Deadly comparisons


As a historian of the Holocaust I have always recognized its uniqueness. But without comparisons and the ability to correctly read the warning signals of looming catastrophes, such knowledge remains sterile and liable to paralyze timely action. Hence I respectfully disagree with The Jerusalem Post’s April 17 editorial, “Bad Comparisons,” which targets the “conflation” of Nazi Germany and contemporary Iran, allegedly made in my book A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad (2010).

The quotation from the book which is offered is not an assertion of identity between Nazism and Shi’ite fundamentalism.

It points rather to the similarity between Iran’s “apocalyptic anti-Semitism” (a term I coined 30 years ago) and the Nazi fixation on the annihilation of Jews as a necessary prologue to the “liberation of humanity.” This hideous project is now focused on the Jewish state in the Middle East and once again, six million Jews find themselves at risk. Not only that, but the Iranian leadership still uses a familiar Nazi language – describing the Jews of Israel as a “cancerous tumor” that must be totally excised. From ayatollah Khomeini through president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the present supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, the “Zionist entity” has been repeatedly dehumanized as a “filthy microbe,” a “deadly virus,” a “cancer,” or as an “agent of Satan.” The supposedly “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani is no different in this regard, having referred to Israel on July 31, 2014, as this “festering Zionist tumor.”

Furthermore, Iran makes no secret of its aspirations for world conquest by Shi’ite Islam under its own leadership.

True, this vision is tied to the return of the Hidden Imam rather than to the worship of Volk, Fatherland and Führer or to a master-race ideal. But as in the case of the Nazi utopia, the imperial dream is linked to the idea of a final reckoning with the Jews. Before then a number of stages have to be traversed.

Like the ayatollahs, the Nazis, too, began by first seeking regional hegemony.

They then expanded the Third Reich by exploiting European economic chaos, national divisions, anti-Semitism as a major propaganda weapon, and dispersed German ethnic minorities.

But it was the dismal appeasement policies of the West and its capitulation at Munich (1938) when Hitler’s Germany was still relatively weak which opened the door for Nazi expansion.

The analogies with Iran today should be obvious – especially at a time when President Barack Obama’s America is in full retreat, when there is a major Sunni/Shi’ite confrontation throughout the region, Arab revolutions have failed and Iran has already extended its control to Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad and Yemen. In pointing to such parallels, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fulfilled his duty as Israel’s leader, accurately describing the reality and warning the world against self-deception and delusion. The same cannot be said about the current American president, contemporary European leaders or Israeli critics who in their eagerness to accommodate a nuclear-threshold Iran seem to be repeating every mistake made by the West in the 1930s.

Let us remember that contemporary Iran is not a normal state. It is an ideological semi-totalitarian theocracy which loathes the West. Moreover for the first time since Hitler’s Reich we have a powerful state formally inscribing anti-Semitism as a state doctrine.

This takes the twin form of official Holocaust denial and state-sanctioned annihilationist “anti-Zionism,” which has become an integral part of Khomeinist Iran’s national-religious identity since 1979. That is the meaning of the recent statement by a top Iranian general that the need for Israel’s extinction is non-negotiable.

TODAY, ONCE more, we see a deafening silence from Western leaders and decision-makers whenever Iran threatens Israel with total destruction. The subject is not even on the agenda in the nuclear negotiations, any more than is Iran’s expansionist drive, its subversive regional activities and determined support for global terrorism. Such Western silence over Iran’s genocidal anti-Semitism and hegemonic ambitions (so reminiscent of the 1930s) will in the longer run boomerang dramatically against the West. But for both Israel and the Sunni Arab world, this problem and especially its terrorist dimensions already exists in the here-and-now.

The West continues to consistently underestimate the Iranian theocrats, just as it once did with Hitler. This is part of its wider failure to grasp the aims, the attraction and impact of the totalitarian ideology of radical Islam.

Often in the past this was treated merely as a passing phase or the craze of marginalized fanatics, not as a coherent world-view. This misconception is still there though it is being undermined by a harsh reality. Belatedly, the West has woken up to the security and terrorist threat posed by the jihadis.

In pained surprise, Europeans face the prospect of home-grown “warriors of Allah” sprouting from their own soil or returning from the killing fields of Iraq and Syria to wreak havoc and terror.

The writing was on the wall for at least 15 years. However, as long as jihadism could be reduced to “Israel’s problem,” it was downplayed or disregarded.

Much the same happened in the 1930s with Nazi anti-Semitism. As a result the West was forced to fight for its own survival. Even then the Allies still marginalized or largely ignored the Holocaust. Israel certainly cannot allow that to happen again. Fortunately, as we celebrate Israel’s 67th year of independence, there is every reason to trust in our military, moral and economic strength.

The writer is professor of Jewish History and Head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

April 28, 2015 | Comments »

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