What the Holocaust Does Not Teach
“World Jewry has a special responsibility.” This hectoring call blared forth from the midst of a New York Times op-ed piece by Flora Lewis entitled “Save Lives in Bosnia” (November 9, 1992). Jews, she argued, have acquired their special responsibility because of the Holocaust; having experienced so much persecution, now they have both the opportunity and the obligation “to show that concentration camps provoke the solidarity of victims of persecution.” She went on to give specific instructions to Jews to offer refuge in Israel to Bosnian Muslims, in order to demonstrate “that the Jewish state does indeed want to get on in peace with its Muslim neighbors.”
If this seems a peculiarly perverse lesson to extract from the Holocaust—its unstated corollary (as Conor Cruise O’Brien once pointed out in a different context) is that the descendants of people who have not been persecuted have no special responsibility to behave particularly well—it is sobriety itself when compared with some that have been expounded by even more nimble interpreters than Flora Lewis. In Israel, one of the few places in the world where the “special responsibility” of Jews is discussed more frequently than in the editorial pages of the New York Times, the new Minister of Education, Shulamit Aloni, has taken it upon herself to reverse the direction of that country’s study and commemoration of the Holocaust.
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