The Tel-Aviv based Rosenfeld gallery offered a mat representing Adolf Hitlerâ€™s skin as a big game trophy at Art Cologne, a major art fair in Germany. The artwork, entitled Nazi Hunterâ€™s Room, by Israeli artist Boaz Arad, was priced at â‚¬35 000. I donâ€™t know if it was sold. Arads art work reminded me of an article I wrote in 2003 about the use of Nazi symbolism in contemporary Israeli art and the differences of perception of the symbols in the different political spheres and cultures.
Boaz Arad, detail from installation, 2007
So here it is (link to deutch):
Pipi, Poo, Hitler, Auschwitz
In a protest rally I attended in a Palestinian village, a placard was raised bearing the sketch Swastika = Star of David. I didn’t dedicate any thought for it, but a group of young Germans who were there with me reacted to it very badly, they didn’t understand how could a sign like this be raised in the village centre and nobody was pulling it down. They were also surprised by the considerable indifference with which the placard was received by us, the Israelis. We, on the other hand, ridiculed the German’s over sensitivity. Was the sign really targeted at us, could a Swastika frighten us? And maybe the young Germans are reacting more appropriately to signs we don’t recognise?
Zoya Cherkassy, Jude 2002
In Israel, the central lesson one learns from the Holocaust is the need for a strong Israel. From our early childhood we hear that everybody hates us, that “a nation dwells alone”, that only the state secures the Jewish people’s existence. Whomever accepts the lessons of the Holocaust as they are taught in Israel uses every expression of antisemitism to amplify those lessons by using the power of Nazi and Holocaust Symbols. Every harming of Jews is a pogrom, all enemies of the Israel are Nazis, the borders of 67 are the borders of Auschwitz and Saddam is Hitler.
Boaz Arad, Loop 2001
However, many Israelis know that power has limits and that Israel is the place where the most Jews get killed only because they are Jews. Ironically, I have friends who make use of their entitlement for a German passport because they feel that only a passport like that gives a Jew security these days. We want to adopt the universal lesson, but have no one to do it with. Even though there are plenty of frighteningly inappropriate politicians in Israel, persons one can call racist and even Fascist, there is no significant anti-racist/anti-Fascist mobilisation (and there never was). While there is a public outcry against the desecration of a Jewish cemetary in the south of France, parks and roads are built over Muslim cemetaries just under our noses. All this without expanding on racial discrimination in state laws in general and immigration laws in particular and 35 years of oppressing the Palestinian population in the occupied territories (and you ain’t seen nothing yet).
Palestinian terrorism, presumably the thing we as young Israelis should fear the most, has nothing to do with Nazism. The debate about the legitimacy of acts of resistance to the occupation has nothing to do with the Holocaust. Jews murdered during Passover dinner by cruel terrorism. That is shocking enough without mentioning Treblinka. Any thinking person knows that comparing the Star of David to the Swastika is ridicolous and absurd.
That placard probably caused more damage to the Palestinian struggle than benefit it, but the Palestinian who carried it is not an antisemite. He says Nazis are evil, a negative, an ideology he resists. He is not a skinhead waving a Swastika in pride. For the Palestinian the Star of David represents the Zionist entity, the militarist state and the Israeli occupation. Whenever Israeli military and state policies are compared to Nazism in demonstrations or pro-Palestinian press, there is an inner contradiction apparent, for that comparison is simply ludicrous, certainly from a historical perspective. But it is impossible to claim that the comparison is an act of antisemitism. Granted, this sort of ignorance is dangerous and frightening, but as opposed to Fascistic and racial ideologies that call for no debate and for a fight without compromise, with the Palestinians and the Arab world we have a conflict that is difficult but solvable.
Roee Rosen, part of the instalation ‘live and Die as Eva Braun
We live in a country with a Jewish majority that contains no antisemitism, but occupation and racism. This threat does not walk around in shiny leather boots spraying Swastikas on walls (that is what the artists do). Therefore the Fascistic and Nazi aesthetic and symbolism do not posit a threat for us. Cynicism exchanges emotion. We are afraid to express genuine feelings towards the Holocaust because it has been appropriated by the Zionist nationalism which threatens us so much.
The seemingly cynical disrespect many young Israelis (including the young artistic community) demonstrate towards the symbols of Nazism and the Holocaust is nothing compared to the cynicism with which our leaders use the Holocaust in order to achieve military and policy goals. I can draw a Hitler mustache to whomever I want (myself included), if former Prime-Minister Netanyahu compares Arafat to Hitler. The authorities see the Nazi demons everywhere and cry wolf. We, embarrassed, perceive the wolf as a little puppy and want to play with it. Holocaust and Nazis, what a barrel of laughs. Who at all has the right to tell us not to toy around. We were not the ones to defile the sanctity of the Holocaust. In a place where there is no discourse on the oppression of the other, in a place where without the Jew there is no memory and only the Jew can be a victim, in a place where there is no serious coming to terms with the most horrible traumatic disaster ever to befall mankind, in a place where there is no real attempt to understand the source of evil and the growth of the Nazi monster, we stand confused like a little child and shout “pipi, poo, Hitler, Auschwitz”.
Yoav Ben-david, Join The Party 2002
In Europe the Star of David still signifies the victim, and the Swastika has many believers, and a placard in a European square like the one raised in that Palestinian village would have been shocking, scary and demanding reaction. There is no doubt that Antisemitism exists and even increased recently. Still many young, bright, intelligent Israelis dismiss the threatening signs, playing and toying with their visual symbols and ignore them when they build their own world-view. True, it’s very confusing, but; I’m afraid, even though the values are shared, the struggles are not in the same court. The fight against antisemites and racists in Europe is the Europeans’ duty, I can not help as I am preoccupied with other struggles. Swastikas don’t bother me and the symbols of the Holocaust should be stripped off their power so they can not serve the Israeli nationalists and Fascists. We need to conduct our struggle in the Israeli and Middle-Eastern language.
Tamy Ben-Tor, from the video “Hitler – the Horror and the Horrah, 2003
* Images from the exhibition “Wonderyears” Berlin 2003