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The Holocaust

The Middle East Conflict, Antisemitism and the Holocaust


Why can't the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be compared to the Holocaust?

The two are so dissimilar that they cannot be compared in any meaningful way.
The Holocaust was the attempt by the Nazis and their partners to kill all the Jews. In the Holocaust a sovereign nation harnessed all the apparatus of their state to the goal of the mass systematic murder of a specific people.

More than anything else, the murder of the Jews stemmed from Nazi racial ideology. According to that ideology, the Jews were an evil race, whose very existence endangered Germany and all of human civilization. The Nazi crusade against the Jews was not focused on winning tangible gains, such as land and other wealth from the Jews. Its goal was to rid the world of the supposed pernicious influence of the Jews.

The Nazis systematically murdered Jews in shooting actions and by gas in specially designed gas chambers in extermination camps.  In the ghettos, camps and slave-labor installations under the Nazis, hundreds of thousands of Jews were also brutally worked to death.  The end result was the murder of close to 6 million Jews.

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not racial, but national; it is political and territorial. It is a struggle between two peoples for a small land. Throughout the decades this struggle has oscillated between violence and attempts to negotiate a settlement. As tragic as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be, there are no mass graves, no public executions of thousands of people, no gas chambers. It cannot be compared to the Holocaust. Using terms taken from the history of the Holocaust to describe the situation in the Middle East does more to obscure than to clarify the events and their consequences.

Is the current climate of antisemitism the same as it was on the eve of the Holocaust?

Antisemitism is a movement against Jews, not against other people using semitic languages. It was founded by an anti-Jewish German journalist in the last century, and he coined the term, in order not to use “hatred of Jews”, which was used in Christian circles, and he was anti-Christian. The current wave of antisemitism is a cause for great concern. Hateful propaganda, replete with obscene stereotypical images of Jews and virulent anti-Zionism, are commonplace. In Europe, especially since the dawn of the 21st century, there have been many violent attacks on Jewish institutions, including the fire-bombing of synagogues, and assaults on individuals.  Some people are reminded of the climate in much of Europe on the eve of the Holocaust, but there are vast differences: the Holocaust was initiated by a government - a government with a racist antisemitic ideology, a plan for the destruction of the Jews and the where-with-all to carry out their plan. No such government exists in Europe today. Rather, recently, the concerted action of some European governments has led to a diminishing of such attacks. In a number of European countries there are laws against Holocaust Denial and antisemitic incitement. Initiatives have been taken to prepare guidelines for teaching against antisemitism. Yet, one has to realize that antisemitim is not only a matter of physical attack or open propaganda, but also of stereotypes that are the result of hundreds of years of anti-Jewish, mainly religious, propaganda.

In other parts of the world, however, antisemitism has become more and more strident in its tone and violent in its implications. The Iranian government under Mahmud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map, while at the same time spouting Holocaust denial. Their efforts to attain nuclear capability, combined with their antisemitic rhetoric make the current Iranian government the gravest threat to the Jewish people since the end of the World War II. Another serious threat stemming from this part of the world comes from Al Qaida and the organizations that are in its orbit. They see Israel as a fountainhead for all the world’s ills and they also see it as the representative in the Middle East of the hated American government. Because their threats that are tantamount to perpetrating Genocide against the Jews must be taken seriously, the Iranians and Al Qaida constitute a danger that has some points of similarity to that posed by the Nazis on the eve of World War II.

Is all criticism of Israel antisemitic?

No. First and foremost, Israel is a republic 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 with anti-Jewish stereotypes or compares Jews to Nazis; when it judges Israel by a different standard than any other nation; and when it is knowingly based on distortions.

What is the role of the media in the current rise in antisemitism?

Although there are serious attempts by Western media to make a balanced presentation of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, frequently unbalanced and even highly distorted images, descriptions and analysis are put forth as facts by the western media. To the great detriment of Israel, details are presented out of their wider context, often without verification. In the Arab media such distortions are the norm and are often accompanied by hateful propaganda and blatant lies. These skewed presentations help fan the flames of antisemitism.

