by Lawrence Davidson
I) Ahmadinejad and Holocaust Denial
On September 18th 2009 the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech, in the form of a Friday sermon, on the occasion of Al-Quds, or Jerusalem Day in Iran. Based on a translation of the original radio broadcast (not the official Farsi version issued by the government) here is some of what he said,
Before the Second World War....a complicated show started which was called anti-Semitism. Of course, some governments and their peoples have always abhorred the Jews because of indecent behavior by some of the Jews and they were willing to evict the Jews out of Europe. However, some European governments and statesmen and the Zionist network did the main plot of anti-Semitism. They produced hundreds of films. They wrote hundreds of books and circulated rumors. They started a psychological war in order to make them [the Jews] escape to Palestine.
Elsewhere, referencing the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad goes on to say,
The pretext used to establish the Zionist regime was a lie and a corrupt act. It was a lie based on a fabricated claim that cannot be proven. The occupation of Palestinian land had no connectionwith the issue of holocaust. The claim, the pretext, are all fraudulent and corrupt. They are all historical criminals. They [the Zionists and the imperialists] are responsible for plundering and colonizing the world for the past 500 years.
In addition, the Iranian President says,
Four or five years after the Second World War, all of a sudden they [Western officials and historians] claimed that during this war, the Holocaust had occurred. They claimed that a few million Jews had been burned in the crematorium furnaces. They institutionalized two slogans. One was the innocence of the Jews. They used lies and very sophisticated propaganda and psychological ploys and created the illusion that they [the Jews] were innocent. The second goal was that they created the illusion that the Jews needed an independent state and government. They were so persuasive and convincing that many of the world’s politicians and intellectuals were deceived and persuaded.
What is Ahmadinejad telling the people of Iran? He appears to be asserting that: (1) Western imperialism for the last 500 years is the consequence of a conspiracy between Western governments and the Jews. (2) That when it came to European persecution, the Jews themselves were not “innocent.” (3) That modern anti-Semitism was and is a conspiratorial plot hatched by the Jews and certain European governments in order to create conditions for the taking over of Palestine. (4) That the Holocaust is a “lie.” He goes on to assert that research into the truth or falsehood of the Nazi genocide is being prevented. This, of course, flies in the face of the fact that the Holocaust is one of the most thoroughly researched historical tragedies in modern history. In all of this Ahmadinejad has taken a great leap beyond his previous suggestions that the death count of the concentration camps has been exaggerated. The present speech is also qualitatively different than his statement of October 26, 2005 predicting that Israel in the form of a Zionist state will “past from the pages of History.” That statement (despite the inaccurate “wipe Israel off the face of the map” translations of it by the New York Times and others) was directed at a political program and not the Jewish people.
Now, however, there can be little doubt that the President of Iran, apparently continuing a policy of challenging select foundational paradigms of the West, has slipped over the edge into what Juan Cole calls the “weird and creepy world of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.” There is also little doubt this will deepen suspicion and fear of Iran in the West (despite the fact that most Iranians who publically demonstrated on Al-Quds Day clearly did not buy into their leader’s pseudo-history). However, an equally important question is how well this harangue will play in the Muslim world?
The answer to that question might be that it will play well. Take, for instance, the recent adamant reaction of several Hamas members of the Palestinian Legislative Council to the possibility of teaching about the Holocaust in UN assisted schools in Gaza. According to Yunis al-Astal to teach this subject to Palestinian children would be “marketing a lie.” Al-Astal has bought into Ahmadinejad’s interpretation of history at least in reference to the Holocaust. Of course, one can find an equal level of Nakba denial on the Israeli side, but that does not lessen the damaging potential of Holocaust denial on the Muslim side. One can readily understand that there is an enormous amount of pent up anger and hatred toward Israel throughout the Muslim world. But why focus in on the Holocaust and attempt to deny the reality of such a seminal disaster? Here is a possible answer.
