Saturday, June 6, 2009

Obama at Buchenwald: The problem isn't admitting past mass murders of Jews but preventing new ones

By Barry Rubin

During President Barack Obama's visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp, the following exchange took place:

NBC New's TOM Brokaw: "What can the Israelis learn from your visit to Buchenwald? And what should they be thinking about their treatment of Palestinians?"

Obama: "Well, look, there's no equivalency here."

The president almost sounds rattled, as if it is dawning on him just how much harm he has done, what demons he has unintentionally unleashed, by things he has said and left unsaid.

Some see Brokaw's question as an attempt to suggest there is some equivalency here. A lot of academic and media nonsense has already promoted this idea. Indeed, Obama's speech in Cairo--though he didn't intend this (but then he doesn't intend a lot of problems he's creating due to his lack of knowledge about the region, its history, and international affairs in general)--contributed to such views by its ham-handed structuring and content.

Indeed, there are those who have looked at the Buchenwald model for guidance. The founder of the Palestinian national movement, Amin al-Husseini, spent World War Two in Berlin as an ally of Hitler. He also asked for his staff to visit working concentration camps. The purpose of the visit was to learn how to create similar facilities for Jews in the British mandate of Palestine once Germany captured it and turned it over to him.

But I'm glad to answer Brokaw's question.

From Buchenwald, Israelis learned that others will usually not stand up for them. Jews--many of them today's Israelis--watched as Britain, France, and other countries wouldn't stop Hitler and indeed were ready to "engage" with him. Just as European countries and many in America are willing to do today with Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah despite their openly genocidal programs.

Israelis learned that your neighbors may well turn on you out of greed or antisemitism or for their self-preservation or to avoid conflict. At worst, they will turn you in to the Nazis; at best they ll feel bad.

When Jews in the 1930s called for a boycott of Nazi Germany there was no support from other groups. Many said this behavior was alarmist, unnecessary, and that Jews were trying to drag America or other countries into war for their own reasons. Others didn't want to lose the money they made in these transactions. Just like today.

In the British archives I read documents in which British officials expressed their hopes that  boats on which Jews were trying to escape from Nazi-occupied countries were turned back to their places of origin. In 1945 and after, British policy proposed forcing Jewish survivors back to Germany and Poland.

Lesson: Don't put your trust in foreign princes but in your own strength and strategy.

Israelis also learned that while others discount the threat to you--Hitler doesn't really mean what he's saying--you better ignore all the experts and politicians and academics and journalists who argue that there is no real danger, that the Germans were just people who wanted a good life and nice things for their children. Just like today.

They learned to understand the irrational and ideological in politics, the kind of thing that most European and American leaders don't comprehend nowadays. Committing the Holocaust helped German lose the war, but the regime there was more interested in wiping out Jews than in the welfare of its own people and even its own pragmatic interests. Just like most Middle East regimes today.

Lesson: If Iran's president says he's going to wipe you off the map, and so do Syria, Hamas, Hizballah and many others, take them at their word.

In addition, Israelis learned that whatever Jews do will be criticized, mistakes exaggerated, concessions  unappreciated. And so the Jews who saw what happened or experienced it themselves knew they had to have their own country, which defended itself, and could define its people's own interests.

There's something nowadays we call double standards. If America accidentally kills Afghan civilians, it is forgiven. If Sri Lanka kills thousands of civilians it is two paragraphs in a back page. If Hamas and Fatah deliberately kill Israeli civilians as their main strategy this proves to some they must be engaged and their grievances resolved. If Iran's regime calls for mass murder, it is not a big enough deal to make that state a pariah.

But it Israel accidentally kills civilians being used as human shields by Hamas or Hizballah, in wars set off by attacks on itself, many seem to believe it has lost any right to exist. Incidentally, as of now, not a single incident has been documented for the Gaza war earlier this year showing that anything Israel did was anything other than within the bounds of law and proper behavior.

 Yet, despite all this, according to the U.S. State Department report on antisemitism for 2007, “Comparing contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis is increasingly commonplace."

