרון העולם)
בצל השתיקה ששררה במשפחתה היא עוקבת אחר הוויכוחים סביב האחריות הגרמנית לנציונל-סוציאליזם כבר ארבעה עשורים.
בשיר בשיר הוא פרופסור חבר לתיאוריה פוליטית באוניברסיטה הפתוחה ועמית מחקר בכיר במכון ון ליר בירושלים. תחומי מחקרו כוללים תיאוריה דמוקרטית, לאומיות, אזרחות, רב-תרבותיות והפוליטיקה של הפיוס.
בשיר בשיר ועמוס גולדברג (עורכים), השואה והנכבה: זיכרון, זהות לאומית ושותפות יהודית ערבית, תל אביב: מכון ון ליר והקיבוץ המאוחד 2015.
The Arab and Jewish Questions: Geographies of Engagement in Palestine and Beyond (Columbia University Press, 2020)
(השאלה הערבית והשאלה היהודית: גיאוגרפיות של מחויבות בפלסטין ומחוצה לה)
עמוס גולדברג הוא פרופסור חבר בחוג להיסטוריה של עם ישראל ויהדות זמננו וחבר במכון המחקר ליהדות זמננו באוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים. במשך עשרות שנים עסק בחקר השואה וזכרה בצומת שבין היסטוריה, תיאוריה ביקורתית וספרות. מחקריו ופרסומיו מתמקדים בין היתר בחקר הטראומה.
עמוס גולדברג, טראומה בגוף ראשון: כתיבת יומנים בתקופת השואה (הגרסה האנגלית ראתה אור בהוצאת אוניברסיטת אינדיאנה, 2017)
בשיר בשיר ועמוס גולדברג (עורכים), השואה והנכבה: זיכרון, זהות לאומית ושותפות יהודית ערבית, תל אביב: מכון ון ליר והקיבוץ המאוחד 2015.
עמוס גולדברג הוא אחד היוזמים והמחברים של הצהרת ירושלים על אנטישמיות.
אינגה גינתר עבדה ככתבת בישראל ובפלסטין במשך יותר מעשרים שנה, בין היתר עבור הפרנקפורטר רונדשאו והברלינר צייטונג. היא זכתה בכמה פרסים על כתיבתה העיתונאית, האחרון שבהם “פרס העיתונאי” מטעם היוזמה הגרמנית למזרח התיכון בשנת 2017. לצד ברלין הפכה ירושלים לביתה השני מסיבות מקצועיות ואישיות.
פתיחת דלתות בשעה 18:30
תחילת האירוע בשעה 19:00
ניתן לצפות באירוע באמצעות זום!
إعلان باللغة العربية
בשיתוף קרן רוזה לוקסמבורג ישראל
אירוע על השואה והנכבה שייערך במכון גרמני בת”א מעורר ביקורת ישראלית ויהודית
האירוע, שכותרתו “השואה, הנכבה ותרבות הזיכרון הגרמנית”, מאורגן על ידי מכון גתה בחסות קרן הקשורה למפלגת שמאל קיצוני בגרמניה. הוא תוכנן להיערך מחר, יום השנה לליל הבדולח, אך נדחה בכמה ימים בעקבות הביקורת. משרד החוץ: “האירוע הוא בושה וחרפה ומן הראוי שלא יתקיים בשום תאריך בלוח השנה”
08 בנובמבר 2022
אירוע שכותרתו “להבין את כאבו של האחר: השואה, הנכבה ותרבות הזיכרון הגרמנית”, שתוכנן להתקיים מחר (רביעי) במכון גתה בתל אביב, מעורר ביקורת בישראל ובעולם היהודי. הגינויים נשמעים בשל העובדה שהאירוע כולל עיסוק משותף בשואת העם היהודי ובנכבה הפלסטינית, וכן משום שהוא תוכנן להתקיים בחסות גרמנית ביום השנה לליל הבדולח – אירוע שהיה שלב בדרך לשואת יהודי אירופה. בעקבות הביקורת נדחה האירוע ליום ראשון הקרוב.
בוטל סופית האירוע שמשווה בין השואה ל”נכבה”
יו”ר מכון גתה בת”א שבו היה אמור להתקיים האירוע, שנדחה ליום ראשון, ביטל אותו אחרי ששוחח עם יו”ר יד ושם דני דיין • תנועת אם תרצו: “ניצחון לשפיות”
עמיחי שטיין ודב גיל-הר
11 בנובמבר 2022
אחרי שיחה בין יושב ראש “יד ושם” דני דיין ליושב ראש מכון “גתה”, יוהנס אברט, הוחלט לבטל האירוע שמשווה בין השואה ל”נכבה” ונדחה ליום ראשון בעקבות הביקורת הציבורית. האירוע אורגן על ידי קרן רוזה לוקסמבורג, המסונפת למפלגת השמאל הגרמנית די לינקה, וכותרתו הייתה – ״להבין את הכאב של הצד השני: השואה, הנכבה, ותרבות הזיכרון הגרמנית״.
הערב שתוכנן מתבסס על ספרה של העיתונאית והפובליציסטית הגרמניה שרלוט וידמן שכותרתו היא “להבין את כאבם של אחרים”. וידמן מטיפה לסוג של זיכרון חדש שעושה צדק עם צדדים שונים של אותו סכסוך, ו”מקדם סולידריות במקום תחרות על קורבנות”. וידמן מקדמת במאמריה הכרה גרמנית לפשעים שנעשו בתקופה הקולוניאלית של המדינה, וטוענת שאין העניין מעיב על ייחודיות השואה.
באתר מכון גתה מוסבר כי “כמעט 75 שנים לאחר הקמתו, הזיכרון בישראל נותר שטח שנוי במחלוקת פוליטית. היהודים מתמקדים בשואה, בעוד הפלסטינים מתמקדים בשנה הגורלית של 1948, שבה נמלטו מאות אלפי קורבנות וגורשו על ידי לוחמים יהודים – המכונה בערבית הנכבה”.
