Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nasty Nazi Analogies in Amherst: Gaza is Like the Warsaw Ghetto?

From a flyer distributed to drivers in the center of town, dated 10 May 2008:

"The Amherst Vigil for Peace and Justice in a Nuclear Free World . . . continues to advocate for an end to the arms trade, for an end to nuclear weapons at home and abroad and for social justice around the world."

Evidently, "social justice" does not in this case include doing justice to the historical truth or to the agonizing complexities of contemporary politics.

The perverse and perversely consistent desire of enemies of Israel to identify with the Jewish fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto (whose leaders, incidentally, were left-wing Zionists) is a peculiar phenomenon worthy of further study, though the fundamental tendency is clearly to mobilize support by claiming the ultimate underdog status.

It first became noticeable in the 1980s as the anti-Israel movement entered the mainstream and altered its strategies accordingly, but it gained new prominence during the Second Intifada and again since the Second Lebanon War.

A few examples from what one would have considered respectable voices (examples from the fringe could be multiplied ad infinitum) may suffice:

• In 2006, conservative Sir Peter Tapsell, the longest-serving Tory MP in the British Parliament, called Israel air raids on targets in Beirut ""a war crime grimly reminiscent of the Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter in Warsaw".

•In 2007, German bishops (what were they thinking?) felt obliged to make the analogy during a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority:
the bishop of Eichstätt, Gregor Maria Hanke, remarked during a visit to Bethlehem, 'This morning in Yad Vashem the photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto, and this evening we travel to the ghetto in Ramallah. That makes you angry.' The Bishop of Augsburg Walter Mixa then remarked that it was a 'ghetto-like' situation and that it was 'almost racism.'
Israel's Ambassador to Germany put it succinctly: "those who used the term 'Warsaw Ghetto' in connection with Israeli or Palestinian politics, had 'forgotten everything, or learnt nothing, or failed morally."

Jerzy Montag, a member of the left-wing Green Party and Chair of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Group in the Bundestag
demanded an apology from the bishops and said that these kind of comments did nothing to help the suffering Palestinians, but only 'scorned the victims of the Holocaust and put the state of Israel on the same level as Hitler's Germany.'
Faced with harsh criticism, Hanke then declared, in what was a correct but implausible statement, given his own earlier words: "'Comparisons between the Holocaust and the current situation in Palestine are not acceptable and were not intended.'"

Unfortunately, the false analogies continue to proliferate and those who make them do not show even the token remorse of Bishop Hanke.

Just as unfortunately, one should not have to waste time refuting this sort of drivel. If one needs to do so, however, we can begin with a few basic facts.

1) Although the precise death toll in the Warsaw Ghetto may never be known, the approximate figure (due to deliberately induced starvation, deportation to labor and death camps, and combat) was over 400,000 between 1940 and 1943.

2) To put that figure in perspective, the left-wing Israel human-rights organization B’Tselem puts the maximum death toll, both military and civilian, from the entire Israeli-Palestinian hostilities since the Second Intifida, 2000-2008, at something over 5,300 Palestinians and under 1,000 Israelis.

The difference of course derives above all from the central fact that the Ghetto was an essential element in the tripartite Nazi genocidal strategy of definition, isolation, and extermination. No such exterminationist policy can by any stretch of the imagination be ascribed to Israel, and claims to the contrary say much about the speaker and nothing about the reality.

In any case, for those who may require further proof, Eve Garrard nicely dispatched the canard in 2007:
The claim has been made that Gaza is rather like the Warsaw ghetto. Now this claim is either a legitimate comparison, or it's a peculiarly unpleasant smear, insinuating that Israel is akin to Nazi Germany. So let's see if it's a legitimate comparison. The two main features of the Warsaw ghetto were (1) that it was an unspeakable atrocity, leading to the deaths of nearly half a million Jews and others, and (2) that it was part of a genocidal plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Take the first point, and consider the comparison: on the one hand, the number of Palestinian refugees in the late 1940s was approximately 750,000, but it now stands between 4 and 6 million. It would be quite hard to regard this as even an attempted genocide - few genocides end up with an increase in the victim population of the order of several hundred per cent. By contrast, the size of the Jewish population in the Warsaw ghetto after the three years in which it existed was zero. The current life expectancy of a Palestinian woman is 75 years, according to the UN. What was the life expectancy of a Jewish woman in the Warsaw ghetto? Whatever age she was, she had at the very most three more years to live. Not a striking similarity, then.

With reference to the second significant feature of the Warsaw ghetto, which supposedly resembles Gaza, it should be noted that Israel has had control of the skies over Gaza for many years now, and had it wanted to it could have produced the same outcome as the Nazis did in the Warsaw ghetto. The fact that it hasn't done so would demonstrate to most people, even those hostile enough to stand in need of a demonstration, that it has no such aims. People who maintain their suspicion that Israel has genocidal intentions towards the population of Gaza do so in the face of a total lack of evidence to support their view.

Let us now consider whether there is any evidence that Israel is aiming to exterminate the Palestinians in general. Where are the slave labour camps in the Territories, in which tens and hundreds of thousands are worked to death, with a life expectancy of between three and six months? Where are the gas chambers killing thousands every day? Beats me, I just can't see them.

So the comparison is not, to put it mildly, a legitimate one. It is, in fact, a poisonous smear, which derives its repellent quality partly from its exploitation of the terrible history of the Nazis and the Jews. It's hard to know why some people feel the need to paint the swastika on to the foreheads of the Jews of Israel in this way, to covertly suggest that the Nazis have been reincarnated as Israeli Jews and that Israel is the new Third Reich. I think it's unlikely that all boycotters share these views, but insofar as they do, their position is morally polluted by this new version of a very old stereotype, that Jews are secretly planning to kill millions of innocent people.

1 comment:

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

This grotesque analogy maniacally avoids the calculated food limitation to a small number of daily calories, plus deliberately unhealthy conditions imposed by the German army, as well as use of the Warsaw Ghetto as a waystation to the death camps, which you point out. It also avoids the severe difficulty in obtaining weapons by the inmates of the ghetto, as well as the indifference by Allied communications media to
1) the suffering of the Ghetto's inhabitants
2) the uprising after it started which got rather little attention
3) the failure by the Allies [UK, USA, USSR] to supply practical aid to the Ghetto inhabitants [food, medicine, weapons, bombing of Wehrmacht strongholds in Warsaw, etc].

Search for references to Shmul "Zigelboym" on my blog. I have translated accounts from his Yiddish letters about the difficulty of persuading the BBC, then directed by the Foreign Office headed by Anthony Eden, to even report on the Holocaust in general and the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in particular. Shmul Zigelboym was the delegate of the Jewish Socialist Bund of Poland to the Polish Govt-in-Exile. He committed suicide in London shortly after the Uprising because of the lack of Allied response.

Gaza, on the other hand, is the constant object of sympathy of most international TV networks. It's overflowing with sympathetic journalists. The inhabitants are still being well fed. Medical supplies are sent in too. Isma'il Haniyyah gets plenty of money from his oil-rich Arab sponsors. And as to weapons, they are flowing in constantly, as you know, while rockets are shot at Israeli towns and villages near Gaza.

The analogy is obscene.