In the past 24 hours, John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas made two extraordinary sets of remarks about Israel and the Holocaust. Yesterday, the PA press agency, Wafa released this statement that Abbas had conveyed to U.S. Orthodox Rabbi Marc Schneier a week ago. It was released to mark Yom HaShoah:
…What happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era. He expressed his sympathy with the families of the victims and many other innocent people who were killed by the Nazis.
President Abbas stressed that the Holocaust is a reflection of the concept of ethnic discrimination and racism which the Palestinians strongly reject and act against.
‘The world must do its utmost to fight racism and injustice in order to bring justice and equality to oppressed people wherever they are.
Understandably, given the hostility raging between Israel and the Arab world, many, including the Palestinians have been loathe to express great sympathy for Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. In fact, a 2009 poll by University of Haifa sociologist Sammy Smooha finds that 40% of Israeli Palestinians express some form of Holocaust denial. It should be noted that any poll of Palestinian opinion in 2009 would be heavily influenced by Arab rage at the devastation Israel perpetrated in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead (2009). Further, the Smooha poll does not track opinion of Palestinians in the Territories. In years prior to 2009, the numbers were substantially lower. I’ve searched in vain for any polling numbers since 2009 and found none.
Lebanese scholar George Achcar has written the definitive book on the role of the Holocaust in the Israel-Arab conflict. He wrote in the Guardian:
There is no dispute that Holocaust denial has been on the rise in Arab countries during the last two decades…
Yet western-style Holocaust denial – that is, the endeavour to produce pseudo-scientific proofs that the Jewish genocide did not happen at all or was only a massacre of far lesser scope than that commonly acknowledged – is actually very marginal in the Arab world. Rather, manifestations of Holocaust denial among Arabs fall for the most part under two categories.
On one hand, there are Arabs who are shocked by the pro-Israel double standard that is displayed in western attitudes towards the Middle East. Knowing that the Holocaust is the source of strong inhibition of western critiques of Israel, many Arabs tend to believe that its reality was amplified by Zionism for this very purpose. On the other hand, there are Arabs who express Holocaust-denying views out of exasperation with the increasing cruelty of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Unable to retaliate in kind, they believe that they can harm Israel symbolically in this way.
In both cases, Holocaust denial is not primarily an expression of antisemitism, as western Holocaust denial certainly is, but an expression of what I call the “anti-Zionism of fools“. Yet it remains a minority phenomenon in the Arab world, fought by enlightened intellectuals and politically educated activists who explain that such attitudes are not only based on ignorance but do a disservice to the Palestinian cause. They point to the way any utterances of Holocaust denial are relayed by pro-Israeli websites, which use them in their propaganda.
That’s why Abbas’ unprecedented acknowledgement of the trauma of the Holocaust for the Jewish people has been received with disdain among the Israeli ultra-nationalist political world. Bibi Netanyahu viewed Abbas’ statement as little more than a PR ploy. Even a supposedly purely academic-research body like Yad Vashem weighed in with an Arabophobic statement. as conveyed by Jodi Rudoren:
Yad Vashem…said…that Mr. Abbas’s statement “might signal a change” from a situation in which “Holocaust denial and revisionism are sadly prevalent in the Arab world, including among Palestinians.” The email said “we expect” the new approach to “be reflected” in Palestinian websites, school curriculums “and discourse…”
In this statement there’s nothing of the nuance of Achcar’s understanding of the political background to this issue. And this from individuals who claim to be scholars but show themselves to be ideologues of the same stripe as Netanyahu. Further, the claim of “prevalent” Holocaust denial among Palestinians rests, as I wrote, on a single poll taken in 2009.
Even Rudoren gets into the act by inadvertently channeling the skepticism of those like Netanyahu:
The timing — on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day and two days before the scheduled expiration of deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace talks — turned out to be terrible.
Why “terrible?” Because Abbas made his declaration during the same week in which he announced a reconcilation with Hamas. Why the two should have anything to do with each other is a mystery to anyone but Rudoren and the Likudniks. But she allows Bibi to explain it here by quoting him:
“Hamas denies the Holocaust even as it attempts to create an additional Holocaust by destroying the State of Israel.”
Hamas’ 30-year old charter may deny the Holocaust, but you won’t hear any such statements by Khaled Meshal or his senior leadership. In the struggle to parse the views of Hamas, Meshal, the chief political leader of the movement trumps a dusty document no one reads of consults (except pro-Israel propagandists). As for creating a new Holocaust, that charge doesn’t even pass the smell test.