במשרד החוץ יצאו ביום שלישי נגד האירוע, שהיה אמור להתקיים במכון גתה בתל אביב יום לאחר מכן. “משרד החוץ מביע זעזוע ושאט נפש לנוכח זילות השואה הבוטה שמטרתה להכפיש את ישראל”, נמסר מהמשרד. במרכז שמעון ויזנטל תקפו בחריפות את קיום האירוע ביום שבו מצוין יום השנה לליל הבדולח. לאחר מכן מסר המכון כי הוא ידחה את האירוע ליום ראשון: “אנו מצטערים שבחירת התאריך לדיון בפאנל הובילה כעת לרוגז”.
בתנועת “אם תרצו” הגיבו: “ניצחון לשפיות. אנו מודים לאלפי הישראלים שהביעו את זעמם לנוכח האירוע האנטי-ישראלי. אנו מתחייבים להמשיך לפעול כדי לעצור את החתרנות המדינית הזרה של גרמניה בישראל”.
REPAIRING THE DAMAGE TO OUR ETHICAL CATEGORIES. A CONVERSATION WITH CHARLOTTE WIEDEMANN
POSTED ON 1ST SEPTEMBER 2022
BY REVIEW OF DEMOCRACY
In this conversation with RevDem editor Ferenc Laczó, Charlotte Wiedemann – author of the just released German-language volume Den Schmerz der Anderen begreifen. Holocaust und Weltgedächtnis (To Grasp the Pain of Others. Holocaust and Global Remembrance) – explores the inequalities of the reigning “economy of empathy”; discusses ways to connect the histories of National Socialism and global colonialism to each other; reflects on problematic aspects of German memory culture today; and suggests paths through which more pluralistic and inclusive memory cultures might be fostered.
Charlotte Wiedemann is an expert on intercultural communication and postcolonial thought, and a foreign reporter who has been conducting research in over thirty countries with a focus on Islamic life worlds and on Southeast Asia. She has published in a host of leading print media and is the author of seven books, including volumes on Iran and Mali. Her newest book, Den Schmerz der Anderen begreifen. Holocaust und Weltgedächtnis has been published by Propyläen Verlag.
Ferenc Laczó: Your new book Den Schmerz der Anderen begreifen (To Grasp the Pain of Others) reflects on and critiques the reigning “economy of empathy,” especially when it comes to the current regime of memory and recognition. You show through powerful examples how recognition depends on a sense of proximity and connection, and how it remains highly unevenly distributed. Our own pain is recognized before the pain of others would even be considered, so very much depends on who we consider part of the “we group,” you underline in the book. Which examples would you highlight to expose the glaring inequalities of empathy and recognition? More generally, how would you briefly characterize the reigning memory regime when it comes to historical injustices?
Charlotte Wiedemann: To become aware of what steers our empathy – individually and more importantly, collectively – opens doors to a more inclusive memory culture as well as to a more just approach to human rights issues of the present.
Let me take the example of Ukrainian war refugees: until the beginning of the Russian invasion, Ukrainians in Germany were considered cheap workforce who tended to work as nurses caring for the elderly in German private homes or on strawberry fields. They had no voice and no lobby. They didn’t belong to us.
The picture has changed entirely. Since the German public and media considers Putin’s war to be a war against us, the West, the refugees belong to us and are considered part of the “we group.” They are allowed to work and have access to social security benefits – quite differently from the Syrian refugees who arrived in the recent past.
This example shows how empathy is steered by political assumptions. These assumptions make victims be perceived as similar to us, but might also make them appear unsimilar, alien.
Currently we witness a mind-blowing contrast within the EU between the friendly treatment of huge numbers of Ukrainian refugees and the cruel treatment of small numbers of refugees at the Poland–Belarus border. The latter are considered aliens, “weapons” in the hands of a dictator to destabilize the EU who do not deserve any of our empathy. Babies die in the border forest, and we just do not care.
It is important that we do not confuse empathy with sheer emotion.
Empathy is foremost an intellectual operation, an identification with another person that develops over time. Most important in this process is whether we consider the other equal to us – as a human being on eye level with us.
If we apply these ideas to memory culture and the categorization of victims, we can easily see how political assumptions and structural racism are intertwined. This is most easily visible in the neglected status of colonial victims. But how exactly does it work?
In my new book, I compare the German perception of the Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto and the East African resistance against German colonial rule some forty years earlier, at the beginning of the 20th century. In the so called Maji Maji war approximately 200 000 Africans were either shot or starved. It was a desperate liberation struggle and a case of disastrously asymmetrical warfare. So why is the resistance in the Jewish Ghetto enjoying so much respect and empathy, whereas the Maji Maji liberation fight is of no interest at all, raising no respect, no empathy?
I came to the conclusion that contemporary Germans easily identify with the fighting Jews but cannot identify with the fighting Africans. This happens for two chief reasons. Equating oneself with the Jewish victim is a strong feature of philosemitic German memory culture.
In general, Germans like to put themselves in the shoes of Jews as a way of dealing with suppressed feelings of guilt. In a harsh contrast, hardly anybody from the majority society can image him/herself being a colonized black person, so in that case there is nothing on eye level at all. Second, whereas the picture of the Jew in German collective consciousness has changed substantially between the Nazi era and now, the picture of the African human being has not changed much between the colonial era and the present time.
If we return to the comparison between the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the Maji Maji war, we see what constitutes the difference: Africans are not considered to have a strong and principled desire for freedom, neither in the past, nor now. 200 000 of them dying in resistance therefore has no meaning and their desperate will to fight is not an object of admiration in Germany.
With regards to divided empathy, we can see the most striking contrast between colonial victims and Holocaust victims, but if we take a closer look, we can also see a pattern of hierarchies applied to Nazi victims. Roma and Sinti used to be very close to Jews in the Nazi ideology, also constituting a race which had to be exterminated entirely. But their status in the public memory culture of today is much closer to African colonial victims: no voice, no respect. I call them “the victims who are not missed” in my book. Roma and Sinti in fact remain the most discriminated minority in Europe today.
