Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld
You know that feeling of exasperation you get when some bumbling but well-meaning old relative tries to intervene in a family row, but only manages to make things worse? That was how I felt when I read news of Serge Klarsfeld's lecture concluding a series of Holocaust talks in the Arab world.
Under the auspices of the Aladdin project, sponsored by UNESCO, the French veteran Nazi hunter, whose father was deported to a death camp, has just given the concluding lecture in Baghdad to a series of events on the Holocaust in Tunis, Cairo, Amman, Istanbul, Rabat, Jerusalem and Nazareth in northern Israel. His purpose? To fight Holocaust denial in the Arab world.
In itself, that is a perfectly laudable objective. We know that Holocaust denial has reached epidemic proportions in Arab and Muslim countries. Only through Holocaust education might a future Holocaust be prevented. And Arabs who understand the full extent of the mass murder by industrialised methods of a third of the Jewish people might just begin to appreciate the need for a Jewish state.
Except that the 73-year-old Klarsfeld went further, and set up a false moral equivalence between Jewish suffering under the Nazis and Muslim suffering at the hands of the Israelis. In Baghdad on Monday he urged Muslims and Jews 'to learn about their mutual suffering as a way to bring them closer.'
"We must spread knowledge about works showing the common ties between Jews and Muslims, because Muslims also suffered from colonialism and humiliation...I understand that those who have lived under English and French colonialism would also want to speak of their suffering and of those who suffer Israel's presence on what they consider their land.
"The question remains as to know how this genocide could have taken place and how the Israelis can act in the manner in which they act?" he said.
By making the link, Klarsfeld not only trivialises Jewish suffering, but plays into the hands of those who spread the offensive and malicious propaganda that Israelis are the new Nazis.
The message was not lost on Klarsfeld's Arab listeners. Iraqi Science and Technology Minister Raid Jahid Fahmi said that "any person committed to human rights cannot but condemn the crimes of the Nazis...It must be the same principles which push us to condemn the Holocaust and to reject injustice, especially those suffered by the Palestinians, even if they are not of the same nature."
My aim here is not to correct Klarsfeld's upside-down view of the Israel-Arab conflict, confirming Arabs and Palestinians in their victimhood. His approach is wrong for two main reasons.
First, he whitewashes Arab complicity in the Nazi Holocaust. From the press reports we have no evidence that Klarsfeld said a word to dispel his Arab listeners' delusions that the Holocaust was a purely European affair. Yet the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem was Hitler's ally and an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazi project to exterminate the Jews. The Mufti was directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews. When delivering his lecture in Baghdad, was Serge Klarsfeld aware that the city was the scene of a pro-Nazi coup in May 1941, leading directly to the deaths of more Jews than perished in Kristallnacht? Did he know that the coup's leader, Rashid Ali al-Geylani, had planned to deport Iraq's Jews to detention camps and liquidate them in the desert? Does he know that after the war, Arab countries welcomed fleeing Nazi war criminals with open arms, giving them cover and employment?
Arab nationalism fostered a form of totalitarianism directly inspired by Nazism, political parties such as the Ba'ath were modelled on Nazi parties. In Syria, Iraq and Egypt, youth movements paraded though the streets, goose-stepping just like their Nazi counterparts, while Arabs consumed a continuous stream of Nazi propaganda in their press and on their short-wave radios. Together with Islamism, nationalism led seamlessly to the genocidal project against the Jews of Palestine and the bigotry leading to the Arab world's mass dispossession and ethnic cleansing of 99 percent of its Jewish citizenry. Why did Klarsfeld have nothing to say about the cultural Holocaust perpetrated against the ancient Jewish communities of the Arab world?
It is an irony lost on Serge Klarsfeld that his final lecture was delivered at the French ambassador's residence in Baghdad - a building which, if I am not mistaken, once belonged to a Jewish family.
Serge Klarsfeld is already a controversial figure in his native France. Last summer, when the Jewish community was divided over the antisemitic Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosni's suitability to be UNESCO director-general, Klarsfeld blundered in on Hosni's side.
With relations so combustible between Arabs and Jews, someone whose judgment is so flawed should not be allowed to add fuel to the fire.
Crossposted at the Jewish Chronicle blog
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