Two Separate Days – Two Separate Meanings
Today, the people of Israel marked their Holocaust Remembrance Day. Next week, Israel will celebrate their day of Independence. Many have come to see the two days as causally linked: Israel exists because of the Holocaust and without it, it would not have come into being.
This view is common to both lovers of Israel and those who wish it never existed and (perhaps in the future) will not again. The former “credit” the Holocaust. The latter “blame” it. Both make the same assumption: The Holocaust, therefore Israel. They are both deeply and dangerously wrong.
The State of Israel came into being because the Jewish people willed it into being. For centuries they longed to return to Zion and long before the Holocaust they put in writing the plans for their return, and took the grand actions that were necessary to turn the plans into reality. That was Zionism.
Already in the 19th century Jewish visionaries and thinkers made the thoroughly modern decision that they would no longer wait for the Messiah to take them back to their homelands, but that they would be their own Messiahs. They decided to take fate into their own hands, and shape their future. They rejected centuries of passivity to become an active people – agents of their destiny.
To argue that without the genocide of a third of their people, the Jewish people would not have had their sovereign state is to engage in Zionism Denial. It is to deny the Jewish people their actions and their history.
The Zionists took action to immigrate, to purchase, to reclaim the land they believed was theirs, they gathered diplomatic support for their grand vision and ultimately made that vision a reality. Years before World War II, the State of Israel was already an advanced embryo and clear for all to see; a state in the making.
Had the Holocaust not taken place, the State of Israel would still have come into being, like many other states in the later 1940’s and early 1950’s due to the dissolution of the British Empire. To argue that all other peoples rising to demand their self-determination after WWII would have had their state, and only the Jews “needed” an industrial genocide to get theirs, is to single out the Jews from a world of history.
The State of Israel was not “given” to the Jewish people by a guilty world, seeking to give them some place to live once it became clear that the Final Solution was not final. Enough evidence exists today for us to know that the last thing that was felt by the world after WWII was guilt. Those who fought and won felt they had done right by history, and those who lost felt victimized. It took at least a generation for some to begin feeling guilty.
If anything, the Holocaust had a devastating effect on shaping the future of the sovereign Jewish people. It had robbed the Jewish people of what would have been today ten million lives. Many of them were Zionists who were preparing themselves in Europe to immigrate to the land and build the state of Israel. The Holocaust brought an end to planned Zionism. After the Holocaust, the building of the State of Israel had to proceed in a crisis emergency mode, fighting for independence, while absorbing an influx of refugees, in numbers and conditions like no other state or people before or since.
The State of Israel came into being because the Jewish people wanted it, dreamt it, envisioned it, and took action (sometimes ruthless) to turn the vision into reality. Many have been inspired by the idea and the actions. Some have been angered by them. But, these were the actions of the Jewish people willing a dream into being. One can love Israel. One can hate it. But under no condition should one deny the Jewish people their history in making it.
Dr. Einat Wilf, a former member of Knesset, is an Adjunct Fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a Senior Fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute.