Zionism and holocaust abuse
It is completely legitimate to draw comparisons with the Nazis, insists Tony Greenstein
“Write and record” were the last words of Jewish historian Simon Dubnow before he was murdered by the Nazis in the Riga ghetto on December 8 1941. It is an injunction we should take to heart - and add a third imperative: we should write, record and compare.
If there is one thing that Zionists hate, it is when analogies are made between Israel, Zionism and Nazism, including in relation to the holocaust. It is a cast-iron rule that onlythe Zionist movement is entitled to compare or equate its opponents with the Nazis.
This Zionist attitude is backed up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, which was adopted by the governments of 31 countries, including the anti-Semitic governments of Poland and Hungary, in May 2016. According to the IHRA, anti-Semitism “could, taking into account the overall context, include ... drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”. The IHRA definition is almost identical to that of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, which was dropped in 2013.
Following the recommendation of the ‘Anti-Semitism in the UK’ report of the home affairs select committee in October 2016, Theresa May adopted this “non-legally-binding definition” of anti-Semitism in December 2016. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party subsequently adopted the IHRA version - but without its 11 examples, as was confirmed in the party’s Race and faith manifesto.1
The IHRA definition was severely criticised by Hugh Tomlinson QC for being “unclear and confusing”,2 while Sir Stephen Sedley, a Jewish former court of appeal judge, was scathing about it in the London Review of Books: it “fails the first test of any definition: it is indefinite”.Sedley characterised the purpose of the IHRA as being to “permit perceptions of Jews which fall short of expressions of racial hostility to be stigmatised as anti-Semitic”.3
In the spring of 2016 Jeremy Corbyn commissioned a report by the former director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti. In the wake of Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party The Guardian, the tabloids and various Zionist organisations had launched a campaign whose premise was that anti-Semitism was endemic within Labour.
The Chakrabarti report was published on June 30 2016. At its press conference Ruth Smeeth MP gave an excellent demonstration of how to manufacture a fake incident of anti-Semitism when she accused Marc Wadsworth, a black anti-racist activist, of anti-Semitism. He had accused her of colluding with the rightwing press by exchanging notes with a Daily Telegraph journalist and she stormed out of the meeting shrieking “How dare you?” Later she accused Marc, who did not even know she was Jewish, of espousing “vile conspiracy theories about Jewish people”. His primary offence was one of lèse-majesté, but it was a good example of how the media can create fake news - distorting and changing reality until it accords with an establishment narrative.
Chakrabarti was a mixed bag. Its sections dealing with Labour Party procedure, natural justice and the right of the accused to be accorded due process were good. But where the report fell down was on the question of racism. It substituted the subjective for the objective, the personal for the political. Chakrabarti treated Zionism as a manifestation of Jewish identity rather than a racist and reactionary colonial ideology, which had led directly to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.4 The Labour Party has now removed the report from its website, but I have restored it!5
Despite knowing nothing about Zionism or the holocaust, Chakrabarti proceeded to give her opinions on the use of holocaust comparisons or metaphors in a section entitled ‘Insensitive and incendiary language, metaphors, distortions and comparisons’. She wrote:
... it is always incendiary to compare the actions of Jewish people or institutions anywhere in the world to those of Hitler or the Nazis or to the perpetration of the holocaust. Indeed such remarks can only be intended to be incendiary rather than persuasive. Why? Because the Shoah is still in people’s living family experience and because, if every human rights atrocity is described as a holocaust, Hitler’s attempted obliteration of the Jewish people is diminished or derecognised in our history, as is the history of a global minority that has had cause to feel, at worst, persecuted and, at best, vulnerable for thousands of years.
Other hideous human rights atrocities, from African slavery to the killing fields of Cambodia, the Armenian and Rwandan genocides, are all, of course, to be remembered and described, but diluting their particularity or comparing degrees of victimhood and evil does no service to anyone.
