Reclaiming the lost voices of thousands who were killed because they were Jews.
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Giulio Meotti, an Italian journalist and author. His columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Commentary. He graduated with a degree in philosophy at the University of Florence. He is the author of the new book, A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism.
FP: Giulio Meotti, welcome to Frontpage Interview. Let’s begin with what inspired you to write A New Shoah.
Meotti: Thanks Jamie for your special hospitality.
As a non-Jew, I feel the cause of Israel as inseparable from the fate of the Western civilization. Israel is in the Middle East, but its existence is not just in the Middle East per se. In that tiny land currently live the sons and daughters of the European civilization that was brutally annihilated during the Holocaust. Israel is on the border, we are behind the front lines, but we are in the same fatal conditions. We, Europeans and Americans, should feel the Israelis as our brothers.
The current Jihadi terror flare up in the world after 9/11 is, on several realms, grounded on anti-Semitism – which is the real cause of the Middle East conflict. Anti-Semitism not only explains the war on Israel but also on the invisibility of Jewish victims in the media. I decided to start the book in 2003. I was in Israel for a tv documentary about the Second Intifada. There was a terror attack in Haifa, in a restaurant that Yigal Allon, an Israeli general and politician, called a symbol of Arab-Jewish coexistence. A Palestinian woman blew herself up and twenty people were killed after their last meal. A broken stroller, of a baby who had just been just killed, gave me the physical dimension of Israel’s battle for survival. Hundreds and hundreds of people killed in Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Hadera and Sderot didn’t find a voice in the global media. So I started a research project that had cost me six years, working on families and survivors of terrorism.
The goal of the book is to epitomize the mere statistics of Israeli victims of terror with stories, ideals and faces. I consider this book like an incarnation of the disaster and of Israel’s humanity and heroism.
FP: Can you kindly explain the meaning of “Shoah” for those readers who might not know what it means?
Meotti: Shoah is a Hebrew word that means calamity, catastrophe, massive destruction. It’s a mysterious and marvelous word currently synonymous with the Holocaust of 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis. The suppression of the Jewish victim’s identity, of his name, of his face, the abolition of his humanity, were the motors of the Holocaust sixty years ago.
Likewise, in today’s Europe, the venom of anti-Semitism and the hatred of Israel are accepted and propagated generously, paving the way for a second Shoah. Europe negates the history of Israel, its right of existence recognized by the United Nations, and the dignity of Israeli victims. Exactly ten years ago, Palestinian terrorist groups launched the Second Intifada, resulting in this Israeli “Ground Zero” with 1,500 civilian victims. Israel is a very tiny country, and this number would be proportionally equivalent to about 54,000 terror victims in the United States: 20 times the 11/9. The hundreds of attacks in Israel, day after day, amount to a sort of “new Shoah,” a mini Holocaust.
In the book, I move from the extermination camps that covered Europe to the massacres of innocents in Israel in a continual recount of family stories. I also decided to adopt the word Shoah because today in the Western democracies the Holocaust’s memory is a special weapon in the hands of Israel’s haters. Just a couple of examples: In Holland the president of the parliament and leader of the Socialist Party, Jan Marijnessen, compared Islamic terrorism in the Middle East to the European resistance against the Nazis. Shallow declarations about the evils of the Holocaust have become a tool against what anti-Semites paint as our modern fascists, the Israelis. Trine Lilleng, a Norwegian diplomat spelled it out more directly: “The grandchildren of Holocaust survivors from World War II are doing to the Palestinians exactly what was done to them by Nazi Germany.” In the last fifteen years, hundreds and hundreds of Jews were killed because they were Jews, while the guardians of memory were busy in non-useful phony ceremonies. In Europe, they betrayed the memory of the Shoah.
FP: Expand a bit on why the story you are telling has been untold.
Meotti: This amount of Israeli suffering and pain was systematically neglected by the global public opinion. These stories of Israeli victims of terrorism had to be forgotten in order to promote the image of Israel as a colonialist, fascist, violent and arrogant state. These terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians should have been condemned by the United Nations as “crimes against humanity,” but they were always blamed on Israel’s very existence. Europe denied these victims’ existence because the Old Continent can’t pardon the Jews for the Holocaust. It’s a very deep way of “digesting” the Holocaust: we remember the Holocaust’s Jews so we can delegitimize the Israelis who are fighting for their own lives. Europe has a sense of guilt vis-à-vis the Jews because of the Holocaust. So by finding reasons to blame Israel, it believes it can assuage its guilt.
