Iran, Israel and the Holocaust
|Monday, August 9,2010 15:12|
|By Lawrence Davidson|
On 5 August 2010 Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, citing a story by the Iranian news agency Fars, reported that a non-governmental organization in Iran had "launched a website with cartoons about the Holocaust aimed at undermining the historic dimensions of the mass murder of Jews". Israelis and Zionists reacted angrily to this announcement. Spokesmen at Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum, stated that the website was "yet the latest salvo emanating from Iran that denies the facts of the Holocaust and attempts to influence those who are ignorant of history". The Ha’aretz report also noted, somewhat resentfully, that "since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has not acknowledged Israel as a sovereign state and even refrained from using the name Israel, instead referring to the Jewish state as the Zionist regime".
Iran’s academics are no fools. Many of them have been trained in Western universities, but even those who have been trained elsewhere or locally are well read, multilingual and every bit as intelligent as scholars you will find in the West. Thus, my feeling is that most Iranian historians and others familiar with the research on the Holocaust know the truth of the matter. Indeed, when I was in Iran in 2005 I did not find any academics raising questions about the reality and extent of the Holocaust. However, five years later we are witness to regular attacks coming from Iran on the traditional interpretation of the Holocaust. So what is going on here? Is it just that the present Iranian leaders are a bunch of anti-Semites as the Zionists would have us believe? Or is there something else behind this questioning of a seminal tragedy?
Understanding the Holocaust as a Western event
For the West, the most disastrous event of the last century was the Holocaust. Yet, as horrible as the Holocaust was, it also was mainly a Western affair. With some justification one might argue that the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust are universal, but that does not negate the fact that Westerners did this to themselves. Thus, there is no reason why the West’s tragedy has to be the tragedy of all other peoples. This is an important fact and it helps explain why, if one goes to the Arab world today and asks people what is the greatest disaster of the 20th century, you are not going to get the Holocaust as the most common answer. Rather, from a good number of Arabs the answer will be the Nakba – the massive dispossession of the Palestinian people by Zionist invaders. Unfortunately, since 1948 an added complication has crept into this equation. Because of the attitude taken by the leaders of Israel and their Zionist supporters, the two disasters, the Holocaust and the Nakba, have become inextricably intertwined.
Unfortunately, even if you believe that Israel is a necessary retreat for threatened Jewry, the use of the Holocaust as a justification for Israel and its policies is a grave strategic mistake. For by underpinning its continued existence on preventing a second Holocaust, the defenders of Israel invite some of their adversaries to call into doubt the first Holocaust. As we have seen, these opponents, now led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, assert that the Zionists have, at best, exaggerated the victimhood of the Jews during World War II, or that they might be just making it all up to justify stealing Palestine. Thus, the website that has caused all the uproar is, according to Ha’aretz, "dedicated to those [Palestinians] who have been killed under the pretext of the Holocaust". In short, if you can establish doubt about your enemy’s core argument you have struck that enemy a serious blow.
Who is the target audience?
In this effort it is unlikely that the Iranian president or those behind the recent website are simply poking their fingers into the proverbial Western eye. The populations to whom they are really talking do not live in the West. They live in the non-Western world and more specifically the Muslim lands. Most of this audience have no more knowledge of modern European history than their Western counterparts have of Arab or Muslim history. Except, of course, that educated non-Westerners can readily identify the West with the history of modern imperialism. For many of them that is local history – the kind that stays in the collective memory for generations. So, while the average citizen of the Muslim lands probably knows little about the reality of the Holocaust, they are likely to know a lot about Israel as a surviving symbol of their immediate ancestors’ imperialist experience. Under the circumstances, convincing them that the Holocaust is a Western ploy to justify an imperialist crime is not such a difficult task. And, that is just what Iran’s anti-Holocaust rhetoric is all about.
An end result
Before righteous indignation sets in over this deception, keep in mind that the Zionist movement has just as easily convinced most Israeli and Zionist Jews of the correctness of Nakba denial. That is, that the Nakba never really happened and that the history of the founding of Israel was nothing other than the heroic struggle of a people to survive.
Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University. He is the author of numerous books, including Islamic Fundamentalism and America's Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood.