Holocaust Memorial's Defamation Pits Zionism Against Anti-Zionism

Article Summary
Following the vandalism of the Israeli holocaust museum, Erel Segal offers an analysis on the division within Israeli society between those who believe in Zionism and in the state of Israel, and those who oppose it within the Ultra-orthodox circles. An examination of the graffiti's rhetoric suggests that the ultra-Orthodox are not to blame.

The defamatory statements that were sprayed on the walls of Yad Vashem constitute a terrible act, but it is important to remember that Zionism won, the State of Israel was established, and by virtue of the secular state and its funding, the religious world of the Torah thrives as it never thrived before. The ingratitude rankles.

My response to the graffiti in Yad Vashem was to head, Pavlovian-style, straight to Meah Shearim (an extremist ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. To the ghetto. On the corner of Honi HaMegal Street, a large sign hangs from a balcony, reading “Zionism: the Holocaust of the Jewish people. 30 years of rebellion.” Hitler is alive and kicking in Meah Shearim; the Holocaust exists in the present tense. Swastikas on the walls, graffiti against the Nazi Zionists. Meah Shearim exists in a time warp. The Israeli policemen are Gestapo, the government represses the Jewish religion and millions were murdered because of Zionism.

Part of the reason for the survival of Meah Shearim as a concept, an idea, a theological antithesis is due to its nemesis: Zionism, the state, the demonic enemy. The pashkivilim (religious manifestos hung, sometimes daily, on the walls) — whose content ranges from outrage to delusion — hold up the walls like French sourdough bread, in which a piece of dough passes from one generation to the next so that one loaf of bread is the product of hundreds of years.

I walk down the street humming to myself the anthem of the Neturei Karta (extremist ultra-Orthodox sect):

God is our king, we are his slaves / the holy Torah is life, to which we are pledged / We do not believe in the regime of the heretics / We place no stock in their laws / We will follow the path of Torah in fire and water / We will walk in the path of Torah to sanctify God's name.

In the entrance to the synagogue of the Satmar Hassidim adherents, people are selling copies of the book “VaYoel Moshe” for $2.50. This is one of the important Jewish reference books of the twentieth century — an inflammatory, categorical treatise of polemics against the State of Israel, against Zionism, against the ultra-Orthodox of the Agudath Israel political party, who collaborates with the Zionists. This is the founding text of anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodoxy.

The book was written by the Admor (Grand Rabbi) of Satmar, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Admor who was saved with other privileged people during Holocaust on the so-called Kastner train. The Zionist train. His followers were left behind. His theological viewpoint is based on the Three Oaths that God imposed on the Jewish people, based on the Song of Songs. According to this, Jews are forbidden to return to the land of Israel, Eretz Israel, in an organized fashion, and forbidden to rebel against the nations of the world (“not to storm the wall”). [Ketubot tractate 111a of the Babylonian Talmud]

In the 1950s, when the new State of Israel was developing, the Admor of Satmar presented the opposite worldview. He was Zionism’s most vocal and intense adversary, a determined rebel who attempted to reverse the Zionist dream: he advocated a return to the diaspora, to the image of the diasporan Jew who places his faith only in God. According to Satmar, the Holocaust is the measure-for-measure punishment against Zionism, against the Enlightenment, against secularism, against the adoption of ideologies that placed man in the center of human existence. The State of Israel is the direct continuation of the Holocaust. Aliya (immigrating) to the land of Israel, and ingathering of the exiles must only take place under divine intervention.
According to Satmar, the religious nationalist Zionists headed by Rabbi Kook are theologically misguided in their view of the state as the "dawn of redemption," the foundation for God’s throne in the world. The Satmar rabbi paraphrased the biblical description of the evil Haman (in the Book of Esther) to describe Rabbi Kook as the enemy of the holy Torah who attempts to violate God’s everlasting covenant with the Jewish people. In effect, Satmar views the state as a technical, political entity, a circumstantial perversion of reality, a disastrous and forbidden use of force ultimately leading to catastrophe. Zionism is the Sitra Achra (the Devil, literally "the other side"), a trial or test that God subjected us to, and one that we failed. It is forbidden to cooperate with the state. It is forbidden to participate in elections. Anyone who recognizes the existence of the state denies the Torah. The book VaYoel Moshe resonates in every swastika painted on a wall, in every confrontation and demonstration.

