Yesterday I commented on the outrageous demagoguery of Prime Minister Netanyahu who told the German foreign minister that, "Judea and Samaria [official Israeli jargon for the occupied West Bank] cannot be Judenrein," a term that invokes the genocidal anti-Semitic policies of the Nazi regime. Now the ultra-right wing Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has gone one better. Reuters reports that, “Lieberman told Israeli ambassadors to circulate the 1941 shot in Berlin of the Nazi leader seated next to Haj Amin al-Husseini, the late mufti or top Muslim religious leader in Jerusalem. One official said Lieberman, an ultranationalist, hoped the photo would ‘embarrass’ Western countries into ceasing to demand that Israel halt the project on land owned by the mufti’s family in a predominantly Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem.”
For many years, right-wing Zionists and others have tried to use the Hitler-Husseini association as a tool to justify the most outrageous Israeli behavior, and to suggest that Palestinian identity itself and the Palestinian national movement is nothing more or less than a creation and form of Nazism. This message has been a central feature of the Islamophobic campaign in the United States post-9/11, and was the main thrust of the film, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West,” whose original principal marketer and de facto producer is the quasi-official propaganda organization honestreporting.com, closely linked to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
The argument that the Palestinian cause is in essence a Nazi plot has developed a considerable following on the Israeli and pro-Israeli far-right in the years since the second intifada began in September, 2000. The film “Obsession” promoted this balderdash shamelessly and to a wide audience, and Lieberman is invoking the same idea. In this rhetoric, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is totally decontextualized and the occupation simply unmentioned as a factor. The entire blame for tensions is placed on Palestinian television, textbooks, media, etc., as if the occupation itself were not the ultimate form of incitement. The whole point is to change the subject from the occupation as the obvious proximate cause of the conflict and indict Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims as such by attacking their beliefs and culture, particularly as a derivation and form of Nazism, and implicitly justify the occupation and settlements.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, at least 28 million DVD copies of “Obsession” were suddenly distributed free of charge via mail and newspaper inserts to huge numbers of unsuspecting American voters. The context of this distribution barrage was unmistakable. The candidacy of US Senator Barack Obama, a Christian whose Kenyan father was of Muslim origin, was the target of numerous attacks claiming that he was secretly a Muslim, in league with Muslims or disloyal because of his family’s partly Muslim heritage. The sudden reintroduction of the film and its free distribution to millions of voters, primarily in swing states, was plainly intended to serve a dual purpose: first, to reinforce its message of Islamophobic and anti-Arab hatred, and second, to encourage bigoted anxieties about Obama’s heritage and connections to the Muslim world.
The organization behind the distribution campaign during the election was a shadowy group called the Clarion Fund, which appears to be an offshoot of the right wing Aish HaTorah organization in Israel. According to the Jewish Week newspaper, “the ties between Aish HaTorah and the production of the films appear to date back to the launch of the media watchdog group Honest Reporting by the founder and former executive director of the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, Irwin Katsof, in 2001.” Rabbi Raphael Shore serves as the executive directory of The Clarion Fund and is also a full-time employee of Aish HaTorah. In addition, the spokesperson of the Clarion Fund, Gregory Ross, was listed as an Aish HaTorah international fundraiser on a June 2007 federal election contribution form.
“Obsession” and similar propaganda discuss Nazi efforts to reach out to Arabs and Muslims in the 30s and 40s, as if similar efforts were not made with regard to the other colonized peoples in the British and French empires. These policies are not presented as predictable attempts to cause problems for global rivals — which is what they were — but as demonstrating some kind of special affinity between Arabs and Nazis, which is preposterous. The alliance between Amin al-Husseini and Hitler is not presented as one between political figures brought together by mutual British enemies, but as an inevitable linking of kindred spirits.
The farcical implications this kind of rhetoric are clear – Muslims, above all Palestinians, were Nazis during the Second World War and clamoring to serve Hitler’s agenda, and continue on that path to this very day. In our contemporary western discourse, almost no mention is ever made of the tens of thousands of Muslims who served, and thousands who died, in the allied armies and played a significant role in the defeat of Germany and its allies. No one ever mentions, to take only one instance, the almost half a million Muslims who are estimated to have been serving in the British Army during World War II, more than 300,000 who joined during the war itself. The numerous stories of Albanian Muslims sheltering Jewish refugees have only recently been told in English in “Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II” by Norman H. Gershman (Syracuse University Press, 2008). Equally ignored are similar heroic efforts by the Turkish diplomats Selahattin Ulkummen, Necdet Kent, and Namik Kemal Yolga. And the efforts by numerous Arabs in Vichy-France occupied Morocco and Algeria to protect Jews has been outlined for the first and only time in the West in Robert Satloff’s “Among the Righteous” (PublicAffairs, 2007). But all of this is generally ignored in favor of the myth of the Arabs and Palestinians as rabid junior Nazis who deserve everything they get.
This is a crude and obvious effort to make Amin al-Husseini stand in for all Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, whose actions are supposed to create a collective guilt that then justifies the worst abuses the Israeli occupation can dish out to innocent Palestinian civilians. Lieberman actually wants his hapless diplomats (who I actually feel a little sorry for in this instance) to go to European officials and say, “Yes, we are building illegal settlements in occupied territory in violation of international law and our own Roadmap commitments, but its ok: the Palestinians are all just a bunch of Nazis, and we have a photo from 1941 to prove it.”