In a State of Denial
By Elli Wohlgelernter
June, 10 2001
- Holocaust denial is finding increasing acceptance in certain Arab circles as part of their anti-Israel propaganda. Elli Wohlgelernter reports on a troubling phenomenon
It would seem, from any logical perspective, that Holocaust denial would be counter-productive in the Palestinian/Arab struggle against Israel.
After all, regardless of the facts argued over land, territories, borders and ownership within this region, contending that it wasn't six million murdered in the Holocaust, but three or one, is a non-starter to all but neo-Nazis and crackpots; and claiming that Chelmno, Dachau and Auschwitz were merely disinfection sites, simply calls into question and makes a mockery of every other part of the Arabs' claims against Israel.
One might think that, but according to anti-Semitism watchdog groups, Middle East experts and university professors, logic doesn't hold when it comes to the Arab campaign against anything connected with Israel. That is why a group like the Jordanian Writers' Association could convene a twice-postponed conference in Amman last month on Holocaust Revisionism.
"It shows the depth of their anti-Semitism and their hatred of the Jews, and the depth to which their hatred overcomes their logic," says Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University.
Moreover, says Lipstadt - who successfully defended against a libel lawsuit brought in London last year by notorious Holocaust denier and anti-Semite David Irving - arguing against Holocaust facts "also shows their tactical stupidity. If I was an Arab PR adviser, I'd say cut this out, this makes no sense. It's a loser from their perspective. But hatred makes you do totally irrational things. What makes them do it? Either their hatred of Jews overrides everything else, or there is a disconnect - the people who are doing it are not thinking tactically."
The symposium in Amman took on a life of its own even before it assembled.
It started with a much-ballyhooed international conference sponsored by the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review (IHR), entitled Revisionism and Zionism, that was scheduled to take place in Beirut in late February.
Lebanon Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri personally intervened to have the conference cancelled, saying "Lebanon has more important things to do than holding conferences that hurt its international standing and smear its name."
Coming to the IHR's defense was the Jordanian Writers' Association, which has long been active in countering normalization efforts with Israel, including punishing members who have interacted with Israelis. They organized their own forum entitled, What Happened to the Revisionist Historians Conference in Beirut, scheduled for April 8.
That symposium was canceled by the Jordanian government, coming as it did two days before King Abdullah was scheduled to meet with US President George W. Bush, amid fears that it would cause the king much embarrassment.
It was canceled again in early May, before finally taking place on May 13 before an audience of 200. They heard, according to The Jordan Times, from people like Lebanese journalist Hayat Atiyah, who explained that historical revisionism is not an ideology, but a position, supported by facts and meticulous analyses, on a specific historical event - the Holocaust.
|A picture taken in 1943 of the Grand Mufti of
Jerusalem Haj Amin el-Husseini reviewing Bosnian-Muslim troops - a
unit of the "Hanjar (Saber) Division" of the Waffen SS
which he personally recruited for Hitler.|
A JORDANIAN journalist, Arafat Hijazi, criticized 14 Arab intellectuals who signed a leaflet asking the Lebanese government to cancel the Beirut conference because revisionist research "has nothing to do with the Palestinian cause."
Among the 14 intellectuals were Palestinian nationalist poet Mahmoud Darwish and Lebanese Selah Statiya, wrote The Jordan Times, in addition to the Lebanese novelist Elias Khouri, known for his writing on Palestinian refugee camps.
Indeed, even a hardliner such as Columbia Professor Edward Said came out strongly against the conference and against advocating any kind of Holocaust denial.
Ibrahim Alloush, a JWA member, media coordinator of the Association against Zionism and Racism and editor of an Arab web site that disseminates Holocaust denial (www.fav.net), said revisionists do not deny that Jews died in World War II.
"[Revisionists] do say, however, that hundreds of thousands of Jews died along with the 45 million who perished in that war."
Furthermore, he said, the "myths of the Holocaust" are extremely important for the Zionist movement, providing a justification for the rape of Palestine.
"In human history, the argument of the uniqueness of Jewish deaths provides a justification for Israel and the Zionist movement to violate every ethical and legal code in the book, and to persecute opponents, like the revisionist historians and the Arabs, without any reprimand, even with sympathy, from the West."
Such rhetoric has been condemned by Said and others for both historical and political reasons. Hussein Ibish, communications director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, says that in the Arab world in general, "it is still an extremely small minority who are even willing to listen to the claims of Holocaust denials. It may be a growing group, but I think it's still a very small group."
He points out that it was the Arab intellectuals in Lebanon and the media who pressured Hariri to cancel the event, and that even though the government may have overstepped its constitutional authority in doing so, there was no objection from the people in Lebanon.