Not to mention that despite their putative reconciliation, Abbas doesn’t run Hamas. He speaks for the PA and Fatah. The attempt to demean the Palestinian leader’s significant gesture by smearing him with lies and distortions about Hamas is disturbing.
Instead of acknowledging with the smallest measure of grace Abbas’ statement, the Israeli leadership has spat on it. It’s a shameful performance. Not worthy of anyone who genuinely cares about the Holocaust and wants it to be given its due throughout the world, including in Palestine.
Furthermore, such churlishness also diminishes important efforts by Palestinian educators and activists to bring the Holocaust into Palestinian consciousness. A Palestinian teacher recently brought a delegation to Auschwitz and another Palestinian created a Holocaust museum in Gaza. Though these stories were covered in Haaretz, you won’t hear a whisper about them from the likes of Netanyahu, because they disturb his own perverted narrative, no doubt inherited from his father, which suggests Arabs are anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers to the core.
John Kerry is the other man of the hour. In remarks he made to the Trilaterial Commission (yes, it still exists), Kerry warned Israel that it faced a fate of becoming an apartheid state if it continued to refuse any compromise with the Palestinians:
“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state,” Kerry told the group of senior officials and experts from the U.S., Western Europe, Russia, and Japan. “Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.”
This statement is riddled with questionable assumptions, but the main point is Kerry’s recognition that an Israel that continues down the road of rejectionism is an apartheid state. This, of course, is close to the message of the BDS movement, which makes the Israel Lobby apoplectic. It’s well-paid leaders were suitably outraged by Kerry’s use of the A-word. No doubt, by tomorrow morning the Jerusalem Post will feature a column by Alan Dershowitz accusing Kerry of perpetrating a “blood libel” against the Jews.
But the truth is that use of this term is not unusual in Israeli discourse. Israeli political leaders, newspaper columnists and analysts use it routinely. It is only in the U.S. where the Lobby attempts to enforce a speech code that prohibits use of such terms.
The main difference between my perspective and Kerry’s is that he’s about six months to a year behind the times. In about that amount of time, it will become even clearer than it is now (and it’s pretty clear now) that there is no feasible path to a two-state solution. There is no Israel partner, no Israeli political party, no ruling coalition with any interest in getting to “yes” on this issue. There’s no prospect at this time of any other Israeli party that could take power and advance such a goal.
That leaves no alternative except massive levels of pressure exerted by the international community in the form of BDS and recognition of Palestinian national rights by organizations like the UN. Israel has really left the world with no other choice and has only itself to blame for the outcome.
The irony is that if there had been an Israeli political party or leader who “did a DeGaulle” and led Israel to make the painful choices necessary to achieve a two-state solution, then even the Palestinians and skeptics like me would’ve gone along. It was within Israel’s grasp. But for whatever reason, Israel’s leaders took the easy way out. They refused to confront any painful choices and decided that the status quo was its preferred mode of existence.
The coming year or two will prove the folly of this strategy as BDS gains momentum and strength; as the UN acts on applications for Palestine to join 15 international bodies; as the EU grows increasingly more vocal in its demands of Israel regarding the Occupation.
Foreign Policy in Focus published my piece on the failure of the Kerry peace talks and what comes next.
You were spot on in your analysis from day one. I try to be right all the time in my analysis of political events, my optimism got in the way of reality. Congrats.
All that rests for me is to link your articles …
○ Obama’s Middle-East Policy In A Holding Pattern
Richard. You correctly quote Abbas where he said that, ‘The world must do its utmost to fight racism and injustice in order to bring justice and equality to oppressed people wherever they are.”
Buy you might have included the next sentence of President Abbas, in which he said, The Palestinian people, who suffer from injustice, oppression and denied freedom and peace, are the first to demand to lift the injustice and racism that befell other peoples subjected to such crimes.’
Richard. Mahmoud Abbas payed lip service to the unique crime that was the Holocaust but than used to opportunity to comment on Palestinian suffering, as if the Nakba and the Holocaust were somehow equivalent.
Wasn’t he the guy who did his university dissertation denying that the Holocaust happened?
Abbas did not equate the Nakba and the Shoah. It’s entirely legitimate to notice parallels between injustice and racism against one people and injustice and racism against another, that’s nothing to do with claiming they were equal in scale. In order to conclude that two things are not equal, one must first compare them – but in the case of the Shoah there seems to be a “thought prohibition” – a taboo – in place that postulates it “incomparable” a priori, trying to prevent any learning of lessons not narrowly focused on that specific group of victims. Thus “never again” becomes “never again to the Jews”, and attempts to apply those moral lessons elsewhere get branded as “diminishing the Shoah”.
