Tag Archives: Nazi Germany

The SS-headache of Carlos Latuff

Among “pro-Palestinian” activists, the cartoonist Carlos Latuff is a widely admired artist.  Like most of his fans, Latuff expresses his support for the Palestinian cause with an intense hatred for Israel, which is reflected in his large output of images comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Unsurprisingly, Latuff’s achievements also include a winning entry for the 2006 Iranian “International Holocaust Cartoon Contest.”

The fact that comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany are generally regarded as antisemitic doesn’t seem to bother Latuff and his fans – quite the contrary: for them, it’s apparently just another reason for ridicule and amusement.

This flippant reaction was well illustrated when Latuff responded to his inclusion in a list of this past year’s “Top Ten Anti-Israel/Anti-Semitic Slurs” compiled by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Tweeting his “Thanks to Rabbi Marvin Hier and @simonwiesenthal for the award for my toons on #Gaza slaughter,” Latuff attached a cartoon depicting himself being “awarded” a third-place medal by Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center.

Latuff Wiesenthal SS1

As you can see in the screenshot of Latuff’s cartoon above, there is an unmistakable SS-symbol next to Rabbi Hier’s head. When I noted this in a tweet, Latuff quickly responded, claiming that I was wrong and that the “bolts are cartoon representation of headache.” To support his claim, he linked to the following picture:

Latuff headache

For comparison, here is the SS-symbol:

Latuff ADL SS

Since Latuff immediately blocked me, he didn’t have to face up and respond to the evidence showing just how flimsy his “headache”-explanation looked.

After all, for somebody like Latuff who works with images, it is hardly credible to claim that he was unaware of the obvious SS-reference in this cartoon. How about this very similar “headache” in an undeniably antisemitic cartoon from 2006?

Latuff SS headache

Screenshot showing part of a Russian cartoon from a report by Tom Gross on anti-Israeli and antisemitic cartoons published in the international media in the summer of 2006

It is also noteworthy that Latuff didn’t link to any of his own images to illustrate his claim that an SS-symbol look-alike was a common cartoon representation of a headache. But his claim is most severely undermined by the fact – illustrated here – that he has made it something of a specialty to work Nazi-symbolism into his cartoons relating to Israel. He now has only himself to blame if it seems that this has become second nature to him.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Shoddy history and the anti-imperialism of fools

Under the title “The Professor’s Shoddy History,” James Kirchick argues in an excellent essay in Tablet that “Berlin’s Jewish Museum gave Judith Butler and Germans permission to indulge dangerous political impulses.” Kirchick offers not only interesting observations about German ambitions to show off a principled pacifism to prove that the country learned the right lessons from its terrible Nazi-past, but he also touches upon the role of fashionable “anti-imperialism:”

“[Günter] Grass’ fundamental conceit—that Israel, and not the countries threatening to wipe it off the map, will be responsible should war erupt once again in the Middle East—is the same as [Judith] Butler’s. Both rely on naïve and simplistic conceptions of “imperialism” and “anti-imperialism” and on a belief that power inevitably leads to oppression. […] Butler—who, as a Jew, is uninhibited in what she can say about Israel in Germany—has said what Grass declared in his poem: Israel is the problem. The Israeli “state violence” she complains about exists in a vacuum; Iran’s march to nuclear weapons does not concern her, and the violence of Hamas and Hezbollah is all but ignored.

[…]

Following World War II, many Germans internalized pacifism as a fundamental political value, and it is this central belief—as well as the ability to sit in judgment of the Middle East from comfortable, prosperous Europe—that informs much of German attitudes toward Israel. Joschka Fischer, the erstwhile left-wing student activist who rose to become Germany’s first Green Party foreign minister in 1998, used to say that there were two principles that formed his political consciousness: “Never Again War” and “Never Again Auschwitz.” But when the possibility of genocide returned to the European continent during his tenure, in the form of Serb ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, these mantras came into conflict. If preventing another Auschwitz on European soil required war, the breed of German leftists embodied by Fischer argued, then it was the duty of the German left to get over its aversion to force and support war.

As the Iranian regime, which denies the Holocaust while promising another, continues its nuclear weapons program unabated, the German penchant for peace may once again be confronted by reality and historic obligation. […] An irony of Germany’s admirable confrontation with its horrific past is that many Germans have learned their history so well they have learned the wrong lessons—and Judith Butler validates their grave misinterpretation. That Berlin’s Jewish Museum lent a platform for such views betrays precisely the history it is meant to impart.”

As my own post on this issue illustrates, I fully agree with Kirchick’s criticism of Berlin’s Jewish Museum. The only minor point I would raise here is that, when he says that both Grass and Butler “rely on naïve and simplistic conceptions of ‘imperialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ and on a belief that power inevitably leads to oppression,” one should perhaps highlight very clearly that, as far as Grass and Butler are concerned, it is of course only Western power that is seen as so inevitably oppressive.

