Thursday, 3 December 2020

Why it’s anti-racist NOT anti-Semitic to compare Israel to pre-holocaust Nazi Germany

Why Today’s Israel Reminds Me of Nazi Germany – Uri Avnery


As people will be aware, the Zionist movement is in the forefront of the attack on free speech in this country and elsewhere. It provides the Right in the Labour Party with the ideal  moral justification for an attack on free speech – ‘anti-Semitism’.  So much so that plenty of Jewish people are now being suspended and expelled! Zionism is the cutting edge of the attack on democratic rights in the West.

The latest Jewish member to be suspended is Professor Moshe Machover.  Moshe was expelled peremptorily three years ago on the false charge that he was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain.  So fierce was the backlash to that particular expulsion that the witchhunters were forced to backtrack and reinstate Moshe.

As I told Moshe when I heard the news, he has since been living on borrowed time. The Zionists have been eager to see the back of him and his Open Letter in Weekly Worker daring Starmer and the Zionists to do their worse, after he had appeared on a platform with Chris Williamson and myself, was probably a red rag to a bull (or a snake).

I however can’t be expelled (unless they readmit me in order that they can repeat the exercise!). So I can say virtually anything about Herr Sturmer and his anti-Semitic friend, David Evans.

Uri Avnery considered himself a Zionist to his dying days but unlike 99% of Zionists when he talked about peace with the Palestinians he meant it. Uri fought in Israel’s War of Independence (or Nakba) and was severely wounded.  He was also a former member of the Irgun terror group, which is why it was all the more remarkable that he courted arrest several times to meet the PLO, which then was the representative of the Palestinians including memorably Yasser Arafat in a  Beirut under siege.

There are indeed many comparisons between the Nazi state before 1939 and the Israeli state and many survivors of the holocaust, including those who were survivors of the concentration camps, such as Ze’ev Sternhell and Hajo Meyer saw those comparisons.

The key comparison is that for the Nazis the Jews were not part of the national collective, hence why in 1935 the Nuremberg Laws removed Jewish citizenship.  Henceforth they became subjects.

In Israel citizenship was begrudgingly given in the early 1950’s to the Palestinians but it was a degraded form of citizenship.  For the first 18 years of the state they lived under military rule.  Since then they have lived, not even as second class citizens but as tolerated guests, the majority of their lands stolen from them and hemmed into the 2% that they are allowed by Jewish settlements.

The Jewish Nation State Law passed in 2018 makes what was always implicit explicit. In its original, explicitly racist form it legalised the formation of Jewish only settlements, hundreds of which already exist.

Making Israel’s racism explicit caused an uproar among liberal Zionists because in Israel Zionism has perfected the art of not making its racist intentions explicit, bar the Israeli Law of Return. Instead para state organisations, such as the Jewish National Fund and Jewish Agency undertake the dirty work of discrimination. Regulations, policies and practices do the rest.

The broken window of a Jewish shop in Kristallnacht

For example there has been a longstanding policy of Judaising the Galilee, Jerusalem and Negev. This is no different to the Nazi policy of ‘deJewification’. Except that no laws were necessary. The Koenig Memorandum and the Prawer Plan ensured that policies would enact what the Knesset desired but did not legislate for.

Indeed it would be possible to say that being a settler colonial state, which Germany of course was not, has meant that racism in Israel is far higher than in Nazi Germany.  It may surprise people but even in the Nazi Party itself, the majority of members were not vehement anti-Semites. It was among the hard core of ‘old fighters’, those who had seen action in the Freikorps, the counter-revolutionary squads employed by the Social Democrats against the German Revolution, that genocidal anti-Semitism flourished.

There is a large section of Zionism which would not blanche at the extermination of the Palestinians.  Religious Zionists in particular have often expressed genocidal sentiments as have their rabbis such as Dov Lior, who is the settlers’ Chief Rabbi.  Dov Lior famously said that a Jewish fingernail was worth more than a thousand non-Jewish lives. Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, giving the funeral oration for Baruch Goldstein, who had murdered 29 unarmed worshippers in the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron and wounded another hundred, increased this to a million lives.