Richard Silverstein says
No, he wasn’t. But if you read the article to which I linked (which you naturally didn’t) you’d see a discussion of this issue & you wouldn’t have made the gross overgeneralization you did. Personally, I don’t care what he wrote in a dissertation penned decades ago. But whatever he did write he’s renounced publicly. If I was writing a blog 30 years ago I’d probably renounce half the things I wrote in it.
BTW, Bibi Netanyahu in 1988 called for expulsion of Israeli Palestinians from Israel. He hasn’t renounced those racist views. I bet that doesn’t disturb you.
Are you claiming that Abbas’ noting that Jews suffered in the Holocaust and Palestinians suffer under Occupation (while clearly stating that the Jewish suffering was “the most heinous of the modern era”) is illegitimate? If it is, it’s only for you and your hasbara pals. The rest of the world doesn’t have a problem with it.
Bringing up Palestinian suffering in a discussion of the Holocaust is inappropriate. The Holocaust was a singular event, sui generis. It can’t be compared to the Armenian Genocide, the Rwandan slaughter or the Cambodian ‘Killing Fields’.
The Germans suffered during World War 2. Is is appropriate to discuss their suffering in a discussion of the Holocaust.
Settle down Richard. Take a breath.
Bibi never said, “Bibi Netanyahu in 1988 called for expulsion of Israeli Palestinians from Israel.”
He said, ‘.. to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the Territories.’
Not all Arabs, some Arabs. Not Israeli Arabs either, but Arabs from the ‘ occupied territories’.
Jackdaw: “Bringing up Palestinian suffering in a discussion of the Holocaust is inappropriate. The Holocaust was a singular event, sui generis. It can’t be compared to the Armenian Genocide, the Rwandan slaughter or the Cambodian ‘Killing Fields’”
OK, I’ll take the bait. What makes the European Jewish Holocaust a “singular event” that “can’t be compared” to any other in history? Can the Armenian Genocide, the Rwandan slaughter or the Cambodian ‘Killing Fields’ be compared with each other, or was each one also a “singular event”?
Jackdaw: “The Germans suffered during World War 2. Is is appropriate to discuss their suffering in a discussion of the Holocaust.”
That’s a really bad analogy, because it was the German state that perpetrated the Holocaust.
Mahmoud Abbas is the acknowledged leader of the Palestinian people, whose oppression and dispossession is often justified by the European Jewish Holocaust. You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it, they’ve certainly heard it. Hence the tendency of Palestinians from all walks of life to be inclined towards the kind of “Holocaust denial” described here by Gilbert (not George) Achcar. Under these circumstances, if you’re the leader of the Palestinian people and you issue a public statement that “what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era”, you have to acknowledge crimes committed against your own people, or else your people will see you as having completely surrendered to your oppressors.
“OK, I’ll take the bait. What makes the European Jewish Holocaust a “singular event” that “can’t be compared” to any other in history?”
The Nazi State apparatus was directed at the mass extinction of all Jews, because they were Jews. The Einsatzgruppen was dispatched throughout Europe, the Balkans and even North Africa.
The Cambodian Killing Fields were directed at the Cambodian bourgeois and anyone else the Khmer Rouge deemed an enemy. The Rawandan slaughter was directed at the (rebellious)Tutsi minority as well as against Hutu ‘moderates’. The Armenian genocide was actually a ‘forced march’ that resulted in the deaths of many, many thousands. It was an act of revenge against the rebellious Armenians.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Jackdaw: The Nazis attempted to exterminate the Jewish people of Europe. Rwandan Hutus also attempted to exterminate a tribe just like the Jews, in their country. The Khmer Rouge killing fields exterminated Cambodians from all walks of life from peasants to the wealthy. You don’t have a clue about Cambodian history. Why try to bluff your way through this subject?
The Armenian genocide resulted in the deaths of “many, many thousands.” More ignorance. Millions died. Not thousands.
Your ignorance is huge. Your hubris even larger.
So, Jackdaw, all the Tutsi and all the Armenians were “rebellious”? And all the Khmer victims were “bourgeois”? That sounds a lot like the Nazi claim that all Jews were Bolsheviks or fiendish bankers or rootless cosmopolitans out to destroy Western culture, or whatever. Perpetrators of genocide always have an excuse for killing massive numbers of innocent people. You seem to think that some excuses for genocide are better than others. To me it looks like someone arguing that the Tutsi had it coming.
Dave Terry says
“Bringing up Palestinian suffering in a discussion of the Holocaust is inappropriate” ONLY if you live in glass houses or suffer from ‘chosen people syndrome’!