While this is already implied when Kirchick points to their “naïve and simplistic conceptions of ‘imperialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism,’” it is crucially important to understand the patronizing attitude that hides behind these supposedly “naïve and simplistic conceptions:” Only the West has agency and the power to do evil, while the non-West is reduced to passivity and the role of the victim.

It’s equally important to understand that this notion is also very popular in the Middle East – indeed, it arguably feeds much of the chronic sense of offense that prevents the region from developing a much needed capacity for self-criticism. Michael Young tackled this issue in a recent op-ed under the almost blasphemous title “When imperialists happen to be Muslim,” where he wrote:

“It never ceases to amaze how Arab eyes are forever on the lookout for some manifestation of Western hegemonic intent or condescension toward the Arab world, and how this vigilance seems to breaks down whenever it involves non-Western states behaving the same way. […]

Iran has never hidden its sense of neo-imperial entitlement in the Middle East, despite its claims to speak for the oppressed of the earth and to represent a bulwark against imperialism. Leaders in Tehran look upon their country as a natural regional dominator, and such thinking helps explain why they feel that they have a right to develop nuclear weapons […]

The Middle Eastern lexicon today fails to properly express that the impulse for regional domination is as strong among non-Western Muslim states as among Western states, if not more so. How odd, given that most of the empires ruling over what would become the modern Arab world were native to the region – Egyptian, Sassanid, Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman, to name the more obvious ones.”

Last but by no means least, I’d like to quote here Michael Totten’s excellent post on Judith Butler’s “Anti-Imperialism of Fools,” where Totten concludes:

“Hezbollah is notoriously hostile to every social value liberals and progressives hold dear, from women’s rights to gay rights, with one exception. Hezbollah says the United States and Israel are the Great Satan and the Little Satan. That’s it. That, all by itself, is enough to get a socially retrograde totalitarian terrorist organization labeled ‘progressive’ even by a professor who adheres to non-violent politics.

But the city of Frankfurt can give her a prize if it wants, and it can do so on September 11. Supporting European fascism is a crime now in Germany, but supporting the Middle Eastern variety is apparently fine.”

Shana Tova from Berlin’s Jewish Museum

Last Saturday evening, the Jewish Museum in Berlin hosted a “debate” on a question that you could translate from German either as “Is Zionism part of Judaism?,” or, perhaps more sensibly, “Is Zionism part of Jewish identity/Jewishness?”

The answer of the museum’s guest of honor is well-known: the American academic Judith Butler – who, just a few days earlier, had received the Adorno Prize in Frankfurt in recognition of her work on gender, sexuality, critical theory and moral philosophy – has most recently published a book entitled “Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism.”

Butler is also a well-known supporter of the BDS-movement that targets Israel with campaigns calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions with the ultimate goal to delegitimize the Jewish state and pave the way for Israel’s dissolution in a bi-national “Isratine.”

As I have pointed out previously, Butler’s support for the BDS movement means in practice that her political statements can be found on a website frequently criticized for antisemitic content and that she would refuse to lecture at Tel Aviv University, but be perfectly happy to visit Birzeit University, which has a well-earned reputation for fostering extremism and glorifying terrorism. Indeed, in the acknowledgements for her recent book, Butler mentions Birzeit University as one of the places where she “learned from students and faculty.” Hopefully, these students didn’t include those that attended a festive event on the university campus to honour the terrorists released last year in exchange for Gilad Shalit.

While Butler thus helps to make the case that BDS really stands for “Bigoted Double Standards,” there is no question that “anti-Zionists” everywhere appreciate her academic celebrity status as the “reigning queen” of Queer Studies – which was only reinforced by the Adorno Prize – as a great asset.

There is also no question that the Jewish Museum in Berlin was fully aware of the problematic political implications of Butler’s views. Yet, the organizers of the event apparently preferred a “debate” that excluded questions to which Butler obviously has no good answers.

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post – which noted straightforwardly that this seems to have been “the first anti-Israel event held in the Jewish museum since its opening in 2001” – the organizers allowed only “written audience questions” and made clear that any questions on Butler’s widely criticized views about Hamas and Hezbollah would be ignored.

But judging from media reports about the event, the audience had anyway come to cheer Butler – as one German newspaper put it: “The audience was dominated by the typical ‘Butler-Groupies’: people with an academic education between 20 and 30.”

