What Arab Holocaust-Deniers Should Learn from Mandela

Haganah fighters take aim: Survivors of the camps arriving in Israel in 1948 having been denied anywhere else to go weren’t going to see the war as anything but a matter of physical survival

No, this is not another one of those idiotic diatribes by Americans or Israelis who know nothing about Nelson Mandela, but use their fantasy picture of him to add authority to their claims that the Palestinians should embrace whatever Israel deigns to offer them. For the record, in making peace with the apartheid regime, Nelson Mandela did not significantly compromise on the ANC’s core demand – he agreed to end the armed struggle only when the white minority had conceded to the principle of democratic majority rule after decades of trying in vain to force the national liberation movement to settle for less.

Still, there is a very, very important lesson that the Palestinian national movement and its Arab allies – and certainly, those in Iran who claim to speak on its behalf – have failed to learn. Mandela made it his business, as a responsible leader of a national liberation movement fighting apartheid’s unique form of colonialism, to understand the motives of the system’s die-hard supporters. Not simply their tactics and strategies, but the historical narrative within which they constructed their system of minority rule as an “historic necessity” by which they could justify the suppression of others. Because all systems of oppression are ultimately founded on fear, and their claim to offer protection to their adherents from the things they most fear.

When Mandela stood in the dock in 1964 and told the court that one of his prime sources of inspiration for waging guerrilla war was the great Boer War general Deneys Reitz — whose book “Kommando” was an early manual worthy of Giap — he was not simply being cute. He was telling the Afrikaners that he connected with their own national liberation struggle waged against the British, and that he was representing his own people in a narrative they should understand from their own experience. The Boers built the system that guaranteed their privileges and power on the basis of the common historical experience of the Afrikaners at the hands of the British – and for those of you who didn’t know, the very term “Concentration Camp” was actually a British invention during the Boer War. The highly mobile Boer guerrilla forces were more than a match for Britain’s large conventional formations, saddling up and riding into battle and then simply disappearing back into the civilian population. So the British responded by simply rounding up that civilian population, burning their farms, and imprisoning them in what they called “Concentration Camps,” where 26,000 Boer women and children died of starvation and disease.

And it was that sense of victimhood and outrage at the hands of the Brits that drove the Afrikaner-Nationalist ideology of Mandela’s foes. Both from prison and in power, Mandela never belittled or dismissed their experience; instead he honored the suffering of the Boers and their courage and ingenuity in their war against Britain. Mandela’s message, in essence, was “we understand your suffering, but we were not your oppressors, and you have nothing to fear from us; your suffering cannot excuse the suffering you have imposed on us.”

Mandela went out of his way to incorporate Afrikaner suffering, and even Afrikaner national pride, in his articulation of a new national identity. The ANC government celebrated the centenary of the Anglo Boer war in 1999, commemorating it as part of the legacy of South Africans’ fight for freedom. And five years earlier, Mandela had donned that most potent of symbols of Afrikaner pride — the Springbok rugby jersey — to cheer on the national team at the Rugby World Cup, a gesture more powerful than any words could convey to many ordinary Afrikaans people fearful of their place in Mandela’s new South Africa.

The reason we’re talking about this, of course, is that Iran is hosting an international gathering of Holocaust deniers, as if assembling a rogues gallery of neo-Nazis and Klu Klux Klansmen to “negate” the experience of history can somehow strengthen the Palestinian cause. In truth, of course, President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad is not concerned with the Palestinians; he’s fighting his own power struggle against more pragmatic elements inside the regime in Tehran, his strategy involving repeat symbolic provocations of the West in order to foment a crisis that sabotages the efforts of those in the regime seeking a pragmatic coexistence. His tactics are those of the 1979 U.S. embassy seizure — create a confrontation with the West that polarizes the situation, forcing Iranians to rally against an external enemy and sabotaging any effort to cooperate with the U.S. and others.

And in inviting Palestinians and Arabs to deny the Holocaust, Ahmedinajad is doing their cause a profound disservice. Ahmedinajad’s Holocaust-denial is hardly unique. It’s been echoed even in recent weeks by representatives of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and even Mahmoud Abbas — although he has since disavowed it — wrote a PhD thesis in the early 1980s in which he claimed that the number of Jews killed by the Nazis was less than 1 million.

This offends me profoundly, as a Jew, as an advocate of justice for the Palestinians, as a global citizen. Because even if Holocaust denial arises among Arab intellectuals largely as a result of the uses to which the Zionist movement has put the Holocaust to justify all manner of injustices against the Palestinians, that does not excuse it. To deny the Holocaust becuase of the way it has been exploited is like denying that the attacks on the World Trade Center took place because you don’t like the Patriot Act or the way 9/11 has been used to cow a frightened nation into supporting the invasion of Iraq.

Arab Holocaust denial is a feeble-minded distortion that puts its adherents into the bizarre company of people who today would just as soon butcher Muslims to get them out of Europe as they once did to Jews (or, indeed, of the diseased minds in the Zionist camp who spend all their time bashing out emails and journal articles purporting to show that there are no Palestinians, that Edward Said never lived in Jerusalem and that sort of thing…). But that’s not the worst of it: Arab Holocaust denial also evades confronting the fact that not only did the Holocaust happen to the Jews of Europe, but because it happened to the Jews of Europe — and because of the reaction by other Western powers before and after the fact — the Holocaust profoundly changed the Arab world. Indeed, in this sense, the Holocaust may have been one of the most important historical events shaping Arab history over the past century.

No, Ahmedinajad would say, not the Holocaust, but the “myth” of the Holocaust. But does he think we’re stupid? The vast majority of the world’s Jews before World War II had rejected Zionism and its idea of colonizing Palestine in order to build a Jewish nation-state as a fringe movement of zealots. In terms of Jewish political affiliation, Zionism accounted for less than 20 percent. The vast majority of Europe’s Jews had identified themselves with the parties of the Left (and also secular liberalism in the case of elements of Western Europe’s more prosperous Jewish communities) — they were socialists and social democrats, Bolsheviks and Bundists (the Jewish Workers Bund was a Yiddish-speaking organization for Jewish workers but aligned itself with the broader socialist movement, as compared with the entirely secular currents of Bolshevism in which many Jews participated, but as individuals rather than en bloc).

And, of course, among the massive Jewish population of the main Arab cities of the time, such as Cairo and Baghdad (and also Tehran, of course, which is not Arab, but Persian), there was no statistically significant presence of a Zionist movement at all. And it is important to remember, here, that it was in the Muslim world that Jews had historically sought refuge from persecution in Christian Europe, at whose hands Jews and Muslims shared a common fate.

The Holocaust wiped out the pre-war (mostly anti-Zionist) European leadership, and the Zionists were ready to take advantage of the opportunity presented by universal horror at what had transpired in the camps to make a case for a Jewish State in Palestine — a cause for which they had fought long before the Holocaust, but in which they hadn’t won the support of a majority of European Jews. Ben Gurion notoriously remarked, circa 1938, “‘Were I to know that all German Jewish children could be rescued by transferring them to England and only half by transfer to Palestine, I would opt for the latter, because our concern is not only the personal interest of these children, but the historic interest of the Jewish people.” Indeed, Ben Gurion warned that as a result of universal outrage at the Kristallnacht pogrom, other nations might be moved by conscience to open their doors to Jewish refugees — “Zionism is in danger!” Ben Gurion warned.

Indeed, after the war, the Zionist movement actively agitated to ensure that the survivors of the Holocaust were transferred to Palestine, and nowhere else. Morris Ernst, a Jewish adviser to President Roosevelt, wrote later of a plan he devised and had pressed the U.S. president to accept that would throw open the doors of the U.S. to at least 150,000 survivors. “It would free us from the hypocrisy of closing our own doors while making sanctimonious demands on the Arabs,” Ernst wrote, in reference to the fact that Arabs in Palestine were being told to make room for the survivors, while the main Western powers kept a tight restriction on Jewish immigration even after Auschwitz. When he proposed the plan to Zionist activists in Jewish organizations, he was shocked at the reaction: “I was amazed and even felt insulted when active Jewish leaders decried, sneered, and then attacked me as if I were a traitor…I think I know the reason for much of the opposition. There is a deep, genuine, often fanatical emotional vested interest in putting over the Palestinian movement [i.e. the move to settle Jews there].”

And in his excellent book The Seventh Million: Israeli Jews and the Holocaust, Israeli historian Tom Segev reveals that for the first 15 years after the liberation of the camps, Israelis were not much interested in hearing the testimonies of Holocaust survivors or discussing an episode they saw simply as connoting Jewish weakness. It was only after the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem that Israel began to actively claim ownership of the Holocaust as part of its national narrative, and the reason was political: the first generation of Western Jews who had settled in the new state was beginning to lose faith and emigrate, and a sense of gloom had settled over the Zionist project — reviving the memory of the Holocaust became a way of promoting national unity behind Zionist goals. (And my personal Zionist experience was intimately bound up with the Holocaust, and the sense the Zionist movement had created in me that we were always on the brink of extinction, and that Israel embodied the spirit of the Warsaw Ghetto, of not going meekly to the gas chamber — take a 17-year old to Yad Vashem, then tell him that our only insurance against another Holocaust is the IDF, and you’ll add another true believer to the ranks.)

