Binationalism and the misuse of Holocaust memory

The legacy of Nazi-style antisemitism among the Palestinians is the real obstacle to peace.

Paul Schneider
Paul Schneider is an attorney, writer and member of the Board of Directors of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI), an affiliate of B’nai B’rith International.

Post-Zionist writers often say the only just resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is a binational state from the river to the sea. A “one-state solution” would be possible, some of them argue, if only Holocaust memory didn’t stand in the way. The theory is that Israeli Jews mistakenly view Palestinians as a Nazi-style threat, which prevents the two peoples from living together in a single state.

In his book, The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes, Israeli politician Avraham Burg argues that Jewish Israelis must “free the Arabs from the Nazi role we assigned to them.” Political science professor Ian Lustick calls for rejection of “the Holocaust as a template for Jewish life,” claiming that it “powerfully contributes to vicious cycles of violence and hatred between Israel and the Palestinians.” Peter Beinart says that Israeli Jews could abandon their Zionist aspirations and join a binational state if it weren’t for their collective memory of the Holocaust. Philosophy professor Omri Boehm writes that the binational state he advocates would require an end to Holocaust transference—the tendency “to think of the Palestinians as proto-Nazis.”

These authors argue that it’s perfectly safe for Jewish Israelis to put aside their Holocaust memory as part of the search for peace, and those who think that might not be a good idea suffer from paranoid imaginings. Thus, the authors claim, Jewish Israelis would have nothing to fear living under an Arab majority in a binational state. Indeed, Beinart assures us that “a democratic binational Israel/Palestine would be no more bigoted against Jews than binational Belgium is bigoted against Walloons or binational Canada is bigoted against Quebecers.”

Holocaust memory does, indeed, color relations between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, but not in the way these authors imagine. The fact is, Nazi-style antisemitism has long been and remains prevalent among Palestinian leaders, writers and educators. Jewish Israelis who may be concerned about that are not, as these authors would have it, victims of a delusion or baseless fears.

The Holocaust may be over, but the kind of antisemitism that inspired it continues among Israel’s Arab neighbors.

The link between Palestinian officials and Nazi ideology began with the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, leader of the Palestinian national movement during the Mandate period. An inveterate antisemite, the mufti travelled to Berlin in 1941, where he met with Hitler and formed an alliance with the Nazis. He then became the leading purveyor of Nazi propaganda to the Arab world. This included a radio broadcast in which he urged his listeners to “kill the Jews wherever you find them.”

The mufti asked the Nazis to help eliminate Jews from the Arab world. Hitler offered his support and the plan came close to fruition. As historian Colin Shindler writes, “Had it not been for the victory at El Alamein, SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Walter Rauff would have ordered his Einsatzkommando to liquidate the Jews of Palestine. The Nazis expected local participation in their actions.”

Indeed, the mufti was planning a concentration camp to be located near Nablus.

After the war, the Arabs welcomed Husseini as a hero. Historian Jeffrey Herf notes that Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, called the mufti a “hero who challenged an empire and fought Zionism with the help of Hitler and Germany. Germany and Hitler are gone, but Amin al-Husseini will continue the struggle.”

As Herf shows, Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis has had an ongoing impact on Palestinian politics. Indeed, Nazi-style antisemitism, including the usual Nazi tropes, has continued among Palestinian officials to this day. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, widely used in Nazi propaganda, is still popular with the Palestinian Authority and is often cited in its largest daily, al-Hayat al-Jadida.

Articles in that newspaper repeatedly demonstrate P.A. anti-Semitism. For example, its editor has complained of “Shylock-style banks that empty our pockets.” Another article asserted that the P.A. must “protect its people and itself from an enemy which bares its Jewish fangs from the four corners of the earth.” One of its writers has accused Zionists of using “Russian Jewish girls with AIDS to spread the disease among Palestinian youth.”

Through al-Hayat al-Jadida, the P.A. also engages in Holocaust denial, referring to “the forged claims of the Zionists.” On its official television station, the P.A. has issued a call “to oppose the Zionist media, which dominates more than half of the media in the world.”

That should all sound familiar to anyone acquainted with Nazi ideology.

Contrary to Beinart’s rosy picture, this is what Israeli Jews can expect from the leadership of a binational state with an Arab majority. So, it’s understandable that they might not want to live in such a state. There’s a valid concern here that cannot be wished away by claiming that Jews should just get over the Holocaust.

Nor is the situation likely to improve. Palestinian students—future leaders—are being indoctrinated with the same antisemitic ideology. A 2017 report by UN Watch shows Palestinian teachers “praising Hitler and posting his photo, and posting overtly antisemitic videos, caricatures and statements.” Third-graders are taught that Jews are to be exterminated. Part of this indoctrination takes place in summer camps modeled on the Nazi youth organization the Hitler Jugend.

It’s understandable that Jewish Israelis might find this troubling.

To claim that the pursuit of peace requires Jewish Israelis to set aside Holocaust memory is just one more example of its misuse. The point is not to get over the Holocaust, but to understand it. That understanding should include an acknowledgment of the Nazi legacy of antisemitic hatred among the Palestinians. That legacy, not Holocaust memory, is the real obstacle to peace.

Paul Schneider is an attorney, writer and member of the Board of Directors of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI), an affiliate of B’nai B’rith International.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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