Many are puzzled by the widespread support in European democracies of Palestinian groups and Arab states that promote genocidal anti-Semitism. After all, Palestinian and broader Arab anti-Semitism draws heavily, in its anti-Jewish propaganda, on Nazi models, and Western Europe and the European Union are supposed to be opposed to everything touching on Nazism and its genocidal policies.
Hamas’s charter quotes a Hadith in which Allah declares that the Day of Judgement will not come until the Jews are all killed and even the stones and trees will assist in murdering them. The charter adds that Hamas “aspires to the realization of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take.” Hamas employs its media, mosques and schools to convey the same message. Its schools and children’s television programming teach their young audience the necessity of killing Jews.
Nevertheless, in many quarters of the European mainstream, the Hamas rulers of Gaza are besieged heroes and Israel and “the Jews” are the villains.
Despite recent statements to the contrary by Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, the Palestinian Authority hardly lags behind its Islamist rivals in peddling genocidal Jew-hatred. PA media depict Jews as a cancer that must be excised and, like Hamas, insist it is a religious duty to do so. PA indoctrination includes delineations of the nature of Jews that entail virtually every hoary anti-Semitic caricature. PA leaders use their vehicles of incitement to instill in Palestinians not only commitment to annihilating Israel but also dedication to extirpating the Jews.
For example, a recent official Palestinian Authority Friday sermon, broadcast on PA TV and translated by The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), had the preacher declaring: “The Jews are the enemies of Allah and His messenger… the enemies of humanity in general… Our mutual enmity with the Jews is a matter of faith more than an issue pertaining to occupation and land… The prophet Muhammad said: ‘You will fight the Jews, and you will kill them…’”
Yet there is virtually universal clamor in Europe for Israeli concessions to the PA, universal impatience with any invoking by Israel of a need to be able to defend itself, and universal silence on the PA’s genocidal objectives.
In the wider Arab world, even in countries allied to the West, the same Nazi-like message is incessantly promoted. A recurrent feature of Saudi government television is of clerics or other authority figures demonizing Jews, often with the speaker having children present to whom they are imparting their Jew-hating wisdom.
Even in countries with which Israel is officially at peace, such as Egypt, variations on the same theme are prominent in government-controlled media. Egyptian television and government newspapers have, for example, featured clerical and academic authorities confirming that Jews do indeed use the blood of non-Jews in their recipes for Passover matzoh.
Again, the primary European response to all this is silence, together with castigation of Israel and its Jewish supporters for not being more accommodating of Arab demands.
But puzzlement over this reality is misplaced. The truth is that, during the Nazi era as today, to the extent that the peoples of Europe’s democracies regarded the Jews as an inconvenience, they were not only indifferent to the genocidal intent directed at them but in various ways abetted it.
Two democracies on the Continent remained unoccupied by Hitler. Switzerland handed over an estimated 30,000 Jews to the Nazi death machine. The victims were people who had either found their way to Switzerland’s borders and were turned away or had crossed into Switzerland but were rounded up and pushed back into Nazi-occupied territory, often transferred directly to German authorities. Swiss citizens who sought to shelter Jews were subject to prosecution and imprisonment. Switzerland also aided the Nazis financially, not least in receiving and managing resources stolen from Holocaust victims.
Sweden, the other unoccupied democracy, had a mixed history during the Nazi era. In the latter part of the war, it took in Jews fleeing Denmark and Norway. But it was essentially closed to Jews seeking refuge in the preceding years, and throughout the war it provided extensive industrial and financial support to Hitler’s regime. Aftenbladet, Sweden’s largest newspaper and recently the notorious inventor and purveyor of an anti-Jewish blood libel claiming that Israeli forces killed Palestinians to harvest their organs for transplants, was staunchly pro-Nazi through the Hitler years.