Butler’s debating partner, the liberal German Jewish professor Micha Brumlik, found apparently little favor with this audience, and his attempts to argue that Butler’s professed enthusiasm for a merely “cultural” Zionism were neither grounded in Jewish tradition nor realistic clearly made much less of an impression than Butler’s response that somebody had to stand up for utopian ideals. Indeed, several of the German language reports end by quoting Butler’s relevant remarks, and the Berliner Zeitung concludes by asserting that a utopian quality was after all an essential characteristic of philosophy.

If we “translate” what Butler is saying here (noting that her new book includes reflections on “Ethics, Politics, and the Task of Translation”), it turns out that she simply wants to have her cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, we are supposed to appreciate that it is the core business of a philosopher to come up with noble utopian ideals that are above mundane criticisms questioning how realistic they are; on the other hand, Butler clearly wants her political views to be taken serious and lends her prestige as a philosopher to one of the most controversial causes of our time.

The bottom line of Butler’s argument is that the most ethical resolution of the Arab conflict with Israel requires Jews to realize that Arabs and Muslims were right all along when they insisted that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state. Butler is obviously aware that with this view, she has a lot of really bad company, and she has taken to emphasizing her opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism.

In the controversy about her nomination for the Adorno Prize, she also tried hard to market herself as a fearless fighter against the popular straw-man argument that anyone who dares to criticize Israeli policies risks being denounced as an antisemite.

But the “debate” hosted by Berlin’s Jewish Museum illustrated once again that in a climate where it is regarded as legitimate to assert that it would only be ethical to do away with the Jewish state, antisemitism is never far away.

Reporting on the event for the Jüdische Allgemeine, Fabian Wolff notes that the debate moderator Andreas Öhler limited himself mostly to telling a few stories about his Jewish and Israeli friends. At one point Öhler mentioned how amazed he was to realize that despite Israel’s policies, there were so many nice Israelis who were interested in culture and music…

Sounds somehow familiar? Well, it should: whether Öhler was aware of it or not, the staff of Berlin’s Jewish Museum can certainly be expected to realize that this remark unmistakably echoed the popular stories about Nazi or SS officers as lovers of classical music, which have become part of movies like Schindler’s List and The Pianist.

Without this background, it is hard to explain why Öhler should have been so amazed to discover that there are many really nice Israelis who love culture and music.

It is noteworthy in this context that studies show that some “40% of Germans are critical of Israel in ways […] deemed anti-Semitic. The commission regarded anti-Israel critics as having crossed a line, for example, when they compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi extermination of Jews in death camps. Among the […] findings cited in the report: More than 41% of Germans believe Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.”

In view of these findings, it is all the more dismaying that moderator Öhler reportedly opened the event with Judith Butler by declaring everyone’s resolve not to be frightened – meaning, presumably, not to be frightened of accusations of antisemitism in a “debate” intended to establish that Israel’s existence as a Jewish state violates crucial ethical norms. But in a country where some 40 percent of the population believes that, when it comes to the Palestinians, Israel’s Jews are the Nazis of our time, there is actually plenty of reason to be frightened when the Jewish Museum decides to give out the message that, done properly, it is intellectually and ethically noble to “criticize” Israel for the evil of existing as a Jewish state.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog; also posted on Harry’s Place.

Quote of the day

“Since 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has designated the last Friday of Ramadan “Al-Quds Day,” leading worldwide protests calling for the destruction of Israel. In that spirit, over 1,000 protesters […]  marched through downtown Berlin on Saturday denouncing Israel and praising Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy army in Lebanon.

Unlike the neo-Nazis rocking out to “white power” music in a secluded cornfield [during a NPD event at a remote location a week earlier], the Islamists calling for the destruction of the Jewish state in the heart of the German capital did not stir the consciences of the country’s major political parties. As opposed to the 2,000 people who trekked out to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern [to protest the NPD event], only 300 or so anti-Islamist protesters, the majority of them affiliated with Jewish organizations, held a separate counter-demonstration, where the only political figure to speak was a former member of the German Bundestag.

In a free society, extremists ought to be able to say whatever they like. But a graver issue was highlighted by last Saturday’s open support for Hezbollah. The European Union, unlike its allies in Australia, Canada and the United States, refuses to treat the faction as a terrorist group, allowing it to organize and raise funds. The New York Times describes Germany as “a center of activity” for the group.

[…] Sixty-five years after the end of World War II, it’s reassuring to know that Germany has “no place for Neonazis.” A more pressing question is why it has room for those carrying on their legacy.”

James Kirchick in a Ha’aretz article entitled “A perverse quid pro quo.” This title (which may well have been chosen by Ha’aretz editors) refers to Kirchick’s argument that “European governments have fashioned a perverse quid pro quo whereby they permit a foreign terrorist organization to operate on their soil, provided that its targets are Israeli, not European.” However, this point is arguably secondary to Kirchick’s much more important argument that both German officials and the German public can be counted on to take a firm stand against German neo-Nazis,  while remaining apparently oblivious to the Nazi-style antisemitism that is so openly championed by the Iranian regime and its allies like Hezbollah.