"In the end, the overwhelming majority of educated Arabs who have any kind of grasp of history, who are educated in history, I don't think they are gong to listen to this," Ibish says. "I think the overwhelming majority of Arabs, and Palestinians, understand that we have no stake whatever in humoring this ridiculous idea. The historical record is absolutely clear. And one can quibble about details, but the fact that a massive genocide took place during the last few years of the Second World War in Europe, involving an all-out attempt to exterminate Jewish Europeans, gypsies, and eventually Slavs and others, is just beyond question, and I think most Arabs know it."
What prompts Holocaust deniers, he says, is a reasoning that says the Holocaust, in the United States, "has been such a powerful propaganda tool for those who would excuse all Israeli excesses - and it has been effective in the United States, I think there is no doubt about it - so therefore, the way to counter it is to embrace Holocaust denial.
"I think that that is one argument that won't work. I can see the logic, but I think it's absolutely flawed in its core, as well as being morally dubious to say the least. It is surprising to me that anybody would find it necessary to go to such lengths to dispute unquestionable historical facts, for narrow political debating point advantages. It's dumb. It's bad intellectually and bad strategically."
Historically, says Professor Yoram Meital of Ben-Gurion University, the issue of the Holocaust and attitudes toward Nazism have existed in Egypt's public discourse since the late 1930s.
"Since that time, for the last seven decades, specific individuals and groups - not all Egyptian society - for them the Holocaust serves as a mechanism to formulate contemporary symbols and values. Over time, attitudes towards the Holocaust and Nazism has changed.
"In the 1930s and 1940s, this discourse focused on the question of Nazism and Holocaust as part of an Egyptian debate about political freedom, about liberalism against fundamentalism.
"But in our days, after the birth of the Israeli state, this discourse has changed. I would say, unfortunately, that certain sectors of Egyptian society identify completely and misuse completely the Holocaust, comparing Nazism with Zionism, the State of Israel and Israeli policy towards the Palestinians."
Meital says care should be taken not to portray all the Egyptians or all the Arabs or all the Muslims as taking part in this simplistic misuse of the Holocaust and Nazism.
But the fear of many is that even if it is being promoted by a minority, it is also seeing exposure in public arenas, such as the Egyptian government daily Al-Akhbar, where columnist Ahmad Ragab reiterates his thanks to Hitler twice in April: "[Insistently] for the second time, thanks to Hitler, of blessed memory, who, on behalf of the Palestinians, revenged in advance, against the most vile criminals on the face of the earth. Although we do have a complaint against him for his revenge on them was not enough," he wrote on April 25.
On May 11, the Egyptian pharmacists' union called for a boycott of US drug company Eli Lilly and Co. for supporting survivors of the Holocaust living in Israeli communities. The union urged pharmacists across the Arab world to boycott a list of drugs including Zyprexa, which it said Lilly was providing free to survivors suffering from schizophrenia in three Israeli communities.
MEITAL SAYS that there have been a number of writers and novelists who have stood up against those individuals and sectors that support Holocaust denial.
"What Said tried to say is that, yes, Israel is doing very terrible things against the Palestinians, but denying the Holocaust is something totally different; that you cannot put it in one basket - that the Germans mistreated the Jews, and this is the very same as what the Jews are doing to the Palestinians," says Meital. "So we don't have a monolithic attitude to this question of denying the Holocaust, we have a very intensive discourse on this. If you examine caricatures, or cartoons, articles, books, you can see that denying of the Holocaust is a very small portion of this discourse."
But that it is even part of any discourse at all has many Jewish professionals wondering why. Further is the irony that the deniers use in their argument: "The Nazis weren't terrible, and the Israelis are just as bad;" "It didn't happen, but whatever happened wasn't enough;" and "the Holocaust didn't happen, but Sharon is worse than the Nazis."
Moreover, if the Arab world's embrace of Holocaust denial has no rationale tactically, the professionals do see it as part of the Arab world's basic strategic thinking: deny, deny, deny, not just the Holocaust, but anything connecting the Jewish people to Israel.
So when Holocaust deniers argue vociferously, using the standard rhetoric about the "Holohoax" and "Hollowcause" that has been a staple of anti-Semites since even before the end of World War II, it inevitably gets linked to everything from Temple Mount denial to Exodus denial to Torah denial.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says deniers of the Holocaust join their argument together with two other classic anti-Semitic forgeries.
