The Palestinian misuse, and Zionist abuse, of the Holocaust

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin alongside German Chancellor Olaf Schultz on August 16. Abbas accused Israel of carrying out '50 Holocausts' against the Palestinian people (Reuters)

Marwan Bishara

Al-Jazeera  /  August 18, 2022

Both sides are guilty of invoking the Holocaust to justify their positions. Mahmoud Abbas is only the latest to do so.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has provoked Israeli outrage by his misuse of a Holocaust analogy during a press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz. In response to a question on whether he would apologize for the 1972 Palestinian attack on Israeli athletes in Munich, he said: “From 1947 until today, Israel has committed 50 massacres in 50 Palestinian villages”, and then added, “50 slaughters; 50 Holocausts”.

It was a terribly foolish improvisation, made at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Though Abbas tried to walk back his utterance later, the damage was already done. Scholtz expressed his disgust at the outrageous claim, and Israeli premier, Yair Lapid, slammed the “monstrous lie”. Other Israeli leaders pounced on the opportunity to discredit Israel’s so-called peace partner.

This wasn’t the first time a Palestinian or Arab leader has drawn parallels with the Holocaust to express outrage at the Israeli genocide, ethnic cleansing, and countless crimes in Palestine. More than a few have accused Israel of Nazi-like policies.

But the mistaken reference to Palestinian suffering as a Holocaust is only meant to underline the helplessness and desperation of Palestinian leaders, and perhaps meant to get back at Israel for its aggression. It could be taken seriously but should not be taken literally.

In truth, the Palestinians have been so impacted by the implications of the Holocaust, albeit indirectly, that they have never truly understood its essence or comprehended its evil. Arabs are no strangers to colonial, imperial or ethnic violence, but nothing like the industrial-scale crimes perpetrated by Nazi Germany.

Aggrieved and angry, the Palestinians have long believed that it was they who paid the price for the horrors inflicted upon Jews in Europe since it is they who were robbed of their homeland by the newly established Jewish state in 1948.

The Palestinians have also witnessed the Holocaust being instrumentalized by their tormentors. Indeed, it is the Zionist leaders’ abuse of the Nazi and Holocaust analogies that have long rendered the Palestinians careless, even indifferent, to the horrors that befell Jews in previous decades.

Some liberal Zionists have portrayed the Palestinians as coincidental victims of victims. According to this narrative, the Jews who survived by leaping out of a burning building, meaning Nazi-inflamed Europe, had somehow landed on a luckless bystander, the Palestinians.

Hardly a crime, right? But why deny crushing the bystander? Why the racism and the constant abuse? And what about all these leaps before and after?

After all, the early Zionists chose to settle and build a homeland for Jews in Palestine nearly half a century before the Holocaust, knowing all too well that it is the homeland of another people. They wished it cleansed of its non-Jewish inhabitants. Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion believed Zionism was not driven by victimhood but rather by the necessary emancipation of the Jewish people as a new nation in Palestine.

That’s settler colonialism by any other name. The Gaza Strip may not be the Buchenwald concentration camp, but for decades, this tortured and tormented open-air prison of two million Palestinians has had more than its share of sadistic Israeli aggression under the pretext of security.

If the Palestinian misuse of these analogies is utterly wrong, their abuse by Zionists has been truly wicked. Israeli leaders have called any Palestinian or Arab leader they disliked a “new Hitler”, to justify aggression and war against Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon and others. Before their trilateral attack on Egypt in 1956, Israel and its two co-conspirators, France and Britain, portrayed its pan-Arab leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, as “Hitler on the Nile”.

Worse, any journalist, scholar or peace activist who dares criticize Israeli policy is routinely denounced as an anti-Semite, Holocaust denier and neo-Nazi.

Meanwhile, “Never Again”, the noble phrase that appears on many Holocaust memorials, has become an excuse for dominating Palestine and much of the Middle East. Well after Israel became the Middle East’s superpower and its only nuclear power, the “threat to the survival of the Jewish state” has been used as a pretext to bomb, kill and maim Palestinians and Arabs.

Such Zionist and Israeli abuse of the Holocaust’s memory and even its survivors was exposed by Israeli historian Tom Segev in his revelatory book The Seventh Million, The Israelis and The Holocaust, as well as by American Jewish scholar, Norman Finkelstein, in his daring book, The Holocaust Industry, Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering.

The latter is highly critical of the cynical calculus behind the persistent invocation of the Holocaust by American Zionist organizations, in order to portray Israel as a victim, despite its 1967 war and occupation of Palestine in its entirety.

To be sure, it isn’t only Zionists who have abused the Holocaust analogy for cynical political goals. European and American leaders have used it to demonize the likes of Iran and Iraq and to justify fighting wars in the Balkans and the Middle East.

All of which is to say, Abbas was not the first and won’t be the last to incorrectly reference the Holocaust while talking about other crimes against humanity. And all this Israeli uproar regarding his faux pas is disingenuous or opportunistic at best.

Israeli leaders, who lack all morals and morality and are accused of war crimes, have pounced on the “despicable” analogy to project moral indignation, or worse, surplus morality. And yet, Israel’s minister of war, Benny Gantz, has vowed not to give up on Abbas, because he’s been instrumental in protecting Israel’s security.

Welcome to Israel-Palestine, where hypocrisy thrives and irony goes to die.

Marwan Bishara – senior political analyst at Al-Jazeera