Reading through any list of statements by Iranian officials on Israel will quickly reveal that, just as Nazi propaganda relentlessly repeated the slogan “Die Juden sind unser Unglück!” – i.e. the Jews are our misfortune –, Iranian regime officials relentlessly incite hatred and revulsion against the Jewish state.  Yet, supporters and allies of this regime can freely march through Germany’s capital to celebrate a day dedicated to anticipating the annihilation of the world’s only Jewish state.

The Lede news on Israel and Ahmadinejad

A few days ago, Robert Mackey devoted a long post on his New York Times (NYT) blog The Lede to the old and often rehashed controversy about how best to translate a phrase used by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a speech for a “conference” anticipating a “World Without Zionism” back in October 2005. Mackey was apparently thrilled that Israeli minister Dan Meridor acknowledged in a recent Al Jazeera interview that in this specific speech, Ahmadinejad had not issued a straightforward statement about Iran’s intentions to “wipe out” Israel.

Since Meridor also pointed out that, irrespective of the precise translation of this specific phrase, Iranian officials have made plenty of vicious statements about their hopes and intentions to see Israel’s demise, it’s a bit puzzling what exactly prompted Mackey to rehash the old controversy about the most accurate translation of the 2005 speech. It seems that the message Mackey wanted to get across is summed up in this paragraph:

“Although there is general agreement now among translators and scholars that Mr. Ahmadinejad did not commit his country to the project of destroying the state of Israel in that 2005 speech, the phrase that was wrongly attributed to him then remains so firmly rooted in the popular imagination that it is frequently used as evidence of Iran’s genocidal intentions.”

The spin here is of course that if it wasn’t for this one mistranslated expression from a speech back in 2005, there would be precious little “evidence of Iran’s genocidal intentions,” and there isn’t really any reason to think that the Iranian regime is committed to destroying the state of Israel. It’s apparently just one big misunderstanding as far as Robert Mackey of The Lede is concerned.

But historian and acclaimed author Daniel Jonah Goldhagen – who has written a book about genocide and “eliminationism” – is arguably a bit better qualified on this subject. In a recent commentary on the controversy about the accusations of German Nobel laureate Günter Grass against Israel, Goldhagen wrote:

“Israel has been existentially threatened for its entire existence and continues to be so today, both by states that wish merely to defeat it or to have it relinquish the West Bank (Gaza it already gave back), and by states, often supported by their publics, that wish to destroy it and eliminate or exterminate its Jews. Why does Grass fail to mention that Iranian leaders, and not just Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have routinely threatened to destroy Israel and kill Jews, and occasionally even hinted that it could be done with nuclear weapons? As the ‘moderate’ former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani explained already in 2001, ‘the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything.’ Why does Grass fail to mention that the Iranian leaders speak of Israel using Nazi-like language and metaphors, of cancer and pestilence which must be utterly eradicated? Do I have to say that such speech has been shown to be the rhetorical prelude to genocide?”

To quote just one news item from earlier this year that illustrates Goldhagen’s point:

“‘The Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor and it will be removed,’ Teheran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday. Khamenei addressed thousands of worshipers attending a Tehran University prayer service marking the Fajr celebration. […]

Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, said that Iran has helped Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas in their fights against Israel. The crowd met the statement by chanting ‘Death to Israel.’”

There are of course plenty of similar Iranian statements. A few years ago, Jeffrey Goldberg responded to efforts like Mackey’s by compiling a list of relevant statements by Ahmadinejad;  the ADL also offers a list of Ahmadinejad quotes; Elihu D. Richter and Alex Barnea have compiled a timeline of statements by Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders from 2000-2008; and Wikipedia has  a relevant entry that also includes Ahmadinejad’s statements on the occasion of Israel’s 60-year-anniversary in 2008:

“‘Those who think they can revive the stinking corpse of the usurping and fake Israeli regime by throwing a birthday party are seriously mistaken. Today the reason for the Zionist regime’s existence is questioned, and this regime is on its way to annihilation.’

Ahmadinejad also stated that Israel ‘has reached the end like a dead rat after being slapped by the Lebanese.’  Later, he said: ‘The Zionist regime is dying,’ and ‘The criminals imagine that by holding celebrations (…) they can save the Zionist regime from death.’ Ahmadinejad also stated that ‘They should know that regional nations hate this fake and criminal regime and if the smallest and briefest chance is given to regional nations they will destroy (it).’”