Richard Silverstein says
What you really mean to say is that “bringing up Palestinian suffering” is inappropriate. Which of course is patently ridiculous. Nationalists, whether Jewish or Palestinian have every right to call attention to their cause, whether you approve or not.
The fact is that a Palestinian leader expressed empathy for Jewish suffering, while also calling attention to the suffering of his own people. Perfectly appropriate…except to hasbarists like you.
Nonsense. If anything post-Holocaust history has proven that the human race is prone to genocide and that the extermination of European Jewry is but one genocide among many.
Well, that makes all the difference: he didn’t call for ethnic cleansing of Israeli citizens, ONLY Palestinians from the Territories. And not ALL, but SOME. Thanks for explaining that. I feel better already. He just called for partial ethnic cleansing. Which will merit a partial war crimes charge at the Hague when he carries it out.
Okay lets try this hypothetical.
During a ‘Nakba Day’ speech, Shimon Peres says that, the Nakba was the national tragedy of the Palestinians’.
Then Peres adds, ‘but lets not forget how we Jews also suffered during the Holocaust’.
Appropriate or inappropriate?
Richard Silverstein says
@ Jackdaw: Your hypothetical that never was and never will be. How charming. Let’s get Peres to concede Nakba was a national tragedy for the Palestinians and apologize for it. Then, as far as I’m concerned he can say whatever the hell he wants.
Deïr Yassin says
But Abbas’s speech wasn’t made during Holocaust Remembrance Day but in a conversation with a American Rabbi the week before and was an answer to a question, did you forget that ?
The “never again” meme is used by people as Moshe Feiglin to push their Kahanist views in regards to Arabs and Eretz Israel.
Deïr Yassin says
“Wasn’t he the guy who did his university dissertation denying that the Holocaust happened?”
Another propagandist who hasn’t read anything else about Abbas’ doctoral thesis (existing only in Russian and Arabic) than what the Simon Wiesenthal Center has translated (and manipulated…).
Abbas didn’t deny the Holocaust, he questioned the number of victims but stated “The controversy over the figure cannot minimise in any way the atrocious crimes committed against the Jews”.
But the main theme of his doctoral thesis was the collaboration between certains elements of the Zionist movement and Nazi Germany in the years prior to the Holocaust, a well-documented fact that most Zionists prefer to deny.
And talking about denial: where is the Israeli politicians’ – and average populations’ – recognizition of the Nakba, huh ?
Deïr Yassin says
That was a reaction to Jackdaw’s comment further up the thread.
I have respect for abbas for making that statement but also hope that ot was not just lip service but a genuine change in official policy. Though nonetheless a very positive and well received statement on my behalf being named after my two great uncles who died in the shoa.
I have a feeling that bibi is up to something… my guess is if the pnc elections go the ‘wrong way’ then the nefarious plan b will be put into full effect.
This will more than likely involve annexation of the major settlements and some form of disengagement from the rest of area b. Israel will then unilaterally declare whats left to be Palestine and say that if/when the palestinians are ready to talk his door is open.
Now if done right Israel will have enough pressure reduced so that it can maintain the new status quo for a few decades.
Now this is bad news for both sides but I would not put it past bibi to try.
Deïr Yassin says
What do you mean by a “genuine change in official policy” ? You think the Palestinians should start commemorate the Jewish genocide or let the Israeli government continue the colonization of Palestine in solidarity with the past suffering of the Jews, the only people who ever suffered as everyone knows….
That kind of statements is exactly why a lot of Palestiniens don’t want to hear about the Holocaust: because it’s used by Zionist propaganda not only to explain but to justify the Zionist project in Palestine.
Edward Said made brillaint remarks on the Holocaust denials among certains Arabs in this article:
” Again, let me repeat that I cannot accept the idea that the holocaust excuses Zionism for what it has done to Palestinians: far from it. I say exactly the opposite, that by recognizing the holocaust for the genocidal madness that it was, we can then demand from Israelis and Jews the right to link the holocaust to Zionist injustices towards the Palestinian, link and criticise the link for its hypocrisy and flawed moral logic.”
@ Deir I was actually alluding to both Israel and Palestine on that one. By changing the tone this can go a long way to build faith with the jewish people also it could lead to a change in the Israeli tone to how we interpret our responsibility for the Palestinian Nakba. I am not equating to two as the same but they are similar on how they have changed the national identity for both peoples and mutual recognition of each others pain would go miles IMO.
Also i think its rather lack of respect when Israel uses the holocaust as a reason for its existence. We have enough reasons to exist as a state without have to guilt the world into accepting us.