As to the United Kingdom, its wartime record is illustrated by a spring, 1943, Foreign Office memorandum to the State Department opposing efforts to rescue Europe’s Jews:
“There is a possibility that the Germans and their satellites may change over from the policy of extermination [of the Jews] to one of extrusion, and aim as they did before the war at embarrassing other countries by flooding them with alien immigrants.”
Other Foreign Office memos conveyed the same message, referring repeatedly to, in the words of one, “the difficulties of disposing of any considerable number of Jews should they be rescued.”
In fact, Great Britain’s abetting the Nazi genocide went far beyond merely discouraging rescue efforts by others and was directly linked to British policies regarding the Jewish presence in what was then Mandate Palestine. Those policies, and British behavior before as well as during the war, foreshadow current British attitudes towards Israel.
In the context of the post-World War I reallocation of some German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and czarist Russian territories, nations were created for previously subjugated peoples. Europe saw the birth, for example, of a new Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland, together with other states. In the Middle East, France was granted a mandate by the League of Nations for establishment of a new Arab nation, Syria, and Britain was, of course, given mandates for creation of another Arab state in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and for establishment of a Jewish national home in what was labeled the “Palestine Mandate.”
The League of Nations delineated among Britain’s Mandate responsibilities in Palestine promoting “close settlement of the land” by Jews. But local British authorities, as well as many in London officialdom, repeatedly balked at carrying out Britain’s Mandate obligations to the Jews, moved both by anti-Jewish bias and by perceptions of imperial pragmatism. With regard to the latter, the British generally viewed the Arabs of the region as more pliant to British hegemony than the Jews.
Britain’s betrayal of the Jews included the use of agents provocateurs to encourage Arab attacks on the Jews, as well as standing by while Jews were slaughtered, after which British officials would claim that carrying out commitments to the Jews was impossible because there was violent Arab resistance which could not be controlled. It included giving public lands to Arabs while withholding such lands from Jews, in direct violation of Mandate stipulations. It entailed turning a blind eye to large-scale Arab migration into the Mandate territory, drawn mainly by Jewish-driven economic growth, while repeatedly creating obstructions to Jewish immigration. It also entailed illegally transferring a substantial portion of the Golan Heights, part of Mandate Palestine, to French control in 1923 in exchange for French acquiescence to British steps elsewhere in the Middle East. (Article 5 of the League of Nations Mandate states: “The Mandatory shall be responsible for seeing that no Palestine territory shall be ceded or leased to, or in any way placed under the control of the Government of any foreign Power.”)
(The British also closed to Jews about 77% of Mandate territory, all the land east of the Jordan River. This was done after approval of the mandate for creation of the Jewish national home by the victorious World War I allies at San Remo in 1920, but before League of Nations adoption of the Mandate in 1922.)
The League of Nations Permanent Mandate Commission repeatedly censured Britain for betrayals of its Mandate obligations to the Jews, and at times Britain would reverse some anti-Jewish measure, only to re-institute it at a later date.
With the rise of Nazism and Nazi inroads in winning Arab support and stoking anti-British sentiment in the Arab world, the British – if somewhat disabused of their convictions of Arab affection for them – were now eager to appease Arab opinion and so had another motive for reneging on their Mandate commitments.
Shortly before the start of World War II, despite the desperate plight of Europe’s Jews, and despite yet another censure by the Permanent Mandate Commission, Britain implemented a sharp curtailment of Jewish immigration to Palestine with a view to ending Jewish entry entirely in five years and allowing Palestine to become one more Arab state, with an ongoing British presence.
The subsequent Nazi genocide was viewed by many in the Foreign Office as a way of permanently assuring realization of Britain’s objectives in Palestine. If no Jews survived in Nazi-controlled territories, there would be little remaining rationale for creation of the Jewish national home.