"Israel, Jews and Judaism are being delegitimized," Cooper says, "by the mainstream Arab world's embracing of three 'big lies' - the Blood Libel of the Middle Ages, which claims that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood to bake matza; The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a late 19th century hate text which alleges that there is a Jewish plot to control the world, and which is widely distributed in the Arab world; and now the denial that the Nazis systematically murdered six million European Jews during the Second World War."
To delegitimize the Jewish people, says Cooper - who is personally attacked on Arab chat lists as "Rabbi Cobra" - you have to deconstruct their history, beginning with the Exodus, "all the way down through the annals of history. And one of the things you have to deconstruct is the Holocaust. So if people were not gassed at Auschwitz, and the whole thing was just part of the Protocols approach - 'they can't be trusted,' 'they have no legitimacy,' 'they're not even the real Jews' - that sets the stage for decoupling the Jewish people completely from the Holy Land."
"I don't see Holocaust denial as an item in and of itself, separated from the total attack that the Palestinians are doing," says Itamar Marcus, director of Palestinian Media Watch, an independent, non-profit organization that monitors and translates the Palestinian media and issues free reports. "The Palestinians are trying to deny our roots, our legitimacy, every single bit of our heritage. When they talk about the distant past, they talk about us never having been here in Israel; when they talk about the recent past, they talk about us being a colony."
Marcus says part of the campaign is to transfer sympathy and victimhood from the Jews to the Palestinians, because they see themselves as the only victims.
"They want to take away anything that anybody can have empathy with, or give legitimacy to, the Jews, and that is how Holocaust denial should be seen. It's not something that they historically are going to check out, or will defend with historical facts."
An example, he says, is the story being circulated last month that Israel was dropping poison candy on Palestinian children.
"It's all part of the same thing - anything negative they can paste onto the Jews they will do; anything that will bring sympathy or empathy for the Jews, they must erase."
Part of the attack on the veracity of the Holocaust, says Marcus, is that it is often accompanied "in the same breath with the argument that Jews control the world media. Very very often. That's the message: 'Here, this is proof that they're controlling the media. The Holocaust never happened, and yet the media keeps saying that it did.'"
Ibish agrees that it is all being lumped together, which he explains as the natural outgrowth of the political situation, an excess of rhetoric on both sides.
"What we have to realize is that it is a deplorable, but inevitable symptom of the real disease, being objective political conflict over land, over power, over authority, over really existing things," Ibish says. "When we understand that, we can put the rhetoric in context. And we can see what is required to stop people from indulging in it. If we can resolve the conflict, we won't hear it.
"We have this hardening of hearts on both sides, and its not surprising that you find space for ethnic hatred. And I think the key to understanding this is to accept what I consider to be the obvious fact that it is the conflict which is producing these intolerable statements on both sides. It is not, as some people would like to argue, the sentiment that is driving the conflict. That is to get it all backwards, to put the cart before the horse."
ABRAHAM FOXMAN, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, sees it not as a matter of cart and horse, but the overall picture - of which Holocaust denial is a relatively small part - that is the concern, and how it impacts on the Middle East today and in the future.
"The historical facts of the past, you either accept or you don't accept," says Foxman. "Fine. It's our history, it's our pain. They don't have to accept our history and our pain in terms of living with peace. [Holocaust denial] is just one element of the incitement to hate, but it's not a major element of the hate. It's just another reason why you should hate Jews, 'because they lie, and they make up facts of their histories, and so on.'"
Holocaust denial, he says, has a political purpose for the Arabs, "but in the sense of anti-Semitism, it only goes to reinforce the anti-Semitic canard, 'the Jews lie. And look how huge their lie is, that they can invent a story that six million of them were killed.' But that's a historical issue of the past. The venom is that Jews don't deserve to live, don't deserve to have life, are not like everybody else, that they are the infidels of all infidels."
Foxman reiterated his call first made in February that Israel, the organized Diaspora Jewish community and the West hold the Arab world answerable to the higher standard of intolerance applied to Western countries.
"We have to begin taking it more seriously, we have to say there are consequences. If we demand of Russia to act in a certain way, and France, and Germany, and Austria, we should demand of them to deal with it seriously."
For Lipstadt serious protests against Holocaust denial must first come from the US. "What we should be hearing from our State Department, as much as it's going to be involved, is: 'you want confidence builders? OK, we're not going to talk about withdrawal, we're not talking about putting down arms. But this? This is certainly not a 'confidence builder': this is a confidence shatterer.'"
Her fear for the future are Arab students walking around saying they know that there was no Holocaust, because they learned it in their textbooks. "A colleague of mine said, 'The bombs last a minute, and they can do terrible damage. But this stuff is an incendiary device that lasts generations.'"
See Also: The Arab/Muslim Nazi Connection
©2001 - Jerusalem Post