Apart from conflating criticism of Israel with “the actions of Jewish people”, Chakrabarti was oblivious to the fact that it is the Israeli state and its supporters who routinely compare their opponents with the Nazis. Chakrabarti also assumed that the holocaust was a Jewish-only affair and she subscribed to the myth of the Jew as the eternal victim (“vulnerable for thousands of years”). This is a myth whose counterpart was Joseph Goebbels’ Eternal Jew.6
The holocaust has been employed shamelessly by Zionism. The extermination of European Jewry is the principal argument that is used to justify the creation of the state of Israel. If it were not for the holocaust how would it be possible to justify a situation where Israel has ruled over five million Palestinians for half a century without according them either political or civil rights? In Israel’s holocaust and the politics of nationhood Idith Zertal wrote: “There has not been a war in Israel from 1948 till the present ongoing burst of violence, which began in October 2000, that has not been perceived, defined and conceptualised in terms of the holocaust.”7
In every war Israel imagines itself as the collective holocaust victim facing annihilation, even though it has always possessed a vast military superiority. Even in its Blitzkrieg on Gaza in 2014, with a kill ratio of 30-1, nearly all of whose victims were civilians, Israel portrayed itself as fighting a war of “self-defence”. The holocaust has enabled a nuclear state that is armed to the teeth to create an image of itself as the perpetual victim.
It is Israelis themselves who have compared their behaviour to that of the Nazis. In order to create a Jewish state, Zionist militias - the Haganah, and Palmach in particular - ethnically cleansed Palestine of three quarters of a million inhabitants. This involved a series of massacres, the most infamous of which was Deir Yassin in April 1948.
In November 1948, Eliezer Peri, the editor of the leftwing paper Al Hamishmar, received a letter describing a massacre at al-Dawayima, in which Benny Morris has estimated that “hundreds” were killed. Agriculture minister Aharon Cisling referred to a letter he had received about the atrocities declaring: “I couldn’t sleep all night ... This is something that determines the character of the nation ... Jews too have committed Nazi acts.”8
Similar comments were made by Yosef Nahmani, a senior officer of Haganah. He was stunned by the cruelty of Israeli troops towards Arab villagers. He described how in Safsaf the villagers raised the white flag, but 60-70 men and women were massacred. He asked: “Where did they learn cruel conduct such as that of the Nazis?” According to one officer, “the most eager were those who had come from the [concentration] camps …”9
Seventy years ago, at least some Zionists were capable of appreciating the depths to which they had sunk in their desire to achieve a racially pure state. Yet, when in 2016 an Israeli soldier shot in cold blood a severely wounded Palestinian,10 57% of Israelis supported his actions, compared to just 20% who opposed them. At a large Tel Aviv demonstration in his support, which mobilised under a banner declaring ‘Kill them all’, the mob began chanting that favourite slogan of Israel’s right wing - ‘Death to the Arabs’ (Mavet La’aravim). There was also a poster declaring, ‘My honour is my loyalty’ - the slogan of the SS.
When thousands of settler youth ran rampage through the Arab section of Jerusalem in 2015, under the protection of the police, chanting ‘Death to the Arabs’, it was reminiscent of similar chants that were heard in Germany and Poland 80 years ago - except that then they were chanting ‘Death to the Jews’.
As Zertal has noted, whilst Zionism nationalised the holocaust, harnessing it to the chariot of racism, “it excluded the direct bearers of this memory - some quarter of a million holocaust survivors who had immigrated to Israel”11 - from funding. The impoverishment of the actual holocaust survivors in Israel, despite the billions Israel received by way of reparations, is a scandal.12
Zionism assimilates the holocaust as part of its seamless narrative of victimisation, yet Chakrabarti held that if the critics or victims of Zionism respond in kind then that is anti-Semitic. For example, the term ‘kapos’ is wielded by Zionists against critics of Israel (not just anti-Zionists). It was popularised by Trump’s appointment of David Friedman as Ambassador to Israel, who used it against the liberal Zionists of J-Street.13 It is a particularly obnoxious accusation. Kapos were people who were themselves concentration camp prisoners. They had no choice but to act as the Nazis’ foremen. Their life expectancy was little more than those they supervised. Some behaved decently, whilst others were without doubt cruel, but no kapo had any choice about their role. To have refused it would have meant instant death.
Contrast this with the voluntary and willing collaboration of the Zionist movement with the Nazis. No-one forced the Jewish Agency to conclude Ha’avara - a trading agreement with the Nazi government, whose effect was to stave off a German economic crisis that threatened to bring down the Nazi regime in its infancy. Edwin Black noted that “the Jewish-led, worldwide anti-Nazi boycott was indeed the one weapon that Hitler feared”.14 At the same time as Jews were enthusiastically building the boycott, the Zionists’ concern was that German Jewish “wealth had to be saved”.15 What mattered was the millions of frozen Reichmarks that belonged to Germany’s Jews. The result was that “the Nazi party and the Zionist Organisation shared a common stake in the recovery of Germany. If the Hitler economy fell, both sides would be ruined.”16
The examples of Zionist weaponisation of the holocaust are legion - prime minister Menachem Begin once compared Yasser Arafat in Beirut to Adolf Hitler in his bunker. As the newspaper Ha’aretz observed, “Calling your political rival a Nazi is a time-hallowed tradition in Israel.”17 In 2008 Israeli deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai warned Palestinians living in Gaza that they were bringing “a bigger Shoah” on themselves.18 And it was ‘moderate’ Zionist Abba Eban who talked of the 1967 Green Line as the “Auschwitz border”.
