Are there valid comparisons to be made between Israel and Nazi Germany, or with other examples of fascist states in history? Just asking this question could get you into trouble as a British Labour Party member.
The party’s ruling national executive decided recently to do a U-turn on its code of conduct against anti-Semitism, and to embrace fully the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s discredited “working definition” of anti-Semitism. The highly criticised IHRA document includes a clause (an “example” of anti-Semitism) outlawing “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
This is just yet another example of why the document is useless as a definition of anti-Semitism. It was created by pro-Israel groups – in close consultation with Israel itself – purely as a weapon against the Palestine solidarity movement.
The IHRA document clause which outlaws criticism of Israel as “a racist endeavour” is intended precisely to outlaw political speech in support of Palestine. As any Palestinian will tell you, Israel as a state (not just the current “Israeli government”) is indeed structurally racist.
Its foundation as a “Jewish state” in a country whose population at the time was mostly not Jewish is the very definition of racism. This reality required violent gerrymandering by the Zionist militias who formed the nucleus of the nascent “Israel Defence Forces”. In 1948, the Haganah militia, along with the Stern Gang and Irgun terrorist groups, set about expelling 750,000 Palestinians from the country for the “crime” of not being Jewish. Their legitimate return and the return of their children has been blocked ever since using a combination of racist laws and extreme violence. That is nothing if not a “racist endeavour”.
Furthermore, Israel continues to be defined in its laws and practices as a “Jewish state” rather than a state for all of its citizens, 20 per cent of whom are Palestinian Arabs. The recent “Nation State Law” further entrenched this apartheid structure and made it even more explicit. However, this is by no means the only such law. Human rights group Adalah documents more than 65 laws which privilege Jewish citizens of Israel over Palestinian citizens of Israel, to say nothing of the millions of Palestinians the West Bank and Gaza Strip living under Israel’s regime of military dictatorship.
Comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany are usually made as an attempt to shock people into action against the violent extremism represented by the Israeli occupation. More often than not, they are a form of hyperbole. That in itself is not any form of anti-Semitism, of course, but sometimes such comparisons are made by Israel politicians, usually inadvertently. Far-right — and thus mainstream in the Israeli context — politician and then deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament Moshe Feiglin, for example, made one such comparison indirectly in 2014.
During that year ‘s murderous Israeli war against the civilian population of Gaza, Feiglin called for the “conquest” of Gaza, the “annihilation” of all resistance fighters and for “the civilian population” to be expelled and “concentrated” in “tent encampments” in Egypt’s Sinai Desert. Of course, Nazi Germany did not invent concentration camps. That was done long before by the German and British Empires in South-West Africa (later Namibia) and South Africa respectively. And a concentration camp is not the same as the death camps where Nazi Germany systematically exterminated some 6 million Jews and millions of others.
Nonetheless, it’s hard not to see the spectre of fascism in Feiglin’s blood-curdling threats. That Israeli war in 2014 resulted in the killing of 2,200 Palestinians, including almost 500 children. Deliberately invoking concentration camps seems a special kind of threat; just like graffiti used frequently by the extremist “Jewish Defence League” in the occupied Palestinian city of Hebron— “Arabs to the gas chambers” — it seems calculated precisely to invoke the Nazis.
There’s also the well-documented (but underreported) fact that Israeli weapons and training are being given to an actual Nazi militia in Ukraine. The Avoz Battalion is an extremely racist and anti-Semitic group being aided by Western nations as well as Israel.
While such far-right fascists are never going to join the Labour Party, ironically the party’s adoption of the IHRA “working definition” into its rule book could mean the threat of expulsion for anyone drawing attention to the fact that Israeli politicians themselves have made fascism-Nazi-Israel comparisons.
A similar chilling example was seen in a recent speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “There is no place for the weak. The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.” There was much talk online that his speech seemed eerily reminiscent of a pre-war rant by Adolph Hitler.
If the Israeli Prime Minister seems to be making Nazi comparisons almost inevitable, why on earth should the Labour Party be banning them for being beyond the bounds of acceptable free speech?