Banning Comparisons between Nazism and Zionism and Israel – Criminalising Free Speech
Banning Comparisons between Nazism and Zionism and Israel – Criminalising Free Speech
I first learnt of the proposal to make it a criminal offence to compare either Jews, Israel or Zionism to Nazis or Nazism when reading the house journal of Britain’s Jewish Establishment. Calling Jews ‘Nazis’ may be criminalised, [Jewish Chronicle, 16.7.09.] . At first I dismissed it as another attempt by the inarticulate to ban arguments they find difficulty dealing with.
Realising however that it was unlikely that April fool jokes were still being practised in July, I contemplated just some of the cases which could have arisen had this law been in existence.
For example when Israel’s High Court, in the Ka’adan case, ruled that Arabs were entitled to buy and rent apartments on the 93% of State and ‘Jewish’ land controlled by the Israeli Lands Authority/Jewish National Fund, Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, voted to reverse this ruling by a massive majority of 65.
The reaction of Jonathan Artzi, a well known Israeli pacifist and conscientious objector, was to write a letter (23.7.07.) to all 120 MKs offering to help them in their endeavours. He explained that:
‘On May 4th 1939 a law was implemented, forbidding a certain minority in certain country from purchasing and leasing the majority`s lands in that country. Instead of rewriting this law now, why don`t you translate and implement that law?’
It is fortunate that Jonathan Artzi doesn’t live in New Labour’s Britain. In Israel, comparisons between the Nazis and one’s enemy are de rigeur.
When the Rabbi Meir Kahane, was first elected to Israel’s Knesset as the MK for Kach, the distinguished philosopher and historian Emil Fackenheim, himself a refugee from Nazism, compared Kahane’s methods to that of the Nazis during the Weimar Republic. [Sydney Morning Herald 27.8.84.] Rabbi Meir Kahane had, among other things, called for sexual relations between Arab males and Jewish females to be made a criminal offence punishable by five years imprisonment. Although sexual relations between Arabs and Jews are not criminalised in Israel today, mixed partnerships are extremely rare and subject to overwhelming public and social disapproval. Again it would ironic were a law to be passed to criminalise a holocaust survivor for calling a Jew a Nazi!
When Sir Gerald Kaufmann, a Jewish MP who used to be a stalwart of Labour Friends of Israel, compared Israel’s actions in Gaza to the murder of his grandmother in Poland by the Nazis, was he too being anti-Semitic?
The Guardian’s Comment is Free, whose editorial policy has already anticipated the proposed new law, was therefore in something of a quandary. Unable to host a debate over the rights and wrongs of comparing Zionism to Nazism, it decided instead to stage an artificial debate over whether it is right to criminalise a political comparison and critique.
Antony Lerman was therefore commissioned to write an article, Should we ban ‘Nazi analogies? which took as its starting point the assumption that ‘Using Nazi analogies to criticise Israel and Zionism is offensive’. The only question up for debate was therefore ‘should it be banned?’ This is of course entirely consistent with the liberal idea of debate – agreement over substance and disagreement over tactics.
Antony Lerman, one of the dissident intellectuals of the Jewish Establishment, has written some excellent articles on the question of anti-Semitism, in particular refuting the idea that we are witnessing a ‘new anti-Semitism’ reminiscent of the ‘old anti-Semitism’ of the 1930’s. For example in an article Sense on anti-Semitism he argued that
‘The anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism argument drains the word anti-Semitism of any useful meaning. For it means that to be an anti-Semite, it is sufficient to hold any view ranging from criticism of the policies of the current Israeli government to denial that Israel has a right to exist as a state, without having to subscribe to any of those things which historians have traditionally regarded as making up an anti-Semitic world view: hatred of Jews per se, belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, belief that Jews generated communism and control capitalism, belief that Jews are racially inferior and so on. Moreover, while theoretically allowing that criticism of Israeli government policies is legitimate, in practice it virtually proscribes any such thing.’
In the present debate Lerman is caught on the horns of a dilemma. He accepts that ‘there should be no place for Nazi analogies in public debate,’ and that “Most people would accept that it’s completely unacceptable to call a Jewish person a Nazi.” yet he realises that the motivation for these proposals comes from those who have other motives, namely labelling all Israel’s critics as anti-Semitic.
The proposals for criminalising the equation between Zionism and Nazism comes from a Report ‘Understanding and Addressing the “Nazi Card”: Intervening Against Anti-Semitic Discourse’. The work of researchers, Paul Iganski and Abe Sweiry, it was published by the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism’ (EISCA), which is chaired by New Labour MP and establishment toady Dennis MacShane, who also chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism in the UK.