So let’s talk about the Nazis. There should have already been more than enough discussion about this in the more than half-century since Adolf Hitler’s bunker fell in 1945. There have been hundreds and thousands of books, articles, speeches, and so on about what is commonly known as the Holocaust.

But apparently it hasn’t been enough, or well enough understood.

The Nazis were not just mean people. They had an explicit doctrine of being superior human beings and of the Jews and others (especially Slavs and non-white peoples, except for their ally, Japan,) of being sub-humans who should be wiped out. Homosexuals and Gypsies would all be killed. Let's underline that point: every single Jew who the Germans could reach would be murdered until no Jews survived.

That's why places like Buchenwald were created.

None of this resembles Zionism, which has no interest in physically harming any Arab, Muslim, or Palestinian except in the context of self-defense against an armed military threat.

But it does resemble radical Islamism and radical Arab nationalism which seeks to wipe out Israel, the Jews, and, in the case of many or most Islamists, Christians, too.

The second main point in Nazi ideology is that their ideology and regime should rule the world.

This does not resemble Zionism either. To put it bluntly, Zionism as an ideology has absolutely no interest in the world as a whole. It focuses only on building a Jewish state in the land of Israel.

But clearly radical Arab nationalism and radical Islam aspire to rule the Middle East. In their more ambitious moments, Islamists do say they intend to rule the world.

The third main point in Nazi ideology is that it held that Germans and other Aryans were superior to other peoples or races

Despite much slander going back to the Middle Ages, neither Judaism or Zionism hold this belief. In fact, these doctrines are uninterested in defining anyone else at all. They are self-centered ideas, not concepts of superiority.

Zionism has never argued that Jews are better but only that Jews are a people with the same rights as other peoples. The concept is on asserting Jewish equality, not superiority. Indeed, if anything, it has stressed that Jews should be more like other peoples.

But a huge literature in Islamism and Arab nationalism exists claiming superiority and the need to fight other groups or religions, which are seen as intrinsically hostile. Many Islamists argue that these others, non-Muslims, are intended by the deity to be subordinate.

There is, therefore, an ideology which does have a lot in common with Nazism. It the enemy of the state of Israel: radical Islamism. That ideology claims that other religions are inferior, that the people who hold them are evil, that Jews and Christians are evil, and that Islam should rule the world. The Hamas Charter quotes a source on this point: “You are the best community that has been raised up for mankind….Ignominy shall be their portion” for non-Muslims unless they convert to Islam.

At a minimum, if radical Islamist ideology doesn't seek the extinction of all Jews in the world, it certainly favors the elimination of the vast majority--the half in Israel and the large part of the other half that supports it. The Hamas Charter says that only by killing all the Jews can the messianic era come and that Jews are the cause of all the world’s problems. Oh, yes, and it also calls Israel a “Nazi-like society.”

Mind you, these are the people controlling the Gaza Strip, firing rockets daily at Israel, teaching their children by television and in the classroom that killing Jews is their highest duty and honor, sending gunmen to murder Jewish students deliberately, and then celebrating that fact.

Here is what a ninth-grade Saudi textbook and many other Islamic materials say quoting a well-known alleged saying of one of that religion's founders: The Day of Judgment] will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. A Jew will hide behind a rock or a tree, and the rock or tree will call upon the Muslim: 'O Muslim, O slave of Allah! there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!"

Let’s return, however, to the original and self-described Nazis to get a sense of what it means to have a Nazi policy.

My father’s family comes from the village of Dolhinov which was in Poland, a few miles from the Russian border. Most of the inhabitants were Jews. By 1941, there were more than 5,000 Jews in Dolhinov, about half had lived there for centuries, the other half were refugees from the part of Poland already under German rule. On June 22, 1941, the Germans invaded the USSR and they entered Dolhinov six days later. Nobody in Dolhinov had a gun. No one fired a single shot at a German soldier.

What was the Nazi policy? All the Jews were forced into a ghetto. On March 3, 1942, the Germans murdered the rabbi and 22 other men. On March 28, about half the Jews in town were forced into two warehouses which were set on fire. Anyone trying to escape was machinegunned. Between April 29 and May 1, all the rest of the Jewish inhabitants, except for a few kept temporarily as workers, were shot and thrown into a big ditch. The rest were murdered on May 21. Of 4,000 Jews then living into town, around 93 percent were killed deliberately and systematically. And if the Nazis had their way it would have been 100 percent.