To the Mackey-minded, that probably sounds like a polite call for regime change – if it’s not a mistranslation, anyway.  Needless to say, if any Western or Israeli politician talked about the Iranian regime in this way, it would be a totally different matter…

By now, the callous attempts to downplay the viciousness of Iranian threats against Israel have often been countered with evidence showing that the Iranian rhetoric not only echoes the way the Nazis talked about the Jews, but also fits well-researched findings by genocide scholars who “have identified hate language and incitement—notably the use of dehumanizing medical metaphors—as predictors, promoters, and catalysts of genocidal agendas in Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and the Sudan.”

Perhaps NYT Lede editor Robert Mackey would claim that he is unaware of this research; indeed, the fact that he has written a lengthy post trying to argue that it’s only due to one mistranslated phrase from a 2005 speech that Iran is accused of genocidal intentions could be taken as ample evidence that his feelings about the subject are much deeper than his knowledge.

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 Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

 

Günter Grass, Jörg Haider, Kurt Waldheim

Yes, I’m also sick and tired of the Grass saga, but it continues – in part because the octogenarian Nobel laureate seems to enjoy the spotlight. In response to Israel’s decision to declare him persona non grata, Grass has now published an op-ed comparing Israel’s conduct to the dictatorial regimes of Communist East Germany and junta-ruled Myanmar, since he had previously been banned by these two regimes.

However, Grass could gain a different perspective if he consulted Wikipedia’s List of people declared persona non grata. The chronological list features Grass at the very bottom; close to the top is Kurt Waldheim, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations and President of Austria, who was declared persona non grata in the U.S. and several other countries (Israel downgraded its diplomatic relations with Austria during Waldheim’s presidency) because he had been dishonest about his wartime service in the German army, which included assignments that raised suspicions about his knowledge of, or involvement in, war crimes. (An interesting summary of the relevant background can be found here.)

A bit further down the list, there is an entry noting that in 2000, Israel declared the far-right Austrian politician Jörg Haider persona non grata.

A BBC report from 2000 connects the cases of Waldheim and Haider. Under the headline “Israel’s hard line against Haider,” the BBC explained:

“Israel will be watching Austria carefully as the far-right Freedom Party joins a coalition government despite international warnings.

Israel had threatened to isolate Vienna politically if the party was allowed a share in power […] It is not the first time there has been tension between the two countries. Israel has criticised Austria in the past for not coming to terms with its role in the World War Two.

In 1986 Jerusalem withdrew its ambassador to Vienna when Kurt Waldheim, alleged to have been involved in Nazi persecution during the war, was elected as the country’s president.

Many Israelis feel the public support for the Freedom Party confirms that Austria has not come to terms with its Nazi past. And the Jewish State founded in the wake of the Holocaust believes it should lead the battle against right-wing radicalism in Europe.

Israel is heading the international campaign against Joerg Haider’s Freedom Party, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak announcing he would recall his country’s ambassador to Vienna, Nathan Meron.

“We here in Israel, and I believe the whole of the Jewish people, will never be able to accept a kind of no-response or not tough enough response to the emergence of neo-Nazi figures and parties into the leadership of Western Europe,” Mr Barak said.

Israel also said it would refuse to issue a visa to Joerg Haider if he decided to visit the country.”

It is noteworthy that when Haider was killed in car crash in 2008, antisemitic sites immediately suspected a “Zionist Jew job.” Similarly, it shouldn’t be forgotten that in the case of Waldheim, the revelations about his wartime service “were rejected [in Austria] as undue influence and manipulation by Jewish organizations from abroad, sweeping Waldheim to an election victory on a mixture of misguided national pride and anti-Semitism.”

As anyone who has followed the recent critical commentary about Grass will know, there is plenty of reason to conclude that Grass’s place on a list featuring Waldheim and Haider is not entirely undeserved.* Moreover, it should not be overlooked that German citizens born before January 1, 1928, are required to apply for a visa to visit Israel, and when Interior Minister Eli Yishai declared Grass persona non grata in Israel, he invoked the relevant provisions by noting that Grass had served in the SS.

Last but not least, two quotes from bloggers who defended the decision to bar Grass from visiting Israel.

Eamonn McDonagh has argued:

“Though I can see that there might be some valid tactical objection to the decision to exclude Grass, on the grounds that it shifts the focus of the debate and makes him into some sort of victim, I can’t see why the government of Israel isn’t entirely justified in excluding from its territory a person who once participated, however marginally and at however young an age, in the attempt to exterminate European Jewry, and who has once more made it clear that he thinks Jews pose a special danger to humanity.”

Similarly, FresnoZionism argues that those who criticize the ban ignore that sometimes, it doesn’t really make sense to pretend that there can be a constructive debate:

“[Grass’s] freedom of expression is not being limited by the ban — he can say whatever he wants in Germany, or even Iran, or any other place — just not in Israel. And really, do we need ‘a free exchange of ideas’ like these? Sometimes an accusation is so absurd that even refuting it gives it a status it doesn’t deserve. […] We don’t have to take abuse, to pretend that disputation with antisemites is simply an ‘exchange of ideas.’”

