Parenting from the Left #2: Netanyahu and the Holocaust

(With gratitude to the editors of Jewschool, I will be blogging 1-2 times per month on the challenges of parenting about Israel and Palestine to two boys in Jewish day school and who live within an active Jewish community, but doing so from the political left.)
On the way home from a recent Friday night Shabbat dinner, our family’s conversation stumbled on to a mention of the Holocaust.
“What’s the Holocaust again?” my younger son, nearly 8, asked.
My wife and I gulped and quickly looked at one another.  We each knew the topic had come up before, both in discussions after hearing something on the news and because there are passages about the Warsaw Ghetto in the family Seder we attend every year.  But we could not remember what we had told him and, I think, were both silently unsure what about what we should say next.
“Not now, Adiv.  This late at night isn’t the best time to talk about the Holocaust.”
Before my wife or I could speak, these words came from my older, 10-year old son. Gentle, caring, and mature beyond his years. 
What my older son was saying to his brother was, quite simply, the Holocaust is a sacred and exceedingly complex subject, even if the main facts can be summarized in a few sentences.  And you can’t talk about it at 9:30pm on a Friday night, especially for someone who feels things as deeply as his younger brother.
As the conversation bounced around in my head for the next few days, I started to catch up on the coverage of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statements following the EU Parliament’s endorsement of an independent Palestinian state and the European Court of Justice’s decision on the legality of the sanctioning of Hamas, ordering their removal from the list of terrorist organizations after 3 months (but going out of their way to explain this had nothing to with substantive approval of the organization, simply a determination about the procedural rules).
In slamming both actions, Netanyahu said “It seems that too many in Europe, on whose soil six million Jews were slaughtered, have learned nothing.”  Importantly, he continued, “But we in Israel, we’ve learned. We’ll continue to defend our people and our state against the forces of terror and tyranny and hypocrisy.”
The overuse or misuse of the Holocaust by Netanyahu and others on the right as a defense against criticism of the Occupation is not a new subject.  It has been commented on and written about for years, and although I may not agree with the degree to which he is sometimes criticized for it, I will admit to not being surprised at all to hear that Netanyahu reacted as he did.
But what I had not considered before was the impact it would have on how I teach my kids about the Shoah, which was now forefront in my mind.  Aside from the broad question of whether it is objectively or academically appropriate to link the Holocaust to these or any other modern European actions, do I teach my sons that the experience and lessons of the Holocaust are inextricably tied to current Israeli politics and policies?  If so, all of them?  Some of them?
Should they be taught that there is (and will always be?) a relationship to what happens in — or to — Israel and Palestine today, given the historical connection between the Holocaust and creation of the State of Israel?  Is that what Prime Minister Netanyahu meant by what Israel has learned?
Put more concretely, like many on the left, I have explained to my kids why there must be an independent Palestinian state, not just because it is better for Palestinians, but also better for Israel.  Does that teaching now have an air of forsaking of the Holocaust, unless it is in line with the conditions for a state that the Prime Minister has established (which may well be such that a state can likely never come in to being)?  Or if not his conditions, then others?  Should my kids always listen to news about Israel and Palestine through a Holocaust filter?
Similarly, should their understanding of the potential merit in legal challenges against what are, ultimately, basic administrative law rocedures also be connected to the Holocaust?  Does the result of the Holocaust mean that I should teach my children there is a point at which legal procedures no longer matter, and the ends will justify the means?  Is that how Israel should defend itself?
I assume many people realize Bibi was in campaign mode or being himself (to the extent there is a distinction between those two states of being), and ignore these remarks.  But nuanced versions of what Bibi said remain at the heart of how we teach our kids about why Israel was founded and what, if any, existential threats mean to the state today.
And those are connections that remain complex for me to figure out for myself, let alone impart to my boys in a way that can enable them to take in the horrors and lessons of the Holocaust without building walls around themselves, the Jewish community, or Israel.  Literal or figurative walls, like the ones I see Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies building.  Whether or not there is a “right” answer of how to teach this, I know in my heart that their way is not it.
In the coming weeks, we will read the Exodus story in synagogue, and think ahead to what we will say and do at our Seders to recall the time when first we were free and leaders among the Egyptians, then forgotten and turned in to slaves, and then freed again to settle in a new land, and how that history should influence our actions today.  We are commanded to teach this story to future generations, and I will be reminded of how our family interweaves the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and Holocaust in to this retelling.
And as the story unfolds, I will look for the lessons in this story, for how the freedom we enjoyed from Egypt should teach us about how to express the freedom we now enjoy after the Holocaust: through pursuing justice and peace, no matter how difficult.
Maybe by the time of the Seders in April I will have a better idea of how to answer my younger son and, by extension, Mr. Netanyahu.  And not rely on my older son again to save the day.

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