Grave crimes and injustices produce two kinds of responses from those victimized by those crimes.
On the one hand, it sensitizes people to oppression and makes many of them more likely to oppose oppression.
On the other hand, some victims or witnesses to oppression identify with the oppressors rather than with the oppressed.
In this second case, victims to injustice seek to avoid being oppressed ever again by becoming oppressors themselves: “Better to be the oppressor than be one of the oppressed,” they think.
Prisons, for example, contain a group of people referred to as “trustees” who are prisoners who help the guards police and patrol the prisoners, without which the guards would need far more guards to control the prison population. In the Nazi concentration camps there were Jews who, in exchange for temporarily, at least, being saved from execution, facilitated fellow camp residents being sent to their deaths. When the Japanese imperialists invaded China in the 1930s there were some Chinese who sided with the Japanese invaders and sold out their own people. The list goes on and on. There will ever and always be people who will exchange solidarity for personal comfort, even if that comfort at times is triflingly small.
History and life experience, in other words, teach us that within any group of people there are always going to be at least a few who are willing, in exchange for better treatment for themselves, to sell out their people.
If one takes the position that one group’s victimhood trumps the victimhood of others, and confers special status on that most victimized of all groups, then you are already on the wrong foot. While it is objectively true that some groups are more savagely victimized than others – for example, racism against black people in the US far exceeds white racism towards Asian Americans – that does not correspondingly mean that black people in general or in individual instances have a right to lord it over others because of their special status as bigger victims.
A letter signed by 327 people, including 40 Holocaust survivors and 287 relatives of Holocaust victims, condemns Israel’s massacres in Gaza, and was published in The New York Times on August 23, 2014. This is an extremely important statement. It was provoked not only by Israel’s massacres of men, women, and children in Gaza, but specifically by an August NYT statement by Elie Wiesel (that also ran in other papers, including the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian) that justified Israel’s actions on the grounds that Hamas was using children as “human shields.”
In the ad Wiesel states:
Moderate men and women of faith, whether that faith is in God or man, must shift their criticism from the Israeli soldiers – whose terrible choice is to fire and risk harming human shields, or hold their fire and risk the death of their loved ones – to the terrorists who have taken away all choice from the Palestinian children of Gaza.
The letter written in response to Wiesel by Holocaust survivors and relatives reads in part as follows:
As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine. We call for an immediate end to the siege against and blockade of Gaza. We call for the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. ‘Never again’ must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!
As one of the bios for a signatory to the ad reads:
Maia Ettinger is a writer and attorney living in Guilford, CT. Born in Warsaw, Poland, she came to the United States at the age of 5 with her mother and grandmother, both survivors of the Nazi genocide who escaped the Warsaw Ghetto as the trains began running to Treblinka. Raised as a proud, secular Jew, Maia was a strong supporter of Israel, and struggled with the issue of Palestinian rights until her mother visited a West Bank checkpoint during the first Gulf War. In a phone call from Israel, her mother said, “Maia, it was the Ghetto.”
As described within the August 23 letter, some Zionists are now speaking publicly and on the record, literally using words such as “genocide,” to justify any and all measures against Palestinians and Gaza specifically, a Zionist version of the Nazi’s “Final Solution” against the Jews themselves.
This would seem unthinkable – to become precisely that which you and yours have suffered so grievously from. Yet there it is. And it is, in fact, the logical outcome of the logic that narrowly defines opposition to oppression as exclusively opposition only to threats to one’s own group.
Here is an example of this logic reaching its logical conclusion. The following are comments of Ayelet Shaked, a member of the Israeli Parliament:
What’s so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people is the enemy? … in wars the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.
Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
Here is another example: a Zionist explicitly endorsing “genocide” against the people of Gaza. Yochanan Gordon, a Haredi journalist, the son of 5 Towns Jewish Times publisher Larry Gordon, published this horrendous piece in the Times of Israel and 5 Towns Jewish Times. He concluded his article with these words:
If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?
Genocide = responsible goal. It would be spectacular satire if it were satire. Unfortunately, it’s not.