For the Palestinians and their supporters, however, the point is simple: The memory of the Holocaust is such a powerful ideological tool for Zionism precisely because of its reality — it speaks the collective memory of Ashkenazi Jews of our fate in Europe, and it pricks the conscience of the perpetrators and those who preferred to turn away.

To respond by trying to deny the reality of the Holocaust is as profoundly immoral as it is idiotic — creating a kind of binary game in which if Israel says mother’s milk is good for babies, the likes of Ahmedinajad will convene a symposium to prove the superiority of formula. The point about the Holocaust is that it happened to the Jews of Europe, and afterwards, as a result of the efforts of the Zionist movement and some combination of shame and latent anti-Semitism in the West, many of its survivors had no choice but to go to Palestine, where they were willing to fight with every fiber of their being for survival, without the luxury of considering the history and context into which they’d been thrust. In the war that followed, Palestinian Arabs, who had been 55 % of the population and had controlled around 80 % of the land, now found themselves displaced and dispossessed, confined to a mere 22 % of Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza), and prevented by a series of ethnic-cleansing laws passed by the State of Israel at its inception from reclaiming the homes and land from which they’d mostly fled in legitimate fear of their lives.

So, the Holocaust, in a very real way, reverberated traumatically in Palestinian national life: It was the narrative that fueled the ferocity with which many of those who drove the Palestinians from their homes in 1948 approached the struggle. And, as Morris Ernst wrote in his reference to “sanctimonious demands on the Arabs,” the Palestinian Arabs had been asked to pay a steep price for Western guilt over what had befallen the Jews of Europe.

Ahmedinajad ought to pay attention to one particular guest, a Palestinian lawyer from Nazareth called Khaleed Mahameed, who runs a small Holocaust exhibit at his office in Nazareth, and argues that it is essential that the Palestinians understand the Holocaust because in it lies the root of their own suffering. Addressing the Israelis on the basis of an understanding of their experience was essential for the Palestinians to make progress in their own national struggle, he argues. He was invited to the conference after writing to Ahmedinajad telling him that the Holocaust was an historical fact that should not be questioned, and that doing so only played into the hands of right-wing Zionists. Indeed, the Zionist establishment doesn’t quite know what to make of Mahameed, because he’s directly challenging Ahmedinajad at the same time as making clear that the Holocaust has been abused in order to justify suffering inflicted on the Palestinians. That’s how a Palestinian Mandela would put it — the Holocaust, in fact, is part of the legacy of suffering that is the common history of Israel and the Palestinians.

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86 Responses to What Arab Holocaust-Deniers Should Learn from Mandela

  1. Ziad says:

    I’ve been reading this blog for over a year now. Always very insightful and easy to read.

    As a an Arab, I’m very much ashamed by the simplistic pseudo-history we often cling to whenever the real history is unflattering , Holocaust denial being only one of many examples. I hope Arabs will see the Hollocaust for what it was; another time in hisotry, a most extreme one, when the strong opressed the weak pretty much because they could and nobody was willing or able to stop them.

    At the same time, as an advocate of Palestinian rights, I understand why many would rally behind the Iranian regime; Israel and the U.S. will never compromise unless they have to. Strength must be countered with strength. Iran, especially if nuclear, is seen as the Palestinian’s last best hope for a champion and not without cause; witness Hizbullah’s war last summer, or Palestinian PM Hanayieh’s visit and Iran’s pledge for 250 million in aid while Europe and the U.S. and even the ‘moderate’ Arab governments watch, and contribute to, Gaza’s imposed starvation.

    Palestinian’s are the weakest people on earth right now and are faced with destruction at the hands of the strongest (U.S./Israel) and so will get help from anyone willing to give it.

    None of this is to excuse denial of the most horrible, and thoroughly documented, event of the 20th century. Only to venture an explanation.

    Thanx for a great blog,

  2. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Apparently, Ahmedinajad’s main goal in life is to make sure that everyone on earth thinks he is a complete madman. He’s getting there.

    I wonder what the average Iranians think of the nut case they put in office.

  3. Pvt. Keepout says:

    Thank you very much for the perceptive observations, serious scholarship and thoughtful analysis incorporated into this illuminating and timely post. It further confirms that Cosican fellow’s observation that, “In war, the moral is to the material as three is to one.”
    If only more leaders believed, understood and followed this simple maxim in securing their nations’ interests. Their armorers’ pauperization would immeasurably enrich us all.

  4. Pat says:

    Dude, in my opinion, that was one of the best posts ever on this site.

    The more I think about it, the more I realize “know your enemy” is perhaps the best maxim of history. Failing to heed it explains Bush’s failure in the Middle East, and likewise explains why the Palestinians will never achieve their goals by means of suicide bombings and calls for the Jews to be pushed into the sea. Like the Ulster Unionists but with a better moral argument, the Israelis are subject to a fortress mentality in which they’re perpetually at risk of being exterminated by the “barbarian hordes” surrounding them, and the only solution is militarization and separatization.

    It’s not just the Israeli Jews, either, and this is where your point about the Holocaust comes in: I think so many American Jews and people like Sacha Baron Cohen (look at what he tries to expose in his targets) really do believe that underneath the friendly surface of goyim like me lurks a latent desire to murder Jews. I find that pretty insulting, being that I’m not cool with genociding my fraternity brothers, but I can also understand why that fear exists–my own grandpa flew over the boxcars choked full of bodies after liberation. And the extension of that fear is unwavering support of Israel: there’s a psychological benefit to having somewhere to run when the world turns on the Jews again. Those who want a more just Middle East do themselves a disservice by failing to understand this.

  5. Zak says:

    Thanks once again for your sanity and clarity of insight. This blog is by far the best source of news analysis I’ve yet encountered.

  6. Alex Morgan says:

    I’m afraid you are way too optimistic, Tony. It goes without saying that the Palestinian cause is hurt and not helped by the Holocaust deniers. However, it is overly optimistic to imagine that somehow the way of Mandela (or Ghandi!) is in any way likely to work for the Palestinians.

    Mandela is a smart man, and he played his cards well, no question. Yet, he had many advantages compared to the Palestinians. The ratio of blacks to whites was far more lopsided in favor of the blacks compared to Israeli/Palestinians. Dragging in the rest of the Arab world does not alter that ratio, for in that case you could drag in the rest of Africa for the black/white ratio in SA.

    Second, SA really did not have much in the way of allies. U.S. support was weak and mostly based on the dying ethos of the conservative American South. Israel has a powerful and active lobby in the U.S., and a lobby that’s hardly dying.

    With a world power like the U.S. in its corner, Israel is in a vastly superior position to the relatively isolated bunch of whites in power in SA.

    Israel is a nuclear power and SA was not.

    The Israeli population (and a good number of Jewish supporters of Israel – not all of them Zionist) have a profound belief that Israelis have nowhere else to go, and it is vital for the Jewish people to have Israel.

    What you are counting on – and I counted on once upon a time – is that Israelis will see that peace with the Arabs is in the ultimate long-term interest of Israel. And it is better to make that peace now, while Israel is strong, than wait until Arabs have the means to *force* Israel into retreating. Rabin understood this. Almost nobody else in Israel seems to grasp this (just one statistic bears this out: 95% of the Israeli population supported the inhumane aerial bombardment of Lebanon, and was not deterred by the Lebanese civilian casualties).

    Fact is, until the Palestinians are a lot more powerful, Israel will not stop, it will never retreat to the only sane borders that can be accepted by all (1967 Green Line). Suicide bombings and random shootings will not do it. One day the Palestinians will understand this and hunker down with the rest of the Muslim world and say: “ok, so how do we make WMDs?” It is only a matter of time before they succeed. Does Israel really wish to fan the flames of hatred until that day? And isn’t it better to make peace now, from a position of strength instead of waiting for the Palestinians (and Arabs and Muslims) to reach deadly conclusions?

