The Middle East Conflict, Antisemitism and the Holocaust
The following address some of the most common ways the Holocaust and related terms have been misused in the current operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Can one compare the current Israeli operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip with the Holocaust?
As deplorable as the loss of civilian life is in any war, including this one, the situation in the Gaza Strip is not comparable in any way to the Holocaust or any other genocide. During the Holocaust, some 6 million Jews were murdered in a systematic fashion, by a regime and its collaborators which fully believed that their deaths were necessary for the good of mankind. There were extermination camps set up specifically to systematically murder Jewish men, women and children. In other Nazi camps, Jews (and in some cases others) were intentionally robbed of their basic human dignity and freedom, and, almost always, worked to death because they were considered less than human. Today, fighting is raging in Israel and in the Gaza Strip and the inhabitants are suffering greatly owing to the callous way Hamas thrust a war upon them, but no one is being mass murdered or worked to death by Israel, and there certainly are no death or concentration camps. The Nazis’ goal was to murder every single Jewish person in Europe, and ultimately in the world, a policy of systematic, mass murder of all Jews – men, women and children - simply because they were Jews.
Whereas the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel can be seen as one over land and sovereignty, with tangible issues and a long and bitter history, Hamas advocates the total obliteration of Israel and the murder of as many of its people as possible. As such, Hamas is at its core an antisemitic, genocidal terrorist movement. Right now Israel is engaged in a military operation to prevent Hamas from carrying out its murderous intentions. Despite the tragic casualties implicit in warfare, in no way can this be construed as Israel perpetrating a Holocaust.
What is Genocide, and why isn't the current operation in the Gaza Strip considered Genocide?
In public discourse the term "Genocide" is frequently stretched far beyond its legal definition. In common parlance, Genocide is often wrongly used to describe any kind of military operation where there are civilian casualties, regardless of the actual, cause, intention or effect. This is often used to blur the reality of the events and to score propaganda points.
The definition of the crime of Genocide - as adopted by the United Nations in December 1948 - is more specific. It contains two parts: The first part of the definition is about the intent to totally annihilate a group of people defined as racial, national, ethnic or religious. The second is about the intent to destroy the ability of that group to exist as a group through selected mass murder, destruction of political and cultural leadership, and the destruction of culture. The two parts are not exactly the same, but obviously are closely related. The first part of the definition describes quite closely what the Nazis and their various partners tried to do to the Jews in World War II, and what has come to be known as Holocaust. The second part of the definition applies to a fairly long list of historical events that should be considered Genocides.
According to the United Nations' definition, and the facts on the ground, the term "Genocide" is not relevant to the current war situation in the Gaza Strip. Hamas’ charter, however, which seethes with antisemitic invective, frequently taken from Nazi vocabulary, and calls for the total destruction of Israel, could be considered genocidal.
Should the Gaza Strip be termed an “extermination or Nazi death camp"?
Millions of Jews were murdered in an industrialized fashion in the Nazi extermination camps, by people who believed that the Jews’ deaths were necessary for the survival of mankind. In the other Nazi camps, Jews (and in some cases others) were intentionally robbed of their basic human dignity and freedom, and, almost always, tortured and worked to death because they were considered less than human and their deaths desirable. For example, in the Belzec extermination camp, some 500,000 Jews were murdered; only one survived and lived to tell his story. In Mauthausen, the concentration camp that the Nazi regime considered its most brutal, approximately one-third of all the prisoners were killed. The Gaza Strip bears no parallel whatsoever to Nazi camps. The fighting currently raging in the Gaza Strip has caused the inhabitants great suffering owing to the callous way Hamas has thrust a war upon them. Israel has not in any intentional way engaged in the murder, torture, starvation, or murderous forced labor of civilians in the Gaza Strip.
Equating the Gaza Strip to Nazi camps is an affront to all of the victims of those camps and a demagogic falsification of history.
Should the Gaza Strip be called a "Ghetto"?
In the European ghettos of WWII, Jews were purposely starved, brutalized and abused by the Nazis. Ghettos were established to isolate Jews pending the development of the final solution to the so-called “Jewish Problem.” They were designed to separate the Jews from their surroundings and confine them, provide cheap labor for the Nazi regime, and, following the adoption of the policy of systematic mass murder, to funnel Jews to the sites of murder. They also became places of deliberate mass death by epidemic diseases caused by the absence of the most minimal sanitary conditions and medicines, extreme starvation and malnutrition, and intense overcrowding. For example, in the Warsaw Ghetto, Jews were allotted only 184 calories a day; and almost 30% percent of the city of Warsaw were squeezed into less than 3% of its area causing severe conditions, and roundups and murder were a constant feature of life.
In contrast, the evolution of a partial blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt is underpinned by geo-political and security concerns, and the circumstances of those living in the Gaza Strip have been greatly affected by the priorities set by their leaders to arm themselves at the expense of providing for the welfare of their own citizens. Indeed, despite the blockade, designed to keep missiles out of Hamas’ hands, Israel and the international community provide billions of dollars in aid, in the form of money, food, medicines, and more. Even during the days when battles occurred, Israeli trucks with goods crossed the border into the Gaza Strip on a daily basis. As has now become clear, much of that aid was used for arms, tunnels designed to murder civilians, and other terrorist activities.
The Gaza Strip in no way resembles a ghetto, despite the propensity of hostile propaganda that uses such misappropriated terminology. The situation in the Gaza Strip bears many unique and complex features of its own and should be examined for what it actually is.
Is all criticism of Israel antisemitic?
Not in the slightest. First and foremost, Israel is a democratic state in which a great range and variety of opinions are freely expressed in the media. It is a hallmark of democracy to be able to criticize the policies of the government. Criticism turns into antisemitism when it repudiates the right of the Jewish people to their own state; when it uses rhetoric replete with anti-Jewish stereotypes or compares Israelis to Nazis; when it judges Israel by a different standard than any other nation; and when it is knowingly based on lies and distortions.