Bibi's Hitler yarn harms fight against anti-Semitism
Bibi’s comment is just the latest in Israel blaming the Palestinians for their own oppression.
[/pullquote](Content warning: genocide, eugenics, and Nazis.)
The horror of Bibi’s recent Holocaust revisionism in front of the World Zionist Congress has appalled everyone I know. It’s repulsive not just because it’s a lie (the conversation he quoted between the Grand Mufti & Hitler literally never happened). It’s not just because blaming Palestinians for the Holocaust demonizes and dehumanizes them. And it’s not just because the Grand Mufti is far from representative of Palestinian leadership, as his popular among the general populace was waning immensely by World War II. It’s horrible for two reasons I have heard little discussion about: Bibi’s comment is just the latest in Israel blaming the Palestinians for their own oppression; and his world view further distances fighting anti-Semitism from fighting other forms of bigotry.
First: Let’s take his word as true for a moment. (It’s hella not, but just pretend to be totally off the rails for a moment with me.) If Palestinian leadership were responsible for the killing of Jews in the Holocaust, Jews fighting in mandatory Palestine during the late ‘40s were not actually overthrowing the British, but a defensive response to the slaughter of the Holocaust. The Irgun and Deir Yassin massacres: self-defense. Bombing Gaza in ’08, ’12, and ’14: self defense. And the list goes on and on, of all of the big and small moments in the 67 years in between.
[pullquote align=left] Netanyahu is not just rewriting the history of the Holocaust, he’s rewriting the history of Zionism.
[/pullquote]We are all familiar with this rhetoric, it’s trotted out every day: Israel claims both specific actions as “self defense” (bombing Gaza because Hamas rockets) as well as their general strategy (the whole Arab world hates us so everything we do is self defense). But Bibi is not just remaking the same rhetorical point about being surrounded by anti-Semites that he has made before. In his speech, Netanyahu claims an ahistorical and timeless need for Jewish self-defense against Arab anti-Semitism — and in fact puts Arab anti-Semitism as the genesis of European anti-Semitism today. The need for Jewish self-defense against Arabs is one that predates the creation of the state of Israel and therefore a need that is beyond just statehood or borders. Hence why it’s seemingly unimportant to determine official borders (which Israel has never had), and why Bibi crowns himself the defender of Jewish people everywhere (as we saw after the Jewish kosher grocery attack in Paris).
[pullquote align=right] In his world view, Arabs are the only reason Jews are still dying today.
[/pullquote]Netanyahu is not just rewriting the history of the Holocaust, he’s rewriting the history of Zionism — and therefore of Palestinian resistance to Zionism. After all, if a Palestinian leader caused the single worst anti-Semitic atrocity of all time, and therefore were the actual causes of genocidal European anti-Semitism, everything that has happened since to the Palestinians is still justified. According to Bibi, Palestinians still reap what the Mufti sowed 70 years ago. In Bibi’s world view, there was no social Darwinism or scientific racism (which is where the term “anti-Semitism” and the creation of Jews as a race or people even comes from). The Czar’s pogroms, anti-Semitism in Stalin’s regime, Nuremberg Laws, or persecution of Jews for being Communist or anarchist — all erased or footnotes, symptomatic but not foundational. Peaceful coexistence between Arab Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the Ottoman Empire, in Morocco, in Spain (hello Rambam) — none of these exist. In his world view and that of his followers, Arabs caused Jews to die in the past, and they are the only reason Jews are still dying today.
[pullquote align=left] We alone know what it is like to be victims.
[/pullquote]Which brings me to my second point. Netanyahu and those like him propulgate the worst kind of Jewish exceptionalism. This posits anti-Semitism as the “oldest hatred” in the world, and the hardest to fight. Jews are alone as the world’s scapegoat. We alone know what it is like to be victims, and no matter how many drones Israel flies or how many walls it builds, we are still victims. The Holocaust is the worst event in human history because of the 6 million Jews lost. Not only does this argument justify massacres and violence against Palestinians, it erases 5 million people: the disabled people, Roma, Christian minorities, and political prisoners who were killed by the Nazis, many before the first death camp was launched.
