A Great Essayist, Critic, and Scholar Evaluates the Real, and Imagined, Lessons of the Holocaust

Aug. 24 2020

Edward Alexander, a professor emeritus of English literature and incisive writer on a wide variety of Jewish topics, died last weekend. He was the author of sixteen books, the last of which, The Jews against Themselves, was reviewed in Mosaic here. Alexander’s own reflections on the literary critic Lionel Trilling’s “Jewish problem” can be read here. Of Alexander’s many reviews and essays in Commentary, among the most outstanding are his investigation of “Liberalism and Zionism,” his devastating takedown of the career of Edward Said, and, excerpted here, his reflection on the supposed lessons of the Holocaust (1993):

“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.”

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.

What do we learn from the Holocaust? In her posthumously published collection of essays, What Is the Use of Jewish History? [collected and edited by Neal Kozodoy], the distinguished historian Lucy S. Dawidowicz returns frequently to this question.

The first such lesson was the infectious power of anti-Semitism, especially when embodied in the state. The second was the importance of a strong countervailing military force—for if the pacifists, appeasers, and isolationists of the 1920s and 1930s had not had their way in England and America, Hitler would not have had his way in Europe. The third, “one which every Jewish child now knows,” was the necessity of Jewish political power and a Jewish state for Jewish survival. Those who reject these lessons have a vested interest in opposing the study of the Holocaust or in distorting its history.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Edward Said, Holocaust, Lionel Trilling, Lucy Dawidowicz

 

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

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Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror