Does one truly recognize Jewish suffering when equating it with the Palestinian experience?
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) issued an unprecedented statement on the eve of the Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Ha’Shoah). Abbas’ remarks were published by the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, just hours before the start of Israel’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Commemoration.
In the English version of Abbas’ remarks, he called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime” of modern history and expressed his sympathy for the victims. The significance of his remarks rests in the fact that such an acknowledgement by an Arab leader about Jewish suffering during the Holocaust is rare. In an earlier statement in Arabic, Abbas used the term “ugliest crime.”
Abbas recently met with Rabbi Marc Schneier. In response to Rabbi Schneier’s request, Abbas announced that this year he will publicly speak out on behalf of Holocaust remembrance efforts around the world.
Abbas’ Holocaust remarks, albeit unprecedented, were clearly politically motivated. After breaking the negotiations with Israel and entering into unity talks with Hamas, (a terrorist organization whose declared goal is the destruction of the Jewish state) Abbas aimed to win over Israeli public opinion, particularly the Israeli leftist opposition, led by Yitzhak “Buji” Herzog, leader of the Labor party, who visited him last December in Ramallah. Herzog accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being responsible for the rapprochement between Abbas and Hamas.
Abu Mazen’s reputation as a Holocaust denier required him to make a goodwill gesture. Mahmoud Abbas wrote his 1982 PhD dissertation, and later used it in his 1984 published book entitled “The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism.” By all accounts, it amounted to Holocaust denial. In the book, Abbas argues that the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis had been exaggerated. He further claimed that those Jews who were killed by the Nazis were actually the victims of a Zionist-Nazi plot aimed to fuel vengeance against Jews and to expand their mass extermination. Today, his book dominates the PA educational curriculum and forms the essence of Holocaust studies taught throughout the PA schools.
Abu Mazen’s primary use of the occasion (Holocaust Remembrance Day) was to equate the Holocaust with the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe), the exodus of Palestinians in 1948 and the resultant refugee problem, which is observed during Israel’s Independence Day. Abbas drew a parallel between the Holocaust and its ethnic discrimination and racism of the Nazi regime, and alleged Palestinian suffering today.
Such a comparison is not only false, it is disgraceful. The Holocaust is a story of genocide, the attempted liquidation of the entire Jewish people from the face of the earth, based on fanatical racism, and a result of two millennium of anti-Semitism. The Nakba, on the other hand, was not a story of genocide; on the contrary, it was the attempt by the Arabs in Palestine in cahoots with the Arab states to exterminate its Jewish people and the nascent Jewish state at its birth. Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hitler’s ally during WWII, and the instigator and leader of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, sought to administer the “final solution” to the Jews of Palestine had the Arabs been successful in the 1948 war.
A professor of Nursing at Haifa University named Maayan Agmon, in a lecture to her students in March, 2014, actually compared the Nakba to the Holocaust, albeit, she later apologized for her remark and claimed to have been misunderstood. The University responded by issuing the following statement. “The Holocaust was a deliberate and systematic genocide the like of which has never been seen in history. Any comparison between the Holocaust and other events (like the Nakba) is distorted and baseless.”
Anti-Israel groups such as Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) are among those who compared the Nakba to the Holocaust. In May, 2008, JVP protested the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day. JVP’s board members wrote a letter titled “We Will Not Be Celebrating” in which they compared the Palestinian Nakba to the Holocaust, stating “As Edward Said emphasized, what the Holocaust is to the Jews, the Nakba is to the Palestinians.”
Some on the Israeli far-left, like the late Shulamit Aloni, while serving as Minister of Education in the Rabin Government, strongly criticized organized tours by Israeli high school students to Holocaust era concentration camps, alleging that it is turning Israeli youth into rabid nationalists and haters of gentiles. Yet, Israeli Jews have not become suicide bombers killing Germans or Arabs, nor denied them the right to exist. Conversely, the Palestinians, in preserving their memory of displacement (largely due to exhortations by their leaders to leave their homes) sought revenge through terror against Jewish civilians. The Jews, instead of hate, dependency, and poverty, turned to construction, economic growth and prosperity. Jewish refugees were absorbed into Israel, housed, and made into proud citizens.
The commemoration of the Nakba fostered incitement against Jews and the justification of violence, terror, and revenge. None of that is a part of the Jewish remembrance of the Holocaust. While it is true that Palestinians displaced in the 1948 war became refugees and suffered in the intervening years, it is also true that millions of other refugees were dislocated by war, ethnic and religious strife. The Jews of the Arab world, almost a million strong, also became refugees. Unlike the Palestinians however, they did not seek war, or the extermination of their Arab neighbors. If there is to be any comparison between Arab Palestinian suffering and that of Jews, it would be between the Arab Palestinian refugees and the Jewish refugees from the Arab world. There is a clear dichotomy. Jewish refugees were not abandoned in camps and made into victims.
Mahmoud Abbas set an Arab precedent in recognizing Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. However, his remarks were gratuitous. In stating that the Holocaust was “the “most heinous,” or “ugliest” crime of modern history, he also added that, “The Palestinian people, who suffer from injustice, oppression, and are denied freedom and peace, are the first to demand to lift the injustice and racism that befell other subjected peoples subjected to such crimes.” The cynicism here is transparent. Palestinians were not thrown into cattle cars like animals and led to gas chambers to be burned, nor has Israel erected labor camps for Palestinian terrorists, let alone civilians.
The implication stemming from Abbas’ follow-up statement is that Nazis did to the Jews what Israel is now doing to the Palestinians. That comparison is shameful, particularly since a Palestinian icon - Haj Amin el-Husseini, was actively involved in the Holocaust, a fact that Abbas refrained from mentioning, or apologized for.
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