[pullquote align=right] Hitler’s hatred of disabled people came from the exact same place as his hatred of Jews.
[/pullquote]Many of us who have studied the Holocaust, even casually, know of the Einsatzgruppen. These “mobile death squads” were responsible for some of the worst Nazi atrocities. Before the evil machinery of death camps and gas chambers, the Einsatzgruppen swept behind German troops, rounding up Jews and killing them en masse, often by mass shootings. (The most notable massacre, at Babi Yar in Ukraine, happened two months before Hitler and Mufti even met. Over 30,000 Jews were shot over two days and buried in a mass grave.) However, fewer know that the Einsatzgruppen started years before they pushed into the massive Jewish population centers in Eastern Europe. Their original purpose: to round up and kill the disabled. Over 200,000 mentally and physically disabled children and adults were killed through “Action T4;” hundreds of thousands more were sterilized. The Einsatzgruppen were the first to use gas to kill their victims, first in mobile gas chambers disguised as ambulances, and later at “euthenasia centers” where patients thinking they were being transferred to a new hospital were ushered into “showers” that were actually gas chambers. Hitler’s hatred of disabled people came from the exact same place as his hatred of Jews. He believed in a scientific hierarchy of people, with those who were “unpure” from birth unworthy of life.
[pullquote align=left] Decades after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is alive and well.
[/pullquote]Every human should be horrified by the Holocaust — and communities with collective memories of that trauma should bond together. Instead, too often Jews stand apart. As an American Jew, I can’t remember a time when I did not know about the horrors of the Holocaust. Yet I did not learn there were 11 million Holocaust victims instead of 6 million until I sought that information out on my own as a teenager, and learned more about it in public school. I did not know that other religious minorities were persecuted in Europe. I did not know that Jewish communists and anarchists fought in the resistance alongside Polish, Dutch, and Ukranian anti-fascists. In short, I did not know that Jews were one of countless victims of Nazi fascism and hatred, and that they resisted it alongside others.
[pullquote align=right] Jews do not need to play “oppression olympics.”
[/pullquote]Decades after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is alive and well. It is alive in neo-Nazis in Europe, and yes, it is alive in the Arab World. (I have strong memories of seeing Mein Kampf for sale all over Amman.) But it is alive next to all other forms of white supremacy and bigotry. Jews do not need to play “oppression olympics” as the ones who have suffered the most worldwide. We do not need to rank oppressions at all. Our communal trauma should bond us to those who suffer oppression, including Palestinians, not separate us. As I mourn the Jews and disabled people (and disabled Jews) killed in the Holocaust, I think about the thousands of Palestinian refugees in Gaza suffering from PTSD. I think about Palestinians whose bodies have been physically altered by missile strikes, tear gas, rubber bullets, and rocks thrown by settlers. If we join in the struggle for collective liberation, not just our own liberation, occupation becomes obsolete. In many ways, Zionism as a protective project for Jews becomes obsolete.
[pullquote align=left] The Holocaust was not caused by one conversation.
[/pullquote]Bibi reminds me of many NRA leaders in the U.S. after a school shooting. Every time, someone claims that if teachers had guns, they could prevent mass shootings. Most of my Jewish friends, as good liberals, cringe at this suggestion. Ending bigotry, violent masculinity, and easy access to firearms is the solution, not more guns. Yet those same American Jews barely seem to notice when Bibi drums up anti-Semitism as a justification for bomb strikes, checkpoints, and cement walls — the equivalent of giving a teacher a gun.
The Holocaust was not caused by one conversation. Complex horrors like that never have simple causes. Ending them, too, will be complex. But we will not end anti-Semitism with leaders like Netanyahu, or through denying Palestinians their human rights.