An Israeli lawmaker has used a long speech at a Kristallnacht commemoration to compare Israel to Nazi Germany.
“Kristallnacht didn’t suddenly fall from the sky, come out of nowhere,” declared Haneen Zoabi at a commemoration in Amsterdam on Sunday. “It was the result of a development over time, and we can see a similar development happening in Israel over the last several years.”
Zoabi spent most of the rest of her 15-minute speech portraying the country where she serves as an elected parliamentarian for the third biggest party, the Arab alliance called Joint List, as a modern version of Nazi Germany.
Zoabi claimed that she was delivering her tirade “in the memory of the victims of Kristallnacht.” It was a deeply disturbing speech — and terrifying in its eloquence. The skill with which she wove morsels of real information with a gross distortion of the reality in Israel and drew a line from Nazi Germany to modern Israel will be utterly convincing to many.
It’s a simplistic parallel that constructs modern Jews in the image of our own historical oppressor, and one that appeals to modern consumers of news who want neat and straightforward understandings of today’s current affairs. As Jews, our reaction to this kind of talk is mainly outrage — and this is justified — but it should also be deep concern over the capability for winning hearts and minds that is held in the hands of demagogues who link the Nazi era and modern Israel.
Our response must always be to keep the Holocaust and the conflict with the Palestinians very separate, but sadly Israel’s prime minister has done the opposite, and still failed to fix it.
Scholars were shocked and survivors were incredulous when Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that it was the Palestinian leader from the World War II era, the mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, who conceived the Final Solution. The mufti was pro-Nazi, but didn’t innovate the Final Solution.
When Netanyahu made his bizarre claim, he was venting against the Palestinian national camp, which he is furious with for the latest violence and for promoting the libel that Israel is somehow planning to harm the Al-Aksa mosque. But by bringing the Holocaust into the discussion, and making a blatantly untrue claim that attributed the Final Solution to a Palestinian leader, he weakened the ability of Jews and Israelis to insist that a line is drawn between the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
My concern goes beyond this. In the realm of Jewish-Arab relations, there are two ways that we can go when it comes to the Holocaust. One is to relate to the facts, and another is to project today’s political agendas on to the past. This second way is common today even among Arab citizens of Israel who learn about the Holocaust in school.
When pollsters questioned Israelis on the Holocaust in 2013, one-third of Arab respondents replied that it didn’t happen. What these people need to be hearing from their government is that the Holocaust is a matter of historical fact — as are the details of how it came about. When Netanyahu rewrote the story of the Holocaust’s provenance to suit his agenda, he sent the opposite message.
The clarification that Netanyahu issued to try to calm the controversy had a particularly worrying impact on how some Palestinians will relate to the Holocaust. He wrote that he hadn’t intended to claim that al-Husseini convinced Hitler to adopt the Final Solution, even though this is what he’d said. But putting this aside, let’s look at Netanyahu’s own explanation of why he got in to this whole subject.
“It was important for me to point out that even before World War II it was the mufti who propagated the big lie that the Jews intend to destroy the Al-Aksa Mosque,” he wrote in his clarification.
Then, as if continuing a seamless thought process, Netanyahu wrote that al-Husseini was a “war criminal who opposed the creation of a Jewish state in any boundaries.” From there he jumps on the fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called al-Husseini a “pioneer” and says that this “speaks volumes” about the Palestinian leaderships attitude towards Israel.
So, he’s saying that the mufti’s Al-Aksa libel, which is thriving, went hand in hand with rabid anti-Semitism and collaboration with the Nazis. And that this is the man that mainstream Palestinians call a pioneer.
Why was it “important” for him to point this out? It would seem, in order to score points against the Palestinian Authority, based in his current drive to present it as lacking the potential as a partner for peace. Does he really think that any young angry Palestinian is going to shun the Al-Aksa libel because he has said that it came from a man who should be considered treif because of his association with Nazis?
All he has done is to shout about the wartime affiliations of the mufti, so that young angry Palestinians who admire him for opposing a Jewish state and alerting their people to the perceived Jewish threat to Al-Aqsa become focused on the fact that he had another legacy — an association with the Nazis.
Nazism is already a source of inspiration and a resource to some Palestinians. Just two weeks ago, a Facebook page belonging to the Fatah party posted the cover of the Nazi children’s book “Don’t Trust a Fox or a Jew.” While trumpeting, in the current environment, the mufti’s pro-Nazi credentials won’t make the mufti seem treif, it can easily make the Nazis seem more kosher.
Netanyahu didn’t cause Fatah’s post or the alarming poll of Israeli Arabs or Zoabi’s speech. But the contradictory attitudes that they represent, namely Arab admiration for Nazis, Arab denial of the Holocaust and Arab comparisons between Israel and Nazis Germany, are all harder to fight today than they were before he did his bit to politicize the Holocaust.
Nathan Jeffay’s column appears twice a month.