by Richard L. Cravatts, PhD
“What if the Jews themselves were Nazis?,” mused French philosopher, Vladimir Jankélévitch in 1986. “That would be great. We would no longer have to feel sorry for them; they would have deserved what they got.”
The recasting of Israelis, and, by extension, Jews as Nazis has, in fact, taken place, just as Jankélévitch envisioned. This summer’s Israeli incursion, Operation Protective Edge, provided anti-Semites and loathers of the Jewish state with resurgent justifications for assigning the epithet of Nazi on the Jews yet another time, together with oft-heard accusations of “crimes against humanity, “massacres,” genocide,” and, according to recent comments by Turkey’s prime minister Tayyip Erdoğan, in their treatment of the Palestinians, Israel has demonstrated that “. . . their barbarism has surpassed even Hitler’s.”
The Nazification of Israelis—and by extension Jews—is both breathtaking in its moral inversion and cruel in the way it makes the actual victims of the Third Reich’s horrors a modern-day reincarnation of that same barbarity. It is, in the words of Boston University’s Richard Landes, “moral sadism,” a salient example of Holocaust inversion that is at once ahistorical, disingenuous, and grotesque in its moral and factual inaccuracy.
In reflecting on the current trend he perceived in the burgeoning of anti-Israelism around the world, Canadian Member of Parliament, Irwin Cotler, once observed that conventional strains of anti-Semitism had been masked, so that those who directed enmity towards Jews were now able to transfer that opprobrium to the Jew of nations, Israel. How had they effected that? According to Cotler, they did so by redefining Israel as the most glaring example of those human predations, what he called “the embodiment of all evil” of the Twentieth Century: apartheid and Nazism. He defined the process of grafting this opprobrium on Israel as “ideological anti-Semitism,” one which “involves the characterization of Israel not only as an apartheid state—and one that must be dismantled as part of the struggle against racism—but as a Nazi one.”
Most important for the anti-Israel cause, Cotler contended, once Israel had been tarred with the libels of racism and Nazism, the Jewish state had been made an international outlaw, a pariah, losing its moral right to even exist—exactly, of course, what its foes have consistently sought. “These very labels of Zionism and Israel as ‘racist, apartheid and Nazi’ supply the criminal indictment,” said Cotler. “No further debate is required. The conviction that this triple racism warrants the dismantling of Israel as a moral obligation has been secured. For who would deny that a ‘racist, apartheid, Nazi’ state should not have any right to exist today?”
What is more troubling is that the characterization of the Israeli as Nazi is a trope now promulgated by Western elites and so-called intellectuals, including a broad contingent of academics who are complicit in, and in fact intellectual enablers of, the campaign to defame Israel by Nazifying its people and accusing Jews again as being the world’s moral and existential enemies as demonstrated by their oppression and brutality toward the long-suffering Palestinians. Thus, campus anti-Israel hate-fests sponsored by radical student groups have such repellant names as “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” “Israel: The Politics of Genocide,” or “Israel: The Fourth Reich,” creating a clear, though mendacious, linkage between Nazism and Zionism.
One of the early academic voices to have assigned the Nazi epithet to Israel was heard in a November 2000 speech by Francis A. Boyle, a law professor at the University of Illinois and one of the principal promoters of the global Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In that speech, Boyle made the exact linkage to which Cotler alluded, conflating Israel’s alleged racism with apartheid-like behavior and suggesting, even more ominously, that the ongoing “genocide” against the Palestinians had parallels with the Nazi’s own heinous offenses. “The paradigmatic example of a crime against humanity is what Hitler and the Nazis did to the Jewish People,” Boyle said. “This is where the concept of crime against humanity was formulated and came from. And this is what the U.N. Human Rights Commission is now saying that Israel is doing to the Palestinian People. A crime against humanity.”
That same trope is repeated and reinforced by other academics, such as Richard Falk, professor emeritus of International Law and Policy at Princeton University and the UN’s former, preposterously-titled “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,” who wondered aloud if it was “an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity?” on the part of Israel, and then quickly answered his own question by saying, “I think not.”
In the morally-defective pantheon of the academic defamers of Israel, perhaps no single individual has emerged as the paradigmatic libeler, the most vitriolic and widely-followed character in an inglorious retinue as Norman Finkelstein, late of DePaul University. Finkelstein has loudly and notoriously pronounced his extreme views on the Middle East, not to mention his loathing of what he has called the Holocaust “industry,” something he has called an “outright extortion racket;” in fact, he blames Jews themselves for anti-Semitism.
Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, has pure political intentions and passively yearns for truces and safe borders, according to Mr. Finkelstein, while the invidious state of Israel, fearing moderate Arab foes who will force it into peace, is obdurate, conniving, and bellicose. In fact, Finkelstein suggested, Israel is collectively going mad, while everyone else in the rational world yearns for Middle Eastern peace: “I think Israel, as a number of commentators pointed out, is becoming an insane state. . . In the first week of the massacres, there were reports in the Israeli press that Israel did not want to put all its ground forces in Gaza because it was preparing attacks on Iran. Then there were reports it was planning attacks on Lebanon. It is a lunatic state.”
If Finkelstein lives in an academic netherworld of political fantasies, conspiracies, and intellectually-imbecilic distortions of history and fact, his spiritual mentor, MIT’s professor emeritus of linguistics Noam Chomsky, has inhabited a similar ideological sphere, but has become an even more widely-known, eagerly-followed creature of the Israel-hating, America-hating Left.