Personally if it were up to me i would use the holocaust as a reason why co-existence is so important and not as a tool for eternal separation…
Deïr Yassin says
“I am not equating to two as the same but they are similar on how they have changed the national identity for both peoples and mutual recognition of each others pain would go miles IMO.”
No, hopefully you’re not equating the two: Palestinians have no responsability whatsoever in the Jewish genocide, though Hasbara makes a great deal of effort blaming the Palestinians: the Mufti al-Husseini who was worse than Hitler or at least as bad, the Palestinian opposition to Jewish immigration to Palestine (that is their taking over the land…) at least indirectly responsible for the genocide etc
Your ‘recognition of mutual pain’ could be interpreted as a way of trying to make the Palestinians accept their own dispossession. I do not agree with the refusal to discuss/learn about the Holocaust that many Arabs/Palestinians express but I perfectly well understand why. And what do you mean by “coexistence”? A One State-solution from the river to the sea where Jews and Arabs (returning refugees included) live with equal rights ? If that ever become a reality, if justice is implemented, I’m sure Palestinians will commemorate your past tragedies with you.
I have posted this before but it’s really such a perfect example: Ahmed Tibi’s speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Rivlin qualified it as the best speech ever in the Knesset) and Yair Lapid who is only interested in Tibi’s empathy for Jewish suffering, he doesn’t even get what Tibi is saying, not even a sign of recognition of Palestinian sufferings, and that was when he was still a journalist….
PS. I don’t know if it’s only my internet connection or anyone else, but the avatars seemed to have disappeared so I don’t know if “Ben” is the Canadian Ben who used to comment here or soemone new.
yeah i am the Canadian ben.
It would be a great injustice to blame the holocaust on the Palestinians i have yet to meet someone who has but to claim thier hands were clean would go to far IMO. Yes they had no direct hand in the deaths of jews but the revolts in the 1930’s forced a cap by the British on how many Jewish refugees were allowed into the mandate each year. That does not go without saying that many countries at the time did not have racist caps on refugees, i.e. the experience of the St.Louis trying to get permits to Canada and America. Though both Canada and America has officially apologised for this. I wonder if there would ever be a leader of Palestine that would acknowledge that due to the actions in the revolts of the 1930’s this indirectly caused untold amounts of Jews to not be permitted into the Mandate of Palestine and inasmuch perish in the holocaust. Much like I wonder if there would ever be a Israeli leader that would acknowledge that due to the actions of the the Haganah/lehi/irgun during the war of independence that there was systematic ethnic cleansing of war zones of Palestinians.
Is it not racist to say Jewish refugees taking over their land? That reminds me of any nationalist group that does not want immigration… Plus i think the situation pre WWII was much much different then the situation after the 1948 war in regards to dispossession of legally owned land.
I guess your understanding of why arabs/Palestinians who don’t want to learn about the Holocaust could also be for the Jews who want to not learn about the Nakba. Yes Israel had a big hand in it but no the Jewish people of the world did not. Should i as a Jewish Canadian feel guilt for the disposition of the Palestinians? If so should this not be for any disposed/discriminated people? and if so why single one group over the other if not for political reasons?
By co-existence I refer to the idea of confederation as a solution. Personally i don’t think the one state solution is operational but i strongly support the idea of confederation as this would be the maxim for sanctification of both sides as stipulated by Daniel J. Elazar in his 1991 essay on the topic seen here http://www.jcpa.org/dje/articles/fedconfed-sol.htm.
I watched the linked video. As of this moment i have great respect and admirations for Tibi. His point is exactly what i am referring to.
Richard Silverstein says
That’s not historically accurate. There were revolts going back to the early 1920s if I recall correctly. The British restricted Jewish immigration because there were far more Jews who wanted to immigrate than Arabs and the British wanted to maintain a population status quo.
America ‘officially apologized’ for the St. Louis? What are you talking about?
THat is sheer nonsense. Please stop spinning such nonsense.
I so wish that non-historians would stop trying to pretend that they are.
Deïr Yassin says
So you’re the Canadian Ben.
“Should I as a Canadian Jew…”
In your earlier comment you wrote “How we interpret our responsability in the Palestinian Nakba”.
Maybe you should decide what you are…..
You know as well as I do that this is only about the Israeli Jews and not about world Jewry. If Israelis were Chinese Taoists, do you think anyone would be interested in what Abbas says about the Holocaust ?
Richard Silverstein says
How can Israel steal Palestine and you say it could be “done right?” It can’t be. Theft is theft no matter how you package it.
Dieter Heymann says
The Nakba and the Shoah have one fact in common. Both consider the “enemy” to be “Untermenschen”.