  7. Tony says:

    Alex, firstly, a factual correction — apartheid South Africa was a nuclear power (it developed its weapons in cooperation with the Israelis, and destroyed them in the early 1990s under IAEA supervision). But that’s not important — I agree that South Africa and Israel are very different in terms of the architecture of the relevant power relations both domestically and internationally. And I have never imagined that the solution in the two places will come in the same way. As you say, the fundamental power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians means Israel will not feel pressure to conclude a deal. (Although, what I can tell yoiu from the SA experience, is that sometimes the change in the equation comes from abroad, not at home — in 1988, it looked like we were frozen into a standoff in which we could never overthrow the regime, but they could never eliminate the liberation movement, so we would live through a bloody couple of decades before we’d gained the strength to topple them. THen the Berlin Wall came down and the first Bush Administration made clear to Pretoria that its role as an ally in the Cold War counted for nothing; it had better make peace wth the black majority, becuase it could no longer count on Western support – and within months, they were negotiating with the ANC…)

  8. Charles says:

    I beleive that it would be right for Israel to engage in peaceful negociations with Palestine and install a Palestinian state. Israel is surrounded with Arab nations that often do not agree with its treatment of the palestinians. A palestinian state must be created as the Israelis wanted one in the 1940’s. Instead of alienating itself through threats of wars and speeches of defiance; it is as a strong middle-eastern nation such as Israel to set the example and create an atmosphere in order to further means for peace. The moderate Arab countries have understood this and are waiting for a day where an Israeli leader will speak with all Arab nations and open itself to Arabs leaders instead of finding reasons not to. The United States and Israel cannot continue to alienate Syria and Iran as the Iraq war wages on. Diplomacy and channels of communication must never be broken. It is in the region’s interest to keep relations alive. While in Lebanon, hizbollah wages their political war with the Siniora government, we must learn to understand the reasons for their resistance and correct them. Hizbollah was created as an answer to Israeli occupation of Lebanon in the 1980’s. This is none other than fact. Hizbollah demanded certain portions of land not given back, i say give it back to them and end this stupid feud. The recent lebanese war, did not give the Israelis full satisfaction of victory. Unfortunately, Hizbollah is still standing on its feet and creating havoc in Lebanon. The war did not solve anything but sadly created more hatred. Israel must negociate through its peace no matter what. It should not give any arab state a reason to fight. Times and methods of war are changing; Wars have become insufficient is solving disagreements. The Syrians are at odds with Israel with respect to the Golan heights not being returned to them after the 1967 war; i say negociate a settlement and end the stupid feud. I am sure Syria would be more open to Israel after. Take the example of Egypt, Jordan who have been able to secure a peaceful solution. When we witness a president like that of Iran ascending power, it does not help the cause. Through this leader, we can only conclude that there are more people in the region that are tired of failed Israelis policies and aggression towards the Palestinians. We need solutions and they are not in the hands of leaders today. We have left the Israeli – Palestinian conflict paralyzed for too long. Remember, it took a great leader such as Yitzak Rabin to create an atmosphere of peace, and none other than a jewish extemist who decided to take him down. Unfortunately, there are extremist everywhere in the world, countries must teach or deal with these elements. Israel should do its part in its own country. In some sense, some Israelis are not ready to make a step towards an agreeement. The fact is that, if the Israelis wanted to have peace, this would have been done a long time ago. Some elements are just not ready for it…Must we continue to kid ourselves into thinking that the problem will go away? I think not..
    Since the creation of Israel, it is fact that the lands occupied by Israel have not shrinked but enlarged considerably over time…Let’s all sit down, with all parties concerned and resolve this once and for all…This all my be too optimistic, but it maybe is what is left to solve the middle-east confict…

  9. Alex Morgan says:

    Thanks Tony for the correction… I was aware of the Israeli-SA nuclear cooperation, I didn’t realize SA actually achieved functioning weapons (there was some kind of test in the sea, as I recall, but I had no idea actual warheads were produced).

    Be that as it may, I think it’s important to understand that tactics that worked in one setting will not necessarily work in another. Ghandi’s resistance effective as it was against the British Empire, would have failed dismally against Hitler. Mandela’s tactics worked against SA (and as you put it, mostly because of international factors and the loss of Western/USA patronage). Mandela’s tactics will not work for the Palestinians, as you’ve agreed. So what can the Palestinians learn from Mandela? That you should know your opponent and his motivations/national narrative (as pointed out thousands of years ago by Sun Tzu), and that you should not willfully spread historical falsehoods and engage in abominable Anti-Semitism… you don’t need Madela for that.

    I fail to see the point of this entry, Tony. Your analysis of the ME is usually quite brilliant. In this instance, I think you are too influenced by your SA experience – and it is not applicable. A frequent mistake we are all guilty of – our formative experiences can have an outsize impact on all our perceptions. Just my friendly attempt to keep you on the straight and narrow 🙂

    Now, I want to see a brilliant Tony Karon analysis of Ahmedinajad – who is this man, and what are his goals? I have never honestly seen a good analysis of the man anywhere in print. There are many contradictions in his behavior, and the simplistic analysis I’ve see floating around do him no justice. How can he be so smart in so many ways, and yet sponsor such an abomination like the holocaust denial farce? Who is he, and what does he *really* want, and how does he plan on getting it. Tony, please?

  10. Tony says:

    Alex — I did this one some time back, not comprehensive, but outlining some of my thinking:

  11. Tony says:

    On your other point about this particular tactic not working for the Palestinians, I don’t agree — as you say, Mandela didn’t invent this idea, it’s a universal one. And acknowledging the Holocaust won’t necessarily advance the Palestinian struggle, but I’d say that refusing to acknowledge it will, in fact, retard it, morally and conceptually

  12. Alex Morgan says:

    Thanks, Tony for that link. Interesting analysis. Though I must say, Ahmedinajad rather does propagate his anti-Israeli rants often enough and with enough venom that I suspect it’s not purely for internal Iranian political consumption. It will be interesting to see where he’ll end up. Will he still be relevant 5 years from now? Or more powerful than ever? I think there’s another factor in all this. The younger generation of Iranians are increasingly moving away from conservatism… indeed secularizing. If the West doesn’t screw it up (attacking Iran militarily is a sure-fire way to unite Iran around their conservative leaders). I think they largely stayed away after Khatami’s failed promises, and this apathy (plus a bit of gerrymandering by the unelected clerics) allowed Ahmedinajad to come to power. Eventually Ahmedinajad’s poor constituents will leave him, when he is unable to solve their economic problems. And the young secular generation of Iranians will sweep away the conservatives young (Ahmedinajad) and old. That’s my prediction.

  13. Tony says:

    Alex — no, I didn’t say he was doing it for domestic “consumption,” I said he was doing it as part of a domestic political game — he’s doing it for Western consumption, in the knowledge that the more aggressive his posture, the more difficult it becomes for the West to pursue engagement, and for his rivals — who are more pragmatic — to do the same. He’s deliberately muddying the waters with this stuff because it creates a climate abroad in which it’s harder for the likes of Larijani to pursue more pragmatic options.

    Agree that Ahmedinajad is unable to solve the problems of the poor, and that this will eventually be his undoing. But I’m not sure that we don’t overestimate the “secularizing” dimension. My friend Azadeh Moaveni, who lives in Tehran and wrote “Lipstick Jihad,” recently wrote in TIME that, in fact, Iran’s youth have effected a bizarre duality in their identity that manages to combine hedonism and wild partying with serious religious observance on the high holidays… I think there are plenty of Iraqis who are cosmopolitan in their outlook, but those who have grown up under the regime are often, Azadeh says, likely to exhibit some pretty schizophrenic attitudes on matters of religion and personal morality…

  14. Katherine says:

    I found the article on the political background of Zionism in Europe very valuable. I knew something of this (that Zionism was not supported by most Jews in prewar Europe–but Berlin Jewry is my own background), but I think that most Americans assume that the Zionist idea grew up as a response to the Holocaust and therefore cannot be questioned, not that it predated the Holocaust but was considered an extremist, fringe position by the Jews of Europe. In fact, my understanding is that even after the war, many, many Jews, including Holocaust survivors, were opposed to the Zionist program.

  15. Alex Morgan says:


    Indeed Zionism predates the Holocaust, but it still has roots in the response to endemic Anti-Semitism in Europe (Dreyfus affair). The Holocaust in turn was a very powerful confirmation for the Zionists that Jews must have their own homeland, because nowhere can they ever be safe.

    So while Zionism did not originate with the Holocaust, the animating power is still anti-Jewish hatred.

    You could say that today’s Israel has its roots in the centuries of hatred Jews experienced in Europe (and Russia).

  16. Dick Fitzgerald says:

    The Holocaust denial conference is ridiculous, as one shouldn’t have to point out. But Zionists had planned to take Palestinian land long b/f the European Holocaust. And there’s no justification for making the Palestinians pay for what happened to Jews in Europe. A much larger problem than the current conference is the entire Holocaust industry, which seeks to use it to support apartheid Israel, a European settler state conceived and born in ethnic cleansing.

  17. Arnold Evans says:

    Ahmadinejad’s point is usually missed by people who are eager to demonize him as much as possible.

    His one statement: They’ve invented this myth of the Holocaust and elevated it over the myth of God does not necessarily imply that the Holocaust did not happen.

    There is certainly no quote available where Ahmadinejad says that fewer than one million Jews were killed, as there apparently is for the good-guy Abbas.

    Ahmadinejad’s points are 1) People really go to jail for publicly disbelieving the story of the Holocaust. That seems contrived from a culture as militantly secular as the West. It is hypocritical and Ahmadinejad believes he will win that debate. 2) The Holocaust does not justify the suffering or dispossession of the Palestinians.

    He makes these two points very consistently, in every interview I’ve seen or read he has made these points. He is often asked directly does he think the Holocaust happened. His stock answer is 1- that is a question that should be studied objectively without the threat of imprisonment and 2- whether or not it happened, it does not justify Israel.

