TCS Daily

The Israel-Nazi Slander in Historical Context

By Rory Miller - March 29, 2005 12:00 AM

The historian Yaacov Shavit once argued that the main question to be debated within Jewry in the wake of the Holocaust was whether "Nazism [was] an inherent feature of the European essence or was it a diverted characteristic, an historical accident?" It is one of the great historical and intellectual perversions of our times that many westerners are now asking the same question about Israel and Zionism as Jews asked about Europe.

From polls in Germany in which 51% of respondents expressed the view that Israel's current treatment of Palestinians is similar to that meted out to the Jews by the Nazis, to posters in Paris reading "Hitler has a son -- Sharon"; from information signs in the Spanish town of Oleiros, flashing "Let's stop the animal!!! Sharon the assassin, stop the neo-Nazis", to banners in a Dublin march demanding an end to the Palestinian holocaust and equating the Star of David with the Nazi swastika. Wherever we look we are being bombarded by attacks on Israeli "storm troopers" pursuing "SS tactics" and engaged in "Blitzkrieg" operations.

But Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories have no relation to the horrors carried out by Germany during the Nazi occupation of Europe and there is absolutely no moral equivalence between Hitler's industrial slaughter of the Jews and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

If you doubt this ask yourself the following questions: would it have been possible for Jewish schools in German-occupied Holland, Poland, Hungary and numerous other countries, to indoctrinate their students with the most outlandish anti-German propaganda and incitement?

Would these same school children fresh from their brainwashing classes have been free to enroll, in the glare of the world's media, in summer camps dedicated to training a new generation of anti-German guerillas? Would their religious and secular leaders have been able to go on their own TV channels and call their occupiers the "sons of monkeys" with impunity?

Of course not -- the Jews under Nazi rule were too busy trying (in most cases unsuccessfully) to escape being bundled on trains and shipped to the gas chambers. Yet all this, and much more, is standard practice among Palestinians in areas controlled by the PA.

The more naïve observer may argue that we live in a time when the label "Nazi" and the accusation of "Nazism" had become such a common and hugely debased part of the political vernacular that such accusations are a result of ignorance rather than malice.

It is true that the survivor generation is passing away and the full horror of the Holocaust is becoming vague, especially in the minds of younger generations. But those who accuse Israel of having inherited the Nazi mantle are not speaking out of ignorance and are fully aware of the enormity of the accusation -- which is why they make it in the first place.

If anyone doubts this it should be remembered that the despicable comparisons of Zionism to Nazism did not simply come about in response to the breakdown of the Oslo peace process in 2000. It didn't even begin following the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in June 1967 war or even in response to the birth of Israel in 1948.

Indeed, one can see the truly cynical and evil antecedents of the current accusations only by realizing that the comparison of Zionism to Nazism was rife during World War II and gathered pace in the years immediately preceding the birth of Israel at a time when the true horrors of the Holocaust were no distant memory. For example, a memorandum written during World War II and circulated among the Zionist leadership predicted that after the war opponents of Zionism would consciously attempt to present Zionists as "Jewish Nazis" as a way of delegitimizing Jewish aspirations in Palestine.

That this was the case can be clearly seen in the following note sent by Freya Stark, British propagandist and anti-Zionist who had been sent to the United States in 1943 to promote Britain's Palestine policy. In the note sent from New York to the British Foreign Office during her trip she explained:

        "I today lunched with Mrs Rothschild and a Jewish painter (Rubin) who has 
        done some really beautiful work in Palestine. Olga Rothschild who is studying 
        Jewish history and is inclined to be fair and very impressionable had, I 
        noticed, very much come round since the last meeting and told me what 
        she dislikes in the Zionists is their Nazi principles. I think it is one of the 
        propagandist's purest pleasures to see his own words come back dressed up 
        as Other People's Ideas"

Writing in the same year a senior official at the British Embassy in Baghdad, explained that there is a "powerful Jewish organization in Palestine, that is run on Fascist lines and Nazi principles... Jewish refugees from the Nazi's Fascist tyranny in Europe have introduced into Palestine a good few of the methods employed to regiment the German masses by Himmler's hoodlums." In 1945, Sir Edward Grigg (Lord Altrincham), British Minister resident in the Middle East, warned a Cairo press conference of the "establishment of a kind of Nazi gangsterism in the Holy Land". While Sir Edward Spears, who had been British ambassador in Syria and Lebanon during the war expanded on Grigg's view:

        "political Zionism as it is manifested in Palestine today preaches very much 
        the same doctrines as Hitler", and he continued "Zionist policy in Palestine 
        has many features similar to Nazi philosophy...the politics of Herrenvolk...
        the Nazi idea of Lebensraum, is also very in evidence in the Zionist 
        philosophy...the training of youth is very similar under both organisations 
        that have designed this one and the Nazi one".