Both the ‘Inquiry’ and the Report take as their starting point the “Working Definition of Antisemitism” produced by the former European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). As Lerman notes, this definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ ‘is rapidly becoming the new orthodoxy.’ It is a conscious attempt to blur and confuse the differences between anti-Zionist and anti-Semitism and is a product of the normal muddle-headed and contradictory logic one expects of academics chasing their own tails.
It is worth though taking a closer look at this definition. Examples of how ‘anti-Semitism’ manifests itself include:
Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis and
Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
Now no one denies that the points three and five, especially the former, are examples of anti-Semitism. But the rest of this dogs dinner are clearly aimed at anti-Zionist criticism of Israel. In their pious ignorance, Iganski, Sweiry and all the other ‘anti-racist’ supporters of imperialism, never once stop to consider that the claim that there is one Jewish people, whose right to self-determination is being denied, is itself the foundation stone of anti-Semitic ideology! Now the definition of a nation, which is what ‘Jewish people’ means, is normally understood to mean a common language, economy and territory. Otherwise such a ‘people’ is nothing more than a metaphysical and mystical entity, such as the Aryan race. Before the term ‘race’ was in vogue it was common for Zionists e.g. Moses Hess, Max Nordau, to refer to the ‘Jewish race.’Jews worldwide speak many different languages, live in and are citizens of numerous countries, and share the common fate of the non-Jews they live with. Yet in order for there to be a world-wide Jewish conspiracy there must be a single world-wide Jewish people, bound together by ties that are political and racial not religious. Indeed this was precisely the criticism that the overwhelming majority of East European Jewry had of Zionism when it first arose. It was validating the very tenets of anti-Semitism. As Theodor Fritsch, a virulent anti-Semite and author of the Anti-Semitic Catechism explained:
‘We still consider: the Zionists as the most honest of Jews… we therefore‘demand together with the Zionists ‘a clean separation’ and the settlement of the Hebrews in a special Jews dominion…’ [Der Hammer (Leipzig) January 1922]
Nazi ideologue and Minister for the Eastern Territories, Alfred Rosenberg, who was hanged at Nuremberg in 1946, ‘intended to use Zionism as legal justification for depriving German Jews of their civil rights.’ [Francis Nicosia, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, p.25, 1985, University of Texas Press].It is difficult to know what double standards are expected of Israel that weren’t also expected of Apartheid South Africa. Drawing comparisons of ‘contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ is also apparently anti-Semitic. Leaving aside the question as to whether historical analogies are a fit subject for criminalisation in a free society, as it is normally only in a police state that there is an ‘authorised’ version of history, the courts and parliament are no better able to resolve historical debates and controversies than any other body. If one widens the question, as it would have to be, is it seriously suggested that to compare the actions of the Americans in Iraq or Vietnam to the Nazis is anti-Semitic? If not why then is Israel is excepted? The irony of all this is that the party that has most in common with fascism and the Nazis, the British National Party, is also Britain’s most pro-Zionist party. So we have the absurd situation whereby the one group that will not be affected by the proposals of a report into anti-Semitism is Britain’s main repository for anti-Semites and neo-Nazis!!As for holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of Israel, then there is little doubt that this is anti-Semitic. It is somewhat unfortunate that the people primarily responsible for this are the leaders of Zionism, such as Britain’s Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks. At a rally to support Israel’s barbarous attack on Lebanon in 2006, Sacks exclaimed “Israel, you make us proud.” It is in the context of this mixture of hypocrisy and mendacity that the proposals of EISCA must be understood. Their clear and obvious purpose is to criminalise criticism of Zionism and Israel under the guise of ‘anti-Semitism’. What is clear is that comparisons between Israel, the pampered child of western imperialism, and the Nazi regime, have begun to be felt. Gone are the days when you could get by labelling the Palestinians as Nazis. The first and obvious reaction of people to the war crimes committed in Gaza was to ask how Jewish people could condone such atrocities in view of their own history. This was an understandable and perfectly natural reaction, the criminal law notwithstanding.But the question which Lerman took for granted, namely are comparisons between Nazism and Zionism and Israel valid, is not one that has been addressed. Both Lenni Brenner, in his book Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, and myself in articles such as ‘Holocaust Analogies: Repaying the Mortgage’ have drawn attention to the undeniable fact that the Zionist leaders in the second world war both collaborated with the Nazis and undermined rescue attempts that were not directed at Palestine. Indeed the leaders of the terrorist Stern Gang/LEHI, which included Yitzhak Shamir, who became Prime Minister of Israel in 1984, actually proposed a military alliance with the Nazis! As the late Israel Shahak, a Professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as well as being a childhood survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and Belsen-Bergen, noted:
‘LEHI showed its uniqueness in its very earliest political strategy, namely in its persistent search for an alliance with Nazi Germany throughout 1940-41.’