    The two points Ahmadinejad actually makes are valid. The attacks on him are from people who “know”, without real evidence, that deep in his heart, Ahmadinejad hates Jews so anything he says contrary to that is a lie.

    A recent example is Ahmadinejad said Israel will be wiped off the map the way the USSR was. His attackers “know” he really means Israel will be wiped off the map using nuclear weapons, despite that fact that the USSR was not wiped off the map using nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad’s actual words are of no importance compared to what his attackers have invented and projected onto him.

    The Holocaust is an important subject and the moral foundation of Israel is the single important subject of discussion between the West and the Muslim world. Ahmadinejad is trying to discuss these things. He’s written letters and challenged Bush to a debate on these exact subjects. Bush would be too easy but I’d love to see Blair take him up on this.

    But Ahmadinejad really believes he is right. He believes the creation of Israel was an historical injustice and the taboos around the Holocaust serve to perpetuate that injustice. Most people in the Middle East, most Muslims agree with Ahmadinejad. This is a debate Ahmadinejad would win.

    Instead the West is ducking that debate. Ahmadinejad does not and has never asserted that no Jews died or a small number of Jews were killed by Hitler. He does believe it should be discussed and studied in an atmosphere free of intimidation but by the standard definition of “deny” he is not a Holocaust denier.

    The real points Ahmadinejad makes again and again and again are vehemently ignored by the West, and the Muslim and Arab world are noticing.

  18. Katherine says:

    “The Holocaust is an important subject and the moral foundation of Israel is the single important subject of discussion between the West and the Muslim world. Ahmadinejad is trying to discuss these things. ”

    Of course this is a taboo subject in the USA, except on the left, and even on the left it is virtually taboo. If you raise it and make some obvious points , you are likely to get the purdah treatment. Someone (a liberal) even instructed me: Some people are on the wrong side of history. The Palestineans need to accept that.

    “You could say that today’s Israel has its roots in the centuries of hatred Jews experienced in Europe (and Russia).”

    That seems to make it even more notable that despite centuries of persecution, Zionism was not seen as a viable solution by most Jews. I don’t know the history intimately but it seems that without the USA pushing, even after WW2 the idea didn’t really have “Hand und Fuss.” Didn’t the USA push for an early vote at the UN that more or less validated /institutionalized the results of the ethnic-cleansing operations and terrrorist operations against the British on teh ground in Palestine?

  19. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Christians were the killers.
    Jews were the victims.

    So, who must pay for these past horrors?

    Why, Muslims of course.

    (There’s no denying this feeling of injustice among many people in the middle east.)

    The irony is that the more Ahmadinejad and his friends deny the holocaust, the more they undermine that very logic.

    You can’t both complain that you’re being scapegoated for a crime someone else committed and at the same time argue that the crime never happened.

  20. Arnold Evans says:


    Where exactly do you find an argument from Ahmadinejad or Iran that the Holocaust never happened?

    You think Ahmadinejad has made that argument, but he hasn’t. The conference gave David Duke a podium to say that if he chooses, but Iran has not endorsed any statement by Duke or anyone else that the Holocaust did not happen, it just endorsed Duke’s and everyone else’s ability to make statements on the Holocaust and have them exposed to normal debate.

    The closest Ahmadinejad has come to denial is using the word “myth” (assuming it is not an intentionally provocative overtranslation) to compare the West’s treatment of the story of the Holocaust to it’s treatment of the story of God.

    That is simply not an argument that the Holocaust did not happen, and in fact, there has been no argument from Iran or Ahmadinejad that the Holocaust did not happen.

    I ask you, and also Tony Karon to closely examine why you think such an argument has been made when it really has not.

  21. Protago says:

    Something against a few points raised earlier. The Dreyfus affair was actually the overcoming of “Anti-Semitism” as he was fully rehabilitated. And nevermind that same French army had created a veritable Holocaust during the conquest of Algeria. Those millions of slaughtered people are somehow never mentioned, but an internal affair about questions of loyalty and espionage is used to this day to trumpet the “anti-semitism” canard.

    But basically the whole “anti-semitism” angle is flawed. Jews never had to suffer more than any other group, until the Nazis arrived that is. People went at each others throats all through history. The anti-judaism is an intrinsic element of the christian religion, nothing more.

    It is important to understand that the Jews of Europe were through the ages probably the most retarded of all groups or communities, locking themselves into ghettos and living on the fringes of the economy, all under a totalitarian religious system that makes shariah states look tame in comparison.

    What they call “anti-semitism” today was for example the abolishing of their own justice system as the modern nationstates developed. Previously the Jews had their own justice through religious courts, culminating in the chief Rabbi dealing out death sentences and hiring the killers too.

    Another thing for example was that jewish kids were not allowed to study the language of their host countries, for religious reasons. How could such people ever play a positive role in their countries?

    It is important to understand that the Zionists are the most reactionary group within the whole jewish community who simply feel that this way of life that I described above should now be replicated in Israel.

    The best author on the subject to my knowledge is Israel Shahak, himself a nazi death camp survivor. It is absolutely fascinating to understand what really happened in the current, totally poisoned political climate.

  22. Joe Beirne says:


    Beside being deeply right, think this is one of the best pieces of yours I have read.
    I do not claim to be an authority on your work, just a fan, but I think this is a really, really good one.


    Joe Beirne

  23. Bernard Chazelle says:

    I fear this thread, which began with a brilliant post by Tony, is in danger of degenerating.

    For the record,
    Ahmadinejad is quoted as saying: “They have created a myth today that they call the massacre of Jews.”

    My dictionary defines “a myth” as an “invented story.”

    Now, Arnold, you can put 2 and 2 together.

    To me, if it tastes and stinks like holocaust denial, then it is holocaust denial.

  24. Alex Morgan says:

    Look, the point rather is: if Ahmadinejad believes, as all sane and informed people do, that the Holocaust is a historical fact beyond dispute (and the attendant over 6 million Jewish victims), then why does he get cute with words, and why does he dance around with terms like “myth”?

    It is simple and understandable: “Yes, there was a Holocaust and it took 6 million lives”. Why can’t he say that?

    Why do his defenders have to dance on the point of a needle about the fine shades of meaning he’s employing when speaking of such plain matters.

    It shouldn’t be so difficult to parse what he’s saying, if he were honest and forthright.

    Clearly he’s playing a game. And it is shameful to use the Holocaust to play such games.

    The Palestinians (and indeed Arabs and Persians) have a legitimate beef with the Western world and the colonial legacy. But their case is not helped by denying the injustices that happened to others.

  25. Arnold Evans says:

    That’s the sentence I was talking about. “They’ve created this myth and elevated it above the story of God and the prophets”. If you put a period after the word “myth” (as is commonly and misleadingly done in the Western press) the sentence seems like an assertion that the Holocaust story is untrue. The entire sentence does not depend on the Holocaust story being untrue, the point is just as valid regardless of the truth of the Holocaust. What is being condemned is not the story itself, but its elevation.

    I’m not sure what word was used in Farsi and how much of a connotation of falseness was really conveyed.

    Ahmadinejad has been asked directly many times. He has never said “yes, six million jews were killed.” He has never said “no, only five million jews were killed.” He always says the amount of Jews killed should be determined by historians and those historians should not be subject to political pressure. This means historians should determine the amount without being threatened with prison if they find that only four million were killed.

    How many people died in the Armenian Holocaust, how many slaves died during the middle passage? How many civilians have been killed by the US bombing of Afghanistan or the violence springing from the invasion of Iraq? How many people died in the Ukrainian famine, how many in the Great Leap forward?

    For all of these it is fine to say I’m not sure. It is really fine. There are estimates that 10 million were killed in Stalin’s Ukrainian famine. Someone can estimate only 4 million without hating Ukrainians or wanting to kill more.

    Ahmadinejad does not have a point to make about this or that number. You can’t force him to say six million any more that you can force anyone to say 10 million were killed in another atrocity.

    The whole point is that he rejects as invalid the idea that for this one story a person is at least morally deficient and in some places threatened by imprisonment for not reciting what seems to be a catechism.

    If Ahmadinejad says “I deny that there was a Holocaust” then it is fair to say he is denying the injustices that happened to others. What he actually says is closer to “it seems a crime happened, the magnitude should be studied in an environment free of intimidation but regardless of the magnitude, it does not justify Israel”

    It is a simple fact that Ahmadinejad’s true position is not a denial that injustices were done to others or to Jews.

  26. Glenn Condell says:

    Great piece Tony.

    ‘No, this is not another one of those idiotic diatribes by Americans or Israelis who know nothing about Nelson Mandela, but use their fantasy picture of him to add authority to their claims that the Palestinians should embrace whatever Israel deigns to offer them’

    You may have seen Michael Kinsley’s latest instalment of this in the WaPo or Guardian. ‘Where is the Palestinian Mandela?’ he asks in a piece entitled ‘It’s not apartheid’, written in response to Jimmy Carter’s view that Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is analogous to white South Africa’s treatment of the indigenous black population.