II) Understanding the Holocaust As a Western Event
For the West, the most disastrous event of the twentieth century is the Holocaust. Some six million European Jews and countless others as well died in the concentrations camps. But why is it so very seminal? The answer goes beyond the numbers involved. It was the industrial nature of this mass murder, where the technology of modernity that so characterized European civilization was turned into the genocidal killing of subsets of Europeans themselves. To use a present popular phrase, this was an “existential” shock to the European system that could not be rationalized away. Up until this point the Europeans, and their other Western counterparts, had not taken genocide seriously. As long as it did not impact their own local lives, as long as the victims were non-Western, no official attention was paid to such organized slaughter. Distant geography and myriad rationalizations that ranged from the racial inferiority of the victims to the manifest destiny of the perpetrators, sufficed to bury the issue. This was so even when, as in the colonies, the murders were agents of the West.
However, by the 1930s the Nazis had, in effect, brought the racial stereotyping and prejudice that had made possible colonial slaughter back home to Europe. By inventing the latter day Aryan race and designating its primary area of activity to be Europe itself, the Nazis came to see not just the non-Western world, but Europe too as a land full of inferior peoples to be bullied, enslaved and murdered for the benefit of a superior people with its own overweening locally produced ideological view of things. If, under the new order, the Jews were to be slaughtered, then the Poles and Russians were to be enslaved. And what of Western Europeans such as the French? Well, ultimately, they were to be treated by the Nazis in the same manner as the French treated the native Algerians. Upon the defeat of the “master race” in 1945, the populations of the West were severely shaken and shocked by what they had experienced.
Yet, as horrible as the Holocaust was, it was also mainly a Western affair. One might with some justification argue that the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust were universal, but that does not negate the fact that in terms of worldwide consciousness, the Holocaust was something that concerned Europeans and not to Africans, Middle Easterners or Asians.
This is an important fact. If one goes to the Arab world today and asks people what is the greatest disaster of the 20th century you are not going to get the Holocaust as the most common answer. Rather, from a good number of Arabs the answer will be the Nakba, the massive dispossession of the Palestinian people by Zionist invaders. After all the Arabs were not running the show in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. There is no reason why Europe’s tragedy has to be their tragedy. Unfortunately, since 1948 an added complication has crept into this equation. Because of the attitude taken by the leaders of Israel and their Zionist supporters, the two disasters, the Holocaust and the Nakba, have become inextricably intertwined.
III. The Israeli Holocaust Gambit
Despite the fact that modern Zionism predates the Holocaust by half a century, the disaster has been consistently used by the Zionists to justify the need for the Israeli state. The notion that Israeli stands as a defense against a new Holocaust is present in much of the propaganda that makes the West’s Zionist lobbies so powerful. Within Israel this belief is literally enshrined at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Museum in comme ration to the Jews who perished under the Nazi terror. There one finds the Pillar of Heroism, constructed following the 1967 Israeli-Arab war. According to Batya Brutin, the Director of the Holocaust Education Center at Beit Berl College in Israel, the 1967 victory saved Israel from just such a fate. “The war was perceived to be the antithesis of the Holocaust: Israel was in full control of its security, unlike the Jews of Nazi Europe.” As a corollary to this stance, any criticism of Israeli behavior (particularly pointing out that they committed an act of widespread ethnic cleansing in the Nakba) weakens the defenses against a new genocide of the Jews and is therefore de facto anti-Semitism. Thus, any Western gentiles, such as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt who authored The Israel Lobby in 2007 or President Jimmy Carter who came out with Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid in 2006, are excoriated by the Zionist in the most damning terms. Jews who are critical, such as the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe or the American activist Noam Chomsky are dismissed as “self hating Jews.” Both groups are charged with unwittingly encouraging a new Holocaust. The attention directed to either group, however, cannot compare with the hateful and hysterical reaction of the Zionists toward the Palestinians who resist Israeli aggression. They are simply reduced to latter day Nazis. This claim was most recently made explicit by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, in his September 25, 2009 speech before the United Nations General Assembly. In that speech Netanyahu compared Hamas to the Nazis and the firing of Qassam rockets with the London Blitz during World War II.”
