Over at Comment is Free Watch, read my response to Professor Gilbert Achcar's article for Comment is Free: Arabs have a complex relationship with the Holocaust:
In his CiF post Lebanese SOAS professor Gilbert Achcar argued last week that Holocaust-denial in the Arab world is much less common than it is believed to be in the West. Where it does exist, Achcar writes, Holocaust denial is the ‘anti-Zionism of fools’: Arabs deny the Holocaust in order to lash out at Israel’s ‘oppression’ of the Palestinians.
Achcar’s thesis is at once contradicted by a poll taken among Arab-Israelis. It finds that 40 percent believe that the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis never happened, almost twice the percentage in 2006. If 40 percent of Arabs living in the Jewish state – where the Holocaust is daily discussed and deeply embedded in the national psyche – manage to deny it, how much more rampant must denial be in the Arab and Muslim world, where information is censored, controlled and distorted. In Iran, President Ahmadinejad has institutionalised Holocaust denial.
Gilbert Achcar’s shoddy analysis takes no account of those Arabs and Muslims who, on the contrary, wish that Hitler had been able to finish the job, the ‘minimisers’, such as Mahmoud Abbas (who claimed in his doctoral thesis that numbers of Jews killed in the Holocaust were much lower); and those who so universalise the Holocaust that it ceases to be a Jewish tragedy.
Achcar then argues that the media should praise rather than ignore Arab acknowledgements of the Holocaust. What are these acknowledgements? Yasser Arafat visiting Anne Frank’s house in 1998. Palestinians in the West bank village of Bil’in dressing up in striped pyjamas, reminiscent of concentration camp inmates, during the Gaza war. Palestinian villagers in Ni’lin holding exhibitions of Yad Vashem photos.
Rather than attempts ‘to empathise and further understand their occupier’, as Achcar puts it, these examples are PR gimmicks – cynical, dishonest and crude attempts to score propaganda points by exploiting one of the most painful catastrophes in Jewish history. The comparison is calculated to offend where it hurts most. The message is ‘the Palestinians are the new Jews”; by implication, ‘the Israelis are the new Nazis’.
The comments thread to Achcar’s piece corroborates two myths: Zionism not only exploits, and exaggerates, the Holocaust in order to attract sympathy for Israel – but that Arabs paid the price of Israel’s establishment as a direct consequence of the Nazi Holocaust. The second myth appears to be believed by President Obama, no less, who in his Cairo speech in June 2009 ‘balanced’ Arab acknowledgement of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust with Jewish recognition of Palestinian suffering. In fact, 14 centuries of Arab and Muslim subjugation and antisemitism validate the creation of Israel as a haven of last resort as much as any European persecution. If any equivalence should be drawn, it should be between the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war, and Jewish refugees driven from Arab countries.
The myth that Arabs were innocent bystanders while foreigners committed atrocities against other foreigners in far away Europe has gained so much traction, that it is virtually politically-incorrect to see Arabs as other than victims of Israeli oppression or western colonialism. Yet the Holocaust was, in the words of author Robert Satloff, as much an Arab story as a European. Scholars like Matthias Kuntzel and Jeffrey Herf continue to uncover evidence of Arab sympathy and collaboration with Nazism. The key role played by the Palestinian leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in fomenting anti-Jewish incitement and violence, not just in Palestine but across the Arab world, is a constant source of embarrassment to apologists like Gilbert Achkar. In an article for Le Monde diplomatique he calls the Mufti an ‘Israeli propaganda puppet’, long ‘discredited’ among the Arabs.
The Nazis incorporated the Jews of the French Maghreb in their extermination plans at the Wannsee conference. Tunisia was occupied bv the Nazis for six months in 1942. Scores of Jews were murdered, hundreds rounded up and sent to labour camps. Some 600 died from starvation and typhus in the notorious Giado camp in Libya. Thousands of European Jews who had enlisted in the defeated French army or foreign legion died from torture and neglect in forced labour camps in Morocco.
Had the Allies not liberated Tunisia and Libya from the Italian fascists – and Algeria and Morocco from the Vichy regime in 1943 – the Jews of the Arab world would have undoubtedly joined their European brethren in the death camps.
Whereas some might argue that Arabs were not responsible for wartime Jewish suffering in North Africa – anti-Jewish measures were implemented by the Vichy regime and the Italian fascists – the Iraqi government cannot so lightly be let off the hook. Iraq, independent since 1932, was the scene of a pro-Nazi coup in 1941, leading inexorably to the Farhoud, the Iraqi-Jewish Kristallnacht. In this two-day orgy of murder, rape, mutilation and looting, up to 600 Jews were killed, according to British archival records. The exact figure will never be known.
The Palestinian leader, the grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, played a central role in plotting the pro-Nazi coup in Iraq. The Mufti was personally responsible for the deaths of 20,000 European Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. He organised the killing of 12,600 Bosnian Jews by Muslims, whom he recruited to the Waffen-SS Nazi-Bosnian division. He personally stopped 4,000 children, accompanied by 500 adults, from leaving Europe and had them sent to Auschwitz and gassed; he prevented another 2,000 Jews from leaving Romania and 1000 from leaving Hungary for Palestine, who were subsequently sent to death camps. He hobnobbed with Himmler and Eichmann, and was a loyal ally of Hitler, spending the war years in Berlin.
Nazism gave ideological inspiration to Arab secular parties like the Ba’athists in Syria and Iraq and religious mass movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, which by 1945 had a million armed supporters in Egypt. Nazi-style bigotry, coupled with traditional Islamic antisemitism, was the driving force behind the marginalisation and exclusion of minorities from the Arab world, and the unremitting campaign to destroy Israel.
After 1948, Arab governments set about making the Arab Middle East Judenrein. They applied Nuremberg-style laws, criminalising Zionism, freezing Jewish bank accounts, instituting quotas, imposing restrictions on jobs and movement. The result was the mass exodus and spoliation of of a million Jews. Yet very few Arabs acknowledge they are to blame for the so-called Jewish nakba. Holocaust denial goes hand-in-hand with Jewish nakba denial.
The ghost of Nazi-inspired, anti-Jewish fundamentalism was never exorcised from the Arab world. In 1945, the Mufti of Jerusalem should have been tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg. He was indicted, tried and convicted by Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity, arising from his pivotal role in the Handschar and Skandeberg SS divisions which deported Balkan Jews from Kosovo, Macedonia and Thrace. But the Allies shrank from offending the Arabs. That is why today in the Arab and Muslim world, antisemitism is epidemic, genocidal anti-Jewish groups like Hamas and other fundamentalists thrive – and why Holocaust denial is alive and well.
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