Jewish Journal

[UPDATED] Invoking the Borders of Auschwitz Trivializes the Holocaust and Misrepresents Our Time

by Dr. Michael Berenbaum

May 22, 2011 | 6:39 pm

[UPDATE No. 2 5/22/2011]:
That was Friday. President Obama addressed AIPAC on Sunday morning, The reception he received was far from frigid, it fact it seemed enthusiastic, not quite the way you would receive a political leaders who had proposed “Auschwitz borders.”

Here is what the President said:

“It was my reference to the 1967 lines—with mutually agreed swaps—that received the lion’s share of the attention, including just now.  And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.

By definition, it means that the parties themselves -– Israelis and Palestinians -– will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.  (Applause.)  That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means.  It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation.  It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.  (Applause.)  It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides.  The ultimate goal is two states for two people:  Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people—(applause)—and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people—each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.  (Applause.)”

As the President said there was nothing new or original in these propsoals. They have been American policy essentially since 1967, nothing different from the Clinton Administration and as President George W. Bush’s Chief of the National Security Council Stephen Hadley said on CNN nothing different that the Bush Administration.

So we Jews must ask ourselves: how irresponsible is it to invoke the image of Auschwitz? What are we going to say if ever there is an emergency?

As of this morning, it seems as if the Israeli Prime Minister is backtracking. Stay tuned, let us see what he has to say to AIPAC tomorrow evening and what he has to say when he addresses a Joint Session of Congress. [End UPDATE]


UPDATE: In the hours since I wrote this entry, it seems that other Jews also cannot help but invoking the Auschwitz comparison. Alan Dershowitz at least had the good sense to qualify his invocation of Auschwitz, but the ZOA left all caution to the wind: Its headline, “We Won’t Return to Auschwitz.”

I wonder, was the State of Israel between 1948-1967 Auschwitz? The ZOA, once the proud heirs of the great Zionist movement and which once supported partition as a means to obtain a Jewish State, might as well proclaim Israel is a failure. The IDF cannot protect the security of the Jewish State. Israel, even in 1967 borders, is not Auschwitz—- far from it.

So in its fury – remember, under its current leadership the ZOA opposed Israel’s efforts at peace – the ZOA in one press release has managed to trivialize the Holocaust and debase the accomplishments of the State of Israel while also seemingly comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler.

What an achievement! [end update]

Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper are my friends. I admire their work, their drive and their service to the Jewish people so this criticism is historical and certainly not personal. Still I disagree with a statement of Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Just after President Obama finished his speech on the Middle East today, the Wiesenthal Center sent out a statement condemning the speech with the title: “SIMON WISENTHAL CENTER ISRAEL SHOULD REJECT A RETURN TO 1967 ‘AUSCHWITZ’ BORDERS”

The use of the term “Auschwitz borders” is offensive and anti-historical. It demeans the Holocaust and diminishes the genuine achievement of Jewish empowerment in the post-Holocaust era of Jewish history. Despite the fact that Abba Eban and Benjamin Netanyahu—and now the distinguished leaders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center—have used it, does not make it any more credible or any less ahistorical. It makes it only all the more problematic

Permit me to tell you why.

Simply put, it misrepresents the situation of Jews in Auschwitz and the power of the contemporary Israel state. Jews had no troops, no armies, no tanks and no planes within the vicinity of Auschwitz; they had precious little to defend themselves, except perhaps their willingness to die.

Not all dangers facing the Jewish people are the dangers of Auschwitz.

I do not quarrel that the Jewish people face dangers but not all enemies are capable of – even if they were to desire to—systematic state-sponsored murder while dominating the fate of 9 million Jews.

Even the situation with Iran is not comparable to the Holocaust for one very basic reason. If you had to bet your life on whether Israel is more likely to attack Iran to prevent its nuclearization or Iran is likely to attack Israel with nuclear weapons, which way would you bet? 

I can tell you how my Israeli family answers that question.

Israel’s first response to Iran’s nuclear threat was to obtain submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons so that any leader of Iran who decided to attack Israel would have to consider that his country would face retaliation – the very basic calculus of Mutual Assured Destruction. They may be mad – or denying of this world—enough to attempt it, but they well know that such an attack would not go unanswered.

Auschwitz was Auschwitz. The borders of Israel are the borders of a sovereign state, which has the power to defend them.  Let us not confuse the two.

Israel’s army is, to quote its current Defense Minister, the most powerful army within 1,000 miles. Israel is a regional military superpower and it is also enormously and disproportionately powerful economically in a global universe because of the talent of its people and their creativity in high tech and medicine and so many other fields.

As I have written before: “Comparing the contemporary situation to the Holocaust is to cede to our enemies a power they do not have, an intent they may not share, and to disparage to great achievement of the Zionist revolution that the Jews become actors in history rather than its passive victims.

“It is to invite upon ourselves not only nightmare of our own times, but the absolute darkness of another time and another place that is not our own and bears no resemblance to our own. Those who do so manifest considerable ignorance of those times and misinterpret our own.

Finally, it should not go unmentioned that President Obama did not suggest a withdrawal to the borders of 1967. Here is what he said:

“So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states…”

This has been American policy since 1967. The President has restated the obvious. “Mutually agreed swaps” is not a return to the borders of 1967, actually the 1949 Armistice Line. “Secure and recognized borders” is also not a return to the borders of 1967.

Negotiation is the means: Would that the parties could negotiate.


Tracker Pixel for Entry


View our privacy policy and terms of service.




A blog by Dr. Michael Berenbaum.

Read more.