From Israel Through European Eyes by Yoram Hazony:
In these words, the tie between the Holocaust and what Ben-Gurion calls the “sin” of Jewish powerlessness is powerfully in evidence. The meaning of Auschwitz is that the Jews failed in their efforts find a way to defend their children. They depended on others, decent men in power in America or Britain, who, when the time came, did virtually nothing to save European Jewry. Today, most Jews continue to believe that the only thing that has really changed since those millions of our people perished—the only thing that stands as a bulwark against the repetition of this chapter in the world’s history—is Israel.
It is a little-discussed fact that the Jews are not the only ones for whom Auschwitz has become an important political symbol. Many Europeans, too, see Auschwitz as being at the heart of the lesson of World War II. But the conclusions they draw are precisely the opposite of those drawn by Jews. Following Kant, they see Auschwitz as the ultimate expression of that barbarism, that brutal debasement of humanity, which is national particularism. On this view, the death camps provide the ultimate proof of the evil that results from permitting nations to decide for themselves how to dispose of the military power in their possession. The obvious conclusion is that it was wrong to give the German nation this power of life and death. If such evil is to be prevented from happening again and again, the answer must be in the dismantling of Germany and the other national states of Europe, and the yoking together of all the European peoples under a single international government. Eliminate the national state once and for all—Ecrasez l’infame!—and you have sealed off that dark road to Auschwitz.
Notice that according to this view, it is not Israel that is the answer to Auschwitz, but the European Union: A united Europe will make it impossible for Germany, or any other European nation, to rise up and persecute others once again. In this sense, it is European Union that stands as the guarantor of the future peace of the Jews, and indeed, of all humanity.
So here you have two competing paradigms concerning the meaning of Auschwitz. In a sense, they’re each looking at the same facts: Both paradigms take it as a given that millions were murdered in Auschwitz by the Germans and their collaborators, that the deeds done there were utterly evil, and that Jews and others who died there were the helpless victims of this evil. But at this point, agreement ends. From here, precisely as Kuhn suggests, individuals looking at the same facts through different paradigms see utterly different things:
Paradigm A: Auschwitz represents the unspeakable horror of Jewish women and men standing empty-handed and naked, watching their children die for want of a rifle with which to protect them.
Paradigm B: Auschwitz represents the unspeakable horror of German soldiers using force against others, backed by nothing but their own government’s views as to their national rights and interests.
It’s important to see that these two views, which at first don’t even seem to be talking about the same thing, are actually describing points of view that are almost perfectly irreconcilable. In the one, it’s the agency of the murderers that is seen as the source of the evil; in the other, the powerlessness of the victims—a seemingly subtle difference in perspective that opens up into a chasm when we turn these competing paradigms in another direction and look at Israel through their eyes.
Here are the same two paradigms, now with their attention turned to Israel and what it represents:
Paradigm A: Israel represents Jewish women and men standing rifle in hand, watching over their own children and all other Jewish children and protecting them. Israel is the opposite of Auschwitz.
Paradigm B: Israel represents the unspeakable horror of Jewish soldiers using force against others, backed by nothing but their own government’s views as to their national rights and interests. Israel is Auschwitz.
In both paradigms, the fact of Israel takes on an extraordinary significance because of the identity of the Jews as the victims of the Shoah. For Israel’s founders, the fact that the survivors of the death camps and their children could be given weapons and permitted to train as soldiers under a Jewish flag seemed a decisive movement of the world toward what was just and right. It could in no sense make up for what had happened. But it was just nonetheless, granting the survivors precisely that empowerment that, had it come a few years earlier, would have saved their loved ones from death and worse. In this sense, Israel is the opposite of Auschwitz.
But Israel takes on extraordinary significance in the new European paradigm as well. For in Israel, the survivors and their children took up arms and set themselves on a course of determining their own fate. That is, this people, so close to the Kantian ideal of perfect self-renunciation only a few decades ago, have instead chosen what is now seen as the path of Hitler—the path of national self-determination. It is this which lies beneath the nearly boundless disgust so many feel towards Israel, and especially toward anything having to do with Israel’s attempts to defend itself, regardless of whether these operations are successful or unsuccessful, irreproachable or morally flawed. For in taking up arms in the name of their own national state and their own self determination, the Jews, as many Europeans and others now see it, have simply taken up the same evil that led Germany to build the camps. The details may differ, but the principle, in their eyes, is the same: Israel is Auschwitz.
Israel continues to be threatened militarily, first and foremost by Iran. But if Israel falls, it will not be by way of Iranian missiles. It will be by way of words, as the Soviet Union fell. Jews and non-Jews will simply cease to understand why such a state should exist—and then one day, with awesome speed, the independent Jewish state will be no more.
(Via Maimon Schwarzschild, whose comments on the Hazony piece are worth reading.)