For ten years, Israel has been seeing rockets hitting its civilian population and nobody in Europe has said a word. The hatred toward Israel has emanated from the walls of the human rights conference halls. The Western universities have become fertile grounds for the cultivation of the genocidal reading proposed by Ahmadinejad. The Western media suppressed or minimized the suffering of the Israeli population under terrorism. The narrative has made Israel an international criminal, has attributed to the Jewish State all the characteristics that make it deserve the death penalty, from racism to apartheid. The journalists made themselves potential accomplices to genocide. They deny Israel’s victims dignity to delegitimize the Jewish historic right to Israel. The Jewish people were born there, lived there for centuries; it is there that they founded monotheism, a moral law that has generated democracy and prosperity. But for the Arabs, and not only for the Palestinians, for the Western appeasers, the Jewish presence in the area is deemed illegal and evil, forever. The world should be ashamed when it left the Israelis alone, during the Second Intifada, to be killed in cafes, buses, supermarkets and restaurants. The suicide bombers were always praised by the press as “victims.” This monstrous morality has been now poured all over Europe, where anti-Semitism has grown in all of its cities.
FP: Bring to life some of the human stories and tragedies told in your book.
Meotti: I wanted to recreate a chain of thousands of human beings, young and old, children, babies, women and men massacred at random in buses, cafeterias, shops and restaurants by those who believe that to kill is an act of faith. Terrorism destroyed an entire class of people just because of their identity, free Jews living in their land and state, Israeli Arabs in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The book is built on the testimonies of all kinds of Israeli victims of terrorism: “settlers” slaughtered in what they call “Judea and Samaria,” kibbutznikim killed in their beds, the doctors and psychiatrists, young students massacred in dancing places, Soviet dissidents killed after emigration to Israel, Americans massacred at the Israeli universities, orthodox women assassinated at pilgrim places, adolescents destroyed along with military reservists and Holocaust survivors.
These victims form the great family of Israel. There is a very important lesson in these stories: despite six decades of war and suffering, the majority of Israelis don’t feed hatred or pessimism. I always met optimism. It's an amazing phenomenon that deals with the survival of the Jewish nation after 3.000 years of exile, killings, pogroms and Holocaust. It’s a great sign of vitality when Jewish women who lost parents and brothers help Arab women to give birth to their babies. The survivors were always able to rebuild after the attacks, they married again and had more babies.
Israel’s normality is its main victory. Israelis were able to live and progress at the base of the vulcan. In 1991, when Saddam Hussein rockets felt on the city of Tel Aviv, the Israeli Orchestra auditorium was full of people. The director Zubin Mehta, a non-Jew, was playing Bach when the siren started to sound. Mehta and the great Isaac Stern continued the concert wearing a gas mask. Or like the young people that continue to fall in love under the rockets in Sderot or Kiryat Shmona, two Israeli cities bombed by Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran’s president Ahmadinejad just visited the Lebanese border with Israel.
An exact copy of the Al Aksa mosque of Jerusalem was built by Hezbollah in front of the Israeli village of Avivim, home to 400 Israelis (half of them, women, children and old people, are evacuated when the fire occurs in the border). There is fresh air and flocks on the green of Avivim, full of cedars and pines. Imagine what it means to be an Israeli in Avivim. Waking up every morning with the apocalypse in your face. But they don’t leave their houses. I am also thinking of the families that created foundations in the name of their murdered relatives. These foundations help Jews and Arabs alike.
It’s not only a book about mourning, it tells the story of “the land of blood and honey.”
FP: Your thoughts on those in the West who support the monsters who have caused the pain to the Israeli people that you document in your book?
Meotti: Today Israel is a pariah state, boycotted and condemned to death. The process of depersonalization and dehumanization of these victims began at the United Nations. In 2004, during the Second Intifada, the United Nations chose to condemn the defense of Israelis civilians as “illegal.” I am referring to the UN’s decision against the security barrier built by Israel to stop the suicide bombings. Ahmadinejad now can announce the end of Israel in an international summit at the UN, and all the West does is shake his hand. And piece by piece, bit by bit, they are destroying the structure of universalism and natural justice that arose after World War II. A great responsibility is also upon the shoulders of the European Union, because its current policy against Israel and because they funded the Palestinian anti-Semitism with textbooks, television programs and cultural activities.
The journalists and the intellectuals also contributed their own part: they were decisive by formulating the image of the Jewish State as an alien and temporary presence in the Middle East. Look at the Freedom Flotilla recent episode in Gaza: all over the world, journalists immediately spread the idea that Israel wanted to attack and kill a group of “pacifists.” They always invent a cruelty, a racism, a persecution, a desire for conquest and a scorn for peace that never existed.
Europe is becoming again the realm of Jews hatred. A group of Israeli tennis players was only allowed to play behind closed doors in a Swedish stadium. In Hannover, an Israeli dance group was stoned by demonstrators shouting “Juden Raus.” A major Swedish newspaper wrote that Israeli soldiers kill young Palestinians to harvest their organs. It’s a new blood libel. European supermarkets have more than once decided to boycott Israeli goods. The Israeli movies are ousted from global festivals. Scientific discoveries, technological products are systematically boycotted. Israeli academics are expelled from European universities and conferences. Nobody raises an eyebrow to the fact that the socialist and pacifist Spain bars gay Israelis from participating in a gay pride parade in Madrid, when the Palestinian gays are now hiding in Israel. Also the Christian establishment has its own moral responsibility. Pope John Paul II during his visit to Israel in 2000 met President Bashar Assad in Quneitra on the Syrian border. I can’t forget how Assad told the Pope and the media that the Israelis were doing to the Palestinians what the Jews had done to Jesus in his day. And the Pope was silent.