In a 1947 talk at the prestigious Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, Robin Maugham, a well-known commentator on the Middle East and the son of the former British cabinet minister followed Spears in providing a detailed list of the similarities between Zionism and Nazism and in particular drew attention to: "the stare of hatred...the patriotic songs...the pride and confidence...are all the same as in the Germany of Hitler".

These are just a few of the numerous comparisons of Zionism to Nazism in the 1940s, a period prior even to the establishment of Israel. Indeed, so central was the Zionist/Nazi analogy to anti-Zionist polemics during this period that in 1945 the distinguished theologian and historian of Judaism Rev. Dr James Parkes lamented that it was an argument "which I have heard too often". While Moshe Shertok [Sharett], then head of the political department of the Jewish Agency, and later the first foreign minister of Israel, felt the need to raise the issue at a speech at the United Nations in 1947 concluding with the words: "I will not attempt to refute this charge [further] because it refutes itself".

Such attempts to de-legitimize Zionism and Israel in its earliest years by comparing it to Nazism were not limited to Western opponents of Zionism. Professor Bernard Lewis, the eminent historian of the Middle East, has argued that it was not until the 1960s that "Arab attacks on the Zionist enterprise and on Zionist theory began to make extensive use of such terms as racist, and to seek resemblances between Israel and South Africa, and, even more remarkably, between Zionists and Nazis". But again, like their Western colleagues, Arab anti-Zionists did not simply come to view Zionism as a Nazi movement in response to the beginning of the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in the 1960s or even the birth of Israel in 1948.

For example, from the mid-1940s the Arab League, the representative body of all the Arab states, devoted much of its English language publicity to attacking Zionism as Nazism. A 1945 pamphlet published in London explained that:

        "to the Arabs indeed Zionism seems as hideous as anything the Nazis 
        conceived in the way of racial expansion at the expense of others. 
        The Zionist claim to have brought prosperity to the country sounds to 
        the Arab ears very much like Hitler's talk of the blessings of the New Order, 
        and the historical, legal and moral arguments adduced to support he Zionist 
        case... appear in the same light as those used by the Nazis to justify the 
        spoliation or destruction of the nations they attacked...while the novel 
        contention that the matter is not one of rights but of the greater need of 
        the Jews...smacks unmistakably of the Lebensraum doctrine" .

Several other Arab League pamphlets as well as editorials published in the body's newspaper the Arab News Bulletin made similar claims in these years. As one surveys the paper's editorial position one notices that as the Arab goal of preventing a Jewish state got bleaker in 1947, culminating in the United Nations support for the partition of Palestine, Zionism was increasingly portrayed as a Nazi movement. In July 1947 it was claimed that "Zionists are employing Nazi methods". By November 1948, the Arab League was arguing that the Zionist "spirit...techniques...aims are almost indistinguishable from those of the Nazis".

So the next time you read that an organization like the US National Coordinating Board of the YWCA has refused to condemn an internal report arguing that Israelis were trying to "rid the land of Palestinians" just as "Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews"; the next time you hear a Nobel Peace Prize laureate (Mairead Corrigan Maguire) compare Israel's nuclear arsenal to Hitler's gas chambers or a Nobel prizewinner for Literature (Jose Saramago) compare crimes in Palestine to what happened at Auschwitz remember that for over half a century western and Arab anti-Zionists have looked to de-legitimize Zionism and Israel by portraying the former as a Nazi ideology and the latter as a Nazi state.

Dr Rory Miller is Senior Lecturer in Mediterranean Studies at King's College, University of London. He is associate editor of academic journal Israel Affairs, and the author, most recently, of Ireland and the Palestine Question, 1948-2004


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