It is important to note that there are Israelis who have not and do not agree with, at least, the use of the Holocaust to garner support for Israel. The Israeli journalist Gideon Levy called Netanyahu’s statements “propaganda.” Indeed, one of the founding fathers of the Israeli state and a long-time president of the World Zionist Organization, Nachem Goldman, long ago criticized the use of the Holocaust images to sustain anti-Arab feelings in years following 1948. Goldman called it an act of “sacrilege.” According to Israeli journalist Aluf Benn, many ordinary Israelis do not buy the Holocaust connection either. “Here we are taught that Zionist determination and struggle - not guilt over the Holocaust - bought Jews a homeland” he wrote in the New York Times. Leaving aside for the moment what that “determination and struggle” has wrought, it is clear that Israeli education has not stopped Mr Benn’s elected leaders from consistently using the Holocaust to justify Israel’s existence in the eyes of the outside world.
IV. Consequences of the Holocaust Gambit
No matter how one might feel about this connection between the Holocaust and Israel, its use as a justification for the Zionist state and its policies is a grave strategic mistake. For by underpinning their continued existence on preventing a second Holocaust, Israelis and Zionists invite some of their adversaries to call into doubt the first Holocaust. As we have seen, these opponents now led by Ahmadinejad, assert that the Zionists and their allies have, at best, exaggerated the victimhood of the Jews during World War II, or that they might be just making it all up to justify stealing Palestine. If you can establish doubt about your enemy’s core argument you have struck that enemy a serious blow.
In this effort it is unlikely that the Iranian president is simply poking his finger into the proverbial Western eye. The populations to whom Ahmadinejad is really talking do not live in the West. They live in the non-Western world and more specifically the Muslim lands. Most of them have no more knowledge of modern European history than their Western counterparts have of Arab or Muslim history. Except, of course, that educated non-Westerners can readily identify the West with the history of modern imperialism. For many of them that is local history–the kind that stays in the collective memory for generations. On the other hand, this is a history of which their Western counterparts are largely ignorant. So while the average citizen of the Muslim lands probably knows little about the reality of the Holocaust, they are likely to know a lot about Israel as a surviving symbol of their immediate ancestors imperialist experience. Under the circumstances, convincing them that the Holocaust is a Western ploy to justify an imperialist crime is not such a difficult task. That is just what Iranian president’s anti-Holocaust rhetoric is all about, and millions may well have begun to take him seriously. Before righteous indignation sets in over this deception, keep in mind it is equally easy to convince an Israeli Jew born and raised within a Zionist environment that the Nakba was an act of “Zionist determination and struggle.” That is what happens when people are raised within relatively closed information environments.
III. Stereotyping the Jews
It is not difficult to see where all this leads. Anti-Semitism is on the rise and the Zionists, at least publically, appear clueless as to their part in making this so. Of course, there is the standing argument that it is exactly a persistent and active level of anti-Semitism that allows Israel and Zionism to maintain their viability. Perhaps in recent years the Israeli leadership have become worried on this score, for more Jews have been leaving Israel than have been entering. A worldwide upsurge in hostility to the Jews could reverse that trend, and that would be seen as being in Israeli’s national interest. However, there does not have to be some sort of conscious conspiracy on the part of Israeli and Zionist leaders to bring this scenario to life. The Zionists live in their own ideologically prescribed world. Their worldview makes all of Israeli policies and activities acts of self-defense in a world that is a priori anti-Semitic. What is being played out here is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. 1. The Zionists, always knew the world (not just pre-World War II Europe) was full of anti-Semites. 2. That is why we need Israel. 3. So what we do to expand and defend Eratz Israel is part of a never-ending war against genocidal foes. 4. The counter charge that what the Zionists do is actually a generator of anti-Semitism is dismissed by the Zionists as a form of blaming the victim..
For all intents and purposes the Zionist Holocaust gambit and the posturing of the likes of Amadinejad have now come together as, if you will, two sides of one coin. And, in the mass confusion of name calling and wild accusations that have resulted, it has become increasingly difficult for the audiences to whom both groups are pitching their propaganda to make any distinctions based on the actual positions taken by various constituencies. In other words, the mutual stereotyping is working to reduce the Palestinian-Israeli conflict of all nuances.
