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Holocaust Memory and the Boundaries of Citizenship; Israel confronts labour migration and political refugees.

Rebecca Kook
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Rebecca Kook
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Open Panel

Abstract

Over the years, questions as to the uniqueness of the holocaust as a historical and moral event have underscored collective memory in Israel. Imbued with political meaning, the debate has been bounded by the need to base the legitimacy of Israel''s sovereignty in the legacy of the holocaust on the one hand, and the growing demands to acknowledge the Palestinian suffering (Nakba) as somehow comparable, on the other. With the recent influx of both labor migration from Asia on the one hand, and African refugees seeking asylum on the other, the moral and political legacy of the collective memory of the holocaust has resurfaced. Though distinct in status, both groups challenge contemporary Israeli notions of citizenship, and have provoked a range of government policies that serve to exclude and isolate these groups. The government''s reluctance to grant political asylum to the Darfur refugees and their efforts at deporting the children of illegal labor migrants has elicited a public debate which has drawn deeply from the holocaust narratives from which Israeli nationhood is constituted. The conflict over official policy towards the refugees and workers can be read as a conflict over different versions of holocaust memory. The rhetoric of a Jewish majority draws heavily on collective memories of Jewish victimhood and the historical vulnerability of the Jews as a minority, representing the workers and refugees as potential threats to the ability of the Jews to maintain a majority in Israel. The opposition to government policy regarding the refugees and workers also draws heavily on Israeli holocaust narratives. The campaign is founded on the axiom that the Jews, as victims of discrimination and deportation, are morally bound to protect victims of similar crimes and to be attuned to the universal implications of the holocaust. It is the purpose of this article to examine this public debate, focusing specifically on the complex interaction between the collective memory and legacies of the holocaust, and contemporary political conceptions of citizenship. In the article I argue that this debate should be examined in the context of the larger role of holocaust memory in Israel in confronting and acknowledging other instances of victimhood.