Nonetheless it is not extermination but expulsion/transfer which is what the Palestinians face in the medium to long-term. Comparisons between Nazi Germany post 1939 and Israel are far-fetched to say the least.  With the onset of war Nazi Germany turned from expulsion to extermination. It first began with the wholesale murder of the disabled, in particular the Jewish disabled, from 1939-1941 until Catholic Bishop Galen spoke out against it (although a wild ‘euthenasia’ persisted in the concentration camps).

However even the most absurd comparisons, such as describing the Palestinian experience as a ‘holocaust’ are not anti-Semitic. Hyperbole is not racism. It is a measure of the fact that the Palestinian struggle is an anti-racist one that the Nazis are seen as the ultimate evil.

However the Zionists are in no position to deprecate comparisons between Zionism and Nazism given their appalling record before and during the holocaust.  Ben Gurion made clear his attitude to the endangered Jews in Germany being sent to Britain in a speech to the Israeli Labor Party’s central Committee on 9th December 1938, just a month after Kristalnacht.

The reaction of the world to this state sponsored pogrom was one of revulsion. The British Government acceded to the request of the Board of Deputies (which had not yet been captured by the Zionists) to admit ten thousand children. The Zionists were outraged and the reaction of David Ben Gurion, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency (which was the Zionists’ government-in-waiting) and later first Prime Minister of Israel was telling.

‘If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the People of Israel.’[i]

This was the attitude of the Zionists throughout the war as they consciously sought to block all avenues of escape for Jewish refugees unless the destination was Palestine.  Their warped thinking being that if Jewish Palestine could not provide a solution to the refugee question, then what was the point of this ‘national museum’ as Ben Gurion also called it.

It was called ‘cruel Zionism’. Although Zionism was to be immensely cruel to the Palestinians we should never forget that it was cruel to the Jews first.

Read and enjoy!

Tony Greenstein

Israeli activist and author Uri Avnery draws on his personal experience of Hitler’s Germany on the eve of the Nazi party’s victory, and during the early years of Nazism, to show that similar processes of creeping Nazism are underway in Israel today

Why Today’s Israel Reminds Me of Nazi Germany – Uri Avnery

 “Please don’t write about Ya’ir Golan!” a friend begged me, “Anything a leftist like you writes will only harm him!”

So, I abstained for some weeks. But I can’t keep quiet any longer.

General Ya’ir Golan, the deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army, made a speech on Holocaust Memorial Day. Wearing his uniform, he read a prepared, well-considered text that triggered an uproar which has not yet died down.

Dozens of articles have been published in its wake, some condemning him, some lauding him. It seems that nobody could stay indifferent.

Uri Avnery protesting in Jerusalem

Traces of Nazism

The main sentence was this:

If there is something that frightens me about the memories of the Holocaust, it is the knowledge of the awful processes which happened in Europe in general, and in Germany in particular, 70, 80, 90 years ago, and finding traces of them here in our midst, today, in 2016.

All hell broke loose. What! Traces of Nazism in Israel? A resemblance between what the Nazis did to us with what we are doing to the Palestinians?

Ninety years ago was 1926, one of the last years of the German republic. Eighty years ago was 1936, three years after the Nazis came to power. Seventy years ago was 1946, on the morrow of Hitler’s suicide and the end of the Nazi Reich.

I feel compelled to write about the general’s speech after all, because I was there.

As a child I was an eyewitness to the last years of the Weimar Republic (so called because its constitution was shaped in Weimar, the town of Goethe and Schiller). As a politically alert boy I witnessed the Nazi Machtergreifung (“taking power”) and the first half a year of Nazi rule.

I know what Golan was speaking about. Though we belong to two different generations, we share the same background. Both our families come from small towns in Western Germany. His father and I must have had a lot in common.

