In his chapter ‘The Denial of Known Genocides’ in the book Genocide: A Critical Bibliographic Review vol. 2 (London: Mansell 1991), Israel W. Charny, the book’s editor, discusses instances where the survivors of genocides are perfectly prepared to tolerate and approve of massacres and atrocities against others, despite having been the victims of such crimes themselves. Charny discusses the findings of research done in Israel, including with Holocaust survivors and medical students, as well as the general public. This found that a disturbingly high number of Israelis, and especially those, who had survived the horrors of the Nazi camps and student medical professionals, were more than willing to tolerate and even approve the mass murder of other human beings.
Another sense in which victims can be said to be engaging in denial is that, despite their profound awareness of the extent of man’s inhumanity to man, many survivors themselves have not learned to make a commitment to protecting the lives of all other human beings. Charny and his associates have conducted a series of studies of the readiness of Holocaust survivors to approve or recommend or themselves be prepared to do evil to others. In the one study referred to early (Charny and Fromer, submitted for publication), where Jewish/Israelis who were going to see Lanzmann’s film Shoah were interviewed, the subjects were asked their opinions about a soldier who had been convicted for massacre of innocent Arabs who said years later that he would do it again – that he was only following orders, and would serve his country’s needs the same way under similar circumstances. Overall 38% of the subjects approved of the soldier’s position; among Holocaust survivors, children of survivors and an extended group of the subjects who had expressed themselves as strongly involved with the Holocaust, the approval rate was 46% as compared to 26% among non-survivors (a difference that was statistically significant).
In another experiment, Charny and Fromer (in press) and Fromer and Charny (submitted for publication) studied Jewish/Israeli students in medicine, psychology and social work as to their readiness to harm and even kill patients. The subjects were presented with a situation in which they were to imagine themselves in the future working in a developing country in Africa. As condition in the country worsen seriously and resources dwindle, the health authorities undertake to eliminate treatment and maintenance for the most severe cases, and to undertake involuntary mass euthanasia; 34% of the subjects agreed to the former step, and 17% to the latter. When the subjects were then told that the Ministry of Health determined that the involuntary euthanasia would be executed more humanely if done by professionals, and the subjects were asked who of themselves would be prepared to kill the patients, 11% agreed. In a continuation of the same experiment (Charny and Fromer – in press, and Fromer and Charny, submitted for publication), the subjects were also asked to think of themselves as having been called up to national service by an extreme right-wing Israeli government and they are ordered to classify all Arab citizens of Israel in connection with the government’s program for a forced migration of the Arabs from Israel. The rates of compliance varied between 21% and 34% (or one out of five to one out of three). The seriousness of the behaviours in all of the above cases was underscored by an addition survey the authors made of 30 supervisors-trainers in medicine, psychology and social work, 60% of whom, and in some cases many more, indicated they would expel any student from their clinical training programme who would agree to participate in such activities.
Charny and Sarid (in process) have studied the opinions of Israelis of the desirability of the Israeli government maintaining political, economic and security-interest relationships with each of three governments who were described as persecuting a minority people in their land. Although the situations described were presented as fictional, each actually was patterned after a specific real scenario – (a) South Africa; (b) Nazi Germany preceding the Holocaust or Turkish-Armenian relationships leading up to the Armenian genocide; and (c) the Holocaust. These responses were also analyzed for differences between Holocaust survivors and others. 78% of the survivors opposed the Israeli government maintaining relationships with the government that was described as persecuting its targeted minority in a way that was similar to what happened in the Holocaust, while 64.5% of non-survivors took this position. However, with respect to the two other persecutory governments who were oppressing their minorities differently, 56% of survivors and 39 to 52% (in different situations) of non-survivors took this position. The implication of these findings is that both Holocaust survivors specifically as well as other Israelis tend to have “learned” much more how to oppose evils which resemble the ones they endured against other peoples, but continue to deny or not react as strongly to the dangers of other “faces of evil” to which they do not generalize a full measure of moral outrage.
