Setting the Record Straight: The Arabs, Zionism, and the Holocaust

by Gilbert Achcar
Metropolitan Books, 2010

Book CoverIt is not at all clear why there should be a book about the Arabs and the Holocaust. After all, the program to exterminate Europe’s Jews occurred in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. Arabs were neither participants nor victims. Racial anti-Semitism, moreover, was a product of European history, not of Arab or Islamic history. There is, on the face of it, no more need for a book on the Arabs and the Holocaust than for a book on the Africans or the Australians and the Holocaust.

But Israel was created in the Arab world, and Israelis and Arabs have long been fighting a bitter war about both the nature of Israel and that of Arab opposition to Zionism. In this war, the shadow of the Holocaust looms large. Although Zionist colonization of Palestine predated the Holocaust by decades, Western powers legitimated their support for the creation of Israel in the wake of Nazi mass murder. These powers also rationalized their embrace of a Jewish state as atonement for a long history of Western anti-Semitism culminating in the Holocaust. Although the indigenous Arab inhabitants of Palestine were uprooted and dispossessed to make way for a Jewish state, in the United States today, partisans of Israel routinely equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Critics of Israeli policies have often been denounced as being “anti-Israel” and anti-Semitic, as if support for denied Palestinian human and national rights in the face of Israeli occupation necessarily means antipathy to Jews tout court.

Such has been the prevalence of this association of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism that in his Semites and Anti-Semites (1986), Bernard Lewis suggested that “classical” anti-Semitism had become an “essential part of Arab intellectual life at the present time—almost as much as happened in Nazi Germany,” and “considerably more” than fin-de-siècle France. The Israeli historian Benny Morris goes further. He pathologizes Arab opposition to Israel, which he sees as an indication of Islam’s age-old hatred of Jews. In his 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (2008), Morris misattributed an anti-Jewish statement to the Qur’an and then directly transposed it to explain modern Ottoman and Arab opposition to Zionism. In an interview in 2004 in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Morris also declared that “[Palestinian] society is in the state of being a serial killer. It is a very sick society. It should be treated the way we treat individuals who are serial killers.” A slew of other books have sought to tie Arabs to Nazism at one level or another and have thus reinforced the notion that Arab opposition to Israel is not primarily opposition to injustice and colonialism. Rather, it is seen as a reflection of a pervasive Jew-hatred among Arabs that is akin, if not directly related, to European anti-Semitism.

Hajj Amin’s Oversized Shadow

The case of the Palestinian Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem during the British Mandate in Palestine, is habitually cited as hard evidence of this alleged Arab pathology. In the mufti’s case, the line between opposition to the Zionist claim to Palestine and a generalized antipathy for Jews was indeed blurred beyond recognition. The mufti, who had initially been elevated by the British before fleeing from them following the failed Palestinian anticolonial revolt of 1936, met with Adolf Hitler in November 1941. The mufti presented himself to Germany as a viable anti-British Muslim Arab leader who could destabilize British control of the Middle East. He hoped that any anti-British alliance would also dismantle the Zionist project in Palestine that had flourished under British protection. ...

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Ussama Makdisi is a professor of history at Rice University and is the author of Faith Misplaced: The Broken Promise of U.S.-Arab Relations, 1820-2001 (Public Affairs, 2010).

Source Citation

Makdisi, Ussama. 2012. "Setting the Record Straight: The Arabs, Zionism, and the Holocaust." Tikkun. 27(2): 56.

tags: Analysis of Israel/Palestine, Books, Reviews   
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