What is the Holocaust?

24 Apr

After the Libyan deputy UN ambassador, Ibrahim Dabbashi, compared the situation in Gaza to the Nazi Holocaust, the diplomats from France, US, Britain, Belgium and Costa Rica walked out of the consultation room to register their protest.

That the diplomats should get upset about the Libyan’s envoy comments throw up the fundamental question of whether what qualifies as a Holocaust. After all, why should the word, ‘Holocaust’ be restricted for only Jewish suffering under the Nazis but not others who have also suffered during Nazi rule? What about serious human rights violations committed by totalitarian or military regimes which cause the deaths of hundreds or thousands? How serious should a situation be before it can be considered a holocaust?

According to Wikipedia, the word Holocaust was in use as early as the 18th century to denote ‘the violent deaths of large number of people’. For example, Winston Churchill and other contemporaneous writers used it before World War II to describe the Armenian Genocide of World War I (Wikipedia on The Holocaust).

Finkelstein also argued that the Holocaust was not ‘cast as a uniquely Jewish – let alone a historically unique – event’ prior to the 1967 war. In fact, he asserted, ‘Organized American Jewry in particular was at pains to place it in a universalist context’ (Finkelstein, 2000 p. 42).

That the Nazi Holocaust should only be restricted to Jewish suffering is somewhat disturbing. After all, human sufferings, despite their ethnicity or religion (or otherwise) are equal. There is no reason why its use should only be restricted for Jewish suffering in concentration camps.

Whether the use of the word, holocaust is justified for the situation in Gaza will certainly invite ferocious debate. What is of foremost concern though, is that the situation in Palestine, specifically in Gaza, has deteriorated to such an extent that UNRWA had to suspend aid due to fuel shortage. The cause – Israel embargo.

The envoys should have made their presence more useful in the UN Security Council consultation by coming up with a resolution to pressurise Israel to stop its economic blockade , which are hurting the civilians, instead of being so hung up over a term.

= References=

1. Wikipedia on The Holocaust, accessed on 24 April 2008

2. Finkelstein, N. G 2000, The Holocaust Industry, Reflections on the exploitation of Jewish Suffering, Verso, London


2 Responses to “What is the Holocaust?”

  1. Ken Lovell April 25, 2008 at 4:50 pm #

    I agree with you but I’m afraid we are on the losing side. The pro-Israel lobby has appropriated various words for its own use and never again will they mean what they are supposed to mean.

    For example, in addition to what you say about ‘holocaust’, ‘genocide’ now has to refer exclusively to campaigns to eliminate Jews by mass murder and even ‘denialist’ can’t be used in climate change discussions without accusations of equating sceptics to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    At least we stole ‘gay’ from them :-D.

  2. mspennylane May 14, 2008 at 6:45 pm #

    I agree that keeping a term for a ‘unique’ event in history itself only blinds us to the fact that similar atrocities can happen, and are happening, in our world today. Such definitions, and the very concept of uniqueness, are dangerous.

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