The only survivors were about 300 people who  fled into the forest and were saved in large part because a small number of Soviet partisan commanders protected them. Virtually every survivor--often the sole survivor in their entire families--came to Israel, where they rebuilt their lives.

Today, these people and their descendants have the dubious privilege of being compared to the Nazis by large parts of the world, including many who enjoy privileged lives in democratic countries.

This is my great aunt’s family on my grandfather’s side. Haya Doba Rubin, her husband Aharon Perlmutter, and their two sons, Haim who was 12 years old and Jacob who was 10 years old were murdered. No survivors.

This is my great uncle’s family on my grandmother’s side. Samuel Grosbein married Rivka Markman and they had two children, Leah Rivka, 18 years old, and Lev, 23 years old. All of them were murdered on the same day. No survivors.

Here is the family of my great aunt on my grandmother’s side. Rahel Grosbein married Yirimayahu Dimenshtein and they had two children, Moshe, 21 years old and Tova, 16 years old. The first three were murdered on the same day. Only Tova survived because she had fled into the forest.

That is what a Nazi policy is like. Multiply that by six million for the Jews alone and more for Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others.

Let’s compare this with a conventional Western democratic war-fighting policy. The goal here is to defeat the enemy army but it has been permissible to strike against the economy and infrastructure as well. There is no intent to kill civilians but they may be hit by accident. During World War Two, U.S. and British warplanes engaged in carpet bombing of German and Japanese cities as well as factories where civilian workers were employed. Tens of thousands of French civilians were killed in raids on targets in that country, in one diversionary raid alone in September 1943, there were 500 such casualties in one small village, Le Portel.
To my knowledge, no Allied soldiers were punished for killing civilians by accident or through carelessness. Nobody was court-martialed for shooting prisoners.

Israeli policy is far more careful to avoid injuring civilians. Most airstrikes are against specific buildings or even individual automobiles. Civilian bystanders have been killed yet far fewer proportionately than has been true for, say, the U.S. or French armies. Soldiers have been tried and punished for actions which would  be ignored in Western armies.

There is no instance I know of in which Israeli units opened unlimited fire on a crowd, even when rocks were  thrown or shots fired against them. Individual targets were picked out. Demonstrators were killed in ones or twos, sometimes because they were armed, sometimes accidentally. If Israelis were as their enemies picture them to be, there would be hundreds of Palestinians killed in a single day, tens of thousands each year, hundreds of thousands by mass murder techniques. None of this has ever happened.

Thus, even if Israel is held to a double standard, its record has been better than that of even Western counterparts. Only by lying about that record—the norm in the Arabic-speaking world and all-to-common in the Western one—can it be made to seem terrible.

What few people in the West know is that the Arabic-language media daily claims Israel has committed massacres and atrocities that never happened. By constant repetition passionate hatred is built up based on lies. In the West misreporting is often dangerously slanderous, often because it repeats things that are simply false.
We need only remember what the Nazis believed and did, what Israelis believe and do, and what their enemies believe and do. It should not be so hard to understand the distinctions.

So in summary, Mr. Brokaw, the single most important lesson we learned from Buchenwald is this: Never again.

We know that the Western world is very fond of dead Jews, at least once they are dead. It is no great act of heroism to insist that a mass murder of Jews happened more than 60 years ago. What we need today is people who will expose those who want to repeat the process, to help Israel defend itself against such people.

But, Mr. Brokaw, let me ask a question: What can you learn from President Obama's visit to Buchenwald? Let me limit myself to two points

First, if you and others advise us to behave in a way and to follow policies that would lead to a similar outcome at the hands of the closest thing to the Nazis that exist in our contemporary era, we will ignore that advice.

Second, ask yourself why you and others slander us and portray us as villains rather than victims at the same time that you whitewash terrorist and would-be committers of genocide.   

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal His latest books are The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan) and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.