History and religion can be powerful tools in justifying the present. And nobody does this better than Israel. The problem is that Israel, its leaders and by proxy, its people, expect that they can exploit and twist history and religion without ever feeling the sting from the backlash of such exploitation from others.
The starkest, and by far, the most hackneyed example of this is the Holocaust. At every opportunity, Israeli politicians drag up the Holocaust as a way of foremost, invoking pity for the Jewish people and thereby justifying its actions towards the Palestinians. It is appalling how the suffering and death of so many people –” Jewish and non-Jewish for that matter –” is cheapened and reduced to a mere political playing card. During his speech before the United Nations in September, 2009 following the horrific events of the Gaza war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid the Holocaust guilt trip on thick. He held up a map of Auschwitz and a copy of what he said were "precise German instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews." He focused on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenejad and berated anyone who listened to him. "To those who gave this Holocaust denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency?"
Let us not forget that the UN assembly had gathered on account of Israel’s killing of over 1,400 Palestinians during its 22-day invasion of Gaza. In the face of international condemnation and reports of the use of white phosphorous bombs, orphaned children and the annihilation of entire families, Israel did what it always does to cover its dirty tracks: exploit the suffering of the Jews to justify its atrocities against the Palestinians. The premise of Israel’s argument is often based on the premise that because the Jews suffered so much in history –” namely during the Holocaust –” they are immune to criticism and are entitled to all "defensive" measures that justify their so-called security. Israel’s Machiavellianism would put The Prince himself to shame.
The role of victim is getting old, however, not just with the Palestinians, who reject and frankly resent Israel’s assumption that the Jews have some sort of monopoly over suffering, but also to a good many others. One of the most famed of this group is a Jew himself, which means the exploitation of his own people’s history hurts even more. Dr. Norman Finkelstein, author of "the Holocaust Industry", whose parents were Holocaust survivors, is the first to admit that Israel exploits its people’s own history. In reference to the suffering of so many people such as African-Americans, the Vietnamese and the Palestinians, Finkelstein succinctly writes, "We are all holocaust victims."
The concept of anti-Semitism is also problematic in the sense that Israel exploits the term to its benefit at every turn while disregarding its own racist tendencies. Unfortunately, any criticism of Israel has become synonymous with anti-Semitism, a wily design by Israel to ward off any real scrutiny of its behavior. True, there are those who blur the lines between what is Israeli and Zionist and what is Jewish, which most will say is where the line is drawn for anti-Semitism. However, this is partly because Israel so often blurs that very same line to its own benefit. Israel is a land for the Jews, its leaders say, a people who have suffered persecution and racism and who have an historical right to this Promised Land.
When the conflict is put in such a framework, it is only natural that opposition to Israel and its policies will be interpreted as anti-Jewish, simply because this is how Israel defines itself. Of course, there is always the high road –” seeking the path that not even Israel takes, which is completely separating faith from state politics and directing opposition to Israel for its political and military actions against Palestinians, embodied in its oppressive and years-long occupation. That, no doubt, is the conscionable way to go, even if Israel constantly shoves its Jewish-character and the history of its people in the world’s face as a blanket justification for its persecution of the Palestinians.
Take the argument over Al Aqsa Mosque. During a political briefing with a group of American and European students in Jerusalem, the question came up of whether the Muslims are justified in denying Jews the right to enter the "Temple Mount" to pray and if that could ever be an option to the Palestinians. This is a perfect example of Israel exploiting its own religion for political purposes.
It is not the question of whether Muslims would allow Jews into Al Aqsa per se. It is about the political claims that are attached to this so-called religious reverence to the site. For one, Jews believe Al Aqsa’s compound is the site of the destroyed Second Temple, hence Al Aqsa’s significance to Muslims is automatically sidelined. Secondly, Al Aqsa is in the heart of Jerusalem, which Israel insists is its capital (even though the international community holds a different point of view). Hence, the entry of Jews (extremists mostly) into Al Aqsa is first and foremost a political show of force, to prove who has the ultimate power in the city. Religion is merely a guise, an excuse to further Israel’s political goals.
For those Jews who have realized that their faith has fallen hostage to Israel’s political ploys, this must feel extremely unfortunate. A loose comparison can be made to Muslim extremists who exploit Islam for unholy objectives. True Muslims who hold the utmost reverence for their religion, can only feel disdain towards those who dare to take advantage of it and carry out crimes in its name. Let us hope however, that Muslims such as these will remain a shunned minority in a sea of rationalism. For Israel, which was born from this unhealthy link between religion and the existence of the state, it is probably too late.