Holocaust Denial, Siege and Identity

The centrality of the Holocaust in security perceptions

There is now a body of research that shows the socio-cultural and psychological significance of the Holocaust among Israelis (Bar-On, 2008; Ben-Amos and BetEl, 1999). Jaspal and Yampolsky (2011) have shown how social representations of the Holocaust can acquire particular salience among Israeli Jews of various ethnic backgrounds due to their participation in collective Israeli social contexts (e.g. the school environment). In these contexts, the Holocaust can come to be conceptualised in terms of a shared loss:

When you're in the class with all your friends and then they [the teachers] are telling you about the Holocaust there is something that makes you want to just cry, I tell you, not just crying but like a real heartfelt kind of crying. I cried after my classes thinking about how much we have lost. So many Jews died and so I realised that actually, yes, I have lost something too even if my parents were safe in India. We lost so much in the Holocaust. (Moshe, male)

Moshe viewed the communal context of the class environment as being conducive to the perception of the Holocaust as a shared loss. It appeared that the shared sense of Israeli identity, which was rendered salient in collective spaces such as the school context, individuals construed the Holocaust as a group-level loss. Interviewees clearly believed that the Holocaust had affected the Jewish ingroup as a whole. Jaspal and Yampolsky (2011) have argued that Israeli Jews may regard the Holocaust as an act of genocide which extends itself into the future and which could be repeated:

Talking about it like at home, yes, it's sad for us and you feel scared that this could happen in the world because we know that in the world a lot of people have [ … ] tried to kill the Jews. (Sarit, female)

Sarit's account highlighted the centrality of fear to her meaning-making vis-àvis the Holocaust, primarily because this represented an attempt to annihilate the ingroup. Sarit seemed to anchor social representations of the position of Jews in the world to consensually shared hegemonic representations of the Holocaust. This could induce fear of genocide, destruction and annihilation, threatening one's sense of ingroup security (Bar-On, 2008; Bar-Tal and Antebi, 1992; Wistrich, 1999b). The Holocaust was construed as evidence that, after centuries of repeated persecution, the Jews were most destructively targeted by outgroups. Moreover, there was a perception that this could happen again. The Holocaust served as a heuristic lens through which other intergroup conflicts could be regarded, which rendered hostile outgroups all the more threatening for identity (Bar-Tal and Teichman, 2005). In short, the security of the ingroup seemed to be perceived as
being subject to threat, a feeling which was aggravated by the salience of social representations of the Holocaust (Bar-Tal, 2000).

Some individuals adopted a broad definition of the Holocaust, which included acts of persecution against Jews:

The Holocaust was not just in Europe or in the concentration camps but there's been a Holocaust for a long time for the Jews, even my grandma when she tells me in Morocco they [Muslims] did a curfew [...] and my uncle was forced to sleep in the cow shit and they degraded him and beat him so badly this is the same thing […] the Jews were abused by the whole world at different times. (Gilad, male)

Most scholars agree that the Holocaust refers to the specific act of genocide against European Jewry, which was perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators (Gilbert, 1985; Salmons, 2003). However, Gilad appeared to conceptualise the Holocaust in much broader terms to encompass antisemitic persecution, in general. This intrapsychic strategy of re-conceptualisation allowed him to position his (Sephardic) ethnic group in relation to the Holocaust. The centrality of the Holocaust in Gilad's meaning-making vis-à-vis antisemitism led him to anchor examples of persecution of this kind to social representations of the Holocaust. He compared antisemitic persecution to the existing stock of familiar and socio-culturally accessible representations associated with the Holocaust, which permeates Jewish Israeli society (Moscovici, 1988). On the one hand, this constituted a means of making sense of antisemitism but, on the other hand, this appeared to induce fear regarding the future. In short, Gilad perceived his ethnoreligious ingroup as facing perpetual (security) threats from “the whole world”. He elaborated by explaining that various ethno-national groups have engaged in persecutory behaviour against the Jews “at different times” in history (see Bar-Tal and Antebi, 1992). Since the Holocaust was not temporally isolated, it remained a heuristic device to which novel, uncertain situations of persecution and conflict could be anchored (Moscovici, 1988).

It has been observed that Israeli politicians frequently invoke the Holocaust in order to justify and to rationalise Israel's military activities in the Israeli-Arab conflict (Segev, 1992). Similarly, participants invoked the Holocaust as a heuristic lens for understanding the Israeli-Arab conflict:

I just care about security and if it means to give them [Palestinians] their state then it's good for me [...] We built our country to avoid things like the Holocaust and so we need to keep our country safe to keep Jews safe. (Sara, female)

Sara appeared to endorse the existence of an independent Palestinian state primarily on the basis that this would enhance national security, which was presented as her sole concern. Use of the category “we” indicated acceptance of the social representation that the foundation of Israel constituted a collective ingroup endeavour to ensure that there could be no future repetitions of the Holocaust. Indeed, it has been observed
that many Israeli Jews regard the existence of a sovereign Jewish state as essential for the security and survival of Jews in the world (Lazar et al., 2008). The Holocaust seemed to function as a heuristic device for understanding the potential consequences of failing to ensure the safety of Israel, which participants unanimously perceived as a Jewish safe haven. Social representations of current ethno-national ingroup security seem to be anchored to representations of the Holocaust, which functioned as a symbolic warning of the potential consequences of failing to safeguard ethnonational ingroup safety. Participants invoked the Holocaust in order to understand and explain why the establishment of an independent Palestinian state was necessary for ingroup continuity.

Social representations of the Holocaust were clearly central to individuals' meaning-making vis-à-vis Jewish history and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due partly to the salience of Holocaust representations in Israel (Jaspal and Yampolsky, 2011). These representations surfaced in participants' reflections upon ingroup security, which was viewed as being jeopardised by hostile outgroups (Bar-Tal, 2000). Given the centrality of the Holocaust in participants' meaning-making, they clearly perceived Holocaust denial as a threat to identity.

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