    It is a poor piece of work from a man who normally makes sense with more elan than most of his peers can muster. For the umpteenth time, I find myself upset by a diaspora Jewish commentator who has a demonstrated sense of fair play on virtually every issue but who suddenly, when the talk turns to Israel, becomes just another hack AIPAC talking point purveyor, complete with an almost hysterical defensiveness and straw-clutching sophistry. Only Michael Walzer’s blithe acceptance of cluster-bombed Southern Lebanon has angered me more in recent times.

    You would think canny Israel-firsters would avoid appropriating Mandela’s first-rate moral brand recognition, if only because he has been consistent over the years in his support of the Palestinians and criticism of Israel. Even Gandhi sometimes gets dragged in to show up the lack of moral grandeur in Palestinian leadership, but he too (in 1946) left no doubt about his outrage at the terror tactics and ethnic cleansing employed by the founders of Israel. Another reason you’d think the Zionists might give such exemplars a wide berth is that any serious answer to the question ‘If Mandela was leading the Palestinians today, what would he say about the continuing theft of Palestinian land and water, or the bombing of Lebanon, or the erection of the exclusion wall?’ etc. would not exactly redound well for Zionism. Quite the opposite.

    In fact, it seems to me the continued use of this trope indicates a perhaps unacknowledged awareness that while Palestinian leadership leaves something to be desired, Israel too has for a long time done without leadership comfortable on the moral high ground. Honour and honesty are absent from the top strata at least, with calculation and expedience, if not outright corruption the order of the day.

    ‘And it was that sense of victimhood and outrage at the hands of the Brits that drove the Afrikaner-Nationalist ideology of Mandela’s foes’

    Isn’t it instructive how each and every wave of violence from ethnic or religious or national groups seems to have it’s origins in that same sense of victimhood and outrage, and how often these groups assuage that hurt by picking on another group who had nothing to do with it?

    Germany, hitherto a nation proud of it’s martial prowess, was humiliated by Versailles and Nazi success can be substantially accounted for by the appeal Hitler made to a restoration of pride. His chosen scapegoats were not the nations responsible for Germany’s shame, but a relatively harmless ethnic subset of the population, with an unfortunately long history of German persecution. Many Germans took the opportunity to persecute with gusto, as if trying to expunge the memory of that earlier perceived weakness.

    So they murder millions of this population, which opens the way for the fulfilment of Jewish dreams of a nation-state in which they may prosper without prejudice. As you point out, the gas ovens were not a hot topic for a while after the war, because of a perceived connotation of weakness in the victims (why didn’t they fight?) The founders of this new state affect an almost comic military bearing, some even explicitly admiring the tactics of the Nazis, and set about hating, ejecting and often exterminating the indigenous people of the lands they were given, people who had nothing to do with the disaster that had befallen them.

    It’s no secret that Arabs and Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular, feel a powerlessness, even a shame, about their inability to prevent Israel’s persecution and dispossession of the inhabitants of Palestine. I feel this is a major factor in the appeal and the rise of ‘Islamofascism’. There is a meme popular among jetset literary pundits like Hitchens, Amis, Rushdie et al, that the whole problem of militant Islam is down to the shortcomings of the Muslim male; that he knows he’s weak and that his once great culture has been superseded by the West. Most just take it out on their women, but a growing lunatic fringe wants to take it out on us, collectively. For Amis in particular, it is a fear of women that has caused this warped worldview.

    This may contain a tincture of truth, but for me, the shame and anger many Muslim men may feel is not so different to the shame a young Adolf Hitler felt after Versailles and throughout the ‘decadence’ of Weimar, or that many of the early Israeli commandos felt at the memory of so many of their people walking defencelessly into mass murder. Never again.

    This predominantly male feeling of wounded national or ethnic ego is diffuse early on, but tends to crystallise around an idea or movement, which marches forward, full of hubris, until it encounters a nemesis. Germany was broken and humiliated again, this time seeming to have learned it’s lesson, but importantly it was not made to feel humiliated by excessive reparations, indeed it was Lend Leased and Marshalled back to health to be a vital part of postwar Europe.

    Militant Zionism has not yet met it’s nemesis; my guess is it that it will arise in heartland America, when people there begin to realise, despite what their media tells them, that Israel is a net liability to them and the future for their children. When the air comes out of that balloon, it’s hard to imagine a soft landing.

    Militant Islam does not rely so heavily on an unstable external source, and has manpower aplenty, more with every passing day of Iraqi and Palestinian occupation. If it keeps crystallising, where, besides Israel, will it direct it’s retribution? At all of us that aren’t them, all of us who have enjoyed the benefits of the cheap resources their hated puppet govts have provided for us, all of us who have fiddled while they’ve burned. They too will take out their frustrations, their wounded pride, on innocent people, who may in their turn become collectively traumatised enough to dream their own final retribution on some unsuspecting scapegoat. And so it goes.

    Really, the only answer, the only nemesis, the only road map out of this self-generating feedback loop, is the approach Mandela arrived at and that Khaleed Mohammed espouses with his museum, a project that manages to be brave, clever and inspiring all at once. Hold out the open palm rather than the closed fist, do unto others as you’d have them do to you and emphasise that suffering is ecumenical.

    Sorry to carry on; I’ve been lurking here for a while and this is now one of my daily net-stops. To me, Jews critical of Israel are valuable for everyone, even the Zionists in the long run, and I hope that you Tony, along with people like Tony Judt (and Antony Loewenstein here in Australia) continue to demonstrate that the longstanding Jewish contribution to the world’s stock of goodwill and common sense is still going strong.

    It might not be appropriate, but have a happy Christmas anyway.

  27. Katherine says:

    Brilliantly argued, Glenn.

  28. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Glenn, if I may take your argument one step further I would distinguish between wounded pride of the real and of the mythical kind. Palestinians are being humiliated daily: no one can deny that.

    But consider what Tom Friedman was writing in the NYT in June 2003:

    “The real reason for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world. Smashing Saudi Arabia or Syria would have been fine.”

    Friedman is saying America must avenge its humiliation by hitting someone, anyone who might share the hijackers’ religion or ethnicity.

    But what humiliation is he talking about? 9/11 was a tragedy, a horrific event. But why was it a humiliation? And yet, to this day, it’s been perceived as such by a majority of Americans.

    The Vietnam syndrome had little to do with the millions of Vietnamese deaths and thousands of American deaths, but everything to do with a lost war.

    Same with Iraq today.

    That’s what so weird. The truth is there’s only one moment in recent history when America has been fully humiliated in front of the world. It’s not 9/11, it’s not Iraq, it’s not Afghanistan. It’s Katrina. In the eyes of the world, the US lost its superpower status with Katrina.

    But curiously Katrina is rarely perceived as a humiliation stateside. In fact, it’s been forgotten already.

    The blindness is mind-bloggling.

  29. Tony says:

    Bernard — brilliantly put! It’s exactly as you say, when hte US demonstrates an inability to care for its own people, everything it claims about the “superiority” of its political-economic model is discredited (that’s precisely why the Soviets spent so much time in their own media on horror stories about the life of the poor in teh U.S.; it’s precisely why Chavez is sending heating oil to the Bronx…)

    Regarding “humiliation”, I’ve always noticed that those like Friedman (who, frankly, is hard to take seriously, oscillating as he does between the sentiment stated above — “hit Syria” — and his denunciation of Assad’s “Hama rules”) and Bernard Lewis who sagely tell us that “the only thing that the Arabs understand is violence” — because it seems to me that that the choice for violence as lingua franca for transacting the Western -Arab relationship is as enthusiastically shared by many of the same elements who want to decry it as a sign of savagery on the part of the “other” even while behaving in the same savage warlord fashion — the U.S. had to “hit” someone… Why? Is this just gang warfare?

    I love it when the comments section turns into a really interesting forum, like you guys have made it this time. I’m enjoying hanging out!

  30. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Yes, great forum, Tony! (all thanks to you by the way)

    For a while, this “let’s hit them because we can” quote was my fave Friedman line (fave as in “most pukeable”), but there’s something rather unsubtle about it.

    And then on June 1, 2006, all neurons blazing, Friedman outdid himself in awesome fashion.

    Here is, ladies and gentlemen, the most racist sentence ever to grace the pages of the Gray Lady. Friedman was then at the peak of his creative powers, and racism dripped from histyping fingers with grace and subtlety.

    “We can’t keep asking Americans to sacrifice their children for people who hate each other more than they love their own children.”

    Shorter Friedman: Arabs are not even animals (a polar bear mommy will die for her young); they are amoeba.

  31. Tony says:

    Bernard — I missed that one, but it shows me just where Friedman gets his material — that’s an adaptation, as you probably know, of Golda Meir’s racist drivel about Israel not having peace “until the Arabs love their own children more than they hate us” — that’s the same Golda Meir who said “there are no Palestinians”.

  32. Ziad says:

    What the hell is Iran Doing? I’ve been asking myself this question for the past few days. Why have such a conference while they are debating sanctions in the U.N.S.C. ? Don’t they understand how bad this is for their image? Didn’t someone in their government tell Khameini or Ahmadinijad how bad this looks in the west? Don’t they know that their best ally, Russia, which liberated some of the camps and saw the Holocaust with their own eyes might also be offended? Morality aside, what possible benifit is there for Iran?