To conclude, there is an economy of empathy which is at the same time an economy of values attached to different lives. We should include in the picture that this economy has also been structured by recent wars and by the treatment of victims in these wars. Victims of drone strikes in Afghanistan were considered “collateral damage” or – as I put it in my books – as neglectable lives. “As if they had never existed” is a common statement by the relatives of those victims whose deaths have never been acknowledged, not to speak of the lack of payment of any compensation.
I argue in my book that we have to repair the psychological and moral damage such Western policies have afflicted on our consciousness and on our ethical categories in order to be able to develop inclusive memory cultures. One of the most important lessons of the Holocaust is that there is nothing like a neglectable life.
Therefore, I consider the efforts to rescue refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea as a model of a well-conceived and active new memory culture.
You cite numerous important examples of cross-referencing and cross-fertilization when it comes to the interpretations of racist violence, of colonialism and antisemitism, of slavery and genocides. One conclusion that has stood out for me is that discussions of the connections between Nazi and colonial history, and Nazi and colonial violence, more specifically – an awareness of what these histories share and how they might be distinguished analytically – are in fact nothing new. The drawing of such connections and comparisons have been around for numerous decades and may in fact have been less contested in the past. Would you be willing to discuss some key examples of how the history of National Socialism and that of global colonialism have been related to each other in the past? What do you see as fruitful approach through which more solidarity could be fostered?
I dedicate a whole chapter in my book to the colonial soldiers in WWII, especially to the one million Africans who fought under French flag. I do this for several reasons.
In Europe, WWII has not been sufficiently understood because the fact that huge parts of the world were still under colonial rule is still often excluded from the picture. Without the contribution of one million African soldiers France would most likely not have been among the victorious nations. Moreover, the fact that France is a permanent member of the UN Security Council illustrates the long-lasting impact of colonial domination during WWII and its aftermath.
To explore the other side, West Africans developed after WWII a memory culture of self-respect, which connected their war participation to the process of anticolonial emancipation.
I interviewed war veterans who told me how the respect they gained through their contribution to the liberation of Europe from Nazi rule impacted the first general strike of West African railroad workers aiming at equal pay for black and white employees. In Europe, we have not yet learned to connect the liberation from Nazi rule with the liberation of colonized subjects.
At the same time, it is true that the limitations of the white European concept of universalism have already been discussed and challenged some seven decades ago. This is not surprising at all.
Parallel to the Nuremberg trials, European nations were committing mass atrocities in their colonies for which the definition of crimes against humanity is equally fitting.
In the year 1947, when the first edition of Anne Frank’s diary was released in Amsterdam, the Dutch army annihilated the male population of entire villages in Indonesia during its attempt to suppress the Indonesian anticolonial struggle.
That implies that laws and institutions that are depicted as an outcome of the Holocaust are deeply stained by double standards. This is also true for the Genocide Convention, which was conceived in a way that it could not apply to colonial military campaigns against civilians or the violent suppression of liberation movements.
Regarding all these connecting dots between German National Socialism and colonialism, there is a huge gap nowadays between public memory culture and the results of historical research in the past two decades or so. The term Nazi colonialism has been used by historians for the last twenty years but is still causing a hiccup of sorts in public memory culture.
I came across one fascinating example when studying the language used by the Wehrmacht in Eastern Europe. They called the non-German auxiliary forces in extermination camps, some of whom were Ukrainians, Askari – exactly as the African auxiliary forces were called in colonial wars in German East Africa. The word is Arabic for soldier. It entered colonial parlance through Swahili and from there – through the interwar colonial nostalgia in Germany – it entered the language the Wehrmacht deployed at sites of the Shoah.
Unpacking these kinds of stories and connections can already change people’s mindset.
Your book offers a rather critical take on what one might call the dominant memory culture in Germany. You plead for pluralism and inclusiveness and argue that Germans should learn not to place themselves into the center of their own narratives, but rather to observe their own perspectives on history also with the eyes of others living in different parts of the world. In an autobiographical passage, you state that you personally consider the Shoah unique and underline that its utter horror and our inability to come to terms with it have shaped you profoundly. You also state that you have come to realize how this strong conviction concerning the Shoah’s uniqueness is the result of personal experiences you have made – with experiences that have much to do with you having been born and raised in West Germany in the postwar period. Would you perhaps be willing to discuss this process in some detail, that is to say how you came to be personally impacted and shaped by the memory of the Shoah, what triggered your reflections on your own specific positionality, and what motivates you personally to argue so powerfully against attempts to create “hierarchies of victims”?
Born just nine years after the liberation of Auschwitz, at some point I had to realize that I was living in uncomfortable closeness to the perpetrator generation. I grew up with the obdurate silence of my parents, including about my father’s NSDAP membership, and the gradual groping of the abyss beneath my Germanness.
I remember a situation involving my father when I was in my senior school years. I wanted to join a youth group and travel to the Soviet Union, and I had to get his permission for that. Upon hearing my request, my father replied: “There is nothing to see there, it is all flat.” To which I yelled back at him: “Yes, after you guys were there!” We never talked about this again.
But I remember this as a crucial moment because I was not addressing him as an individual, I was addressing a whole generation, or the male part of that generation.
Not long before my father died, he confessed jokingly that he had been a member of the NSDAP and that he threw his membership card into the drain after Hitler’s defeat…
Everything that had to do with National Socialism became like a second skin to me. Nothing else achieved this closeness in the long run. This intensely felt Germanness of mine was later combined with decades of experience in the non-European world: as a foreign reporter in Muslim countries; through stays in societies in West and East Africa, which were marked by the colonial experience; through years of living in Southeast Asia, where the image of the WWII is marked by the experience of the Japanese occupation; and most importantly, through friendship and love with people who look on us from elsewhere.
All these experiences have motivated my search which led to me to write this book.
It has emerged out of an inner dialogue and two great personal concerns: may we, as Germans, as “new Germans” and as “old Germans,” keep the memory of National Socialism close to us with sensitivity and with care, and may we, as Europeans, overcome a white way of thinking about history and be aware of the effects of colonial violence. In other words, keep the responsibility for Nazi crimes, but based on a new understanding of the world oriented towards respect and participation.
The Shoah is a tragedy of special significance, but this significance must not be used to degrade other sufferings. And Germans must learn that in a globalized world, people look at the extermination of the Jews from different angles – and they also look at Israel from different angles.
There have been several controversies in recent years concerning the German state’s uncritical official attitude towards the State of Israel, the rather grave difficulties the German public sphere appears to have to merely accept Palestinian voices and perspectives, and the recent attacks on Jewish dissidents. Would you care to comment on the position and chances of Palestinian voices and memory in German discussions? How would you interpret current forms of Jewish dissent when it comes to policies of the State of Israel, and the reception of such dissent in contemporary Germany?
There is a heated debate in Germany concerning these issues, which also has a lot of unpleasant features. Under the impact of the ever more rightist Israeli politics, spaces for fruitful discussion about Israel–Palestine have become narrower. Antisemitism is by now routinely conflated with anti-Zionism. And the special obligation Germany has to Jews has developed more and more into an unconditional loyalty to Israel’s policies.
Palestinian voices are often excluded from public discourse, allegedly to prevent antisemitism. Jews who are critical of Israel’s occupation policy or of the ethnonational character of the Israeli state also get accused of antisemitism. In a way, memory culture has been turned into a weapon against critical voices and minorities.
I argue in my book that one possible way out of this situation would be to open memory culture for Palestinian narratives about history, about their history.
I argue that we, the Germans of today, are implicated in the Palestinian tragedy, because without European antisemitism and the Shoah, the state of Israel would not have been founded under the conditions that it was and in the way that it was.
Your book sketches an attractive utopia of transcultural encounters based on the principle of equality that would foster a more pluralistic and inclusive cosmopolitan memory and could also revive anti-fascism as a powerful practice. You also point to the fact that the European and Western forms of dominance – which have resulted in so much exclusion, violence, and inequality of empathy in the past – are being challenged ever more in our increasingly interconnected world. How would you sketch a new, much more globally sensitive and egalitarian memory regime? And would you be willing to highlight some of the most positive developments you have observed towards the development of such a more pluralistic and inclusive cosmopolitan memory?
So far, the reception of my books has taken place on friendly terms, despite the palpable hostility against certain positions I hold. I take it as an indicator that a change of beliefs and attitudes is on its way, at least in some parts of society.
The German government has recently restituted art objects to Nigeria, and the mutual agreement states that “a new ethic of relations” is necessary. The vocabulary used is taken from postcolonial artists and initiatives and has been employed in a document by the federal state for the first time.
Apart from a lot of novel resistance against progressive history policies, another important thing has changed as well: the German society of immigrants has abandoned the dangerous ideal of homogeneity, which opens the door to new understandings.
On the global level, there is still a huge imbalance.
The prestige enjoyed by Holocaust memory, which is supported by numerous institutions in the Western world, causes a desire to attach other grievances and sufferings to this label in order to benefit a bit from that prestige. At the same time, Holocaust remembrance is becoming more fragile in Europe through historical revisionism.
We are witnessing that too these days.
Curiously, the phrase “Putin is the new Hitler” is now employed by people who used the thesis regarding the singularity of the Holocaust just a short while ago as a weapon against the inclusion of the remembrance of colonial victims.
The current situation is unstable, to say the least, and it seems impossible to predict the future direction of memory culture.
The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Debate about anti-Semitism and the Middle East conflictDissidence and the Jewish diaspora
Jewish voices are much more diverse than the public often sees. Jewish men and women who oppose the injustice of Israeli occupation in the West Bank deserve our respect and protection against defamation, writes Charlotte Wiedemann
The “Radical Jewish Voices” in Britain are selling a sticker emblazoned with the words “Make Anarchism Jewish again!” in their online shop. The sticker is a reminder of a once-vibrant movement: for almost 100 years, the anarchist Yiddish newspaper Fraye Arbayter Shtime (Free Voice of Labour) was published in New York.
Our culture of remembrance features very few references to a Jewish life beyond a middle class that subscribes to state and capitalism. Jews are victims – as if they had never struggled, as if they had never been part of movements that fought for a more just world. In this historical configuration, there is only room for Zionism – not for the opposition.
Among other things, this view of political history is in play whenever left-wing dissident Judaism with German or Israeli roots is met with so much mistrust as is currently the case in Germany. Mistrust and repulsion are at the ready long before words like “apartheid” are even spoken. An incalculable Judaism disturbs the peace, forces us to think and reflect.
The fact that I call Jewish men and women who oppose the injustice of occupation “dissident” is just as much a product of the German situation. Perhaps it would never even occur to me to do so if I were American.
Respect rather than defamation
The events of recent weeks have provided an opportunity to hear a whole range of Jewish voices in the USA and Europe that – with regard to the occupation policy – are united by the slogan “not in my name”. This gives us a hint of all the different things that Judaism in the diaspora can mean. Take, for example, the “Judeobolschewiener*innen” (Judeo-Bolshe-Viennese) in Austria. This collective is based on the principle of doikayt, a Yiddish term for social emancipation in the diaspora that opposes all kinds of nationalistic identification.
The collective’s response to anti-Semitism is based on the intersectional principle: like racism, the hatred of Jews is fought as a form of discrimination and is not viewed separately as the mother of all evils.
This stance is predestined to cause controversy – especially in Austria or Germany. But Jews who are willing, in solidarity with Palestine, to stand up to the brand of anti-Semitism fed by despair over a commonly-held injustice deserve respect, not defamation, in my opinion.
This certainly does not oblige us to like every single way in which Jewish opposition is voiced. I am reminded in this context of a scene in Hebron, where a representative of the organisation Breaking the Silence explained the segregated use of a road (Palestinians segregated from Jewish settlers) with the words “Hey, you’re German, what does that remind you of?” The answer the representative was looking for was “ghetto”, but not one of those present could say it out loud. Some of the things said by dissident Israelis in Germany can sometimes have a shrill edge – akin to someone leaving the family gathering to demonstratively stand outside the front door and flick a cigarette butt into the front garden.
The pristine and the grubby
In short, it took me quite some time to approach the phenomenon of left-wing Jewishness. Two years ago, I hesitantly went public with my stance in the debate about the awarding of the Gottingen Peace Prize, defending the winner, the “Juedische Stimme fuer gerechten Frieden in Nahost“ (Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East), against accusations of anti-Semitism. A short time later, I was being accused of exactly the same thing myself. It takes so little to be accused of the worst thing I can imagine. I recently read one column that said I sounded like Hitler. Others have said I sound like Martin Walser. Such comparisons must not be taken seriously, certainly, but where does taking things seriously begin? (And if it takes me a long time to feel my way to the answer, how is a Palestinian woman supposed to do so?)
My impulse to defend myself by providing proof of how much the subject of the Holocaust has shaped my life is laughable. Nonsense! Those who slap this devastating label on other people with such ease are never interested in biographies, identity, or what has made them who they are; they just want to draw a line in the sand: on one side the pristine; on the other, the grubby.
For dissident Jewish men and women, particularly in Germany, it is much more painful that what has made them who they are is of no significance. Educationalist Michael Sappir recently wrote that many people just don’t understand how much “effort to overcome, self-criticism and self-formation” it has taken for Israelis like himself to become radical opponents of the occupation policy. Some descendants of those responsible for the Holocaust surmise that the Holocaust simply does not hold the same significance for such Jews.
Jewish dissidence is a challenge
It is always difficult to be marginalised in what is already a small minority. And to then oppose the Israel-related construct that gives the Germans so much relief … In the past, I didn’t want to get intellectually involved in this complexity of Jewish dissidence – there was no handrail in sight. Today, I think that those on the left have to face this challenge.
As an older citizen, I would say that because Germany, after initial reluctance, assumed full responsibility for the Shoah, a large proportion of my generation has settled into a thought mainstream that we believe we have created or at least had a part in creating. Don’t touch what has been achieved, this comfy state of being-in-the-middle! But nothing is achieved for eternity. Just look at the opinion polls. There are reports of teachers describing how far from many young people’s minds (and not only those with migrant backgrounds) the Holocaust is. If these reports are accurate, it must be clear that new approaches are needed.
Today, it is largely minority groups that are showing us how anti-Fascism and radical solidarity can be combined while at the same time overcoming some very German psychology. Jewish dissidence is a very small, yet significant, part of this new phenomenon.
© Qantara.de 2021
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan
1954 born in Moenchengladbach, one of the most western parts of what was then West-Germany.
In 1979 I got a Master Degree in Educational Science and Sociology from the University of Goettingen, later another degree from the Hamburg School of Journalism.
From 1983 up to 1999 I worked as political correspondent and reporter with several dailys and weeklys in Bonn, Hamburg and Berlin, writing about domestic policies and contemporary history. From 1990 with focus on new nationalism after German Unification, the rebirth of right-wing intellectualism and the so called forgotten victimes of the Third Reich on the other side of the former Iron curtain (east-europaen Jews and forced labourers).
Also lecturing at several Media Academies.
In 1999 I changed to foreign affairs reporting. Lived for four years in Malaysia, covering stories all over South East Asia on human rights, societal developments and inter-faith relations. From the material later grew my first book (“The hut of small phrases”).
Since 2004 based in Germany as a traveling freelance foreign reporter, mostly on Muslim or Islamicate societies. Research trips to many countries in the Middle East (more correctly: Westasia) and to North- and West-Africa, often for “Die Zeit”, Geo or Le Monde Diplomatique, sometimes for my book projects and or as guide for civil society related travel programs.
Mali as well as Iran fascinated me most, over the years I went there again and again and wrote books on both societies. (“Mali or the wrestling for dignity”, 2014. “The new Iran. A society steps out of the shadow”, 2017 and 2019). My findings in various Muslim societies, particulary with regards to the many roles of women, led to the book “You know nothing about us. My journeys through an unknown Islam”, 2008 and 2012.
Reflections about the impact of western media, about Eurocentrism and my personal experiences in other cultures led to an autobiografical collection of essaies “About the attempt not to write white”, published 2012 and again 2018.
More recently I extended my thinking more general to race relations, postcolonialism and the global decline of the white people to whom I belong. “The long farewell to white dominance” was released in fall 2019. Written again in a personal style I examine what has changed since my childhood, within Germany and beyond, with one focus on the meaning of the Shoah in times of migration and right wing populism.
Selection of translated reports
Cambodia – Journey through a traumatized land
Islam-experts – ten-a-penny
Travels around Iran
Road No 6. Calcutta – Mumbai
30 Years Islamic Revolution (Iran)
The Green Movement in Iran (2009)
Destruction of a Hero – showtrial in Tehran (2009)
The Scramble for Timbuktu. Africa`s ancient written culture (2010)
Mali: Grassroot democracy and good citizenship in Africa
Women in Oman: Why the university needs a men’s quota
Armenians in Syria: The fifth generation after the Ottoman genozid
Author of foreign reports, essays and books, since 2003 with a focus on “Islamic lifeworlds”.
Research in about 30 non-European countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Oman, Tunisia, Morocco, Uzbekistan, as well as Nigeria, Swaziland, Cameroon, Senegal, Tanzania, Sudan and especially often Mali. Before 2003 various trips within Southeast Asia.
Publications in Geo, Die Zeit, Le Monde Diplomatique, Qantara (portal for dialogue with the Islamic world), Südlink, leaves for German and international politics, NZZ and others – columnist for the taz
Lectures on Islam, intercultural issues, postcolonial thinking
2020 Member of the Advisory Board of the Leibniz Center Modern Orient
2010, 2016, 2019 tour guide in Iran and Mali
1999 – 2003
Author in Southeast Asia, resident on the island of Penang/Malaysia. Research on politics, human rights, culture in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, East Timor and Australia.
Political correspondent and reporter in Bonn, Hamburg and Berlin for stern, Die Woche, taz. Previously local editor.
Hamburg School of Journalism (today Henri Nannen School)
Master’s degree in social education, sociology and political science, University of Göttingen.
1993 to 2018 lecturer in the training of journalists, mainly at the Evangelische Journalistenschule in Berlin.
Lectureships at the University of Erfurt (“The journalistic perception of non-European cultures”) and at the TU Dortmund (“Reporting on Islamic lifeworlds”)
The long farewell to white dominance. Munich 2019
The new Iran. A society emerges from the shadows. Munich 2017/2019
Mali or the struggle for dignity. My Travels in a Wounded Land. Munich 2014
About trying not to write in white. Or: How journalism shapes our worldview. Cologne 2012, extended new edition 2018
You don’t know anything about us. My journeys through an unknown Islam. Freiburg 2008, updated and expanded TB edition 2012
The hut of small sentences. Political reports from Southeast Asia. Berlin 2004
2017 Special Prize from the Otto Brenner Foundation
2013 Recognition Prize from the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies
2008 Media Prize for Development Policy
2007 Journalist Prize for World Population
1996 EMMA Female Journalist Prize
Founder of the intercultural fund “Sawasya” ( www.sawasya.de )
Member of the PEN Club and Attac
2011 – 2013 Member of the scientific advisory board of the Bremen Übersee-Museum for a new Africa permanent exhibition
2017 – 2018 Member of the jury of the reportage prize of the N -Ost-Netzwerk
2017 – 2019 mentor at “Go your way”/Deutschlandstiftung Integration
Born 1954 in Mönchengladbach
German event comparing Holocaust to ‘Nakba’ canceled after Yad Vashem intervenes
The planned panel faced stark criticism from the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Jewish organizations.
Published: NOVEMBER 13, 2022 03:16
Updated: NOVEMBER 13, 2022 19:13
The German state-funded Goethe Institute pulled the plug on a slated Sunday event in Tel Aviv that draws a line of connection between the Holocaust and the Palestinian “Nakba,” Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan announced on Friday.
Nakba (catastrophe) is the term Palestinians use for their defeat and exile at the hands of Israeli forces during the 1948 War of Independence.
Dayan wrote on Twitter: “At the end of our in-depth conversation, [Goethe Institute Board chairman Mr. Johannes] Ebert assured me that the event will not take place. Wise decision.”
Earlier today, I spoke at length with the Chairman of the Board of the worldwide Goethe Institute Mr. Johannes Ebert. At the end of our in-depth conversation, Mr. Ebert assured me that the event will not take place. Wise decision. https://t.co/O60L0CYtQM— Dani Dayan (@AmbDaniDayan) November 11, 2022
When The Jerusalem Post queried the institute on Monday, Jessica Kraatz Magri, a spokeswoman for Goethe, told the Post that the organization “postponed the event” until Sunday and provided an updated link to the discussion. The event was sponsored by left-wing German political party Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (RLS).
Foreign Ministry, Jewish and Zionist organizations express outrage at planned panel
Following a hailstorm of criticism on Wednesday about the event just as Jews around the world were commemorating Kristallnacht, Goethe stuck with its postponement.
The Foreign Ministry called for the cancellation of the event and expressed “shock and disgust” after the original announcement, calling it “blatant contempt of the Holocaust” and a “cynical and manipulative intent to create a connection whose entire purpose is to defame Israel.”
Dayan tweeted prior to the event that it “constitutes intolerable distortion of the Holocaust. Holding it on the anniversary of the November Pogrom (‘Kristallnacht’) is unforgivable.”
The event planned by the German cultural institute @goetheinstitut in Israel constitutes intolerable distortion of the Holocaust. Holding it on the anniversary of the November Pogrom (“Kristallnacht”) is unforgivable. pic.twitter.com/T1ifmEwVqc
— Dani Dayan (@AmbDaniDayan) November 8, 2022
Israel’s Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor told 103FM Radio that the event is “an attempt to make an inappropriate comparison at the expense of Holocaust survivors.” He added that “if it wasn’t ironic it would be tragic. This must not become an accepted discourse under the pretense of ‘holding a civilized discussion.’ It’s not.”
Alrun Kaune-Nüßlein, the director of political communication for RLS, told the Post that “we try to enable a debate between different democratic and emancipatory positions, as it corresponds to the tasks of an institution for social analysis and political education. As a left-wing institution in and from Germany, dealing with the numerous Nazi mass crimes – and in particular the murder of six million Jews – is central to us. Relativizing the Shoah is unacceptable for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation,” she said.
“We regret that the date of the event caused irritation. We are therefore postponing the event to November 13, 2022.”
Journalist at center of panel has faced criticism for anti-Israel views
At the now-canceled event, journalist Charlotte Wiedemann was set to discuss her book Grasping the Pain of the Others with Bashir Bashir, associate professor of Political Theory at the Open University of Israel; Amos Goldberg, associate professor of Holocaust History and director of the Research Institute for Contemporary Judaism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and Inge Gunther, a journalist covering Israeli and Palestinian affairs.
Wiedemann has faced criticism for her attacks on Israel’s existence. She wrote in the left-wing German daily newspaper taz: “There is no need to agree on the extent to which the founding of the State of Israel was also an act of settler colonialism.”
The left-wing and pro-Israel weekly paper Jungle World criticized the author for her pro-Iran regime views. Danyal Casar wrote that “Charlotte Wiedemann can nowhere see such an opposition in the taz.” Wiedemann wrote that ‘there is no opposition’ which could take responsibility in Tehran if the current system implodes.”
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.
Middle East conflict
Shoah and Nakba – two interlinked catastrophes
Asked about the Shoah, Palestinians often bring up the Nakba, the displacement of Palestinians associated with the founding of the state of Israel. An Israeli Holocaust researcher and a Palestinian political scientist have developed a concept aimed at promoting dialogue about these two interlinked national traumas. By Joseph Croitoru
Shoah is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, the Nazi genocide of Jews. Nakba is the Arabic term used by Palestinians to describe their flight and displacement from the land in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. Even at a linguistic level, there is a parallel between the two terms, because both words mean “catastrophe” in the respective languages.