It is therefore worth making a few observations. Firstly the only reason for not comparing the crimes of the Nazi regime with that of Israel is if the former is beyond history. In particular, this depends on whether the holocaust was such a unique event that comparisons between it and any other act of genocide are impossible and therefore illegitimate. But is it seriously argued that comparisons between say the slave trade, during which millions of Africans died, or the murder of up to 10 million people in the Belgian Congo, and the Nazis are anti-semitic? A comparison is not the same thing as saying two phenomenon are the same or equal but that there are certain similarities. It would seem obvious that all acts of genocide are both unique in themselves and share similarities with other horrendous war crimes.Indeed if the Nazi holocaust is to serve any useful purpose it is as a reminder of the dangers of racism and where it can, in extremis, lead. The 12 years of the Nazi dictatorship, between 1933 and 1945, can be broken into 3 periods.
There was the period before the war, 1933-39, when restrictions on Jews became ever more severe as the Jews became increasingly isolated and economically marginalised. During those years physical attacks on Jews were the exception rather than the rule and were generally deprecated as undermining order and stability. The primary exception of course being Kristalnacht on November 9-10 1938.
The second period was that of 1939-1941 prior to the setting up of the extermination camps and the onset of the Final Solution. This was a period of the ‘euthenasia’ or ‘mercy killings’ when the first people to be killed by poisonous carbon monoxide gas were physically and mentally handicapped Germans in the sanitoria of Germany itself. This wa the preparatory period and it is noteworthy that the very gas vans which murdered ‘inferior’ German racial types were then used in Poland to murder Jews.
The third period of the Final Solution began with Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and the actions of the killing squads, Einsatzgruppen, and the Order Police, who followed in the wake of the Wehrmacht, slaughtering at least one million Jews (and thousands of communists) from the Baltic republics down to Southern Ukraine and the Crimea.
To say that comparisons between the first two periods of Nazi rule should not be made is to argue for Jewish exceptionalism. That racism against Jews is somehow worse than that against any other people. That pogroms against and the murder of Jews stands apart from that directed against any other people. The fact is that the reinterpretation of the Talmud by the Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel does indeed replicate the Nazi contempt and hatred for the untermenschen (lower races). For example Lubavitch Rabbi Manis Friedman recently declared that
“The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle),” [Haaretz 9.6.09.]
When Israeli soldiers invaded Gaza this year they were “spiritually elevated” and “morally empowered” by Israel’s military rabbis who urged them to show no mercy to the civilian population, but to treat them like the Philistines and other heathens, whose men, women and children, yea even women with suckling babes, were put to the sword.
There is no doubt that the Nazi treatment of the Jews of Germany as strangers in their own land has mirrored that of the Palestinians. When thousands of religious settlers held a demonstration through the Arab quarter of Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day on June 2nd 2008, their main slogan was Mavet La`Aravim` or`Death to Arabs`. The comparison between the cries of pogromists in Russia in the early years of the last century and the mobs in Israel who cry out for the elimination of Israel’s Arabs is obvious. The examples of this racist abuse and in particular the Nazi-like graffitti that Israel’s soldiers left in their way in Gaza, which talked about the ‘annihilation’ of the Palestinians, are legion. What makes this ‘debate’ so absurd, is that it is in Israel itself that such comparisons are regularly made. When 46 Palestinians in the village Kfar Quassem were murdered in cold blood as they were returning from their fields, just prior to the Suez War, as unknown to them a curfew had been imposed, Rabbi Benyamin wrote that ‘‘We must demand of the entire nation a sense of shame and humiliation. That soon we will be like Nazis and the perpetrators of pogroms,”. Likewise, after the massacres and expulsions of the 1947-9 war Aharon Zisling, later Minister of Agriculture for the Zionist Mapam party said at a cabinet meeting that
‘I have not always agreed when the term Nazi was applied to the British. I would not want to use that expression with regard to them, even though they committed Nazi acts. But Nazi acts have been committed by Jews as well, and I am deeply shocked.’ [Tom Segev, the 7th Million, 300-1]