Within the Jewish community in Israel the holocaust and the Nazis function as a political metaphor. At times of conflict secular Jews daub swastikas on the walls of synagogues and defile prayer books, religious scrolls, etc. Orthodox Jews do likewise to their secular counterparts and religious fascists paint swastikas on Christian churches. Oriental Jews, for whom the holocaust was a European affair, paint slogans such as ‘Ashkenazim’ (‘Back to Auschwitz’) on the latter’s cars and buildings.
It is not simply a question of our right to respond to the Zionists’ weaponisation of the holocaust. There are good reasons in themselves why we should compare Zionism to the Nazis. This is not in order to hurt or insult, but to enable self-reflection. It is precisely because Zionism uses the Nazis and the holocaust as the ultimate evil that we are duty-bound to point out the similarity between the Nazis’ methods and those of the Zionists.
What Chakrabarti was effectively saying was that the Nazi era should be isolated from history. Part of this is sheer ignorance. Hitler and the Nazis ruled for over 12 years, the last four of which, from June 1941 onwards, were the years of the holocaust. Chakrabarti conflated the holocaust and Nazi domination, whereas the Third Reich began in 1933 and the holocaust started with the invasion of Russia in June 1941.
It may be a terrible thing to have to point out the similarities between the Zionism and Nazism ideologically, but it was not ourselves, but the Zionists, who first drew such comparisons. On June 21 1933 the German Zionist Federation sent a long memo to Hitler “outlining those Zionist tenets that were consistent with National Socialist ideology”.19 The whole memo can be read in Lucy Dawidowicz’s A holocaust reader.20
Chakrabarti is also wrong to suggest that comparisons between Israel and the Nazis minimise or obliterate Jewish people’s experience of the holocaust. On the contrary, they seek to draw lessons from that experience and to warn against any repetition. Holocaust analogies are the common currency of political debate in Israel - Zionism uses the slogan of ‘Never again’. But for anti-racists and anti-fascists this means never again for everyone, not just Jews. Is the lesson of the holocaust going to be a racist or an anti-racist one?
If we are to do justice to the memory of the victims of the holocaust, Jewish and non-Jewish, then, far from refraining from drawing comparisons with the Nazis, we should be making them whenever Nazi-like behaviour surfaces. The Nazis were not an exception to, but very much a part of, history. They did not arise from nowhere.
Taunts of ‘appeasement’ have been repeatedly made against those who oppose imperialism’s attacks on third-world countries. Third-world dictators have consistently been equated with Hitler. Those who opposed the invasion of Iraq were said to be ‘appeasing’ a new Hitler. A generation before, opponents of the Suez war were equated to those who appeased Hitler. Nasser was the “Hitler on the Nile”.21
There are clearly similarities between Israel today and Nazi Germany. This is not to say the two states are identical or that Israel is fascist or planning to exterminate the Palestinians (although genocidal ideas are indeed common in Zionism today). Israel is a settler-colonial state, the most racist state in the world. Israel calls itself a ‘Jewish democratic state’, but in practice it is democratic for Jews and Jewish for Arabs.
A variety of legal devices, such as the Reception Committees Act, bars Arabs from 93% of Israeli land (Jews in Nazi Germany were also barred from ‘Aryan’ land). Israel boasts that it calculates the calorific value of food which it allows to enter Gaza,22 while Hans Frank, governor general of Poland, also strictly limited the number of calories allowed to the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto. Granted, the Israeli level is higher than that in Warsaw, where over 80,000 Jews starved to death, but the principle is the same.
It is equally right to compare the sealing off of Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. In 2002, Marek Edelman, the last commander of the Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto, compared the Palestinian fighters to the Jewish resistance fighters,23 bringing on his head a storm of Zionist outrage.
