In recent years, some in the anti-Israel movement have engaged in the hateful and offensive practice of comparing Israeli policy to Nazism and using Holocaust-related language to condemn Israel more broadly, an effort to cast Israel as a demonic state that is bent on exterminating the Palestinian people.
This trend picked up significant steam in the spring of 2008, when anti-Israel activists held events across the United States to commemorate what they referred to as the 60th anniversary of the “Nakba” (an Arabic term meaning destruction that many Palestinians and their supporters use to describe the establishment of the Jewish state). Signs and rhetoric at some of these events made the claim that the so-called “Nakba” and the Holocaust are comparable 20th century historical events and that the Palestinians are going through a Holocaust at the hands of Israel.
This theme escalated six months later, when Israel launched military operations in Gaza to thwart Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Hundreds of demonstrations in the U.S. against Israeli policy took place during the three-week-long war, many of which featured signs and slogans that referred to Israelis as Nazis, condemned the alleged “Palestinian Holocaust” and referred to Gaza as a “ghetto” or a “concentration camp.” The predominant image of these rallies featured a swastika being compared to the Star of David, the national symbol of Israel.
In the years that have followed, anti-Israel rallies that often take place outside Israeli consulates and in other public venues have been marked by hateful accusations that Israel engages in behavior that can be compared to Nazism and that the “victims,” i.e. Jews, have now become the oppressors. Protesters at the anti-Israel rallies that took place during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 called for an end to “the Nazi occupation of Gaza,” described Gaza as today’s “Warsaw Ghetto” and accused Israel of committing a genocide and massacre of the Palestinian people.
Similarly, anti-Israel protests held in August 2013 that were organized in an effort to call for the establishment of Jerusalem as a Muslim holy city featured the following slogans, “Children Are Buried Alive, Holocaust Is Revived,” “Stop Palestinian Genocide: End Zionist Apartheid,” and “Israel, Much Worse Than the Nazis,” the latter with a picture of a swastika.
Anti-Israel student groups have also used Holocaust analogies to condemn Israel. The Muslim Student Union (MSU) at the University of California, Irvine, held a weeklong program in May 2008 called “Never Again? Palestinian Holocaust” which featured a well-known anti-Semite and numerous anti-Israel speakers. That same anti-Semitic speaker, Amir Abdul Malik Ali, has appeared at MSU-organized events on numerous occasions and has used this platform to describe Zionists as the “new Nazis” and warn pro-Palestinian students not to engage in dialogue with Jewish students because Jews would not have dialogued with Nazis.
Other American college campuses have also served as a venue for events comparing Israeli policy to the Holocaust. In May 2013, for example, students at Florida Atlantic University hosted an event called “Palestinian Nakba: Holy Land Holocaust.” And earlier this academic year, the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at San Diego State University launched a recruitment effort that analogized a supporter of modern-day Israel to a “grandson of a Nazi” and claimed that the international community’s willful ignorance of Israel’s transgressions is comparable to the Europeans’ obliviousness of the horrors of the Holocaust in the 1930s and 40s. The recruitment tool, a series of slides that featured statements by celebrities who oppose Israel, also included an infamous line by Richard Falk, the UN Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, who said: “Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment with Palestinians with the criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not.”
Perhaps the most obvious example of the effort to demonize Israel by invoking the memory of the Holocaust took place in 2011 when a group of anti-Zionist Holocaust survivors embarked on a speaking tour called “Never Again for Anyone,” which sought to make the claim that the “Never Again” motto that has been used about the Holocaust should also apply to the plight of the Palestinian people. The tour, which visited a dozen college campuses, featured presentations in which speakers claimed that the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza is comparable to Jews’ treatment in concentration camps, that Israel engages in “Nazi tactics” and that the “descendants of the victims have become the oppressors.”
While this theme has been touted on the peripheries of mainstream society and the vast majority of people easily recognize how distorted, offensive and inaccurate this analogy is, there is some evidence that invoking the Holocaust to demonize Israel could seep into the mainstream.
Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple, and an outspoken critic of Israeli policy, recently published a book about her activism with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which she compared Israelis to Nazis on several occasions. In a passage describing efforts to boycott the 2009 Toronto film festival because it planned to showcase Israeli filmmakers, Walker wrote that the festival is comparable to “festivals in the past, festivals leading up to World War II,” which were designed to “make the bully look more respectable.” And, in a section discussing her encounter with a young Israeli soldier at a checkpoint in the Palestinian territories, she wrote, “I couldn’t bring myself to use the “N” word, but I did say [to him]: Don’t you think this behavior – insulting, threatening, humiliating – makes you all seem rather Germanesque? I meant the old Germanesque of the late thirties and early forties, not the current Germanesque.”