Consistent with this objective, Britain went to great lengths to prevent Jews from escaping Europe. Illustrative is the story of the Struma, one of many ships that carried Jews who had boarded overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels in the Rumanian Black Sea port of Constanta in doomed efforts at escape. The Struma, with 761 Jews aboard, limped into Istanbul harbor on December 15, 1941, its engine malfunctioning and a leak in its hull. The Turkish authorities said it would allow the passengers to disembark if Britain would grant them entry to the Mandate territory. Britain refused. In the course of negotiations that dragged on for weeks, Britain was asked to admit at least the children aboard. At one point it appeared that permission would be given for some seventy of the children, but Britain never officially authorized this. Its stance remained one of refusal. After some two months, the Turkish government gave up on any British change of heart and had the ship tugged into open water. It sank the next day with one survivor.
Then as now, there were those in Britain who strongly objected to anti-Jewish strains in national opinion and national policy. In particular, there were those who led public campaigns aimed at changing policy and promoting rescue of European Jews. Especially notable among these voices were the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, and the leader of Britain’s Catholics, Arthur Cardinal Hinsley. But there was no change in policy.
Those in the Foreign Office who initiated and carried out anti-Jewish policies were not, of course, pro-Nazi, nor were most of their sympathizers among the British public. But they had their biases, and their views of Britain’s interests in the Middle East, and in these lights the Jews were expendable. Anthony Eden was a leading Conservative Party opponent of Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement before the war, but as wartime foreign minister he was a key architect and enforcer of British opposition to rescuing Jews from the Nazi genocide. Eden’s personal secretary wrote of him in 1943: “A.E. is immovable on the subject of Palestine. He loves Arabs and hates Jews.”
British policy after the war remained directed at thwarting establishment of the Jewish national home. When, in November, 1947, the United Nations voted for partition of Mandate Palestine west of the Jordan into a Jewish state and an Arab state, Britain aided attacks on Jewish enclaves by irregular Arab forces entering the Mandate from surrounding nations. When Israel declared its independence the following spring, Britain supported the ensuing invasion by Arab armies.
The most effective of those armies was that of Transjordan (the Arab entity created by Britain in the Mandate territories east of the Jordan that had been closed to Jews). Its Arab Legion, commanded by a British general and staffed by a number of senior British officers, conquered what became known as the West Bank, as well as eastern parts of Jerusalem including the Old City. The Legion killed or expelled every Jew living in the areas it seized. Transjordan subsequently annexed the conquered areas, an act endorsed by only two of the world’s nations: Britain and Pakistan.
Attitudes in Britain today – among both leaders and much of the general public – towards Israel and the Jews closely resemble the biases of the past, most notably of the 1940’s. Perhaps this is hardly surprising, given that the importance on the world stage of Arab oil, and Arab political and economic clout, has, of course, only grown in the past six decades.
Exemplifying such attitudes is Nick Clegg, head of the Liberal Democrats and now deputy prime minister. Not long ago Clegg questioned the concept of a “Jewish state” and Israel’s insistence – consistent with the 1947 UN partition plan – that it be recognized as such by its neighbors. Clegg has expressed no similar misgivings about the world’s several dozen officially Muslim states.
Now, too, as in the 1940’s, there are voices in Britain protesting the demonization of Israel, the support given its enemies and the silence regarding those enemies’ genocidal agenda that are so prevalent in British media, academia, unions and other circles. But now as then, those protesting voices are of very limited impact.
Two hundred years ago, Lord Byron, in his Hebrew Melodies, wrote, “The wild-dove hath her nest, the fox his cave,/ Mankind their Country – Israel but the grave!” For Byron, the lines were a reproach to a bigoted world. For many in Britain today, they are an enthusiastically embraced objective.
While no other nation had Britain’s direct involvement with Israel’s modern rebirth, Britain’s record on Jewish matters in the 1940’s has its parallels, as noted, in other European democracies.
That “decent” Britons and other Europeans can today embrace Israel’s enemies and be indifferent to their Nazi-like genocidal incitement and aspirations is not an anomaly but all too familiar. We’ve seen it before.
Kenneth Levin is a psychiatrist and historian and author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.