While he is happy to, and regularly does, ignore the murder of Jews by Palestinians, Chomsky never hesitates to point to the perfidy of Israel, and its barbarous assault on their Arab neighbors who, in his socialist fantasies, wish for nothing more than to live in peace. He draws the perverse parallel between Israelis and Nazis so frequently in his writings that, to paraphrase the wry Professor Edward Alexander, he would be rendered nearly speechless if he was unable to use the epithet of Nazi against Israel in every sentence he utters. The rogue state of “Israel has tried killing, beating, gassing, mass arrests, deportation, destruction of houses, curfews and other forms of harsh collective punishment,” Chomsky wrote, and yet, even in the face of this hideous, Nazi-like behavior by Israel, “nothing has succeeded in enforcing obedience or eliciting a violent response.”
In January of 2009, a tenured sociology professor, William I. Robinson, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, sent an odious email to the 80 students in his “Sociology 130SG: The Sociology of Globalization” course with the explicit message that Israelis are the new Nazis. Under the heading “Parallel images of Nazis and Israelis,” the email displayed a photo-collage of 42 side-by-side, grisly photographs meant to suggest an historical equivalence between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in its occupation of Gaza and the Third Reich’s subjugation of the Warsaw Ghetto and its treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. Robinson sent the email without supplying any context for it, nor did it seemingly have any specific relevance to or connection with the course’s content.
At Columbia University’s department of Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS), an academic division with a long history of anti-Israel, anti-American bias and politicized scholarship, Joseph Massad, an associate professor of modern Arab politics, regularly espouses his loathing of Israel in fringe, anti-Semitic publications like Counterpunch and The Electronic Intifada, or in the Arab press, and never misses an opportunity to denigrate the Jewish state as a racist, colonial enterprise, a moral stain on the world without any semblance of legitimacy. In his perfervid imagination, Israelis, as he never tires as mentioning, have become the new Nazis and the Palestinians the Jews. “As Palestinians are murdered and injured in the thousands,” he wrote after Operation Cast Lead in January of 2009 when Israel was defending itself against some 6000 rockets attacks from Gaza, “world powers are cheering on . . , and it even happened during World War II as the Nazi genocide was proceeding.” Perversely likening the barbaric aggression of Hamas from within Gaza to the efforts of Warsaw Jews to repel imminent extermination by the Nazis, Massad obscenely suggested that “The Gaza Ghetto Uprising will mark both the latest chapter in Palestinian resistance to colonialism and the latest Israeli colonial brutality in a region whose peoples will never accept the legitimacy of a racist European colonial settlement in their midst.”
It is Israel’s actions alone―that and the support of the United States―which are the root cause of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the Jewish state’s behavior is murderous, unethical, and brutal, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Jennifer Loewenstein, Associate Director of the Middle East Studies Program. Israel, she wrote, “speaks with a viper’s tongue over the multiple amputee of Palestine whose head shall soon be severed from its body in the name of justice, peace and security,” and “Israel has made its view known again and again in the strongest possible language, the language of military might, of threats, intimidation, harassment, defamation and degradation.”
This summer, while the Gaza incursion was raging, Dr. Julio Pino, associate professor of history at Kent State University, published a vitriolic open letter in which he chastised the “academic friends of Israel” who have “chosen to openly work for and brag about academic collaboration with a regime that is the spiritual heir to Nazism . . . I curse you more than the Israelis,” he told his academic colleagues, “for while The Chosen drain the blood of innocents without apologies you hide behind the mask of academic objectivity, nobility of research and the reward of teaching to foreign youth . . . Lest you think this is a personal attack I swear it applies equally to all who engage in collaboration with fascism, and we both know the fate of collaborators. In the same manner, only with more zeal, than you have sworn to the Jewish State I pledge to you, and every friend and stooge of Zionism.”
Occasionally, when an academic makes public his loathing of the Jewish state, and continues to demonize and libel Israel beyond the bounds of what would be considered acceptable scholarly discourse, there are consequences—though rarely. This summer, for instance, Steven Salaita, author of Israel’s Dead Soul and perennial critic of Zionism, had an employment offer from the University of Illinois withdrawn once the school’s president was made aware of some of Salaita’s virulent Twitter posts about Israel. During the widely-criticized Gaza incursion, Salaita tweeted that “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?” He also blamed anti-Semitism on Jews themselves, as many anti-Semites do, by asserting that Israel’s behavior causes the hatred of Jews, that “By eagerly conflating Jewishness and Israel, Zionists are partly responsible when people say antisemitic shit in response to Israeli terror.”
As grotesque and distorted as these calumnies against Israel are, as perverse and inaccurate the comparisons drawn between Nazism and Zionism and between Nazis and Israelis are, and as wildly hateful these libels are to the point of being, as defined by the State Department’s own working definition, anti-Semitic in nature—the branding of Israel as the Nazi of nations by these academics serves to reinforce, and give credibility to, similar hatreds and biases expressed outside the university walls.
This is a lethal narrative because when it is believed the world naturally asks itself, as Cotler warned: if Israel is a Nazi-like, apartheid regime, standing in opposition to everything for which the civilized community of nations stands, who cannot hold Israel accountable and judge it harshly for its transgressions? That against all historical evidence and the force of reason the calumny against Israel that it is a murderous, sadistic, and genocidal regime has been successfully promoted and continues to gain traction indicates that Israel’s academic defamers have been successful in inverting history as part of the modern day incarnation of the world’s oldest hatred.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., is the president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and the author of Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel & Jews.