In the past few days a tempest in a teacup has been brewing regarding charges of pro-Nazi sympathy, raised by Avigdor Lieberman’s foreign ministry and amplified by the ministry’s megaphone NGO Monitor, against Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch’s senior military analyst. The rap against Garlasco is that he is an avid collector of “Nazi” memorabilia.
That’s the claim. Here’s the truth: Marc Garlasco’s grandfather served in a Wehrmacht anti-aircraft unit (another relative served in a U.S. B-17 crew), hence he has an interest in the insignias or badges worn by members of these units. As such, he’s written two books aimed at collectors regarding this subject and he participates in online forums devoted to World War II memorabilia. In one posting, he’s pictured wearing a sweatshirt displaying an Iron Cross. Gerald Steinberg and his ilk are trumpeting the fact that the Iron Cross is a Nazi symbol. Not only isn’t it, it is today part of the official logo of the German army, the Bundeswehr, as you can see from this graphic on its website.
Garlasco collects other World War II memorabilia including objects representing U.S. forces. He has never uttered a word supportive of Nazism. In fact, the opposite. The introduction to one of his books notes that the Nazi movement was evil and brought nothing but horror upon the world. But all that will be forgotten as the pro-Israel far-right smear industry goes to work doing a “Freeman” on Human Rights Watch’s senior munitions expert.
Why do they hate him so? HRW recently published a scathing report criticizing Israel’s attack on Gaza and its human rights record in general (it also criticized Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians in a separate report which you’ll hear nothing about from Steinberg). Garlasco was a key participant in this effort. As such it is imperative that the Israeli government impeach the reporting in any way possible. One of the cheapest and easiest is to raise charges of sleazy associations by someone like Garlasco. Make him look like a weirdo, pervert, neo-Nazi. That cuts the report down to a manageable size out of which the Israelis can then make short work.
The truth of the matter is that the Israeli-Palestinian issue can be a confusing mess. You can’t reduce it to a sound byte. Human rights work on this issue is also incredibly complex. Rather than addressing complicated issues or refuting claims which are rock-solid, Israel chooses to slime the messenger. Then it doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting in addressing the substance of HRW’s claims. This is a tried and true tactic of bigots and demagogues (including politicians like Lieberman himself). This is the reason Marc Garlasco is being slimed.
They even have someone who is otherwise one of the most lucid of Middle East analysts, Helena Cobban, dazed in the headlights. Helena read the NGO Monitor report on Garlasco and came away thinking he was a near neo-Nazi pervert. I have nothing but admiration for Helena. But on this I think she got it wrong and several of the commenters in her post thread on this subject correctly took her credulousness to task. Clearly, as a Quaker, war and militarism disgust her. And I respect that view. This country and world would be much the poorer for not having the good sense of Quakerism in it. But to penalize Marc Garlasco because he doesn’t share her pacifism or detestation of things military seems unfair.
Do I think that the Marc Garlasco affair will harm or damage HRW in its future work regarding the I-P conflict? No. Does Helena? Yes. She sits on the HRW board. I don’t. I’m afraid that if Helena and Gerald Steinberg have their way, HRW will part ways with Garlasco. This will satisfy no one except perhaps Helena. It certainly won’t satisfy Israel or the lobby. Nor will it have much impact on the public at large for whom this will be an internal matter.
And let’s keep our eye on the ball. The true slime is the Israeli Occupation and the mayhem inflicted by the IDF against Palestinains who resist (and also violence against innocent Israeli civilians). Making Marc Garlasco the issue is helping the pro-Israel right do its work for it.
Let me be clear. I don’t know Marc Garlasco or the reasons for his hobbies. They’re certainly not hobbies I would choose. Some of the statements he made online which Helena quotes make me wince. But he comes out of a military background (and calls himself a “military geek”) and served in the Pentagon for eight years. Do we wish to criminalize or even ostracize people for their personal hobbies? Is that what it’s come to? Let’s not be hoodwinked by this vicious smear. Let’s consider the source.
The victim of this smear has written an explanation of his behavior that should be read by anyone who wishes to be fair (Steinberg & Lieberman: don’t bother, there isn’t any further ammunition with which to impeach him).
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.