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Likening Israel to Nazi Germany is wrong, and harms Palestinians

The comparison is inaccurate, morally wrong, and antisemitic. Also, if you accuse someone of the wrong crime, they will be acquitted.


Posted 13 May 2023. Updated 17 May 2023.

About 20 years ago, I received at my PricewaterhouseCoopers work email account (from outside the firm) a collection of photographs and cartoons. They comprised about 10 of images, putting side-by-side something from Nazi Germany and the Holocaust and something from contemporary Palestine. For example, images of barbed wire enclosing people, images of uniformed soldiers rounding up people.

The images had high emotional resonance. For a short time (perhaps seconds or minutes) the comparisons looked plausible, and then common sense combined with my existing knowledge base kicked in and I focused on how invalid the comparison was. Obviously, I did not forward the images to others as the sender had requested.

For a wider history, see the Wikipedia article “Comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany.”

When I was with the Muslim Council of Britain from 2008 to 2010, some of my colleagues would regularly talk about the “Israeli genocide in Gaza.” My point that bad things were happening in Gaza, but they were not genocide (in particular because the numbers of Palestinian dead were tiny in comparison to the Palestinian population of Gaza), was swatted to one side with the argument that genocide covers killing part of a population. (I discuss the definition below).

Most recently, on 25 April 2023 the Jewish Chronicle carried a story “Government diversity guru steps down after ‘Zionazi’ tweets revealed Maqsood Ghulam Ahmad told a Jewish advocacy group 'may I suggest you occupy New York and declare that as the only Jewish State'”.

On 10 May 2023 the Jewish Chronicle carried an update “Head of Muslim charity praised by Charles endorsed Jew-hate conspiracies - Nasar Mahmood backed claims Israel steals dead Palestinians’ organs”.

I have known Nasar Mahmood, the Chair of Trustees of the British Muslim Heritage Centre (“BMHC”), for decades (for a time we were at the same secondary school after my school merged with his), and have know Maqsood Ahmad, the now departed CEO of BMHC, for just over four years. Maqsood Ahmad is one of my over 2,500 Facebook friends, but as far as I can recall I have never seen any of his Facebook posts that are the subject of the articles.

I find it dispiriting how otherwise sensible people, who genuinely care about community cohesion, lose all ability to think critically when it comes to Israel and Palestine, and then allow their hostility to Israel to morph into sharing wider antisemitic tropes as the Jewish Chronicle stories report them doing on Facebook and Twitter.

I am confident that people who make such comparisons think that they are somehow helping the Palestinian people. Actually, they are harming Palestinians.

Why these comparisons are wrong

Firstly, they are factually incorrect

After Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, the Nazis introduced increasingly severe discrimination against Jews, followed by murderous violence (for example Kristallnacht) culminating in the Holocaust when they set out to exterminate all Jews in all territories under Nazi control.

Israel has a 20% Palestinian minority. They are full legal citizens with the right to vote and to be elected to the Knesset, serve as judges on the Supreme Court etc. In certain areas Israeli law does distinguish between Israeli Jewish citizens and Israeli Palestinian citizens, but they are very few and discussing them would be a distraction in this article.

Palestinian residents of Gaza and the West Bank are not Israeli citizens. Israel ceased to occupy Gaza with troops in 2005 but along with Egypt still controls its borders and blockades Gaza in many ways.

In the West Bank, Israeli military law applies to Palestinians while Jewish settlers are governed by Israeli civil law. Accordingly, there is much that is problematical about Israel’s behaviour with regard to Gaza and the West Bank; the detailed history and Israel’s justifications would also be a distraction.

My key point is that Israel is not seeking, and never has sought, to exterminate the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank.

The Wikipedia article “Palestinian casualties of war” lists estimated Palestinian deaths going back to 1920 and comes up with a cumulative death toll of 31,227. When compared with the number of Palestinians who have lived there between 1920 and now, this is a tiny percentage, and would remain tiny if it was doubled or tripled.

Given the total military domination of Israel over the last 50 years, if the Israelis had a policy of exterminating Palestinians, they would have been able to kill far more, probably approaching 100%, had they wished to do so. It takes only a moment of thinking to realise that this.

Genocide is defined in the United Nations “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” of 1948, written in response to the Holocaust.

Genocide is defined in Article II, which is copied below:

Article II

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

While the text does include within genocide destroying or mistreating less than 100% of the population (it uses the language “in whole or in part”), by “members” or “in part” it clearly means a substantial part and not an inconsequential number.

If Country A deliberately murders 100 citizens of Country B, Country A may have committed various crimes, but genocide is not one of them.

Secondly, they are morally wrong

The Holocaust was so awful that it is hard to take in. We build mental defensive barriers against it because otherwise it would be so painful even for those of us who are not Jewish and had no relatives involved as victims (or indeed as perpetrators.) See my article “Reflections on visiting Auschwitz.”

Just imagine how painful it is if you are Jewish, regardless of whether you live in Israel or in the diaspora, to have Israel compared to Nazi Germany. Such comparisons are made to hurt Jews which is why the IHRA definition of antisemitism includes the following as a prima facie marker of antisemitism:

“Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

How it harms Palestinians

The reason such comparisons harm Palestinians is so obvious that the failure by people making the comparisons to identify it is yet more evidence of how their obsession with Israel vitiates their ability to think analytically.

It is best explained by the following example.

A man walks into a shop. He punches the shopkeeper on the nose, causing it to bleed, steals the cash in the till, and runs away. He is caught, arrested, and put on trial. However, the crime he is charged with is murdering the shopkeeper.

At the trial, the defence successfully proves that the shopkeeper is still alive. The jury obviously acquits the defendant who walks free.

That is what happens when you charge somebody with a crime that is different from the crime that they have actually committed.

Making such comparisons harms Palestinians because the comparisons are so “over-the-top” that they make it easier for Israel to have its actual misconduct in the West Bank ignored.

The United Kingdom government is quite clear that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank are unlawful. See for example the statement by The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade Nigel Huddleston MP on 23 March 2023 reproduced below from Hansard:

“The UK has a clear position on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: they are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace and the two-state solution. As set out in Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office guidance on overseas business risk, there are clear risks to UK businesses related to economic and financial activities in the settlements and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity.”

Britons who want to help Palestinians should be asking the UK government why it is not taking stronger measures, for example why the Government does not prohibit British citizens from buying property in settlements that the UK government considers to be illegal.

However, anyone who shares Nazi comparisons automatically destroys any ability they might have had to ask such questions of the UK government because they have put themselves outside the boundary of reasonable discourse.

Postscript 17 May 2023

With my permission, my article has been republished by Liberal Democrats for Peace in the Middle East and by TalkMatters.


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