Ideologically there are many similarities between the attempt to make the German Reich Judenrein (free of Jews) and the repeated attempts by Israel to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its Arab and non-Jewish inhabitants. The Nazis pursued a goal of racial purification, of making Germany purely Aryan. It was blood-and-soil ethno-nationalism. How is this different from the Koenig Memorandum24 aimed at Judaifying Galilee, or the Prawer Plan25 to Judaify the Negev? How is Zionism’s concern with the “demographic problem”26 - ie, too many non-Jews in the Jewish state - different from Nazi racial ideas?
Zionism from its inception debated and pursued the ‘transfer’ of the Palestinians and non-Jews from Palestine and then Israel. Transfer did not begin in 1947-48: it was inherent in the very concept of a Jewish settler state in a land occupied by non-Jews.
In 1919 the King Crane Commission, which was appointed by Woodrow Wilson, reported: “The fact came out repeatedly in the commission’s conference with Jewish representatives that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine.”27 Transfer is still as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago. Transfer is Zionism’s ‘ideal’ solution to the ‘problem’ of four million Palestinians living in the West Bank. How is this different to the Nazi plans to settle ethnic Germans in an ‘empty’ Wartheland (Warthegau)?
Henry Friedlander has argued that the holocaust began in 1939 in Hartheim Castle and the other five killing ‘hospitals’ of Germany.28 Hitler’s obsession with eugenics, the ‘science’ of selective breeding, resulted in the T-4 ‘euthanasia’ programme, which murdered up to three quarters of a million disabled Germans. T-4 originally followed the example of the United States, where forced sterilisations of women considered to be unfit to breed was the policy of many states. Hitler told his fellow Nazis: “I have studied with interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock.”29
During the Reich’s first 10 years, eugenicists in America welcomed Hitler’s plans. Indeed
... they were envious, as Hitler rapidly began sterilising hundreds of thousands and systematically eliminating non-Aryans from German society ... Ten years after Virginia passed its 1924 sterilisation act, Joseph Dejarnette, superintendent of Virginia’s Western State Hospital, complained in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “The Germans are beating us at our own game.”30
The Nazis’ forced sterilisation programme was partly inspired by that of California. In 1927, the US supreme court had permitted the compulsory sterilisation of handicapped patients. Oliver Wendell Holmes, speaking for the 8-1 supreme court majority, “presaged the arguments used later to justify eugenic killings in Nazi Germany”.31 But, according to Chakrabarti’s ‘logic’, it would be “incendiary” and cause offence to criticise supporters of eugenics and selective breeding by reference to the Nazis.
Professor Amos Funkenstein, former head of the faculty of history at Tel Aviv University, when referring to the controversy over the refusal of soldiers to serve in the occupied territories, compared them with soldiers in the German army who refused to serve in concentration or extermination camps. To those who asked how it was possible to compare the actions of Nazi soldiers with Israelis, Funkenstein replied:
As a historian I know that every comparison is limited. On the other hand, without comparisons, no historiography is possible. Understanding a historical event is a kind of translation into the language of our time. If we would leave every phenomenon in its peculiarity, we could not make this translation. Every translation is an interpretation and every interpretation is also a comparison.32
Funkenstein reminded his critics that the leaflets and publications of the Zionist terror groups, Etzel, Lehi and Haganah, talked of the Nazi-British occupation.
The holocaust was the tipping point in the international Jewish community. Before World War II Zionism was in a minority amongst Jews worldwide. The Zionist idea that Jews did not belong in the countries of their birth, that they formed a nation separate from those they lived amongst, was rejected by Jews as a form of anti-Semitism. Lucien Wolfe, one of the leaders of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, declared:
I have spent most of my life in combating these very doctrines, when presented to me in the form of anti-Semitism, and I can only regard them as the more dangerous when they come to me in the guise of Zionism. They constitute a capitulation to our enemies.33
It was Hitler who rescued the Zionist movement from obscurity. It was the murder of six million Jews and the refusal of the western powers to take in the Jewish refugees that made the Zionist argument, that Jews could only rely on Jews, seem plausible. In that sense the creation of the Israeli state represented the posthumous triumph of the Nazis.
