Guilt is not genetic

Knesset Member Shelly Yachimovich of Labor says she’ll skip German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech, in German, to the Knesset, Ha’aretz reports. Arieh Eldad of the far-right National Union, to do her one worse, said he’ll wait for her to start speaking, then stand up and leave the hall.

“I can’t bear the thought of hearing German in the Knesset,” he said. “This is the language my grandparents were murdered in.”

Eldad’s promise to insult has a certain internal logic. He belongs to a political camp that treats nations as organic units, erasing the individual. The fact that Merkel was born nine years after the Holocaust is irrelevant. For him, Germanness is guilty.

Yachimovich has no such excuse for treating guilt as a trait that can be passed from parent to child, in a form of Lamarkian evolution. Guilt for the Holocaust belongs to those who carried it out, to a lesser extent to those who would deny it or cover it up. Merkel does not bear that responsibility. Nor does the language bear the responsibility. I understand the emotional reaction, but Yachimovich should overcome the emotions. She says she is concerned for the feelings of survivors, but she should be able to tell survivors: The daughter does not bear the sin of the parents.

But then, Yachimovich’s symbolic absence is a much less offensive assertion of collective guilt than Labor leader Ehud Barak’s support of demolishing the home of the terrorist from Jabel Mukaber. While I’m glad that Haim has brought our attention to studies showing that house demolitions do not deter terror, I don’t think lack of effectiveness is the real flaw in the measure. The flaw is that it punishes people for a crime that someone else committed – that it treats a collective as responsible for the crime of the individual.

2 thoughts on “Guilt is not genetic”

  1. As a child of Holocaust survivors, I get a chill when I hear German being spoken, but I am realistic enough to know that this is a different Germany, and that Merkel should not be punished because her grandparents murdered my grandparents. We should be looking at the present, and demand that Germany stop trading with Iran, the current threat to the Jews, and that Merkel do what she can to prevent German companies from selling advanced technology to Iran. Right now, it is more important to demand that Merkel help prevent a future Holocaust than have her focus on the prior one.

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