    My first assumption was that they were totally out of touch with Western thinking or perhaps its some appeal to the Arab ‘street.’ And that may be the case. But my second thought was more sinister. Is it possible that Iran reads something in the West that the West would rather not see in itself?

    My guess is Iran knows precisely how this will look in the U.S. and Europe and are holding this ‘conference’ for that very reason. Ahmadinijad may understand what the Holocaust means for Israel’s moral authority, the West’s guilt and willingness to support Israel, and its misuse to curb debate on the matter of Palestine. He may also believe that there are substantial numbers of people, perhaps a silent majority, that are receptive to this sort of message. People, some blatant anti-semite, some just weary of the discussion, who would rather not hear about the holocaust, would prefer to minimize its crimes, or who feel that they themselves are being unfairly associated with those crimes.

    I recall being in Poland when Jan Gross’ book “Neighbors” came out depicting a pogrom by Poles against Jews in the village of Jedwabne in 1941. The Polish government took pains to address the issue with contrition. But that was not the attitude of average Poles, who felt their country was being unfaurly victimized. Likely, many Swiss felt the same way during the Nazi banking controversy some years ago.

    Those are the people Ahmadinjad may be addressing, in a sort of code. He may also understand that powerful nations can reset the dialogue in their favor. He may believe (perhaps overoptimistically) that Iran now has such power. Hubris is not only an American problem.

    Sorry for the long post, and again, I’m suggesting a possible explaination, not justification, for this conference.

  33. Pdan says:


    Do you ever wonder why your web-site attracts such a collection of rabid anti-semites, bigots, and racists? Like flies to the dung-heap they can smell the odour of manure behind your philosophical and pious dissertations.

    Ahmadinajed’s charge involves not one, but at least three closely interwoven lies.

    The first one of course is the statement that the Holocaust is a mythological fabrication.

    The second is that this myth is responsible for the partition of Palestine that created the State of Israel.

    The third is that Arabs, especially Palestinians were innocent of involvement of any genocide perpetrated in Europe.

    I will skip the first, because you agree that Holocaust denial itself is a lie.

    The second point is also totally false. Immediately after WWII, a silence descended on the history of the Holocaust as all major powers felt some degree of responsibility. It was a subject that no one dared to discuss.

    In 1947 a special commission of the United Nation was formed at the request of the British Government that was eager to rid itself of the responsibility of the Palestinian Mandate. It was this fact finding commission that recommended after its tour of the Palestinian Territories that they be partitioned. Their decision was based on the intractable divisions between Arabs and Jews in Palestine itself.

    See Library of Congress history:


    After intensive 2 month debate the UN General Assembly accepted this recommendation. Nations in favour included both the United States and the Soviet Union.

    The third lie is that Arabs, especially Palestinian Arabs were free from blame in what ever happened to the Jews of Europe.

    The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the leader of the High Council of Palestinian Arabs has contacted Hitler’s Nazi government as early as 1936, to organize a systematic destruction of the Jews of Europe and those of the Arab lands. He lead a failed uprising in Palestine against British policy of giving refuge to a limited number of Europe’s hunted Jews in Plaestine.

    He fled to Iraq where he engineered a short lived pro Nazi coup against the British. After its failure he fled to Berlin where he met Hitler and participated in the recruitment of Moslems into units of the SS, and collaborated with Eichman in planning the execution of Hitler’s “final solution” for the Jews.

    Upon his return to the Middle East after the war he was the most popular leader among Arab groups involved in the Palestinian question.

    See Wikipedia on Mohammed Amin Al-Hussayni :


  34. Alex Morgan says:


    I don’t think Ahmadinjad thinks he’s speaking to some kind of silent majority of Holocaust deniers in the West… and if he thinks that, he’s hopelessly wrong.

    Holocaust denial, thankfully, is an extremely fringe position of a tiny minority of the Western public. Not that the average person in the West is a scholar in the subject (one look at the educational achievements of the average highschooler in the U.S. would tell us that).

    Still, if there is one thing folks know, it’s that “Hitler was a bad, bad man” – in fact, you can’t get a worse rep than that. Nobody (except miniscule numbers of neo-Nazis) would want to be associated with Nazi ideology. And this in turn is closely connected with the Holocaust. And why was Hitler a bad, bad man? Average person would immediately mention his genocide of the Jews.

    So, I don’t think Ahmadinjad can count on any sympathy in the West for his position on the Holocaust (again, except for a self-isolating tiny minority of neo-Nazis).

    In fact, it is a total loser of a position vis a vis the public opinion in the West. He could not have chosen a worse one – siding with Hitler? Denying the Holocaust? Good luck.

    Yes, he’ll have some success with this in the “Arab street” (though probably/hopefully not among the many of the more educated middle class Arabs) .

    I agree Iran/Ahmadinjad is a puzzle. Though look at the link Tony gave to his analysis in one of the posts above, it’s pretty interesting.

    Either way, I think Ahmadinjad is playing a dangerous game here, because whatever his gains in the Arab street, he is surely sustaining losses in PR in the West.

    If anything, by spouting off the most stupid and primitive Anti-Semitism, he distracts from the legitimate grievances Palestinians (and the whole ME) have. He’s doing his avowed causes a big disservice (as Tony argued).

  35. Ziad says:


    I’m not suggesting that its a good idea. It certainly is not a moral one. But I would not underestimate the numbers of people in the U.S. and especially in Europe who feel it’s “time to move on.” These people are not deniers, but could be more receptive to the underlying message than you think. This is not to condone the sentiment, but only to recognize its presence. Its socialy unacceptable (perhaps rightly so) in the west to come out and say “I’ve heard enough about the holocaust” and so very few people say it openly. But Ahmedinejad is betting that a lot of pople are thinking it. And I’m not certain that he’s wrong.

    I would add that Iran has an unwitting ally; The purveyors of the frequently heard Argumentum ad Hitlerum. I’ve heard, former Egyptian president Naser, Arafat, Sadam, Ahmadinejad, even Anwar Sadat compared to Hitler. Yet not even Saddam approached a Nazi level of barbarity. If there are so many hitlers waking about (and an equal number of chamberlains), then being Hitler can’t be all that unique.

    Once again, I’m looking to explain, not to excuse.

    As for the Arab street, I’m ashamed to say, we have let enmity with Israel cloud our judgement. Some deny the holacaust. Some, much worse, actually applaude it. Still others manage to do both at the same time. I don’t think that’s a majority of Arabs, but from my experience far more that there should be.

  36. Arnold Evans says:

    I explain why I think Iran held the conference here.

    The short story is that Iran’s point is not that the Holocaust necessarily didn’t happen, but that the taboos around discussing the Holocaust are harmful to the Arabs and Muslims and should be confronted directly.

    There are no laws against denying, for example the genocide of Native Americans, and it is routine for people sympathetic with the European settlers to examine the historical record in a way that minimizes the settler’s wrongdoings. That would literally be illegal in some cases to do about the Holocaust. Ahmadinejad argues that the unique status of the Holocaust as an unquestionable story victimizes the Palestinians and the muslims.

    I’ll repeat again, as I have in earlier comments, that Ahmadinejad has never actually denied the Holocaust.

  37. Tony says:

    Pdan — in brief, while you’re right that the British proposals to partition and offload Palestine have their roots in teh late 1930s, there’s little question that the climate created by the Holocaust shaped the decision making and choices of the major powers — for example, in his meeting with Ibn Saud in 1945, Roosevelt asks the Saudi leader for help in having the Jews who have suffered so much under the Nazis resettled in Palestine — Ibn Saud answers that the perpetrators must be made to pay the price for the suffering inflicted on Jews, and they should be given a state on German territory under protection of the Allies. International public opinion, also, in its responses to the events around the creation of the State of Israel is also very much shaped by perception of the need for Jews to have a safe haven.

    On the Mufti, yes, he collaborated with the Nazis, clearly on the basis of an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” basis — and his people and the Jewish arrivals in Palestine had already been skirmishing for much of the 1930s. Then again, if you’re going to take his role (and popularity) as damning the Palestinians as Holocaust-complicit, what then do you make of the Stern Gang, the right-wing breakaway from the Irgun, which actively sort cooperation with the Nazis, meeting representatives, sending letters etc. on the basis of their common animosity towards the British. It’s all been well-documented: You can see a summary here:

    And, of course, one of the leaders of this group that actively sort collaboration with the Nazis, Yitzhak Shamir, was later elected prime minister of Israel. Presumably you don’t use that to argue that the Zionists were in league with the Nazis…

  38. Ziad says:

    Thanx Arnold,

    You said it much better than I could.

  39. Jorge says:

    It seems to me that you can get to the truth by two routes. One (as Tony proposes) is shaming the Zionists into admitting that they have used the Holocaust victims and survivors in order to create an Israeli state.

