Chris Knight writes about how the IHRA definition attempts to stop us learning from history.
[Editorial note: It is important to recognise that comparisons with Nazis need to be carefully considered and not used as a default term of abuse. It is also important to note that analogies are best drawn with pre-1939 Nazi oppression of Jews (and of course many others); not with the industrialised mass killings of the war time period with which there is no comparison.]
Reprinted from Labour Briefing
One of the more worrying aspects of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism is its suggestion that ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ is necessarily anti-Semitic. It is true that, at times, such comparisons can be crude and ahistorical. But in many cases, even where we might dispute the conclusion, it seems far-fetched to attribute it to anti-Semitism.
Here we publish extracts from Holocaust survivors who oppose historical and recent Israeli policies, in some cases connecting them with those of the Nazis. In one case, the author Rudolf Vrba – again a Holocaust survivor – compares key policies of the wartime Zionist movement to those of the Nazis.
“Sometime after  I heard a news item about Israelis herding Palestinians into settlement camps. I just could not believe this. Weren’t the Israelis also Jews? Hadn’t we – they – just survived the greatest pogrom of our history? Weren’t [concentration] camps – often euphemistically called ‘settlement camps’ by the Nazis – the main feature of this pogrom? How could Jews in any measure do unto others what had been done to them? How could these Israeli Jews oppress and imprison other people? In my romantic imagination, the Jews in Israel were socialists and people who knew right from wrong. This was clearly incorrect. I felt let down, as if I was being robbed of a part of what I had thought was my heritage. …
I have to say to the Israeli government, which claims to speak in the name of all Jews, that it is not speaking in my name. I will not remain silent in the face of the attempted annihilation of the Palestinians; the sale of arms to repressive regimes around the world; the attempt to stifle criticism of Israel in the media worldwide; or the twisting of the knife labelled ‘guilt’ in order to gain economic concessions from Western countries. Of course, Israel’s geo-political position has a greater bearing on this, at the moment. I will not allow the confounding of the terms ‘anti-Semitic’ and ‘anti-Zionist’ to go unchallenged.”
Dr. Marika Sherwood, ‘How I became an anti-Israel Jew’, Middle East Monitor, 7/3/18.
Marika Sherwood is a survivor of the Budapest ghetto.
“Israel, in order to survive, has to renounce the wish for domination and then it will be a much better place for Jews also. The immediate analogy which a lot of people are making in Israel is Germany. Not only the Germany of Hitler and the Nazis but even the former German Empire wanted to dominate Europe. What happened in Japan after the attack on China is that they wanted to dominate a huge area of Asia. When Germany and Japan renounced the wish for domination, they became much nicer societies for the Japanese and Germans themselves. In addition to all the Arab considerations, I would like to see Israel, by renouncing the desire for domination, including domination of the Palestinians, become a much nicer place for Israelis to live.”
Dr. Israel Shahak, Middle East Policy Journal, Summer 1989, no.29.
Israel Shahak was a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
“I am pained by the parallels I observe between my experiences in Germany prior to 1939 and those suffered by Palestinians today. I cannot help but hear echoes of the Nazi mythos of ‘blood and soil’ in the rhetoric of settler fundamentalism which claims a sacred right to all the lands of biblical Judea and Samaria. The various forms of collective punishment visited upon the Palestinian people – coerced ghettoization behind a ‘security wall’; the bulldozing of homes and destruction of fields; the bombing of schools, mosques, and government buildings; an economic blockade that deprives people of the water, food, medicine, education and the basic necessities for dignified survival – force me to recall the deprivations and humiliations that I experienced in my youth. This century-long process of oppression means unimaginable suffering for Palestinians.”
Dr. Hajo Meyer, ‘An Ethical Tradition Betrayed’, Huffington Post, 27/1/10.
Hajo Meyer was a survivor of Auschwitz.
“As a Jewish youngster growing up in Budapest, an infant survivor of the Nazi genocide, I was for years haunted by a question resounding in my brain with such force that sometimes my head would spin: ‘How was it possible? How could the world have let such horrors happen?’
It was a naïve question, that of a child. I know better now: such is reality. Whether in Vietnam or Rwanda or Syria, humanity stands by either complicitly or unconsciously or helplessly, as it always does. In Gaza today we find ways of justifying the bombing of hospitals, the annihilation of families at dinner, the killing of pre-adolescents playing soccer on a beach. …
There is no understanding Gaza out of context – Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians – and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.