Those who decry any comparison between the actions of the Nazi and Israeli states are effectively saying that Israel should be judged by different standards from the rest of the world and previous settler-colonial states in particular. This is especially the case since the apologists for Zionism and the Israeli state have consistently used the holocaust as the justification for the existence and practices of Israel. What is therefore being said is that it is fine for Zionism’s propagandists to justify their deeds by reference to the holocaust, but that it is not acceptable for Palestinians to refer to that same history as a reason why Israel should not be indulging in war crimes and apartheid. This is the kind of logic that leads world leaders and their tame supporters in the press to quietly ignore the fact that Israel earlier this year achieved some kind of historic milestone. An open fascist, Avigdor Lieberman, was appointed as Israel’s Foreign Minister. When Jorg Haider, leader of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party , entered government in 2000, they were subject to a boycott by European leaders, including Prince Charles. Contrast this with the reception that Lieberman has received from European and American leaders. Yet Jorg Haider was a pale shadow when compared to Lieberman. He didn’t propose executing Jews who disagreed with him or drowing thousands of Jewish prisoners in the sea. Yet this is exactly what Lieberman is on record as saying about Palestinian prisoners and Israeli Arabs who talk to Hamas. Rather than boycotting him, world leaders have been falling over themselves to meet the thug from Molvova. Of course the idea that there is a comparison to be made between the actions of Israel and the Nazis is shocking, or should be, to someone who is Jewish. That is the whole point. To shock Israel’s devoted and unquestioning supporters. As every anti-Zionist is well aware, Zionist attacks on supporters of the Palestinians as anti-Semitic are monotonously regular. Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism is a refrain one constantly hears, as if the repetition of a lie makes it true. It is for that if no other reason, that comparisons between the practice of the Israeli state and Nazism are valid.But a word of caution. It is understandable when a Palestinian in the wake of the Gaza attack compares Israel’s actions to that of the Nazis. But that doesn’t therefore mean that a simple equation can be drawn between Israel’s attack, however brutal, and that of the planned and deliberate extermination of millions of human beings. Likewise it is to be welcomed when Palestinians identify their plight with that of the Jews of Warsaw. That is an anti-racist comparison. The media harlots who repeat every last word of Zionist hasbara would no doubt prefer that the Palestinians identified with anti-Semites instead of Jews. That would then ‘prove’ that Israel’s battle is against anti-semitism.During the Gaza war I and many others equated the siege of Gaza to that of the Warsaw Ghetto. Did we therefore mean that Israel was planning to exterminate the Palestinians of Gaza in the same way as the half-million Jews of the Ghetto were murdered in Treblinka? Of course not.But in laying siege to Gaza for over two years, in using the weapon of hunger in their battle against a civilian population and seeking to deprive it of all but the most limited amounts of food, in deliberately attacking civilian installations with phosphorous bombs, in razing civilian houses to the ground and in its mass murder of Gaza’s children, Israel’s actions did resemble that of the Nazis in certain crucial respects.Nor are such comparisons to be confined to Gaza. When the District Governor of the Galilee Israel Koenig issued “The Koenig Memorandum” in 1976 calling for the Judaification of the Galilee and that “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” how is that different from Aryanisation or deJewification?When a prominent Zionist rabbi ruled that according to the Halacha (Jewish religious law), a non-Jew cannot serve as a Knesset member, even if the public agrees to it, because “This is a Jewish state and Jews are the ones leading the Jewish state.” why is that any different from The Reich Citizenship Law passed by the Reichstag in Nuremberg 1935? The latter law made a distinction between German nationals and citizens. Is not this the same difference that exists in Israel whereby Arabs are citizens of Israel but not nationals? And if one compares the Zionist settlers of Hebron, who daub ‘Arabs to the gas chambers’ on the walls of the old city, to Nazis, is one also being anti-Semitic?