The leadership of the Jewish Agency understood this very well. From the outset of the war the Zionists took a conscious decision that their priority was the building of a Jewish state, not the rescue of Jews from Europe. They actively opposed Jews going anywhere but Palestine. When Britain agreed to the Kindertransport - the admission of 10,000 Jewish children from Germany after the Krystallnacht pogrom - David Ben Gurion was furious:
If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the people of Israel.34
Christopher Sykes, a pro-Zionist historian wrote: “From the very beginning of the Nazi disaster, the Zionist leadership determined to wrest political advantage from the tragedy.”35 Even Shabtai Teveth, David Ben-Gurion’s official biographer, concluded: “If there was a line in Ben-Gurion’s mind between the beneficial disaster and an all-destroying catastrophe, it must have been a very fine one.”36
The chapter in Ben-Gurion’s biography on the holocaust was titled ‘Disaster means strength’. Teveth described how
In spite of the certainty that genocide was being carried out, the Jewish Agency executive did not deviate appreciably from its routine ... Two facts can be definitively stated: Ben-Gurion did not put the rescue effort above Zionist politics and he did not regard it as a principle task demanding his personal leadership.37
Ben-Gurion was clear that in the event of “a conflict of interest between saving individual Jews and the good of the Zionist enterprise, we shall say the enterprise comes first”.38
The Zionist movement understood how the holocaust could be exploited to serve Zionist purposes. As early as September 1942, when most of Europe’s Jews were still alive, the Zionists were thinking of creating a memorial to them. The creation of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, was proposed. This was seen as “the very last opportunity to score any financial success”.39 At this time the Jewish Agency had not even acknowledged that there was a holocaust. Tom Segev comments:
There was no clearer, more grotesque, even macabre expression of the tendency to think of the holocaust in the past tense: while the Yishuv discussed the most appropriate way to memorialise them, most of the victims were still alive.40
Gerhard Riegner, the World Jewish Congress representative in Geneva during the war, articulated how the Zionist movement saw the holocaust. He believed that
Auschwitz was not only a national memory belonging to the Jewish people … it was also an important political asset. Among other things it served the diplomatic efforts of both the WJC and Israel.41
For Zionism the proposed Jewish state was eternal. The Jews who died in the holocaust would have died anyway. This is not dissimilar to the fascist idea that the state is everything, the individual is nothing.
When they tell us we should not compare Zionism and Israel with the holocaust, we should ask, ‘Why not? What have they got to fear?’
4. See https://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/chakrabarti-missed-opportunity-to.html.
5. Now available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/16FKRmcUYg0fnzgNtswryZMhpg86qpb07/view.
6. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eternal_Jew_(1940_film).
7. I Zertal Israel’s holocaust and the politics of nationhood Cambridge 2010, p4.
8. B Morris The birth of the Palestine refugee problem revisited Cambridge 2004, p488.
9. I Zertal Israel’s holocaust and the politics of nationhood Cambridge 2010, p171.
10. See http://mondoweiss.net/2016/03/israeli-soldier-filmed-executing-wounded-palestinian-man.
11. I Zertal Israel’s holocaust and the politics of nationhood Cambridge 2010, p5.
13. See https://forward.com/opinion/360913/smearing-fellow-jews-as-kapos-disqualifies-david-friedman-from-representing.
14. E Black The transfer agreement New York 1999, p21.
15. Ibid p226.
16. Ibid p253.
18. See www.theguardian.com/world/2008/mar/01/israelandthepalestinians1.
19. E Black The transfer agreement New York 1999, p175.
20. L Dawidowicz A holocaust reader Springfield 1976, pp150-53.
22. See www.theguardian.com/world/2012/oct/17/israeli-military-calorie-limit-gaza.
26. As The Times of Israel phrased it:www.timesofisrael.com/in-israel-the-demographic-issue-gains-resonance.
27. T Suarez State of terror Newbold 2016, p44.
28. H Friedlander The origins of Nazi genocide - from euthanasia to the final solution Chapel Hill 1997.
29. Quoted in The Guardian February 6 2004: www.theguardian.com/uk/2004/feb/06/race.usa.
31. H Friedlander The origins of Nazi genocide - from euthanasia to the final solution Chapel Hill 1997, p8.
32. Ha’aretz December 9 1988.
33. B Destani (ed) The Zionist movement and the foundation of Israel 1839-1972 Cambridge 2004, Vol 1, p727.
34. Y Gelber, ‘Zionist policy and the fate of European Jewry 1939-42’ Yad Vashem Studies Vol 12, p199.
35. C Sykes Crossroads to Israel Indiana 1973, p137.
36. S Teveth The burning ground Boston 1987, p851.
37. Ibid p848.
38. Ibid p855.
39. T Segev The seventh million London 2000, p430.
40. Ibid p141.
41. Ibid p474.