Thus, it is natural to assume that the graffiti writers of Yad Vashem emerged from this sector. However, Meah Shearim’s citizens deny their involvement and point to the semantics and rhetoric' of the graffiti as evidence of their innocence. And in fact, when we examine the syntax and choice of words used, even someone who is not an experienced linguist easily sees how the defamatory statements are foreign to ultra-Orthodox rhetoric. The foreignness becomes especially salient when we compare the statements to the usual wording of the pashkivilim.

The following statements were spray-painted in Yad Vashem: “Hitler, thank you for the Holocaust;” “If Hitler hadn't existed, the Zionists would have invented him;” “Zionist persecutors! You declared war on Hitler in the name of the Jewish people! You brought the Holocaust on us!” and “Jews wake up! The evil Zionist regime does not guard us, it only endangers us.” It seems to me that a true ultra-Orthodox Jew from birth would never use the formulation, “Honorable Polish government, Don’t allow the Zionists to continue manipulative memorial ceremonies in Auschwitz” and certainly would not sign “in the name of world ultra-Orthodox Jewry.” The style is secular Israeli, the viewpoint — ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionism.

The Neturei Karta deny any involvement in the act, and blame the Hilltop Youth (a group of hard-line, nationalist youth, active against the dismantling of settlements). This passing-the-buck is ugly as well as ridiculous. Although it is true that the hilltop youth flirt with dangerous anarchist concepts, they view themselves as the ultimate Zionists, the legitimate successors of the early pre-state pioneers. Hilltop Youth would never have written that “Zionism declared war on Hitler.” In my opinion, the opposite is true: it is post-Zionist rhetoric that reverberates in the graffiti. The expression “manipulative memorial ceremonies” arouses association with the well-known, often repeated and tiresome claim of the opponents of youth memorial expeditions to death camps in Poland, that these trips strengthen nationalism via emotional manipulation.

But even without knowing the identity of the criminals who painted the abominable inscriptions, we can still find the silver lining in the cloud. In a distorted way, we can view the graffiti that emerged from the ghetto borders as an invitation to a dialogue with anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox ideology. We also have a clear interest in this. In my opinion, Janusz Korczak, a secular Jew (and director of an orphanage who marched to his death at the head of his group of orphan children, is a much greater Jew than the Admor of Satmar who escaped in the train of notables of the Zionist Kastner, leaving his congregation behind.

The ultra-Orthodox extremists enumerate each and every failure and mishap of the Zionist establishment during the Holocaust — and it would be self-righteous hypocrisy to completely deny all their arguments. However, their accusations against the Zionists serve to remove the spotlight from the real enemies (the Nazis), and clumsily ignore or white-wash difficult internal ultra-Orthodox issues. How could rabbis, heads of ultra-Orthodox communities and Daas Torah (knowledgeable leaders) promise that everything would be fine, despite the warning signs?

The anti-Zionist platform of many ultra-Orthodox rabbis left entire communities to be led to their deaths when they could possibly have fled Europe earlier for Palestine. In their polemics with the Zionists, the ultra-Orthodox and their Daas Torah viewpoint erred. Zionism was the victor, the State of Israel rose and by virtue of the terrible secular state and its funding, the Torah world is thriving today the way it never thrived before. Ingratitude is the vilest weed that grows, and no absolution can ever be dispensed for the vandalization and defamation of Yad Vashem.

Found in: zionism, yad vashem memorial, israel, holocaust, anti-zionism

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