An “Unmissable” Exhibit on Auschwitz Falls into the Familiar Trap of Universalizing the Holocaust

To Edward Rothstein, Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away, which recently opened at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, is “unmissable,” thanks primarily to the hundreds of photographs and artifacts on display. But it also falls prey to the all-too-familiar tendency to turn the Holocaust into a “warning beacon”:

Here is an event scarred by singularity—the attempt to eradicate a people that numbered in the millions, living in more than a dozen countries in the world’s most politically sophisticated continent, who were executed with meticulous, obsessive brutality in the midst of a world war. After three- quarters of a century, it still stymies efforts at understanding.

Somehow, though, that singularity inspires insistence on the opposite, as if the Holocaust were simply the result of fascism or racism or intolerance. The Holocaust’s presumed repeatability—if not imminence—strips it of particularity and diminishes it by turning it into an ever-ready analogy. . . .

In the [exhibit’s] introductory section, Jews seem like afterthoughts, secondary to more fundamental political hatreds. . . . But from the very beginning, as Hitler made clear in 1925’s Mein Kampf (we see Heinrich Himmler’s annotated copy), Jews were at the center of Nazi obsessions. The exhibition acknowledges that Jews were a “special target,” but it seems intent on minimizing that issue. The result is that Germany’s expulsion of the Jews and then the Final Solution seem to erupt without context. . . .

[T]he exhibition does not prepare us to make sense of this or to recognize that despite the widespread suffering, without the goal of killing Jews, Auschwitz would have remained a conventional Nazi horror pit. Auschwitz is testimony to an obsession, around which other hatreds inconsistently circulated.

Make no mistake: this show wields considerable power, but, like most Holocaust exhibitions (aside from Yad Vashem in Jerusalem), it is oddly discomfited by that Judaic center and overly content with contemporary platitudes. In the catalog, Piotr M.A. Cywiński, the director of the Auschwitz museum, warns that an Auschwitz could happen again because of “the escalation of populism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and other racist ideologies.” This need to catalog villainies has counterparts in other recent responses toward hatred of Jews, making sure that any condemnation of anti-Semitism is cushioned by a roster of other hatreds.

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Read more at Wall Street Journal

More about: Auschwitz, Holocaust, Holocaust Museums, Jewish museums

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy