Whether Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s speech before the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism was rooted in naivety or stupidity, the result was the same.
Even Israel’s left-wing press censured Lapid over the address, with Nir Guntaz writing in Haaretz on Feb. 17, “It is doubtful if Yair Lapid thought about the significance of his speech before he delivered it. Had he thought about and understood its significance beforehand, it is doubtful that he would have delivered it.”
In any event, the harm done by this speech is serious, and is liable to have far-reaching ramifications for the Jewish people.
Why did he say these troubling things at all? Lapid “normalized” anti-Semitism and its most serious consequence in the twentieth century—the Holocaust. In a single breath, he dismantled the idea of anti-Semitism’s uniqueness, which led in the modern era to European Jewry being almost completely eliminated them from the face of the earth. He transformed the cruelest persecution and murder ever carried out against a single group in history into just another violent conflict.
And if Israel’s foreign minister thinks like this, why silence those who, for political purposes, seek to dismantle the Holocaust’s meaning and turn it into one of many banal violent episodes, thus draining it of its significance?
The aim was to “normalize” German identity and to remove the burden of guilt that hung over the country decades after these horrific crimes were committed. These same German historians insisted that other victims of the Second World War should be highlighted alongside the Jews, and that of course it was forbidden to forget the suffering of the German people itself and the suffering of the Wehrmacht soldiers fighting the Red Army on the Eastern Front.
Their goal was to revive German patriotism and to save Germany from the darkness of the Nazis’ conduct, declaring that the mass murder by the Germany army and the horros of the extermination camps were, overall, a “preventative measure” taken out of fear of the Soviets.
The historian Saul Friedlander responded to this approach by arguing that the Nazis and the anti-Semitism they carried with them were a negation of all life, a sort of death cult. According to him, the Holocaust was such a horrific event that it was nearly impossible to articulate in everyday language. Friedlander views Nazi anti-Semitism as historically unique, since he claims that Nazi anti-Semitism was unique in being a “redemption anti-Semitism,” that is, a type of anti-Semitism that could explain the whole world and offer a kind of “redemption” to its followers.
He subsequently concluded that Nazi anti-Semitism was unique because it was comprehensive and “redemptive.” In light of this, he argued that Nazi Germany and its adoption of genocidal politics was not and could not be understood as a normal historical episode.
There is a decision at the heart of Lapid’s speech to call an end to the Historikerstreit—with unimaginable success for those who have sought to diminish, minimize and to normalize anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism’s normalizers are now rejoicing.
But the fact remains that the anti-Semitism which erupted in the heart of Europe and engulfed every place the German army and Hitler’s emissaries went was unlike anything in history.
Dr. Uri Cohen is a senior lecturer at the Constantiner School of Education at Tel Aviv University.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.