Skip to content

Tom Friedman on Israeli Attitudes toward Race

Tom Friedman deals with Israeli attitudes toward race in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, first published in 1989. Since he’s Jewish, I cite him as someone who should not be anti-Semitic. On page 269 of my paperback copy, he says:

The Lebanon invasion [in the 1980s] reopened the fundamental division in Israel over the questions: What kind of society is Israel to become? What kind of values does it stand for? Is it going to be a Jewish South Africa, permanently ruling Palestinians in West Bank homelands, is it going to be a Jewish Prussia, trying to bully all of its neighbors, or is it going to be a state with borders that will be based solely on considerations of what will preserve a secure, democratic, and Jewish society at peace with its neighbors?

These are almost exactly the same questions Jimmy Carter raised in his book, Peace Not Apartheid, and for which he was severely chastised by the Jewish community.

Friedman also deals with Israeli attitudes toward the Holocaust a few pages later. He describes how fatalistic and pessimistic Israelis are, in part because of their connection to the Holocaust. But then he says:

If Israel wasn’t founded on the basis of such a fatalistic outlook, then how did it take over? … In the early years of the state of Israel it was common for nativeborn Israelis to feel contempt for the Jews who died in the Holocaust, and even for some of those who survived, because they were viewed as sheep who simply went off to slaughter, while the Zionists were men of bold initiative, who went ou and found the British and Arabs and built a Jewish state.

Ruth Firer, an Israeli who came to Israel from Poland via Siberia during World War II said:

“When I was a student here [in Israel] in the 1950s, the Holocaust was a family secret — a shame…. The feeling, the whole atmosphere, was that the future must triumph over the past. All of us, parents and kids, tried to cover up what had happened. When we taught the Holocaust then, we taught the heroism of the Warsaw Ghetto — that was it.”

Friedman continues:

The change began, I believe, with the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Otto Eichmann in 1961, which brought both the Holocaust and the survivors out of the Israeli closet…. Today — unfortunately — the teaching of the Holocaust is an essential element of Israeli high-school education and in the Israeli officers’ course. No one goes to Kibbutz Degania [an early kibbutz founded in 1909] anymore. Most Israeli younsters I met had no idea what it represented. dEgania is not viewed as the gateway to Israel. Instead, that role has been taken over by Yad Vashem, the massive hilltop memorial in Jerusalem honoring the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust…. Israel today is becoming Yad Vashem with an air force. The past has caught up with the Zionist revolution and now may be in the process of overtaking it. The Holocaust is well on its way to becoming the defining feature of Israeli society.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *