by Alban du Boisguéheneuc
Written on January 27, 2014, International Remembrance Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust and Prevention of Crimes against Humanity
Looking into the deepest sources of the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors, it is understandable that the Holocaust becomes a central theme. This is the historical crossroads which provided the ultimate impulse for the State of Israel, legitimizing its establishment. The Holocaust, which touches people’s conscience, revealing a kind of survival instinct within Humanity, can lead anti-Zionists through phases of self-questioning, to obtain, if anything, an equal status in the suffering it endured for so many years. Here we uncover a paradox in the argument. Dialogue, in principle, requires an egalitarian base, but here it is destructive. From a purely utilitarian (although sometimes sincere) perspective, Holocaust Denial is a shock argument aimed at restoring the truth. Nevertheless, it is double edged: it’s make or break. If it passes the situation could veer towards radicalism, otherwise it faces confinement, silence, because one cannot take back such words. Obviously, it cannot face such traumatism. The instinct of survival mocks rhetoric. But no matter, the revisionist argument is still used. One might think then that this is a reaction of anger, understandable in a context where dialogue was already very difficult if not impossible.
The Israel-Iran example and the Milgram experiment
The most obvious example is the Israel- Iran relationship.
"The pretext for establishing the Zionist regime is false. (...) It is based on an unfounded assertion and mythical lie», said Ahmadinejad, then president of Iran, on Friday, Sept. 18, 2009, during a day dedicated to Palestinian solidarity.
How can we analyze this phenomenon? Firstly, Ahmadinejad’s behavior is zealous and violent. The above statement marks a point of no return in the process of the revisionist argumentation. It is therefore a violent assault that brings to mind the Milgram experiment. The Milgram experiment, which focused on the theme of obedience to authority figures, was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Prof. Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University. In this case, Ahmadinejad would be concerned by the agentic state theory prepared by the scientist:
"The essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view themselves as the instrument for carrying out another person's wishes, and they therefore no longer see themselves as responsible for their actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred in the person, all of the essential features of obedience follow"1.
The Iranian President said: «Confronting the Zionist regime is a national and religious duty". The fourth response that was addressed at the subject's consciousness during the experiment was: «You have no choice, you must continue.»
This may explain the more radical position of the Iranian leader, who became a victim of this famous point of no return. In this way, he legitimizes his position through his religious duty by invoking the presence of a higher power.
"Thanks to the people and the will of God, the existence of the Zionist regime is on the decline, and that is what God and all nations want. As the Soviet Union was wiped out and no longer exists, the Zionist regime will soon be swept away."
This behavior is perhaps not reflective of the norm, and the Milgram experiment remains controversial, but it helps to reflect on the limits of the dialogue between Jews and Arabs.
1 Source: A cognitive reinterpretation of Stanley Milgram's observations on obedience to authority. American Psychologist 45: 1384–1385 (1990)