    That, though, isn’t likely to bear any fruit because the same people that would hold up the bones of Holocaust victims and say “Never again” while treating the Palestinians as they have aren’t likely to care.

    The second approach is to make the West face up to the logic of the State of Israel.

    Ahmedinajad takes this path in denying that the Holocaust happened, forcing the West to respond: “No, it’s true. We DID kill 6,000,000 Jews.”

    To which the West adds, “And you must pay for that with Palestinian land.”

    When one follows the West’s logic, Ahmedinajad wins the argument – not with facts, but with reason.

    Yes, Ahmedinajad’s denial is provocative and infuriating. But in explaining the Holocaust, the West cannot deny that the Muslim world had nothing to do with it. So why is the Muslim world being made to pay for the Holocaust. ANY retelling of the Holocaust results in the twisted, contorted reasoning that led to the State of Israel.

    It raises three questions:

    1. Had the Holocaust never happened, would Israel exist in Palestine? (Tony suggests that it wouldn’t, which strengthen’s the perception that something catastrophic had to occur. Sound familiar? How did we get to Iraq? Answer: Something catastrophic had to occur.)

    2. If the Jews can be returned to their “homeland” because of the Holocaust, will the U.S. soon be making Oklahoma and Nebraska available for Native Americans?

    The first question is really the one that cannot be answered.

    The answer to the second question is a flat, “No, that’s ridiculous.” To which one might respond with childlike innocence, “Why?”

    To which Americans would answer, “…because it’s been over 200 years (probably less) and we kicked them out and we let them live in peace on reservations, until, of course, we find some value for those reservations, then we relocate them.”

    Personally, I wouldn’t get caught up in Ahmedinajad’s denial, but rather follow the reasoning that flows from any response to his assertion. Either way, the West loses the moral argument and, thus, our very foundation is at risk.

  40. Tony says:

    Jorge — I think it’s preposterous to think that the Jews of Israel are going to be “relocated” anywhere; Israel, not necessarily the current form of state (although I wouldn’t bet against it in the short term…) or the presence of the current Jewish community there, is an intractable historic reality — like, for example, Pakistan (which may have been a bad idea back in 1948, but is long past the point of no return…). To hold out the idea that they will simply at some point “go back whence they came” is to be cruel to the Palestinian refugee population, since it’s unlikely ever to happen. The question, I think, is how can the terms on which that state, or that community, exists in the Middle East be transformed in a way that is fair and just, acknowledging and finding a way to redress the suffering it has inflicted on the Palestinians and finding a way to live in peace and mutual respect with its neighbors…

  41. Alex Morgan says:

    Tony, I’m not sure your are right wrt. Israel’s continued existence being assured. The example of Pakistan is not applicable. Pakistan does not have an enemies who have a recent claim on its land, and is not surrounded by numerically superior claimants.

    Israel is a deeply emotional issue for Arabs, and worse, for Moslems everywhere. You are talking about a billion people opposed to Israel’s existence. It is raw, and it is continuing and it is not going to stop.

    It is inevitable that one day these nations will obtain WMDs, and there may occur a situation where credible ultimatums are issued (“move, or we’ll use ’em”. The result would not be the death of all Israelis, but perhaps the end of the state of Israel.

    I see only one way to save the state of Israel. Israel must achieve peace with Palestinians, while still in a position of strength. The Rabin model. The best bet would be a retreat to the 1967 Green Line. That’s the first thing.

    The second and just as important is to enmesh the Palestinian state *and as many Arab states as possible* in an economic mesh of mutual interest and development. This interdependency (so that Palestinians reach the conclusion: “we prosper with Israelis, we are poor without them”), is the guarantor of long term security for Israel. You do not make war on your business partner, you do not make war on your benefactor, you do not make war against those who make you wealthy. There is no power greater than the lure of money for human beings in all societies the world over – to put it crudely. When Arabs (not just Palestinians) have a vital economic interest in the mutual prosperity of both Israel and their own societies, peace will win over war.

    Yes, there will always be those who’d rather kill “a Jew”, than anything else, but those will inevitably be in a tiny minority when self-interest is involved… and they are easily combatted. When the vast majority of Palestinians want to live in peace (and perhaps even, GASP, friendship!) with Israel, who is going to tell them they can’t? And so, extremists will become few, and toothless.

    This will not be “expensive”, but rather profitable for all – just as the Marshall Plan was not “expensive” to the U.S., but mutually profitable.

    When men are involved in business, building wealth and a future, they turn away from war.

    This would be a long process – taking decades. During this time, Israel would still enjoy U.S. protection against any possible existential threat while they build coalitions in the M.E.

    The alternative is to do what Israel is doing – and suicidal. It is to fan the flames of hatred by a clearly unjust occupation, but continuing stealing of land, constant oppression, assasinations, bad faith dealing, contempt and defiance. This will cause constant instability in the M.E., constant conflict that will affect the U.S. and the West… ever more, as the Moslems get ahold of more and more sophisticated weapons (up to WMDs). This will in the long run lose them the support of the U.S. as the public opinion will finally swing against them, and the price of supporting an outlaw state becomes too high. An isolated Israel stands no chance of survival as a state (which is not to say Israelis will be massacred, rather the state will cease to exist due to emigration, forced or voluntary etc.).

    Which is why I can’t understand what Israel’s political establishment’s strategy is. To me, it looks suicidal.

  42. Bernard Chazelle says:

    I agree with you, Alex, that time is not on Israel’s side. It should sue for peace now, even an imperfect one, and work out the kinks later. But since Barak gave up in Taba, Israeli governments seem to be trying to run out the clock. For what end? That’s the mystery.

    Where I don’t agree with you is in the lure of economic incentives. It’s fashionable to think that countries that trade a lot with each other don’t go to war (another Friedman shibboleth) but it’s not true.

    In 1914, international trade within Europe’ was comparable to what it is now. It sank overnight and didn’t recover until the 1980s.

    The tragedy of the Arab world is first and foremost political.

    Tony: I had forgotten the Golda Meir lineage. And there I was naively crediting Friedman with subtlety. That’ll teach me.

  43. Alex Morgan says:

    @Bernard Chazelle

    Pessimistic as I am, I guess I’m somewhat more optimistic than you… quite a feat!

    Obviously, I’m oversimplifying horribly when I look to economics to be the long range solution in the M.E.

    I never thought it would be easy or simple. I just think it’s the best bet. Indeed, one can cite examples of states that traded and yet went to war with each other, but the circumstances strike me as still having a lot of economic background. WWI was really not just a nationalist or political struggle (Austria, Serbia, Balkans etc.). The actual background was the fact that an emerging power in central Europe – Germany – was looking to establish its long term economic future as it understood it at the time. The economic model at the time was a colonial model for European powers. But Germany missed out on the early colonial grab. They came late. So, the only way to become a colonial power was to take it from somebody else. Meanwhile, France and Britain needed to contain this emerging power. And hence the war.

    Yes, I realize I’m simplifying, but I can’t write book-long posts here. Bottom line, there was tremendous economic competition in pre-WWI, along models now discarded. That’s what lead to war. This would not obtain in the M.E.

    I think a different kind of economic interaction would develop in the M.E., hopefully more along the lines of a trading/development block, perhaps not quite as ambitious as the EU, but not far away.

    Palestine, whatever the state becomes, will need Israel to prosper (and not just survive in a vegetative state). Israel has a lot to offer (economically and developmentally) to the Arab world. Will the Arab world have to change/progress politically – yes, of course.

    I continue to believe that long term, economics trumps all – as long as there are no horrendous issues like Palestine (an open raw wound), the slow steady forces of economic development win the turtle/hare race.

    Which is why it is so crucial that Israel does not keep rubbing salt into the Palestinian wound. Crucial for all, including Israel.

  44. Tony says:

    I think we’re all on the same page about our conclusions, really, that Israel urgently needs to radically alter its posture in relation to all around it. I don’t think the WMD threat is credible, because Israel has so many. “Move or we use ’em” would be answered in the most terrible way imaginable.

    But I think Israel’s decay will come from within — its middle class and elites see themselves increasingly as part of a global culture and economy — they play their soccer in European leagues, take their holidays in India doing psychotropic drugs on the beach, and aspire to a Californian lifestyle. That doesn’t really create human material for the sort of nationalist garrison state they’re currently maintaining. There are currently some 750,000 Israelis living abroad — 15 percent of the Jewish population. That trend will increase, and rapidly, over the coming years if Israel doesn’t sue for peace in a more serious way than it ever has.

    Unfortunately, what that would mean is that the country would be left to increasingly right-wing and crude elements, many of whom are already in the power structure, and they’d be even more likely to find themselves in war after war…

  45. Jorge says:


    I didn’t mean to suggest that the Jews were going to be “relocated” (your word, not mine when it comes to the Jews) anywhere. (NOTE: I used the word “relocate” to mimick the U.S. relocation of the Native Armericans when it suited American interests.) I regret anything that I may have written to imply that.

    What I DID mean to suggest was that our position (and that of Israel) regarding the legitimacy of the State of Israel is, itself, preposterous and immoral.

