An op-ed by David A. Harris
Executive Director, American Jewish Committee
The Jerusalem Post, January 11, 2009
There is an interesting juxtaposition this month.
As Israel pursues its military operation against Hamas, preparations are under way around the world for Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. The two are not disconnected. Israel’s policy should be scrutinized like any other states, and the loss of any innocent life should be mourned. But some of Israel’s fiercest critics go far beyond the limits of what might be termed rational debate. They have obscenely tried to turn the Holocaust on its head, portraying Israel as committing Nazi-like crimes, the ultimate libel against the Jewish state.
A Catholic cardinal and leading Vatican official refers to Gaza as a concentration camp.
A Greek newspaper entices readers with the banner headline Holocaust, referring to Israel’s alleged actions in Gaza.
A Brazilian newspaper publishes two cartoons, one of Hitler wearing an armband emblazoned with the Star of David and swastika, saluting, Heil Israel!; the other of a Star of David casting a shadow in the form of a swastika over the Gaza Strip.
On his website, white supremacist David Duke reacts to the Gaza crisis by lamenting that Hollywood portrays Jews as Holocaust victims rather than perpetrators.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez calls on Venezuela’s Jewish community to denounce “the Holocaust being committed in Gaza”.
Posters equating the Star of David with the Nazi swastika are ubiquitous at anti-Israel rallies around the world.
A demonstrator in Holland confidently asserts that Anne Frank would be turning over in her grave, if she saw what was happening in Gaza.
Israel seeks to defend itself in a highly complex environment, where the adversary, Hamas, cravenly uses civilians as shields and mosques as armories. For that right to protect its citizens, which any sovereign nation would exercise under similar circumstances, it is labeled as the successor to the demonic force that wiped out two-thirds of European Jewry, including 1.5 million children.
How many times does it need to be said?
Israel left Gaza in 2005. Israel has repeatedly renounced any territorial ambitions there. Israel gave Gazans the first chance in their history to govern themselves.
Israel has a vested interest in a peaceful, prosperous, and developing Gaza. This point cannot be stressed enough. After all, the two are destined to share a common border.
Israel has only one overarching concern in Gaza: Does it pose a security threat to neighboring Israel? The answer, tragically, is clear. That was the result of a decision taken in Gaza, not Israel. Hamas was chosen to rule, and choices have consequences. After all, Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist.
Why were tunnels built across the Egyptian border? What are the Iranian-made Grad missiles going through those tunnels to Gaza meant for? And why are Hamas fighters going through those tunnels in the other direction for training in Iran and Lebanon?
More than 10,000 rockets, missiles, and mortars have been fired at southern Israel from Gaza in the past eight years. Towns and villages have lived under constant threat. If some of those projectiles were crude and missed their targets, it was not for lack of trying. Their aim is to kill, maim, and intimidate as many civilians as possible. Everything is fair gameâ€”homes, hospitals, schools, playgrounds. The trauma this has created cannot be adequately described.
And for what? To liberate Gaza? Well, Gaza is already under Hamas, not Israeli, rule. No, more likely, to eventually liberate Israel from Israeli rule.
What about all the clergy, cartoonists, protesters, and politicians so concerned about the human rights of those in Gaza? Have they ever uttered a peep while those 10,000 rockets, missiles, and mortars were raining down on southern Israel? Did they ever take to the streets to support the human rights of Israelis? Did they ever read the Hamas Charter and hear the echoes of Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, two European books that helped to condemn Jews to their death?
Did they ever put two and two together and ask what would happen if Hamas married its annihilationist goals with ever more advanced weaponry? And did it occur to them that, yes, nearly six million Israeli Jews would be in the crosshairs?
To ask these questions is to answer them, which probably means one of two things.
Either the accusers are totally clueless about the Holocaust and, therefore, incapable of understanding why their words and actions are so outrageous.
Or they are deliberately manipulating history, distorting the truth, and twisting facts for a larger political purpose.
What could that purpose be?
Well, for starters, extreme right, extreme left, and radical Islamic groups have found something to agree onâ€”the Holocaust complicates their goals.
For the extreme right, by seeking to deny or minimize the Holocaust, the crime of their predecessors, they have tried to burnish their credentials as a responsible element in more mainstream society.
For the extreme left, the Holocaust is seen as a basis for the subsequent creation of the State of Israel, a nation whose right to exist they single-mindedly deny.
And for radical Islamic groups, the Holocaust is regarded as a perennial source of sympathy for Israel, undermining efforts to chip away at its legitimacy.
These three movements can’t agree on much, but they seem to have a convergent interest in hijacking the Holocaust and using it against Israel.
And there are others, especially in Europe, who don’t fit into any of these three categories but may have their own Holocaust-related agenda.
Perhaps it’s an effort to get out from under the moral weight of the genocide. After all, it was the sins of commission by the perpetrators, abetted by the sins of omission on the part of bystanders, that amounted to the Final Solution. How could Europe, especially the Europe that today sees itself as a source of such enlightenment and reason, have been the stage for such a monstrous crime against humanity just a few short decades ago?
And, of course, the Europe in which the Holocaust unfolded was a continent already haunted by the crowded presence of Jewish ghost victims of centuries of expulsions, pogroms, ghettos, pales of settlement, inquisitions, forced conversions, discriminatory laws, professional restrictions, conspiracy theories, blood libels, and the teaching of contempt.
Pinning a swastika on Israel, and, by extension, its supporters, can be unburdening. It allows for a catharsis of the spirit. Given a measure of power, the argument goes, the Jews behave no differently than the Nazis. According to this inverted, not to mention perverted, logic, the only lesson of the Holocaust is to stand up for targeted victims. And who is that targeted victim today? The Palestinians of Gaza, of course.
The Holocaust taught several lessons. This January 27th would be a good time to remind the world of what they are.
First, sometimes people mean what they say. Hitler spelled out his ambitions well in advance. Too few took him seriously. Until late in the day, there were those leaders in Europe who believed that he could be reasoned with, that his words were simply hyperbolic, that negotiations were possible, and that compromises could be reached. Is it possible that Hamas and its patron, Iran, actually mean what they say when they speak of a world without Israel?
Second, there is such a thing as a just war. War should be the last option, but there are times when it must remain an option. Had the Allied nations not declared war on the Third Reich, how would the world have looked? Mind you, that war was neither clean nor surgical, and Allied leaders were hardly preoccupied with debates over proportionality.
As diplomacy offered no solution and restraint met with no reciprocity, what was Israel supposed to do in the face of Hamas’ arms buildup and daily barrage of fire? Simply accept the role of sitting duck so that it might aspire to the moral high ground of victimhood?
And third, defenselessness is no strategy. Jews were defenseless against the Nazi onslaught. They had no army, no recourse to weapons, and few who sought to defend them. Jews learned, at high cost, never to permit such vulnerability again.
So, as January 27th approaches, and we recall the six million, spare us the lip service and the crocodile tears from those who would accuse Israel of Nazi-like crimes.
Remembering dead Jews is important, yes, but protecting living Jews is no less significant.
© 2009, The Jerusalem Post