To ask these questions is, of course, to answer them. ‘Of course not’ is the most obvious retort. If one’s sole purpose is to humiliate and ridicule someone who is Jewish by comparing them to Nazis then there is no doubt that that is anti-Semitic, as well as grossly offensive. But if one compares the actions of the Israeli military or state to that of the Nazis, then the first question is ‘why is it anti-Semitic’. Bearing in mind that Israeli soldiers themselves have all too often seen themselves in that role. Indeed not so many years ago, Israeli soldiers in the Golani Brigade consciously called themselves the ‘Mengele Squad’. [Al HaMishmar 24 July 1989, Ha’Aretz 27 July 1989And sad to say, the level of anti-Arab racism as measured by popular opinion in Israel, is far higher than anti-Jewish hatred was in Nazi Germany. As Ian Kershaw showed in Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich most Germans ‘despite the efforts of the Nazis, continued to maintain social relations with the members of the Bavarian Jewish community.’ [Marrus, Michael The Holocaust in History, Toronto: KeyPorter, 2000 page 90]. Yet in Israel anti-Arab racism predominates throughout the Jewish population. Over half Israeli Jews believes the marriage of a Jewish woman to an Arab man is equal to national treason and over 75 percent do not approve of apartment buildings being shared between Arabs and Jews. 60% would not allow an Arab to visit their home and about 40% agreed that “Arabs should have their right to vote for Knesset revoked”. Over half agreed that Israel should encourage its Arab citizens to immigrate from the country and would not want to work under the direct management of an Arab. 55 % said “Arabs and Jews should be separated at entertainment sites”. When asked what they thought of Arab culture, over 37% replied, “The Arab culture is inferior.” Indeed a total of 62% of Israelis want the government to encourage local Arabs to leave the country, according to the 2006 democracy index by the Israel Democracy Institute. It would be churlish not to give credit where credit is due. The spiritual author of these proposals from EISCA to criminalise criticism of Israel, which is what the proposals are really about, is one Dennis MacShane. MacShane holds himself out as an authority on anti-Semitism. He’s even written an error-ridden book, ‘Globalising Hatred: The New Antisemitism’ about it. Yet, and here’s a strange thing. MacShane has absolutely no record when it comes to opposing fascism and racism in Britain. I’m not aware of him playing any significant part in the anti-fascist movement in Britain from the 1970’s onwards when the National Front first began to grow and pose a threat to Black and Jewish people. Nor has be been prominent or visible in the campaign against the BNP today. As a signed up member of New Labour MacShane is as about right-wing as they get. Anti-racism isn’t and never has been part of his agenda. There is not even one example of MacShane rebelling against New Labours racist and poisonous attacks on asylum seekers. Nor did he speak out when Gypsies were pilloried by New Labour in the Czech Republic and an immigration desk was actually set up at Prague’s airport (before the House of Lords ruled its operation an act of racial discrimination). This caused the Chair of the American Helsinki Committee to recall that ‘it was 47 years to the day when the Nazis gassed 2,897 “gypsy” women, children and men at Auschwitz.’
For all his rhetoric about anti-semitism, MacShane has behaved exactly like his predecessors in the Foreign Office during the war who consistently blocked and vetoed any attempt to admit Jews from Germany into Britain. When MacShane says he is a devoted opponent of ‘anti-Semitism’ it is important to understand that what he means by anti-Semitism is not traditional Jew hatred and discrimination against Jews, but criticism of Israel. Because MacShane is if nothing else an arch-imperialist. Before being sacked by Brown in 2005, he was a junior Foreign Office minister, with special responsibility for Latin America. In this capacity he welcomed the CIA coup that temporarily overthrew Hugo Chávez of Venezuela by denouncing the latter as “a ranting, populist demagogue” (Hugh O’Shaughnessy, March 12 2007), likening him to Mussolini.Isabel Hilton Cheering on democracy’s overthrow wrote that
‘Mr MacShane committed the undiplomatic error of describing Chavez as a “ranting demagogue”. Of course, when he let slip those unfortunate comments, Mr MacShane thought that Hugo Chavez was a leftwing ex-president of a country with important mineral reserves in which the US takes a strong interest…. Odd, though, that Friday’s coup, a procedure not normally considered an aid to democratic practice, did not attract the condemnation it deserved. Chavez, after all, has twice been elected president by the largest margins in Venezuela’s history.’
All this makes the remarks by the Editor of Comment is Free, Matthew Seaton, even more strange. As Mark Elf wrote: ‘In the comments someone referred to Denis MacShane as Denis the Menace and Matt Seaton intervened to describe MacShane as a “sound democrat”…. The strange thing is that there are at least two responses to Seaton’s bizarre but unsurprising intervention for a Zionist but his intervention seems to have disappeared. Like the great Dr Hirsh, our Mr Seaton seems to have censored himself for a change!’ Describing MacShane as a democrat is akin to describing the Marquess of Queensbury as a pioneer of gay rights. Bizarre isn’t quite the right word. It would seem that Mr Seaton would be best employed returning to his old job as Guardian bicycling correspondent. At least he would know then what he was talking about!