Nevertheless, it became evident as far back as 2007, when the Jerusalem-based Van Leer Institute invited Jewish and Arab educational theorists from Israel to discuss the issue of the Holocaust, that Israelis and Palestinians have great difficulty relating to the trauma experienced by the other. The meetings, which took place over the course of a year, received financial support from the Heinrich Boll Foundation, a German think tank with close ties to the German Green Party. In the summer of 2009, part of the group met for a workshop at the memorial and educational location known as the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin.
The meetings also brought together Israeli Holocaust researcher Amos Goldberg, who was part of the team running the dialogue group, and Palestinian political scientist Bashir, who lives in Israel. When Bashir gave a lecture at the Van Leer Institute about Arab attitudes to the Holocaust and mentioned the Nakba in his lecture, Arab Palestinian participants from Israel insisted on discussing the Palestinian catastrophe too.
The controversial nature of the discussions that ensued spurred Goldberg and Bashir to consider another form of dialogue. They drew up a draft paper that compared the Shoah and the Nakba (without equating them with each other), reflected on their comparable importance in the collective memory of the respective groups, and called for mutual empathy.
Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem: Many Israeli Arabs came into contact with the Shoah first and only afterwards with the Palestinian catastrophe, the Nakba. Publicist Marzuq al-Halabi and journalist and translator Antoine Shalhat both wrote that it was only after 1967, when they met acquaintances and relatives from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, that the Nakba became a theme for them. Al-Halabi’s knowledge of the Holocaust made him to a certain extent immune to the Arab and Palestinian defensive attitude which, in his opinion, has less to do with the Shoah as an historical event, than with the way the Israeli side presents it and uses it politically to evade responsibility for the Nakba. He also says that on the Arab side, the Holocaust is denied or played down. A common claim, he says, is that the Palestinians had to bear the consequences of the Holocaust – albeit only indirectly – although they were not responsible for the crime
Asymmetry of national catastrophes
On the basis of this paper, Jewish and Palestinian intellectuals were invited to write contributions for a book, a collection of articles, which was published in Hebrew in Jerusalem in 2015 and immediately triggered protests from the Israeli right wing. Bashir and Goldberg’s introduction to the book translates as “Reflections on memory, trauma and nationalism in Israel/Palestine”. They had previously published a shorter version of this introduction in English in the Journal of Genocide Research in 2014.
The authors’ wanted first of all to discuss in detail the differences in attitudes. They said that the Shoah was, in terms of its scale, not comparable with any other event that as such is considered singular. However, because the Holocaust has become – not only for Jews but also now for large parts of the Western world – the ultimate symbol of evil, any attempt to connect it even loosely with other chapters of the history of violence is quickly suspected of being an attempt to trivialise the Holocaust.
They went on to say that while the Shoah is over as an historical event and the Jewish people has, despite the trauma, been able to get back on its feet again, the Palestinians are to this day, in a position of political, military, economic, and cultural weakness because of the consequences of the Nakba.
According to Bashir and Goldberg, there is also asymmetry in the national catastrophes of both peoples from a moral point of view: the Palestinians were not to blame for the Holocaust, but the Israelis were responsible for the displacement and flight of the Palestinians and for their discrimination in Israel and oppression in the Occupied Territories.
Integrating the other’s catastrophe in one’s own narrative
According to Goldberg and Bashir, a rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians, who both see themselves as victim communities, is made more difficult above all because the Shoah and the Nakba are used equally to legitimise national claims. Nevertheless, they feel that it should be possible to integrate the catastrophe experienced by the other into one’s own narrative without having to abandon the “ultimate claim to justice” derived from the national traumas.
Both scientists considered American historian Dominick LaCapra’s concept of “empathic unsettlement” to be helpful in this context. When applied to the Israeli-Palestinian case, this would entail developing empathy for the sensitivities of the other, without having to adopt the other’s positions.
Jewish resident Katya Michaelov embraces her Arab neighbour, Obaida Hassuna, whose son, Musa, was killed in recent clashes between Arabs and Jews in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod in central Israel on 29 May 2021. Empathising with each other’s pain and trauma is difficult for Israelis and Palestinians. But in the long run it is essential for mutual understanding between the two parties to the conflict. “My child and their grandson are friends and play together,” Michaelov says of her neighbour. “All of this is political and it’s the people who are suffering”
The Hebrew-language anthology, which was published in 2015, brought together contributions that responded to the call for dialogue on an equal footing and those that criticised this approach. One of the articles in the first group was written by the Israeli professor of literature Hannan Hever, who used several poems by Israeli poet Avoth Yeshurun (1904–1992) to show that in the early years of the State of Israel, there was indeed sympathy among Israel’s literary figures for the fate of the Palestinians.
Yeshurun was of the opinion that genuine understanding for the Palestinians’ experience of being victims could only come from the perspective of Jewish victimhood and that both should be seen as equally important. Hannan Hever even saw in this the seeds of “multidirectional memory” (2009), a concept developed decades later by Michael Rothberg.
Several Israeli Arab authors who contributed to the book recapitulated that as Palestinians, they knew about the Holocaust long before they were in a position to focus on the Nakba and its consequences. One reason for this was the curriculum taught at Arab schools in Israel where there were lessons on the Shoah, but not on the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. What’s more, families did not talk about the Nakba for fear of reprisal from the state. Journalist and writer Marzuq al-Halabi and journalist and translator Antoine Shalhat both wrote that it was only after 1967, when they met acquaintances and relatives from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, that the Nakba became a theme for them.
The Arabs and the Holocaust
Al-Halabi’s knowledge of the Holocaust made him to a certain extent immune to the Arab and Palestinian defensive attitude which, in his opinion, has less to do with the Shoah as an historical event, than with the way the Israeli side presents it and uses it politically to evade responsibility for the Nakba. He also says that on the Arab side, the Holocaust is denied or played down. A common claim, he says, is that the Palestinians had to bear the consequences of the Holocaust – albeit only indirectly – although they were not responsible for the crime.
In their second anthology on the Shoah and the Nakba, Israeli Holocaust scholar Amos Goldberg and Palestinian political scientist Bashir Bashir also examine the current debate about the competition between Holocaust and colonial memory. For example, Palestinians see Zionism, the State of Israel and its occupation practices as a continuation of the European colonial movement in the form of “settler colonialism” – a perspective that is rejected by the official Israeli stance, which is based on the experience of the Holocaust
The various aspects of the way the Arabs handle the issue of the Holocaust was also addressed in the anthology by the Israeli expert in Islamic Studies Esther Webman and her colleague Meir Litvak.