There is a strict moral commandment in Israel: nothing can be compared to the holocaust. The holocaust is unique. It happened to us, the Jews, because we are unique. (Religious Jews would add: “Because God has chosen us.”)

I have broken this commandment. Just before Golan was born, I published (in Hebrew) a book called The Swastika, in which I recounted my childhood memories and tried to draw conclusions from them. It was on the eve of the Eichmann trial, and I was shocked by the lack of knowledge about the Nazi era among young Israelis then.

My book did not deal with the holocaust, which took place when I was already living in Palestine, but with a question which troubled me throughout the years, and even today: how could it happen that Germany, perhaps the most cultured nation on earth at the time, the homeland of Goethe, Beethoven and Kant, could democratically elect a raving psychopath like Adolf Hitler as its leader?

The last chapter of the book was entitled “It Can Happen Here!” The title was drawn from a book by the American novelist Sinclair Lewis, called ironically “It Can’t Happen Here”, in which he described a Nazi take-over of the United States.

In this chapter I discussed the possibility of a Jewish Nazi-like party coming to power in Israel. My conclusion was that a Nazi party can come to power in any country on earth, if the conditions are right. Yes, in Israel, too.

The book was largely ignored by the Israeli public, which at the time was overwhelmed by the storm of emotions evoked by the terrible disclosures of the Eichmann trial.

The truthful general

Now comes General Golan, an esteemed professional soldier, and says the same thing.

And not as an improvised remark, but on an official occasion, wearing his general’s uniform, reading from a prepared, well-thought-out text.

The storm broke out, and has not passed yet.

Israelis have a self-protective habit: when confronted with inconvenient truths, they evade its essence and deal with a secondary, unimportant aspect. Of all the dozens and dozens of reactions in the written press, on TV and on political platforms, almost none confronted the general’s painful contention.

… Golan has sacrificed his further advancement in order to utter his warning and giving it the widest possible resonance.

No, the furious debate that broke out concerns the questions: Is a senior army officer allowed to voice an opinion about matters that concern the civilian establishment? And do so in army uniform? On an official occasion?

Should an army officer keep quiet about his political convictions? Or voice them only in closed sessions – “in relevant forums”, as a furious Binyamin Netanyahu phrased it?

General Golan enjoys a very high degree of respect in the army. As deputy chief of staff he was until now almost certainly a candidate for chief of staff, when the incumbent leaves the office after the customary four years.

The fulfilment of this dream shared by every General Staff officer is now very remote. In practice, Golan has sacrificed his further advancement in order to utter his warning and giving it the widest possible resonance.

One can only respect such courage. I have never met General Golan, I believe, and I don’t know his political views. But I admire his act.

(Somehow I recall an article published by the British magazine Punch before World War I, when a group of junior army officers issued a statement opposing the government’s policy in Ireland. The magazine said that while it disapproves of the opinion expressed by the mutinous officers, it took pride in the fact that such youthful officers were ready to sacrifice their careers for their convictions.)

The Nazi march to power started in 1929, when a terrible worldwide economic crisis hit Germany. A tiny, ridiculous far-right party suddenly became a political force to be reckoned with. From there it took them four years to become the largest party in the country and to take over power (though it still needed a coalition).

Israeli settlers shout slogans as they march in the streets.

Add caption

I was there when it happened, a boy in a family in which politics became the main topic at the dinner table. I saw how the republic broke down, gradually, slowly, step by step. I saw our family friends hoisting the swastika flag. I saw my high-school teacher raising his arm when entering the class and saying “Heil Hitler” for the first time (and then reassuring me in private that nothing had changed.)

I was the only Jew in the entire high school. When the hundreds of boys – all taller than me – raised their arms to sing the Nazi anthem, and I did not, they threatened to break my bones if it happened again. A few days later we left Germany for good.