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* As a clarification, I should add that I mean this in the sense that all three symbolize Germany’s (and Europe’s) failure to overcome the resentments and hatreds of Nazism, and all three helped to revive them again. Recent polls show that more than 50 percent of Germans feel that Grass’s “poem” expressed entirely reasonable views.

UPDATE:

An observation by Jay Adler of The Sad Red Earth highlights the problematic dynamics that has played out during the controversy about Grass’s poem:

“I have heard it said – better, I have read it in a tweet – that Gunther Grass could hardly have been expected, at 17, to resist recruitment into the Waffen SS. That odd, indirect defense of the sham poetry Grass did not write but typed up to attack Israel delivers an unexpected enlightenment: how a defense of the now usual calumny against Israel draws in, by slinking, slithering nexus, the casual rationalization of Nazism and its monstrous Holocaust. Thus the world falls, dizzyingly, back into the chasm of its amoral purgatory, fingers forever slipping from the precipice of its imagined ascent. The motive is to affirm what Grass says of Israel. It is played out in two movements. The first ratifies Grass’s judgment. The second, accordingly, seeks to restore his moral authority, by excusing the sin of his Nazism and his sixty-year silent deception in hiding it.”

What ‘never again’ means for Günter Grass

In an awkward, cliché-laden “poem,” German Nobel laureate Günter Grass has announced to the world that he had to break his silence about an issue that has burdened him for too long: even at the risk of being labeled an antisemite, he simply had to sound the alarm about the terrible threat to world peace posed by Israel…

There is already a huge outcry against Grass’s strange poem, and many of the responses refer to the last time Grass broke a very long silence – and also caused a huge outcry: In August 2006, shortly before the publication of his autobiography, Grass revealed in an interview that he had served in the Waffen SS.

That was a truly sensational revelation given the fact that Grass had carefully cultivated the image of a moral authority who was always ready to admonish Germans that they had to face up to their Nazi past. Unsurprisingly, Grass is now again alluding to Germany’s dark history, but he does so with a twist that has become quite popular: by now, many Germans and Europeans seem to feel that they can claim to have learnt the often invoked “lessons” of the Holocaust so much better than the Jews – and in particular so much better than the Jews in Israel.

Indeed, the idea Grass is hawking now is quite popular: Remember the controversial Eurobarometer poll of fall 2003 that revealed that 59 percent of EU citizens regarded Israel as the greatest threat to world peace? Back then, embarrassed European officials tried to dismiss the poll as some kind of aberration, but that was quite plainly not what it was, because other polls showed similar results. To quote just one example: A BBC poll published in March 2007 revealed that Israel was viewed as the country with the most negative influence in the world, and interestingly, Germany was the European country with the largest percentage of respondents who viewed Israel in these terms: 77 percent of Germans rated Israel’s influence as negative — even in some Muslim countries, Israel actually fared slightly better.

While it has been documented that there is a clear correlation between sharply critical attitudes towards Israeli policies and a propensity for antisemitic views, Grass has of course tried to shield himself against accusations of antisemitism by announcing that he was fully expecting them, and by emphasizing that he feels a strong connection with Israel. But many of the reactions to his bizarre “poem” show that this hasn’t quite worked. One excellent example is Josef Joffe’s comment at Zeit Online, where Joffe argues (in German) that Freud would have been pleased with this demonstration of long-repressed resentments bursting out.

I think Joffe outlines a dynamic that I have tried to explore in an essay I wrote some five years ago after Grass revealed the long-kept secret of his service in the Waffen SS. I argued there that efforts to come to terms with Germany’s Nazi past – and the many cases of European collaboration – gave rise to a “grand narrative” that structured history in terms of victims and perpetrators.

In the prism of this “grand narrative”, Germans – and, to some extent also Europeans – related to Israel primarily as the state of the victims who had survived the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis.  But eventually, Germans and Europeans began to regard also themselves as victims of the Nazis, while the Jewish state – that had become an “occupying power” after its victory in the Six-Day-War – was increasingly often criticized as a perpetrator.

Taken to the extreme, the resulting inversions are all too familiar: Gaza is the Warsaw Ghetto, Israeli soldiers are the new Nazis, and the Palestinians are the new “Jews”, i.e. victims.

Even if only a minority embraces this inversion fully, everyone knows that it exists and that it has been legitimized by countless intellectuals and public figures – and the perceived exculpatory appeal of this inversion is certainly enormous.

