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Who's a Nazi?
Is this a fair criticism of Israel?

By William Baker
May 10, 2002
The Iranian

Several recent contributions to the Iranian have labeled Israel a "Nazi" like state. Setareh Sabety provides a representative example when he says in "Today, I am a Palestinian" that Israel has "turned into Nazi Germany..." This is perhaps not surprising given the high degree of sympathy that many Iranians seem to feel for Palestinians, combined with the apparent assumption in Iran that Israel constitutes a fatal security threat.

The allegation of Nazi like behavior is not unique to Iranians either, but is common throughout the region and appears frequently in American and European demonstrations supporting the Palestinians. It is not unusual at such protests, to see the Israeli flag with a Swastika replacing the Star of David or posters comparing Ariel Sharon to Hitler. When he emerged from his recent captivity, Chairman Arafat himself set this tone when he quickly drew a parallel between Israel and the Nazis.

Frankly, I am not on a one person campaign to defend Israel. I have a considerable number of criticisms of Israeli policies (especially regarding settlements) and I have never overlooked or failed to condemn human rights abuses committed by them.

Yet, even taking into account the high level at which emotions have been running of late, one is still compelled to ask: is this a fair criticism of Israel? In order to be fair, an historical analogy like this one, must have some basis in historical evidence. Does this accusation of Nazi like behavior by the Israelis make any historical sense?

If the comparison is designed to draw attention to Israeli aggression, now or in the past, why limit oneself to analogies with the Nazis? One could just as easily utilize other comparisons from the long and sad history of the 20th century: the Soviet Red Army in eastern Europe and Afghanistan, or the American army in Asia. Instead of signs and rhetoric equating Sharon and Hitler, one could just as easily fashion an equation of Sharon with Hitler's contemporary Joe Stalin or even Richard Nixon.

If the goal is draw a comparison between Israel's de facto attempt to colonize the West Bank and Golan, then why utilize such a poor example as that of Nazi Germany? Germany under any regime, proved to be poor competition at the "Great Game" of colonization compared to Britain or France. Why therefore, no comparisons to the far more substantial British colonization of India or French colonization of north Africa and Vietnam? If the object is to draw attention to Israeli human rights abuses, why reach back into European history for an analogy?

There are after all plenty of examples within the region itself that would serve as embarrassing examples of brutality: the 1982 Assad regime assault on Hama (civilian death toll around 20,000) or the 1987 Iraqi poison gas attack on the Kurdish villages (death toll of several thousand) etc. All could serve as basis for comparison with Israeli abuses. Yet these regimes all escape the identification as Nazis. Perhaps that is because in comparison to Assad's Syria or Hussein's Iraq, Israel looks pretty good.

In the end, there are only two reasons that comparisons between Israel and the Nazis are obsessively made these days and to the exclusion of all others. First, to annoy Jews who after all, along with Gypsies, were the primary civilian victims of the Nazis. This of course is a rather childish motive. The second, is to imply that Israel, like the Nazi regime, is inclined toward a campaign of genocide. Genocide? Is it really possible, even granting a high degree of hyperbole inevitable in any debate, to claim that Israel is engaged in a campaign of genocide against the Palestinian people?

Genocide (and some writers in the Iranian have not avoided that direct accusation against Israel either) is commonly defined as the mass killing of an ethnic group in an attempt to destroy that group. Obvious examples include the Turkish genocidal campaign on the Armenians in World War One accounting for a death toll of around 1.5 million. Hitler and the Nazis latter took this as a model for their campaign of genocide which has been thoroughly documented that it hardly requires repeating here.

Some historians have expanded the definition of genocide to include social groups like Stalin's war on the peasantry in the 1930s USSR (death toll possibly as high as 20 million) or Pol Pot's mass killing of the urban population of Cambodia in the 1970s (death toll around 2-3 million.) Can Israeli actions against the Palestinians--even when war crimes are committed--be compared to this?

We can detect the basic unfairness in the Nazi accusation from another perspective. Would it be fair or accurate for Zionists to accuse Yassir Arafat of being another Pol Pot or the PLO of being just like the Khmer Rouge? Of course, some superficial similarities exist. Although he was elected to his position, Arafat often acts like a dictator and human rights abuses by his government have been extensive.

Indeed, some of the harshest complaints about his human rights record have come from Palestinian sources including documented cases of summary executions of prisoners. The PLO under his leadership also established a record of aggressive behavior against host countries e.g. Jordan and Lebanon. Yet, one could not in good conscious accuse him or the PLO of practicing the kind of genocide that took place in Cambodia.

We have already seen in recent weeks the ill-effect of extreme and inflated rhetoric has on the Palestinian's cause. In the case of the Jenin refuge camp, over run by the Israeli army, the immediate claim many Palestinian, Arab, and/or Islamic representatives was that a massacre had been perpetrated by the Israelis upon the refugees. First the claim was that 3,000 had been killed and then 300 and then a 100 and then a few dozen.

We know now from the respected Human Rights Watch that no massacre at all occurred. True they have determined that serious violations of the Geneva Convention were committed by Israel along with obvious and extensive property damage, but no massacre.

By rushing to publicize outlandish claims that could not be sustained by independent investigations, responsible representatives of the Palestinian people have raised serious concerns about their credibility in the future. Hardly the result they wanted and one that could have been easily avoided with a balanced approach and careful use of language.

It would be easy to dismiss the accusations of Nazism applied to Israel as over wrought emotional reactions among victims of Israeli military action. Yet, words are not just abstractions--they have real consequences. Over heated rhetoric, like suicide bombings, represent a nihilistic turn by the Palestinians that in effect says no compromise or settlement is possible.

For example, if Arafat is correct and the Israelis are Nazis, then why negotiate with them? Hitler and the Nazis did not live up to single agreement that they ever signed. If Israel is a Nazi type state, then one would have to conclude that any effort to negotiate with them would not only be futile but incredibly stupid as well.

Of course one could argue that Israel has not lived up many U.N. resolutions like 242 and 338. True, but that is also the case with every other nation in the region. Only Egypt has fulfilled the terms of these resolutions by recognizing Israel's border and ending the state of war with her and Israel has in turn partly fulfilled her obligations under 242 and 338 by returning the Sinai.

Indeed, the Nazi war machine never gave up one inch of territory voluntarily. Israeli clearly has done so in the case of the peace accords with Egypt, dismantling I might add, her illegal settlements on that territory. Yet, the same can't be said of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, etc. who continue their state of war with Israel and refuse to recognize Israeli borders in violation of 242 and 338. Nor has Syria -- unlike Israel -- withdrawn from Lebanon as directed the U.N. So why single out Israel for Nazidom? When not all the other states that pick and choose what U.N. agreements they will abide by and which ones they won't?

That is the logic of excessive rhetoric. It destroys any basis for reaching a fair settlement and frankly a diplomatic settlement is the Palestinians only hope for achieving statehood. A military struggle against a superior power like Israel, which enjoys the support of the remaining global super power, is doomed to failure. And a political struggle, which the Palestinians can win, precludes the kind of extremist rhetoric we have seen over the recent months.

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William Baker

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