In the process one very important group of players, namely anti-Zionist Jews, have been cast into an undeserved oblivion. . And, of course, this is just where the Zionists want them. They have been literally wiped off the perceptual map for an increasing number of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. Take, for instance, the recent article by Hesham Tillawi entitled “The Israeli Occupation of America.” What Tillawi wants to argue is that American Zionists have a commanding influence over US foreign policy in the Middle East and that this is not a unique historical situation. That it has happened before, particularly in Britain during and after World War I. But in doing so he drifts into generalizations that undermine the historical accuracy of his argument and gives rise to unsupportable stereotypes. Here are a couple of examples:
(1) “The history of how the Zionists controlled England is not shrouded in mystery. Through Jewish control of the British government the Balfour Declaration was drafted that ‘gave’ the land of Palestine to the Jews after WWI....” There are two things that are wrong with this sentence. First, Tillawi uses the terms Zionists and Jews interchangeably. This is just historically wrong. From the very beginning of the Zionist movement there was significant Jewish resistance to it. I have outlined this resistence in detail in my book America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood (University Press of Florida, 2001). Indeed, the fact is that prior to the Holocaust, Zionism was a minority movement among Jews, though a vocal, well organized and well connected one. Within the British War Cabinet that debated the Balfour Declaration in 1917 the most strident opposition came from Lord Edwin Montagu, who happened to be the Cabinet’s only Jewish member. Thus using Zionist and Jew to mean the same thing is inaccurate and contributes to dangerous stereotyping.
By the way, Tillawi, Ahamadinejad and an increasing number of other Middle Easterners are not the only ones to do this. This confusion is purposely and persistently foisted upon the public by the Zionists themselves. This helps account for Tillawi’s quote of Ariel Sharon attributing control of America to “the Jewish people.” Ariel Sharon and his ilk could no more accurately speak for all the Jewish people then could the Pope. However, it is truly the Zionist goal to meld these two different things into one. Tillawi and others like him are unwittingly helping the Zionists toward their goal.
(2) The second thing wrong with the sentence is the historically incorrect assertion that the Jews and/or Zionists controlled England and its government. Neither the Jews nor the Zionists controlled either one, nor even Britain’s Middle East foreign policy in 1917. The British leaders had their own strategic reasons for adding Palestine to the post-war British empire. And, those reasons had as much to do with the Suez Canal and the expected post war presence of France in Syria as it did with both Arthur Balfour and David Lloyd George’s romantic attitude toward the Old Testament. Balfour and Lloyd George’s sympathetic feelings for the Zionist cause certainly helped the latter get what they wanted, but to equate that with “control” of the government is a gross exaggeration.
Tillawi then moves on to the United States and attributes the same power to the American Zionists in recent times as he alleges was held by those in England at the beginning of the 20th century. He relates how President John Kennedy, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Senator J. William Fulbright were all stymied in certain policy objectives by Israel and the power of the American Zionist lobby. At one point he quotes Fulbright as saying “I am aware how impossible it is in this country to carry out a foreign policy not approved by the Jews....” It is absolutely true that both American domestic and foreign policies are subject to lobby influence. And, in some cases, such as foreign policy in relation to Israel and Cuba, and before 1972, Communist China, these lobbies have used their political clout to obtain near veto power over policy formulation in areas of their interest. But there is nothing particularly conspiratorial about this. As I have demonstrated in my recent book Foreign Policy Inc (University Press of Kentucky, 2009) the nature of U.S. politics has allowed the development of inordinate lobby power starting right from the founding of the nation. The Zionists (in this case both Jewish and Christian) have learned to play this game very well, as have the Cuban Americans. To equate this to the “Israeli [or for that matter the anti-Castro Cuban] occupation of America” is the sort of exaggeration that feeds into ethnic stereotyping. Lastly, as to the Fulbright quote, the Senator seems to have made the same mistake as Tillawi, confusing politically active Zionists with Jews in general, and Tallawi has used this as support for his own misjudgment.