Corrosive victories

General Golan was accused of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Nothing of the sort. A careful reading of his text shows that he compared developments in Israel to the events that led to the disintegration of the Weimar Republic. And that is a valid comparison.

Things happening in Israel, especially since the last election, bear a frightening similarity to those events. True, the process is quite different. German fascism arose from the humiliation of surrender in World War I, the occupation of the Ruhr by France and Belgium from 1923 to 1925, the terrible economic crisis of 1929, the misery of millions of unemployed. Israel is victorious in its frequent military actions, we live comfortable lives. The dangers threatening us are of a quite different nature. They stem from our victories, not from our defeats.

Indeed, the differences between Israel today and Germany then are far greater than the similarities. But those similarities do exist, and the general was right to point them out.

Racism and discrimination

The discrimination against the Palestinians in practically all spheres of life can be compared to the treatment of the Jews in the first phase of Nazi Germany. (The oppression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories resembles more the treatment of the Czechs in the “protectorate” after the Munich betrayal.)

The political riffraff peopling the present Netanyahu government could easily have found their place in the first Nazi government.

The rain of racist bills in the Knesset, those already adopted and those in the works, strongly resembles the laws adopted by the Reichstag in the early days of the Nazi regime. Some rabbis call for a boycott of Arab shops. Like then. The call “Death to the Arabs” (Judah verrecke?) is regularly heard at soccer matches. A member of parliament has called for the separation between Jewish and Arab newborns in hospital. A chief rabbi has declared that goyim (non-Jews) were created by God to serve the Jews. Our ministers of education and culture are busy subduing the schools, theatre and arts to the extreme rightist line, something known in German as Gleichschaltung. The Supreme Court, the pride of Israel, is being relentlessly attacked by the minister of justice. The Gaza Strip is a huge ghetto.

Of course, no one in their right mind would even remotely compare Netanyahu to the Fuehrer, but there are political parties here which do emit a strong fascist smell. The political riffraff peopling the present Netanyahu government could easily have found their place in the first Nazi government.

One of the main slogans of our present government is to replace the “old elite”, considered too liberal, with a new one. One of the main Nazi slogans was to replace das System.

By the way, when the Nazis came to power, almost all senior officers of the German army were staunch anti-Nazis. They were even considering a putsch against Hitler . Their political leader was summarily executed a year later, when Hitler liquidated his opponents in his own party. We are told that General Golan is now protected by a personal bodyguard, something that has never happened to a general in the annals of Israel.

The general did not mention the occupation and the settlements, which are under army rule. But he did mention the episode which occurred shortly before he gave this speech, and which is still shaking Israel now: in occupied Hebron, under army rule, a soldier saw a seriously wounded Palestinian lying helplessly on the ground, approached him and killed him with a shot to the head. The victim had tried to attack some soldiers with a knife, but did not constitute a threat to anyone any more. This was a clear contravention of army standing orders, and the soldier has been hauled before a court martial.

A cry went up around the country: the soldier is a hero! He should be decorated! Netanyahu called his father to assure him of his support. Avigdor Lieberman entered the crowded courtroom in order to express his solidarity with the soldier. A few days later Netanyahu appointed Lieberman as minister of defence, the second most important office in Israel.

Before that, General Golan received robust support both from the minister of defense, Moshe Ya’alon, and the chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot. Probably this was the immediate reason for the kicking out of Ya’alon and the appointment of Lieberman in his place. It resembled a putsch.

It seems that Golan is not only a courageous officer, but a prophet, too. The inclusion of Lieberman’s party in the government coalition confirms Golan’s blackest fears. This is another fatal blow to the Israeli democracy.

Am I condemned to witness the same process for the second time in my life?



[i]         Yoav Gelber, ‘Zionist policy and the Fate of European Jewry, Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. XIII, p. 199 Labour Party Archives, Bet Berl Tsofit., 22/38,   see also Segev, p.28.  Teveth, p.855, Piterberg, p.99. 

 

 

Yair Golan, Uri Avnery, Nazi,

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