    I respect your deep knowledge of the history and I think Alex makes good points, too.

    I’m just a simple fool who looks at the simple logic behind the arguments. And if the U.S./Israeli argument is that “we’re here today because we were strong enough to take the land,” then “might makes right” and the terrorists have won. End of argument.

  46. Tony says:

    Jorge — this question of the “legitimacy” of the State of Israel, which the Israelis always insist that Hamas must recognize in order to break the stranglehold etc, is misleading. No nation-state came into being on the basis of others accepting its “legitimacy,” they’re all a product of a balance of forces that became codified. If nation statehood was about “legitimacy”, our world map would look radically different. One could even argue that there may not be any nation states at all! Wouldn’t that be nice…

  47. Pdan says:


    Your attempt to draw a sophomoric moral equivalence between the Stern Gang and the Grand Mufti does not bear the light of scrutiny. Surely you can do better than that.

    The Stern Gang’s desperate attempt to exchange British lives to save Jews hardly compares in thrust and scope to the Mufti’s campaign to enroll all of the Middle East in the perpetration of the Holocaust.
    For one thing the Stern Gang, even the Irgun, represented a splinter group of wing-nuts repudiated not only by the main-stream Jewish community in Palestine but also by the Zionist movements and its militia. The Mufti, on the other hand represented the ‘main event’, he had broad support both in Palestine and Iraq, and elsewhere. The pro-extermination sentiments were only stayed by the inability to execute the deed.

    As for Menachem Begin, Amin Al-Hussayni hardly compares with him. Begin was not elected for his desire to fight the British, collaborate with the Nazis, or his desire to exterminate either the Jews or the Arabs of Palestine. After thirty years he was a different man, representing different ideas. He was the Prime Minister who signed the historic peace-treaty with Egypt and the recipient with Sadat of the Nobel Prize for their contribution to World peace.

    All Western nations closed their borders to Jews fleeing the Holocaust, the Arab countries were no different. Surprisingly China allowed Jews into Shanghai. Fascist Spain allowed passage of Jews to Portugal and onto South America. Palestine demanded the closing of its borders to Jews. Thus to claim that they did not share Europe’s complicity is a total distortion of history. The title of the Nazi’s un-indicted co-conspirator would be far more accurate.

    Yet even this, like the truth of the Holocaust itself is a red-herring. The reason for the partition of Palestine was only tangentially connected with it. Over the Twentieth Century hundreds of borders were redrawn, and dozens of new Nation States created. The decisions to do so always considered the make-up of the population of the area at the time, rather than how the people got there. Kosovo is a prime example. Before WWII it was primarily populated by Serbs. During the war, the Nazis settled Muslims from Albania there creating a Muslim majority. No one (other than the Serbians) called for the expulsion of these formerly Albanian Muslims.

    Russia, Germany, France Poland Austria and Hungary Romania Czechoslovakia, Serbia, Bosnia Croatia Slovakia Slovenia India Pakistan Iraq, Jordan Lebanon Syria all were victims or beneficiaries the process of redrawing borders. And there are indeed so many others. They often involved population exchanges where minorities found themselves on the wrong side of the new border. Palestine was partitioned in recognition of the presence of a substantial population of Jews, most of whom settled legally in Palestine before the Holocaust. All Jews were expelled from the territories under Egyptian and Jordanian control, while Israel allowed much of the Arab population to stay.

    Holocaust refugees did boost the number of Jews in the new State of Israel, that is true, but this occurred after the fact. Israel’s population was also boosted just as much by expulsions of Jews from Arab countries at the same time

    The principle claim of Jews however to Palestine I believe rests on the fact that they were forcefully expelled from there two thousand years ago, were systematically oppressed both by Christians and Muslims and forcibly prevented from returning to Palestine for the past 2000 years. The Muslim armies conquered Palestine by force and butchered its previous inhabitants. There is little honor or justice in their possession of the land.

    The European acquiescence in the cause of Zionism as represented by the Balfour Declaration had nothing to do with the Holocaust, and everything to do with the recognition of the facts as presented in the above paragraph..

  48. Ziad says:


    There is a huge difference between immigrants/refugees seeking to enter a foriegn nation under its laws and colonists who arrived with the intent (see Herzles writings) of displacing the native inhabitants and laying claim to the land they live on. You can’t expect the natives to be welcoming under those circumstances. This is doubly true when the natives are already an occupied nation (by Turkey or the Brits) and are unable to control who or how many immigrate. Nations are not particularly happy with refugees in any circumstance and no nation would ever allow large numbers of immigrants who openly claim the right of ownership of the entire country. Londoners and New Yorkers were under no risk of being expelled from their homes no matter how many Jewish refugees they accepted. You can’t say that about Palestine.

    If you doubt the latter, immagine if Israel were occupied by some 3rd power that decided to permit Palestinian immigration without botherng to consult you? Would you welcome your Arab cousins with open arms or would you fight?

    You claim that Arabs massacred the ‘original inhabitants’ of Palestine in the 7th century. Please cite your sources. If this is true, do you feel it disqualifies Palestinains 13 centuries later from any rightful claim? If so, I refer you to the Old Testament for an account of how the original Israelites obtained the land…not very neat at all.

    No excuses for the Mufti, though it seems you have many for Begin and Shamir. Sliming the Palestinians as “co-conspirators” with the Nazis is yet another attempt to rationalise the crimes Israel commits on the Palestinans on a daily basis as it locks up Gaza and starves it.

  49. Pdan says:


    You make a number of very good points and I acknowledge the pain and anguish of the Palestinians. You are right, that to have immigrants come into my country with a different culture and a different set of values that they do not want to compromise on, is unsettling and even disturbing. I see that here in my own country. There are many here who resent having Muslims from Pakistan, Sikhs from India, and all the Palestinian refugees come into this country. No one asked us whether we wanted them, we were not given a choice. Needless to say I am not one of the complainers. Yet I can assure you that regardless of whether they are willing to assimilate into our culture or not, the citizens of this country would not let them be murdered, have their property attacked and destroyed and allow them to have to live in constant fear for their life.

    Unfortunately that was the history of the early Jewish settlers in Palestine. I do not believe that all of them were Zionist, and I don’t believe that all of them wanted a separate Nation State. I believe that they would have been satisfied with some regional autonomy within an Arab Palestine. In hindsight this is something that is impossible to evaluate, because they never got the chance. They turned to radicals like Ben Gurion, because these radicals were the only ones who offered them safety by organising a Jewish defence force. Neither the Palestinian police, nor the British military was able to secure them against Arab attacks.

    Peaceful co-existence was possible then, and it is still possible today. Having had the painful upheaval of the past 60 years has made the way back more difficult, but not impossible. The way back needs to proceed in stages. The Palestinians need to stop thinking of themselves as part of the Pan-Arab empire that disappeared with WWI, and have to start thinking of themselves as a Nation State. That means rejecting orders from Damascus, Tunisia and Tehran. They need to put the welfare of local Palestinians ahead of the Pan-Arab desires of having a Greater Palestine. They need to concentrate on bringing order and good government to the Palestinian Territories, do what ever is necessary to build up a stable and democratic society that can foster economic growth. A genuine peace with Israel could open the borders the same way that the borders opened between Germany and France, and all over Europe. When Palestinians can travel and work in safety in Israel, and Israelis can travel and work in safety in the Palestinian State, the exact demarcation of the borders will become irrelevant. That’s the future I dream of, and most Israelis dream of the same

  50. h. kim says:

    I don’t think the usual characterization of 1 billion muslims opposed to Israel’s existence is meaningful at all: most don’t have any stake in this dispute. Except for the Syrians and the Lebanese, all they have to offer against Israel is some sympathy for Palestinians and a sense of “moral” disapproval of Israel, which doesn’t count for much, except some money and arms, perhaps, which at any rate would be totally indecisive in determining the outcome–and even that would go away if the Israelis find some means of satisfactorily dealing with the only people who have “real” problem–the Palestinians (and the Syrians and the Lebanese to a lesser extent).

    In the same vein, I think Israelis are themselves blowing up the picture of “Israel against the Arab world” as a means of disguising that their problems are all local. They refuse to deal with the local Palestinians and try to deal with, or more accurately, deflect the blame to faraways places (the post above by Pdan is a good example–why should Damascus, Tehran, or Riyadh care to have anything to do with what’s going on with the Palestinians? He says Palestinians should stop listening to orders from Damascus or Tehran, implying that they are acting as pawns of outside powers. But why should these outside powers have any say in what goes on with the Palestinians? They’ll sing the tune and toe the line all the better to distract their own citizens with, but they don’t–and can’t–decide anything with regards to what goes on in West Bank or Gaza.

    In the end, I think the problem is between Israelis and Palestinians–there is no “Arab” or “Muslim” component to the conflict, other than a widespread sympathy that doesn’t necessarily add up to much–except when they play their own games for their own reasons (thus the deny-the-Holocaust fest in Iran). These “larger” pictures strike me as delusions, irrelevant to “solving” the problem on the spot and serving only to distract–and very much intended to distract, by the parties on all sides.

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