Monday, 23 June 2008

Unbelievable

It was Start the Week this morning and the writer Eva Figes was plugging her book Journey to Nowhere, about her family's German Jewish employee who survived Nazi Berlin but later had some bad experiences in a kibbutz.

Then she came out with this:

The main reason I've told this story now is that I'm so utterly appalled by Israeli behaviour. They're just like the Nazis. They don't have gas chambers, but that's largely because they would be found out...

At this point an audibly disconcerted Andrew Marr tamely interjected that that this was "an extreme view" which "some people will find offensive". "I can't help that," retorted Figes, and carried on with her rant, claiming that "the Zionists lied to the rest of the world about their intentions. They always intended to get the whole of Palestine...".

A little later Kenan Malik, who had earlier made some interesting points about the meaning of race (especially how the multiculturalism industry has turned "culture" into as static and essentialist a concept as "race" used to be) mentioned that he found Figes' comments on the air and in her book "extremely one sided... at one point you say that 9/11 was the Muslim world finally striking back. It was nothing of the kind. It was a nihilistic terrorist attack..."

At which point the unabashed Mrs Figes merely warmed to her theme:

It's not about what happened in 1948. It's about what's happening now. It's about murder on the Gaza Strip.. Ordinary people see that on their televisions every day. It's not like under Hitler when it was kept secret.

Twice then, in the space of less than 10 minutes, this distinguished novelist not only equated Israel with Nazi Germany, but claimed that the Israelis would like to shove thousands of Palestinian men, women and children into gas ovens, and that only fear of international reaction was stopping them. Apart from Marr's mild rebuke and Malik's brief balancing act, these shocking and outrageous comments were left to stand. Noticeably silent was one of Marr's other guests, the historian Ian Kershaw, who specialises in the Nazi period and must have been fully aware of the odiousness of Figes' comparison.

It need hardly be said that Figes' comments were inaccurate as well as disgraceful. I do not intend to mount a full defence of Israeli policy in the occupied territory, which is open to criticism on various grounds. But it derives, essentially, from the country's history and continuous experience, that of a small nation surrounded by enemies - some of them terrorist groups, but others which are members of the United Nations - whose stated aim is to see the Israel destroyed. "Wiped off the map" as Iran's nuke-hungry President Ahmadinejad put it. It was Ahmadinejad, of course, who sponsored a "conference" of Holocaust deniers in Teheran last year. The repressive actions of the Israeli state are a reaction - if sometimes a "disproportionate" reactions - to provocation: to suicide bombings on the streets of Jerusalem, to rocket attacks on civilian populations, ultimately perhaps to the knowledge that the Palestinian leaders with whom they have to negotiate have openly called for the whole Israeli people to be driven into the sea. It might be wondered what threat the Jews of Vienna, Munich, France and Poland posed to the ordinary citizens of Hitler's Reich.

There are many Israeli Arabs, with full civil rights, who have not as yet been rounded up, deported to labour camps and scheduled for mechanical death. Israel has not embarked on unprovoked wars of conquest, aimed at extending its sway over the whole region - although the proximity of vast oilfields would surely have enticed Hitler. There is no Israeli equivalent of the SS, no lebensborn programme designed to breed a new master-race, no sinister medical experiments. I suspect that it is more than just the fear of public exposure that has prevented such developments.

Glib talk of democratic and still essentially liberal Israel (how many Arab countries host gay pride marches?) being somehow equivalent to Germany under Adolf Hitler has become surprisingly common in recent years. Jewish critics of Israel in particular (and Figes herself has a Jewish family background) seem to delight in enunciating this smear. Perhaps they feel that, unlike others, they can get away with it. Perhaps they enjoy the apparent paradox: the persecuted turned oppressor. One such, Professor Richard Falk, made the comparison after being appointed special investigator by the misleadingly-named UN Human Rights Council - the same body that wants to make criticism of Islam an international crime comparable to genocide or war crime. He has also been linked with conspiracy theorists who suggest 9/11 was a US-Israeli plot. But even was careful to temper his remarks; and he didn't go nearly as far as Eva Figes did this morning. I don't think even Noam Chomsky has said anything quite so obscene.

For some, no doubt, the Israel-Nazi comparison is a result of indignation mixed with a limited historical vocabulary. The currency of diplomatic name-calling has long been debased. Arguably, it was Churchill who started it with his remarks during the 1945 election campaign warning the public of a kind of "British gestapo" if Labour got in. Eden identified Nasser as a new Hitler; Bush and Blair said much the same about Saddam Hussein. "Like the Third Reich" has become a lazy cliché meaning little more than "generally unpleasant". But it is a comparison sometimes made with far more sinister intent. For Nazism has come, for good reasons, to be synonymous with evil, something whose elimination is worth almost any price in blood and gold. If Israel is like the Third Reich, it becomes a moral imperative to eliminate it. Hardly surprising, then, that such language comes so naturally to Islamic extremists, who talk unabashedly of Jews as apes and pigs. But if anyone can be compared with the Nazis, then it is not the Israelis, but rather the corrupt leaders of surrounding countries. They wrap themselves in jingoistic criticism of Israel, stirring up latent antisemitism to deflect criticism of their own repressive regimes, blaming "the Jews" - just as Hitler did - for their own failures.

Comparing the Israelis' treatment of the Palestinians with the Holocaust doesn't merely understate and misunderstand the scale and nature of the Nazi crimes and feed antisemitic prejudice - thus, by implication, justifying Hitler's actions. It also does the Palestinians no favours. Their tragedy has many contributing factors. Israeli policy is one, but equally significant has been the cynical attitude of Arab leaders, whose interests have been served by having a bleeding sore on their doorstep which acts as a focus of bogus unity. If they really cared about the Palestinians, the oil-rich Gulf Arabs could have solved the problem years ago by recognising Israel and offering the Palestinians resettlement and financial aid. It is their hatred of Israel, rather than their sympathy for the Palestinian people, which has driven this 60 year conflict.

