Europe’s Jewish Problem – Les frontières d’Auschwitz: Les ravages du devoir de mémoire by Shmuel Trigano

, March 30, 2007

Jewish Political Studies Review 18:1-2 (Spring 2006)

In this book Shmuel Trigano, who teaches at the University of Paris X-Nanterre and is chairman of the Observatoire du Monde juif (an institute for research on anti-Semitism), has analyzed anti-Semitism’s contemporary manifestations.

Trigano highlights a paradox: on the one hand, the memory of the Holocaust is exalted; on the other, the Jewish state is accused of Nazism and delegitimated. Regarding the Holocaust, Europe recognizes the victims in the abstract, “their Jewishness being suppressed.” This, Trigano maintains, removes the genocide of the Jews from human history – leading, in turn, to a shift in terms of reference. Whereas Europeans are prepared to recognize Jews as victims, in the Israeli case they encounter the reality of soldiers.

Hence, Trigano asserts, Jews are condemned either to be victims or, if Diaspora Jews or Israelis side with Sharon, to fall into the category of Nazis. The discourse on the Holocaust has, therefore, distorted the relationship between Israel and the international community while also influencing the Israeli elite, which tends to reject such an identification with the government of the ostracized state. In this sense, the “obligation of history” condemns the Jews to be “prisoners of Auschwitz” forever.

 

The Delegitimation of Israel

Not only are the Jews the victims of this usage of memory; they are also accused of exploiting this memory for ideological and financial ends. Trigano concludes that modern Europe does not recognize the Jews as a people, even though it is Zionism that enabled their restoration as a nation. Is Israel, then, just a haven for refugees, or a sovereign state with both a historical and a political dimension? Europe’s answer, Trigano suggests, is a denial of Israel’s sovereign attributes.

Trigano makes a strong case for this view, recounting in detail, for example, how Edgar Morin, a well-known French intellectual of Jewish origin, criticizes Israel for “inflicting on the Palestinians the suffering it has endured from Europeans for more than a millennium.” 1 Trigano denounces French, British, and American Jews who criticize Israel’s politics in the name of the memory of the Shoah. He also discusses the United Nations becoming “one of the most important platforms of contemporary anti-Semitism.” Similar misgivings about the European posture toward the Jews were expressed by the French philosopher Jean-Claude Milner in his book Les penchants criminals de l’Europe democratique.2

Trigano brilliantly reveals the “major falsification” that occurs in the context of the “obligation of memory”: the compassion and goodwill that Europe granted after the discovery of the death camps has been transferred to the Palestinians, “victims” of the Nakba.3 For some, with the Israelis viewed as the culprits, the Nakba even replaces the Shoah. Trigano’s accomplishment is to demonstrate that this sleight of hand is aimed at suppressing the postwar plight of Holocaust survivors in Europe whose impact on history was considerable, notably on the creation of the state of Israel. He also emphasizes another forgotten issue: that of the Jews expelled from Arab lands.

Relying on Israeli sources in Hebrew, Trigano also shows that the Oslo accords fostered the war that ensued. He thereby proves that, contrary to the European view, the Palestinians are not “passive marionettes of the theater of European memory,” but “the effective agents of its [theatrical] production for their own ends.”

Trigano does not hide the fact that he opposes the leftist Jews who tend to censure Israel in the name of the Holocaust. However, his objective is to prove that the state of Israel is neither a historical aberration nor a “parenthesis,”4 according to the idiom of French politicians.

In this passionate and crucial work, the author aims at alerting Jews and non-Jews alike to the danger of legitimating the moral condemnation of the state of Israel, which may become a prelude to its physical extermination. Trigano combats the denial of the Jewish people’s right to live in peace in their state, and shows the ways in which the teaching of the Shoah is problematic in Europe. What is at stake is whether Europe intends to handle its problem with Israel in the same way it has dealt with the Jews in the past.