FP: Tell us about what Judaism teaches about the importance of “remembering” for survivors.
Meotti: I see Israel as the most relevant expression of Judaism. Israel is the miracle of a nearly three-thousand-year moral and intellectual capacity for survival amid the greatest tragedies. The sense of prodigy that Israel represents dominates the day of Hanukkah, which recalls the miracle of oil during the battle of the Maccabees; Pesach, with the flight from Egypt, evokes the contemporary feeling of a return to liberty after millenia of slavery in the Diaspora; Yom Kippur is the necessity of expiation before the suffering of humanity and one’s own. These three festivities explain this everlasting human misery that survived to Greek hegemony, to the Pagan Romans, to the Christian conversions, to the slavery under Islam, and later, to Nazi and Communist totalitarianism.
The secret of Jewish survival lies in its way to memory. We can easily see this phenomenon in Israel. Soldiers who have given their lives for Israel are remembered in ceremonies devoid of nationalist rhetoric and with familial warmth, with exaltations of love and of courage that lack militaristic connotations: no threats to the enemy as in Tehran or Damascus, no ferocious accusations, no racism. Instead, amid pain and tears, girlfriends and brothers remember the trips, sports, the passion for music and art of their lost loved ones, and also their ability to imbue confrontation with civil and moral values. Civil and military values are combined in the national day of remembrance for fallen soldiers, Yom ha-Zikkaron, in which, for twenty-four hours of ceremonies, of special television and radio programs, peace and not war is lauded without intermission. There is also always a pervasive feeling of optimism. Maybe it comes from Judaism's belief in a happy conclusion to creation, represented by the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah is always around the corner.
FP: The effect writing the book had on you? It must have taken a lot of emotional and psychological strength, but also taken a toll.
Meotti: Entering into the world of sorrow of the terrorist’s victims was a very difficult task, generating often depression and intellectual solitude, but during these years of research and discussions with the victim’s families, I was rewarded by the warmth and empathy developed by these contacts. I also realized that, in spite of the gas chambers and terrorism, Israel represents the essence of liberty. In my job I fought against a lot of hostility because Europe is a paranoid place against Israel. But I always knew that I had to pay a price for bringing back the lost voices of thousands of people killed just because they were Jews. I don’t regret anything about this black adventure, because as said to me by a mother of two girls killed one June evening while they were dancing, “you have to bring the truth to the world.”
FP: What is this conflict about? Is there any sense or meaning that one can make out of all the evil and suffering that we see before our eyes?
Meotti: The conflict has political, economical, diplomatic, religious, human and ideological causes. The whole world is now a victim of a kind of malaise, hysteria, a collective fantasy that makes Israel, the collective Jew, the purveyor of all ills. We must never forget that Israel is on our side in the battle against terror. Israel stands on the front line of that fight as a bulwark of Judeo-Christian values. The belief that democracies can sacrifice the tiny Israel in order to placate Islamism is profoundly dangerous. Appeasement failed in the 1930s and it will fail today. We all have something to learn from the Israeli mothers who must face the disturbing fact that an eighteen-year-old is on the front lines in conditions of life-threatening danger.
FP: What do you hope your book will help achieve?
Meotti: Hostility to the Jews has been a stain on the Western world's honor for centuries. It’s time to put it to an end. We have a lot to learn from the epic of a people that has suffered all of the worst injustices of the world, and above all is reborn time and again thanks to its moral strength. Many people I think would find my stories of victims of terror very important for their own conscience. All the Jews who care about Israel and want to know the stories forgotten by the mainstream media; All those Christians who love Israel and care about the fate of the Jewish people after the Holocaust. All the “neutral” readers that have never known what is going on in that far away land.
I hope these stories will open the eyes to the human rights organizations in the global forums: for the first time this book tell the crimes against humanity against the Jewish people. The memories of these victims, living monuments to life and hope, can help to fight impunity and hatred. During the Second Intifada, every day in Israel bus drivers, waiters, store owners, doctors, and students grabbed terrorists with their hands, threw them to the ground, and removed bags with explosives from their backs and saved the passengers of a bus, customers in a supermarket, patrons of a café. Are we today, we Europeans and Americans, just as ready to consider our citizens more important than ourselves or our families? The national rebirth in its original homeland of a people threatened with extinctions for three thousand years, should represent, especially in the eyes of our civilization a promise of redemption for all humanity. That’s the greatest message of the book. Israel is a lighthouse of life, when life is the most endangered value of our times. And therefore, the most envied while it flows in the veins of a people constantly under threat.
FP: Giulio Meotti, thank you for joining us and thank you for writing this book – one of the most vital books of our time.