Altogether, these studies record a disappointing degree of callousness and obtuseness to genocidal massacre and threat of massacre towards peoples by substantial numbers of actual Holocaust survivors as well as, overall, on the part of the people of the survivors of the Holocaust, namely Jewish/Israelis. It should rightly be noted that research date from other peoples often show even higher rates of identification with and justification of genocidal massacres (e.g. Kelman and Hamilton, 1989; see also the extensive discussions of these issues in Charny and Fromer in press – a and b, and submitted for publication); but from an ideal ethical point of view, one would wish that all survivors of the Holocaust, and all Jewish/Israelis, would manifest an unerring sensitivity to the plights of all other peoples. (Pp. 7-8, my emphasis).
These figures are disturbing and disappointing because of the expectation many people have that the Jews, as a people, who have suffered horrendous persecution during much of their history, and particularly Holocaust survivors, who have been through what can only be described as a living hell – should be uniquely placed to have a greater hostility to the perpetration of such crimes.
Please Note: I am not suggesting for a single moment that Jews or Israelis are any more intolerant or ready to commit genocide and massacre than any other people. Indeed, Charny’s article passage reproduced here makes it clear that other nations may be even more disposed to do so. I think it’s highly likely that if a comparable test of British people were performed, the same numbers would also show themselves willing to tolerate or commit genocidal acts.
I am also very much aware of the number of courageous Jews, Israelis and people of Jewish heritage, who are very much opposed to their society’s ethnic cleansing and oppression of the Palestinians. Indeed, the above passage also makes it very clear that there are very many Israelis, who are profoundly opposed to the murder of Palestinian and Arab innocents, and the forced expulsions of the Palestinians from their native land. Israelis and Jews from America, Britain and across the world have protested against the massacres, the house demolitions and the creation of an apartheid state in Israel, including rabbis. They are extremely courageous individuals, as just as gentiles are accused of being anti-Semitic if they dare oppose or criticise Israel, so they run risk of being denounced as ‘self-hating’ and ‘un-Jewish’. Many of those, who have been libelled as anti-Semites and suspended from the Labour party, are Jews or people of Jewish heritage, who have a distinguished personal history of combatting and confronting racism and anti-Semitism. Like Jackie Walker, the vice-chair of Momentum, amongst too many others.
Reading this, I got the impression that Binyamin Netanyahu and his fellow nationalist extremists in the Likud party and the other members of the governing right-wing coalition had also read this research, and drawn the wrong conclusions. While Charny and his academic colleagues were dismayed by these results, Netanyahu and his stormtroopers were delighted, and drew the wrong conclusions. Charny and the other authors collected in the above book were concerned to place the Holocaust in its context as one genocide amongst so many others, and wish to make people aware of genocide and concerned to oppose and prevent it, no matter wherever and against whomever it may occur. Netanyahu and his colleagues have found that, despite the experience of the Holocaust, a sizable proportion of the Israeli population were prepared to tolerate the massacre and ethnic cleansing of the country’s indigenous Arabs.
It also shows why the Neocons and Likudniks are so keen to insist that the Holocaust is a unique event, and should not be coupled with concern for other victims of genocides, as has been done by most mainstream Jewish organisations. And why, despite its claim to include other victims of genocide, in fact the focus in Holocaust Memorial Day is very much on the Jewish experience to the exclusion of other groups.
Jackie Walker was quite right to question that exclusive focus. If we allow it to go ahead, and do not rightly commemorate the victims of other crimes against humanity, then we do run the risk, as she stated very clearly in her explanation of the previous set of remarks that led to her libelling as an anti-Semite, of creating a hierarchy of suffering which ignores the pain of other races and groups. And which could perilously lead to complacency about such other crimes, particularly those against the Palestinians, which the Israel lobby are very keen to deny, or rebut through accusing their critics of being anti-Semitic.
We very much need not just to commemorate the victims of the Shoah, but all the victims of genocide. And perhaps it’s time to ask another awkward, embarrassing question: the Palestinians have been the victims of ethnic cleansing for decades. Isn’t it about time their suffering was officially memorialised in Holocaust Memorial Day?