Israeli politicians give haters an open goal when they politicise the Shoah

May 05, 2016 12:26

Could Israeli politicians do more to draw a red line around the Holocaust, demarcating it as off-limits for Israel-haters who invoke it to make misguided arguments?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never said anything that could be construed as supporting Ken Livingstone's comments about Hitler and Zionism, despite what the former London mayor claimed over the weekend. And Israeli politicians are not to blame for the stupidity of their country's most vociferous critics.

However, they could send out the message that invoking the Holocaust is not a legitimate way to criticise Israel by avoiding using it for their own political purposes.

When a German department store, KaDeWe, temporarily removed Golan Heights wine from its shelves in November, Mr Netanyahu invoked the Holocaust. New EU guidelines require products originating from Israeli businesses on land that Israel captured in 1967 to be marked with the words, "Israeli settlement" or with "equivalent" phrasing. The store had been acting on those guidelines.

"This department store had been owned by Jews; the Nazis took it," Mr Netanyahu said. "Absurdly, the store is now labelling products from communities in Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights." He declared the removal of the wines unacceptable "morally" and "historically".

Two weeks previously, he shocked scholars and survivors by wrongly suggesting that it was the Second World War-era Palestinian leader, the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who conceived the Final Solution. The mufti was pro-Nazi, but did not come up with their extermination programme.

When Mr Netanyahu made his bizarre claim, he was venting his anger over the wave of Palestinian terrorism against Israelis, which had just begun.

But by bringing the Holocaust into the discussion, and making a blatantly untrue claim that attributed the Final Solution to a Palestinian leader, he helped turn the subject into a political football that Mr Livingstone happily punted around the field.

One in five Israeli citizens is Arab, and their political representatives also have a responsibility to avoid politicising the Shoah. Sadly, they sometimes do the opposite. MK Haneen Zoabi gave a toxic speech on the latest Kristallnacht anniversary, saying: "Kristallnacht didn't suddenly fall from the sky, come out of nowhere. It was the result of a development over time, and we can see a similar development happening in Israel over the last several years."

However, sometimes Arab politicians hit the spot precisely.

In 2010, MK Ahmed Tibi, one of the most extreme and insulting critics of Israeli policy and advocates of the Palestinian narrative, gave what Reuven Rivlin, now president, called "one of the best" Shoah speeches he ever heard in the Knesset. Mr Tibi condemned the Holocaust - "an industry of death, which was borne of an ideology of hate" - and Holocaust denial. Which goes to show that a red line can be drawn and respected.

May 05, 2016 12:26

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