Günter Grass would likely object to the idea that he is among those who demonize Israel as a Nazi-like perpetrator. Yet, he does so quite clearly when he refers to a possible Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program as a potentially genocidal crime that can be anticipated. His “poem” is his attempt to avoid any German “guilt” for this “crime,” since Grass worries Israel could use German-manufactured submarines to strike Iran. This concern stands in stark contrast to Grass’s apparent silence about the role of German companies in facilitating Iran’s nuclear program.

Ultimately, Grass demonstrates in his poem that the meaning of the pledge “never again” is very different for the historic perpetrators and their victims: for the former Waffen SS recruit, the most important thing is to be never again seen as a perpetrator – and since he firmly believes Israel is eager to launch a devastating attack on Iran, he has no doubt who should be blamed as the perpetrator.

It is revealing that it apparently matters little for Grass that Iran is led by a Holocaust-denier who has repeated the most vicious threats against Israel over and over again, or that a regime-allied analyst would pen a long-winded article to explain “The Fiqh [Islamic Jurisprudence]-Based Reasons for the Need for Israel’s Annihilation.” For Grass, Ahmadinejad is just a “loudmouth” who oppresses his people – the very same people that, in the view of Grass, faces a genocidal threat from Israel just because somewhere in Iran, there may be a “suspected” atom bomb.

The longer one ponders the curious fact that Grass doesn’t think it worthwhile to wonder if Iran’s theocrats might be as eager as the Nazis were to make good on their threats against the Jews the clearer it becomes: his claim that he feels connected to Israel couldn’t be more hollow – he knows nothing about Israel, and he has no idea what “never again” means for the people that his former comrades worked so hard to wipe out. His most urgent need is to think of Israel’s Jews as dangerous: potential perpetrators of a Nazi-like crime.

As a young man at the end of the war, Grass was clever enough to get rid of his SS uniform before he could be captured, but it seems he never quite got rid of what he learned about the Jews while he wore the uniform: “Die Juden sind unser Unglück.”

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog

Same message, different mufti: the rhetoric of the 1940s in 2012

When Sheik Muhammad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem, who is the Palestinian Authority’s senior religious official, recently recited a traditional Islamic text urging Muslims to “fight and kill the Jews” during a ceremony celebrating the 47th anniversary of Fatah’s establishment, he unintentionally revealed how little the messages of Palestinian religious leaders have changed since the days of another Palestinian mufti by the name of Husseini.

This deplorable rhetorical continuity also serves as a timely reminder that words are usually spoken to inspire deeds. Palestinians, eagerly echoed by many of their world-wide supporters, like to claim that they had no part whatsoever in the Holocaust, and that they should indeed be seen as indirect victims of the Jews who fled Europe.

This “narrative,” which seems particularly popular among Germany’s progressive elites, requires that the historical record of Amin Al-Husseini – the predecessor of the current Palestinian mufti – is ignored. While both muftis call for killing the Jews, Husseini sought and seized the opportunity to contribute to the Nazi’s genocidal undertaking to kill as many Jews as possible.

In a review of a book by Klaus Gensicke about Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis, John Rosenthal emphasized that the mufti did not only collaborate with the Nazis by contributing to propaganda activities aimed at Arab speakers and by organizing the Muslim SS division “Handzar” in Bosnia:

Indeed, perhaps the most shocking finding of Gensicke’s research concerns the repeated efforts of the mufti after 1943 to ensure that no European Jews should elude the camps […] Thus, for example, Bulgarian plans to permit some 4,000 Jewish children and 500 adult companions to immigrate to Palestine provoked a letter from the mufti to the Bulgarian foreign minister, pleading for the operation to be stopped. In the letter, dated May 6, 1943, Husseini invoked a “Jewish danger for the whole world and especially for the countries where Jews live.” […]

One week later, the mufti sent additional “protest letters” to both the Italian and German Foreign Ministries, appealing for them to intervene in the matter. The German Foreign Ministry promptly sent off a cable to the German ambassador in Sofia stressing “the common German-Arab interest in preventing the rescue operation.” Indeed, according to the post-War recollections of a Foreign Ministry official, “The Mufti turned up all over the place making protests: in the Minister’s office, in the waiting room of the Deputy Minister and in other sections: for example, Interior, the Press Office, the Broadcast service, and also the SS.” “The Mufti was a sworn enemy of the Jews,” the official concluded, “and he made no secret of the fact that he would have preferred to see them all killed.” […]

In late June, both the Romanian and Hungarian Foreign Ministers would be recipients of similar appeals from the mufti. The Romanian government had been planning to allow some 75,000 to 80,000 Jews to immigrate to the Middle East, and Hungary — which had become a refuge for Jews escaping persecution elsewhere in Europe — was reportedly preparing to allow some 900 Jewish children and their parents to immigrate as well. The mufti repeated his counsel that the Jews should be sent rather to Poland, where they could be kept under “active surveillance.” “It is especially monstrous,” Gensicke concludes, “that el-Husseini objected to even those few cases in which the National Socialists were prepared, for whatever reasons, to permit Jews to emigrate. . . . For him, only deportation to Poland was acceptable, since he knew fully well that there would be no escape for the Jews from there.”