What’s new in the new antisemitism?

In many ways the “new antisemitism” rests on older varieties of antisemitism. It uses language and images derived from more traditional forms of antisemitism – religious, political and racial. In Europe the violence against Jews, is not new, in and if itself. The targets have been the same throughout much of the post Second World War period. They include Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, schools and individuals who are readily identifiable as Jews because of their dress. There are two salient new features of the “new antisemitism.” The first is the strange mix of people and organizations that are involved. Elements from the far right – xenophobes, neo-Nazis, and Holocaust deniers; elements from the far left – advocates of anti-Americanism, anti-globalization and anti-colonialism; elements from the radical pro-Palestinian camp; and adherents to radical Islam, all share the common bond of Jew hatred.The second salient feature is the nexus between antisemitism and radical Islam. The twin sets of bombings in Turkey in November 2003, first of two synagogues and then of two British institutions, clearly demonstrates this connection. Radical Islam is as antisemitic as it is anti-Western, although its first enemy are Moslems, primarily non-radical or anti-radical adherents of Islam. In the “new antisemitism,” incitement to large-scale violence against Jews has returned. The threats made by the Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map and his oft-repeated denial of and trivialization of the Holocaust, are another component of the relationship between radical Islam and potentially genocidal antisemitism.

What is the danger posed by the resurgence of antisemitism in Europe?

In addition to the menace posed of physical  and verbal attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions, the deeper danger of European antisemitism is that it often blinds people to the nexus between radical Islamic terror and antisemitism. Too often Europeans are willing to explain away acts of terror against Jews, saying that they are understandable, instead of issuing unqualified condemnations of such depraved acts. Too often Europeans make a distinction between radical Islamic acts of terrorism committed against European targets, and those committed against Jews. Too often they are reluctant to recognize that both emanate from the same source. At the same time it must be said that there are Europeans who are aware of the radical Islamic terror / antisemitism nexus.

What is the connection between antisemitism and radical Islamic terrorism?

Islamic terrorism targets both Western “Crusader” civilization and Jews. In radical Islamic eyes Jews are regarded as enemies of God, and thus they oppose Moslem traditional acceptance of Jews as the People of the Book.  They are regarded as having immorally occupied “Islamic” land by establishing the state of Israel, and Jews are deemed to be only aggressors and oppressors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In other words there is absolutely no recognition on any level of Jewish historic claims to the right to live as a sovereign people in the Land of Israel. In their phantasies, Jews are seen as conforming to all of the false and evil stereotypes used against them over the generations. In addition, they are said to be the foremost agents of America and Western “Crusader” civilization, thus repeating Nazi ideology.

Radical Islamic terrorism seeks to murder Jews simply because they are Jews - regardless of their political orientation, regardless of the where they make their homes, and regardless of the acts of the individuals being targeted. In this sense radical Islamic terrorism is similar to Nazi terrorism against the Jews during the Holocaust.

Why is Holocaust denial a mainstream idea in much of the Arab and Moslem world today?

Holocaust denial has entered the mainstream in some of the Arab and Moslem countries, where a significant segment of the population opposes the existence of the State of Israel. For the most part this stems from the following thought process: If the basis for the legitimacy of the existence of the state of Israel is the Holocaust and if the Holocaust never happened, then there is no legitimate reason for the State of Israel to exist.  In other words, Holocaust denial is invoked to prove that Israel is an illegitimate entity. Of course this logical construct is based on a mistaken understanding of the events that led to the creation of the State of Israel. The Holocaust did not ‘create’ Israel, and its establishment was not motivated by any feelings of guilt of the world’s nations at the time. The construct ignores the three thousand year connection of the Jews to the land of Israel, and it disregards the fact that the advent of modern Zionism predates the events of the Holocaust by more than half a century.

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