Their assessment that the issue of the Shoah was being used for anti-Zionist propaganda on the Arab side – for example the accusation of a Zionist “collaboration” with the Nazis – corresponded with the observation made by Samira Lahyan, a Palestinian educationalist living in Israel.
She searched in vain for a reference to the Shoah in school books used by the Palestinian Authority. The authority issued a statement saying that a change in policy would only be conceivable if the Nakba were to be taught in Israeli schools.
Philosopher Elhanan Yakira wrote about the Israeli attitude of refusal in the book: he said that a “universalisation” of the Holocaust as a Jewish gesture of dialogue must be rejected because such a gesture blurs the fact that the Nazi’s primary objective was to annihilate the Jews.
No one, he pointed out, was asking the Palestinians to sacrifice the “Arab character of the Nakba” in return.
In 2018, Goldberg and Bashir published their second collection of contributions, The Holocaust and the Nakba. A New Grammar of Trauma and History (Columbia University Press).
In their introduction, they examine the current debate about the competition between Holocaust and colonial memory. According to Goldberg and Bashir, in the Israeli-Palestinian case, the two narratives collided with particular force.
They said that the Palestinians see Zionism, the State of Israel and its occupation practices as a continuation of the European colonial movement in the form of “settler colonialism” – a perspective that is rejected by the official Israeli stance, which is based on the experience of the Holocaust.
Nevertheless, Bashir and Goldberg believe that a rapprochement of the two “metanarratives” is indeed possible. The post-colonial narrative would have to consider Zionism as an answer to the growing calamity facing European Jews at the time, among other things. And when talking about the Holocaust, awareness should be raised that the Shoah is part of a long history of ethnic cleansing that also includes the Palestinian Nakba.
British historian Mark Levene expanded on this idea in his contribution to the book. According to Levene, the toleration of displacement and genocidal ethnic cleansing in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century made the idea of a “transfer” of the Palestinians seem feasible in the eyes of the Zionist leadership of the Yishuv in Palestine – the consequences of which are known to us all.
Elias Khoury: take the Jewish trauma into consideration
The competing “metanarratives” are barely mentioned in the remaining 14 contributions to the book. Instead – especially in the contributions from Israeli Jewish authors – very personal, sometimes biographical reflections on the Shoah/Nakba field of conflict and reports of fictitious and real individual stories in which the victim images of both sides overlap dominate. Palestinian anthropologist Honaida Ghanim found this dynamic – the frequent change of perspective between Shoah survivors and Nakba victims – in particularly succinct form in the story “Return to Haifa” by the left-leaning writer Ghassan Kanafani, who was killed by the Israelis in Beirut in 1972.
Israeli historian Alon Confino told the exceptional story of two married Holocaust survivors who upon their arrival in Jaffa refused to be billeted in a house abandoned by Palestinians because it reminded them of their own experience of being displaced and persecuted.
A first step towards the historicisation of the attempts to reflect together on the Shoah and the Nakba was taken by the Palestinian political scientist Nadim Khoury, who teaches in Norway, who traced the origins of these attempts to the years following the conclusion of the Oslo Accords.
One entire section of the book was devoted to the Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, who also wrote the foreword. Bashir and Goldberg were inspired by his novel Gate of the Sun in which a Palestinian calls on his compatriots to take the Jewish trauma triggered by the Shoah into consideration. The last three contributions in the book focused on Khoury’s novel Children of the Ghetto: My Name is Adam, which was published in English translation in 2018.
The Palestinian Nakba of 1948
It’s a day of celebration for Israelis but for Palestinians it’s the Nakba, the catastrophe. The foundation of Israel on 14 May 1948 meant hundreds of thousands of them fled or were expelled from their homes.
The journal Central European History (Vol. 54, 2021, Issue 1 / Cambridge University Press) devoted six review essays to the book, to which Goldberg and Bashir have responded. Because they, among other things, called for a wider, flexible concept of Israeli-Palestinian binationalism – from a federation via a condominium to a binational state or a cooperative two-state structure – Shoah researcher Laura Jockusch accused them of “political activism” at the expense of a scientific approach.
Goldberg and Bashir countered by saying that it must be possible to think about ways in which dialogue could be accompanied by an egalitarian, binational political theory that considers a process of decolonisation to be a prerequisite for an historic reconciliation of both peoples. Moreover, they said, the obvious overlap of Shoah and Nakba is suitable as a scientific object for a number of reasons, for one because the two are to this day closely intertwined in the collective memories of Israelis and Palestinians. They also pointed out that the two are interlinked as historical events too.
Goldberg and Bashir said that at political level, the shock of the Holocaust conclusively cemented within the Yishuv leadership the endeavour to found a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, which was only made possible by the displacement of the Palestinians in 1948. They also said that the interlinking is also illustrated by the numerous biographies of the one third of Israeli soldiers involved in the war at the time were Holocaust survivors.
In response to the objection expressed by several people, including Philipp Ther, that Zionism cannot be seen as just another version of colonialism, the two researchers replied that for them too, in this context, settler colonialism is not the only explanatory approach. The complaint – voiced by a number of reviewers – that there was a lack of historical analytical depth to the book’s contributions, which addressed more literary, philosophical and artistic issues, Goldberg and Bashir explained that it had been exceedingly difficult to find authors willing to write about this very difficult subject. Both men hope to continue the debate they have started.
© Qantara.de 2022
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan
3 thoughts on “(Hebrew U) Amos Goldberg Continues Comparing the Palestinian Self-Inflicted Nakba to the Holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis”
The Hebrew University is shockingly expanding a leftist political view, a line of thought similar in its anti-zionism to what other Universities worldwide choose to favour, with teachers that distort history and delegitimize Israel´s right to exist. Sadly, this is happening in most other Israeli institutions… Thankfully Israel has the Academia-Monitoring them!