The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability. …
And what shall we do, we ordinary people? I pray we can listen to our hearts. My heart tells me that ‘never again’ is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s ‘right to defend itself,’ unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing.
Dr. Gabor Mate, ‘Beautiful Dream of Israel has become a Nightmare’, Toronto Star, 22/7/14.
Gabor Mate is a survivor of the Budapest ghetto.
“The left is no longer capable of overcoming the toxic ultra-nationalism that has evolved here [in Israel], the kind whose European strain almost wiped out a majority of the Jewish people. The interviews Haaretz’s Ravit Hecht held with [the right-wing Israeli politicians] Smotrich and Zohar (December 3, 2016 and October 28, 2017 ) should be widely disseminated on all media outlets in Israel and throughout the Jewish world. In both of them we see not just a growing Israeli fascism but racism akin to Nazism in its early stages.
Like every ideology, the Nazi race theory developed over the years. At first it only deprived Jews of their civil and human rights. It’s possible that without World War II the ‘Jewish problem’ would have ended only with the ‘voluntary’ expulsion of Jews from Reich lands. After all, most of Austria and Germany’s Jews made it out in time. It’s possible that this is the future facing Palestinians.”:
Prof. Zeev Sternhell, ‘Opinion in Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism’, Haaretz, 19/1/18.
Zeev Sternhell is a survivor of the Przemysl ghetto in Poland.
“The Zionist movement of Europe played a very important role in the mass extermination of Jews. Indeed, I believe that without the cooperation of Zionists it would have been a much more difficult task….
[The Zionists] said that we are not Czechoslovaks or we are not Germans, we are not French, we are Jews and we must, as Jews, go back to our country, to Israel or to Palestine and found our state …
Then came the Nuremberg Law, which was a law, issued by a nominally civilized state [Nazi Germany], which said that Jews do not belong to Europe, but to Palestine. …
So, on one platform, Nazism and Zionism had something in common: they both preached that Jews don’t belong to Europe but to Palestine. …
And naturally, the Germans said: ‘You see the Jews may not trust us but they will trust you’, to the Zionists, ‘because they have seen that they have always told them actually the truth: that you belong to Palestine, that you are a foreign element here.’ …
And so the Jewish councils were preferably selected from well-known Zionists. And, because the well-known Zionists became respectable, many Jews who were respectable anyway became Zionists. So they formed Jewish councils from a Zionist core, fortified by respectable members of society: top lawyers, top business people, top economists and that was the Jewish councils. …
They were promised by the Germans or by the local fascist government to be protected from any discrimination because they are needed for administering of the Jewish affairs. …
So you had here already a Zionist clique enforced by money of big Jewish businessmen who would be prepared to go along with the discrimination against the masses of the Jewish population which were neither rich nor Zionist, and in other words did not belong to the clique. …
So I didn’t trust them in spite of the fact that the Nazis gave them the right after the Nuremberg Laws. I considered them plain fascists and I considered them from the very start as despicable creatures who deal with the fascists and take profit out of it in order to be exempted from discrimination conducted against the others. …
So I didn’t trust the Nazis any more or any less than the Jewish Zionist councils. Indeed, I realised that the Zionists and the Nazis are approximately identical enemies of mine who have got both one thing in common, to get me out from home with 25 kilos to an unknown place and to leave my mother completely defenceless at home. …
The young people, the core of resistance, is always 16 to 30. Every soldier knows that they are the best material for fighting. … I was flabbergasted by the fact that the Zionists who pretended to be the protectors of the Jews, the first thing which they agreed to was to let go away a potential core of resistance who could in the last resort protect the families with force if necessary. …
Dr. Rudolph Vrba, ‘Oral history interview with Rudolf Vrba’ , World at War TV Series, 1972, 1st section, extracts from 32 to 45mins.
Rudolf Vrba was a survivor of Majdanek and Auschwitz. He escaped from Auschwitz in 1944 in order to warn the Jews of Hungary about the Nazi extermination programme. Tragically, some Zionist leaders had other ideas.
“I am a Jew. In spite of that – indeed because of that – I accuse certain Jewish leaders of one of the most ghastly deeds of the war.