Inevitably, some people will be inclined to argue that Husseini was only defending the national interest of the Palestinian Arabs when he tried to prevent any Jewish emigration from Europe. But as Gensicke has shown, Husseini was convinced that there was a “Jewish danger for the whole world and especially for the countries where Jews live,” and in May 1943, he also expressed this view in a letter.

Soon after Husseini had written these words, Arab regimes proceeded to demonstrate that they shared this view. The Arab League drafted Nuremberg-style laws designed to disenfranchise and dispossess Jews, and Arab states began to encourage the ethnic cleansing of the ancient Jewish communities that had existed for millenia all over the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands of the Jews who had to flee from Arab countries found refuge in the fledgling Jewish state that the Arabs vowed, and tried, to wipe out.

Back then, the motives may have been rooted in Arab nationalism, but as the recent remarks by the Palestinian mufti illustrate, there is a long and – according to the mufti, “noble” – tradition of Jew-hatred in Islam that up to this day is regularly invoked to present the Arab and Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state as part of a fight against Jews that is an integral component of Muslim identity.

Nazi-like rhetoric about Jews is nowadays mostly expressed in Arabic and Farsi, and just like 70 years ago, there is widespread reluctance to confront this rhetoric and face the fact that it is meant as incitement to deadly deeds.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

November 28, 1941: Hitler meets Husseini

Seventy years ago today, Adolf Hitler met with Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, who was widely regarded as the leader of the Arabs of Palestine. Hitler assured the mufti:

“Germany stands for an uncompromising struggle against the Jews. It is self-evident that the struggle against the Jewish national homeland in Palestine forms part of this struggle, since such a national homeland would be nothing other than a political base for the destructive influence of Jewish interests. Germany also knows that the claim that Jewry plays the role of an economic pioneer in Palestine is a lie. Only the Arabs work there, not the Jews. Germany is determined to call on the European nations one by one to solve the Jewish problem and, at the proper moment, to address the same appeal to non-European peoples.”

Here is some fascinating footage that documents not only the historic collaboration between the Nazis and Husseini, but also the enduring impact of this alliance.

Sixty Years of Silence: The Story of Günter Grass

By Petra Marquardt-Bigman

Published in Covenant, Volume 1, Issue 2 (April 2007 / Iyar 5767)

Abstract: In August 2006, the German writer and Nobel laureate Günter Grass caused a media-quake of major proportions when he revealed that he had served in the SS. While the ensuing controversy pushed the debate about the war between Israel and Hezbollah into the background, both issues once again brought up the problematic legacy of a past that, reflecting postmodern preferences, is increasingly viewed as a “grand narrative” structured in terms of “victims” and “perpetrators.” Highlighting a casual remark of Grass about his supposedly first encounter with racism as an American POW and his failure to break his silence when he accepted the offer of an honorary doctoral degree from an Israeli college, the article explores how Europe’s “grand narrative” shapes the European discourse about Israel and the Middle East.

 

At the end of 2006, the Guardian’s Berlin correspondent noted that Germans would remember the year “for just one rather marvelous thing–the World Cup.” [1] Under the title “The War is Over”, the article highlighted some of the World Cup’s aspects that doubtlessly were appreciated even by those (relatively few) Germans who couldn’t care less about football: the country had shown for all the world to see that it had emerged from the shadows of its past–Germans could wave their flag and cheer their national team without projecting anything but a harmless, infectious enthusiasm for a popular sport.

Among the fans watching the World Cup was the famous German author and Nobel laureate Günter Grass. The almost 80-year-old writer had just finished his latest book, an autobiographical work about his youth that was due to be published a few weeks after the World Cup. He had also been offered an honorary doctoral degree from an Israeli college, and in between watching the World Cup matches and reading the proofs for his book, he made time to meet the representatives of Netanya Academic College.

It was reportedly a pleasant meeting that took place at Grass’s home near Lübeck in northern Germany. The Nobel laureate told his guests that he was happy to accept the honor offered to him and that he looked forward to visit Israel for an official ceremony that would be organized by the college. But Günter Grass did not tell his guests what he would tell an interviewer a few weeks later: his forthcoming autobiography Peeling the Onion[2] would reveal a secret that he had kept for more than sixty years. The secret was a most unexpected one from a man like Grass who had spent a lifetime speaking out passionately about the need for Germans to face up to their Nazi past. The secret was that Günter Grass himself had kept silent for more than sixty years about his own service in the SS. Continue reading