The persistent confusion of Zionism with Judaism and the Jewish people by both Israeli leaders and their Zionist backers, as well as increasing numbers of Middle Easterners standing against Israel and Zionism, badly distorts reality. And, it is an insult to the tens of thousands of Jewish people around the world who have for so long fought against Zionism and horrible damage it has done and continues to do to both the Palestinians and the Jewish religion. Here is a short list of some of the present Jewish organizations in the United States, Europe and Israel which are either blatantly anti-Zionist or at least striving for a humanitarian reform of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians: Jewish Voices for Peace; Jews for Justice for Palestinians (UK); Tikkun (Jews for Justice); Brit Tzedek; The Shalom Center; Neturei Karta (Orthodox Jews against Zionism); Gush Shalom; Jews Against the Occupation; Rabbis for Human Rights; Another Jewish Voice (Netherlands); Union des Progressistes Juifs de Belgique (Belgium); Network for Jews Against Occupation (Italy); Jewish Manifesto (Sweden); Union Juive Francaise pour la paix (France); New Outlook (Denmark). In addition it should be noted that at least one fifth of the volunteers that have gone into the Occupied Territories with the ISM (International Solidarity Movement) have been Jewish. Finally, according to Esther Kaplan’s account of “The Jewish Divide on Israel” which appeared in The Nation in June of 2004 the numbers of American Jews affiliated with Jewish groups seeking a just peace for the Palestinians and Israelis alike was “fast approaching AIPAC’s 65,000 member and polls show that there is tremendous room for growth” within these organizations. Kaplan goes on to note that a petition in the United States calling for the relocation of all Israeli settlers on the West Bank was able to obtain the signatures of over 10,000 American Jews.
One wonders if Ahmadinejad, Yunis al-Astal and Hesham Tillawi are truly ignorant of the extent of historical and contemporary Jewish resistence to Zionism and Israeli policies. With a little effort all of them could avail themselves of this history. For what it is worth, someone should tell Ahmadinejad that America’s Palestine is published in Iran in Farsi. However, it is likely that these leaders and writers, like so many of their Zionist counterparts are encapsulated in a closed information environment within which they seek out only information, companions and advisers who will reinforce their established position. They have created a thought collective for themselves and it serves as umbilical cord sustaining a warped worldview. So strong is that warped worldview that it might make no difference at all to their position and statements even if they were fully aware of the existence of anti-Zionist Jews. They might simply dismiss them as irrelevant.
Thus, in the “weird and creepy world” of anti-Semitism the Israeli leaders who insist that all real Jews are Zionists and that a racist, aggressive and expansionist Israel is the only bulwark against a second Holocaust, have crawled into bed with anti-Semites who deny the Holocaust ever happened but are happy to lump all Jews into the category of enemy. The result is a very messy world of myth, lies and hypocrisy. Such a world cannot help but be increasingly dangerous. One should keep in mind the words of Voltaire, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Both sides are peddling absurdities. They relish the absurdities as if they were divine truths and the atrocities as if they were commanded by God. And on it goes even to the present day, the air blissfully filled with lies and the ground littered with corpses.
Esther Kaplan at HYPERLINK http://www.thenation.com/doc20040712/kaplan.
These figures give the lie to Zionist claims, produced by bias polls sponsored by the Anti Defamation League that 79% of American Jews supported the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in the recent Gaza War. Yet those bent on anti-Semitic stereotyping are quite ready to use their enemy’s own propaganda when it suits their purposes. Thus Joachim Martillo has asserted that “the American Jewish community is dominated by evil Jewish Nazis, who support the slaughter of women and children” on the basis of just such suspect “evidence.”
Dr. Davidson has done extensive research and published in the areas of American perceptions of the Middle East, and Islamic Fundamentalism. His two latest publications are Islamic Fundamentalism (Greenwood Press, 1998) and America's Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood (University Press of Florida, 2001). He has published thirteen articles on various aspects of American perceptions of the Middle East. Dr. Davidson holds a BA from Rutgers, an MA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Alberta.
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