This small group of quislings knew what was happening to their brethren in Hitler’s gas chambers and bought their own lives with the price of silence. Among them was Dr. [Rudolf] Kastner, leader of the council which spoke for all Jews in Hungary…
While I was prisoner number 44070 at Auschwitz – the number is still on my arm – I compiled careful statistics of the exterminations … I took these terrible statistics with me when I escaped in 1944 and I was able to give Hungarian Zionist leaders three weeks notice that Eichmann planned to send a million of their Jews to his gas chambers. … Kastner went to Eichmann and told him, ‘I know of your plans; spare some Jews of my choice and I shall keep quiet.’
Eichmann not only agreed, but dressed Kastner up in S.S. uniform and took him to Belsen to trace some of his friends. Nor did the sordid bargaining end there.
Kastner paid Eichmann several thousand dollars. With this little fortune, Eichmann was able to buy his way to freedom when Germany collapsed, to set himself up in the Argentine… “
Dr. Rudolf Vrba, Daily Herald, February 1961 (cited in Ben Hecht, Perfidy, 1962, p. 231 ).
“Why did Doctor Kastner betray his people when he could have saved many of them by warning them, by giving them a chance to fight, a chance to stage the second ‘Warsaw [uprising]’ which Eichmann feared? …
Could it be, therefore that the defeatist mood of Doctor Kastner was reinforced by the memory of words used by Doctor Chaim Weizmann, first President of Israel, when he addressed a Zionist convention in London in 1937? He said:
I told the British Royal Commission that the hopes of Europe’s six million Jews were centred on emigration. I was asked: ‘Can you bring six million Jews to Palestine?’ I replied: ‘No.’ The old ones will pass. They will bear their fate or they will not. They are dust, economic and moral dust in a cruel world … only a branch will survive … They had to accept it. … If they feel and suffer, they will find the way – Beacharit Hayamim [‘When the Messiah comes, all the dead will be revived’] – in the fullness of time … I pray that we may preserve our national unity, for it is all we have.
‘Only a branch will survive …’. Did Kastner, like Hitler, believe in a master race, a Jewish nation created of Top People for Top People by Top People? Was that the way in which he interpreted Doctor Chaim Weizmann’s somber oration and was he right in so doing? If so, who was going to select the branch? Who was going to say which grains would form the heap of moral and economic dust, destined to await the coming of the Messiah? …
[My family,] presumably, formed the dust which was to be swept into the ovens by the Nazis who used Jewish leaders as their brooms …”
Dr. Rudolf Vrba, I Escaped from Auschwitz, 2002, pp. 281-2.
[Rudolf Vrba’s views were always controversial, but even Zionist newspapers such as the Jewish News, (15/12/16) and the Jerusalem Post, (16/2/17) have, in recent years, published strong criticisms of Kastner’s role in the Holocaust. For more on this whole controversy, see: Tony Greenstein, Weekly Worker, (1/6/17) and Ruth Linn, ‘Rudolf Vrba and the Auschwitz Reports: Conflicting Historical Interpretations’ (2011) .]
“[During the war] it never even entered any of our minds that the Zionists were deliberately remaining passive in regard to the physical destruction of the Jews in order to additionally justify the founding of the State of Israel… But today, even acknowledged historians speak out loud about the way that some of the Zionists living in Palestine exploited the Holocaust politically! … [The first Israeli Prime Minister] Ben Gurion believed that the worse it is for the Jews in Europe, the better for Israel. He put that into practice… Ben Gurion washed his hands of the Diaspora… As early as a Mapai party conference in December 1942, he said that the tragedy of the European Jews did not ‘directly concern’ them. Those were the words of a leader who was willing to sacrifice the lives of millions of Jews to the idea of a Jewish state. I’m not saying he could have saved thousands of people, but he could have fought for those thousands of people. He did not do so. I don’t know whether this was deliberate.”
Dr Marek Edelman, 2016. Being On the Right Side: Everyone in the Ghetto Was a Hero, pp. 223, 448.
Marek Edelman was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and a commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
[As for Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin] ‘Fascist’ is a definition I can accept. I think even Begin would not deny it. He was a student of Jabotinsky, who represented the right wing of Zionism, who called himself a Fascist and was one of Mussolini’s interlocutors. Yes, Begin was his pupil. That is Begin’s history…. [The Holocaust] is Begin’s favourite defence. And I deny any validity to that defence.
Primo Levi, The Voice of Memory: Primo Levi Interviews, 1961-1987, pp. 285-286. The quote is from 1982. Primo Levi was an Auschwitz survivor.