The Israel-Nazi analogy has, moreover, become a standard trope of antisemitic discourse in recent decades. An EU report in 2006 singled out "comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis" as one of the modern manifestations of antisemitism. Similarly, a State Department report of 2005 concluded that "the demonizaton or vilification of Israeli leaders, sometimes through comparisons with Nazi leaders, and through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them, indicates an anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of policy concerning a controversial issue."

Certainly, the Nazi-Israel analogy has become oddly fashionable on the left, as well as the common currency of media-savvy Islamists. Writing in Comment is Free last year, Anas Altikriti (one of the prime-movers in the "Muslims4Ken" campaign that attempted to smear Boris Johnson as an Islamophobe) claimed that "The tragedy is that those who kill, torture, maim and humiliate the Palestinians today are the very same who weep over the crimes committed by the Nazis against their parents, often resorting to the same means and methods which the Nazis employed." Another example is London based Jihad Al-Khazen, the former editor of the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, branded Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "a young Fuhrer" who is "perpetrating definite Nazi practices against the Palestinians and the Lebanese." Bizarrely, he went on to suggest that the Israeli leaders were the descendents of Nazi war criminals. "I cannot find any other logical reason for Israel's Nazi-like practices," he said. Mad as well as dangerous.

Figes family background is Jewish, which she may feel makes her immune from criticism on grounds of antisemitic prejudice. Possibly her novelist's instinct for a striking image has got the better of her. She's an old lady, full of anger at what she has seen and heard (if mainly on the news). But the BBC has no such excuses. Faced with Figes' diatribe, Andrew Marr hummed and hawwed; neither he nor his guests directly challenged her monstrous accusation that the Israelis would murder the Palestinians en masse if only they thought they could get away with it. And so the propaganda war continues, and a lie becomes slightly more acceptable.

6 comments:

valdemar said...

Apart from being loopy, Eva Figes seems to be a good example of what Orwell called negative nationalism, or something like it. Some attach all the world's virtues to one nation - today the US is most often cited as the great hope for humanity. Others pick a nation to demonise and claim, often on the flimsiest evidence, that it embodies everything vile. Israel and America are the evil twins in this regard, I suppose, as they can't really be separated in strategic terms.

The irony is that if you or I were to talk about, say, Russia or China in the same way that it's almost conventional to talk about America and/or Israel, we would be classed as cranks and bigots.

This is a sort of racism, I suppose. The Russians and Chinese (and Iranians and so on) are not 'like us', so we mustn't apply our Western standards to their obviously cynical and brutal behaviour. 'Of course their governments can't act morally - it's not in their culture.' Translation - they're not white people. Or, in the case of the Russians, not proper white people.

So in unleashing the full weight of their righteous loathing against America or Israel people are asserting that they are 'like us' and could, by implication, change their wicked ways. Free will for the flawed democracies, historical determinism for the corrupt tyrannies.

But Eva Figes is still a mad old bat. What's the betting that she starts downplaying the Holocaust so she can more easily 'equate' Zionism and Nazism?

The Heresiarch said...

Spot on. Except it's not only America and Israel that are the PC "axis of evil". It's America, Israel and Britain. Mind you, for a few years after the Berlin Wall came down - right up until Putin was found out - it was widely assumed that Russia was on the road to liberal democracy. It's only now that the old view that the Russians love and probably deserve despotic government has reasserted itself. As for China, the disconcerting thing for the West is that their unpleasant form of government seems to have been so successful.

valdemar said...

I'd agree about China,with the important proviso that it's successful for now. The demographic shift that their one child policy is creating has unknowable (to me, at least) implications. No such problem for India.

Culturally, I suppose people do like 'strong' leadership, especially in countries with no democratic traditions. It's easy to forget that democracy and personal freedom are traditional concepts, when so many seem keen to talk about them as if they were laws of physics.

It's precisely because these are frail human ideas that we should defend and promote them all the more strongly, rather than just sitting back and waiting for that chap standing in front of the PLA tank to develop freedom-based superpowers and kick it off the highway.

All of which is a bit off the point. Sorry. It's just when you work for the council you don't get much chance to be enthusiastic about such things.

WeepingCross said...

It's often seemed to me that whatever discussion you happen to be involved in, invoking the Nazis is an effective way to close it down. There's nowhere to go after someone plays the Third Reich card. It's a replacement for actually thinking about any particular thing.

Edwin said...

Oh all this goes back a long way. I was a member of the British Anti-Zionist Organisation in the late 70s, a once very influential organisation founded by a friend of mine. I left when BAZO refused to condemn a clearly anti-semitic South African who had been invited by BAZO to speak at Glasgow Uni. The guy was a madman and the Figesian rhetoric about Nazi/Israeli equivalence was his starting position.
There is no logical counter to this 'question' I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

#Wiped off the map" as Iran's nuke-hungry President Ahmadinejad put it.#

You also buy into this myth of what Ahmajined has said.

I consider him to be a buffon but even a buffon has the right not to be misquoted for propaganda purposes!

Further whilst I agree with your points about comparing Israelis to Nazis as wrong, what do you say to those supporters of Israel who compare the Palestinians to Nazis?

Further the Palestinians should be resettled?

Why?

Are you argiung Might is Right?


The Palestinians have been living on their land for centuries, why should they be punished for losing their homes and their lands colonised by illegal settlements.