It would be fair to say that the recent demonstrations in cities around the world during which Israel was likened to Nazi Germany, and Israeli soldiers to Nazi storm troopers, created a fair amount of angst among an appreciable number of Jews. But as this is hardly a new phenomenon, the surprise really lies in why so many Jews continue to be surprised.
It was back in 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon after one provocation too many by the PLO, which had set up a murderous mini-state in the country that had been affectionately known as the Paris of the Middle East, that the Nazi analogies began in full force. Since then, whenever Israel has mounted retaliatory operations against Palestinian terrorists, the canard has been trotted out with tiresome predictability by a subset of pundits and editorial cartoonists.
But playing the Nazi card goes back even before Lebanon, to a time when the Palestinians barely existed on the world’s radar screen and Israel was widely perceived as an underdog surrounded by much larger nations determined to eradicate it.
On July 7, 1967, barely a month after Israel’s celebrated victory in the Six-Day war, The New York Times published a letter to the editor which made the equation that in later years would become all too familiar.
“All persons who seek to view the Middle East problem with honesty and objectivity will stand aghast at Israel’s onslaught, the most violent, ruthless (and successful) aggression since Hitler’s blitzkrieg across Western Europe in the summer of 1940, aiming not at victory but at annihilation,” wrote Dr. Henry P. Van Dusen, a former president of Union Theological Seminary, the academic centerpiece of liberal Protestantism in America.
Van Dusen was ahead of his time, but 15 years later, with the Palestinian narrative having become received truth among the left-wing faithful, the locusts were loosed within days of Israel’s incursion into Lebanon.
“Incident by incident, atrocity by atrocity, Americans are coming to see the Israeli government as pounding the Star of David into a swastika,” wrote the liberal columnist Nicholas von Hoffman.
“In their zeal to ensure that the Jewish people never suffer another Holocaust, Israel’s leaders are imitating Hitler,” wrote the late, hopelessly mediocre columnist Carl Rowan.
Lefty columnist and author Pete Hamill conveniently cited an unnamed “Israeli friend” who supposedly said of Israel, “Forgive me, but all I can think of is the Nazis.”
Liberal columnist William Pfaff also looked eastward and beheld the Fourth Reich rising in Jerusalem, suggesting that “Hitler’s work goes on” and speculating that Hitler may “find rest in Hell” with “the knowledge that the Jews themselves, in Israel, have finally accepted his own way of looking at things.”
The late Alfred Friendly, former managing editor of the Washington Post, was in fine frenzy, stopping short of using the word “Nazi” but raising the specter of Israeli fascism just the same: “[Israel's] slaughters are on a par with Trujillo’s Dominican Republic or Papa Doc’s Haiti. Still absent are the jackboots, the shoulder boards, and the bemedalled chests, but one can see them, figuratively, on the minister of defense.”
Liberal columnists weren’t the only media types to take the sledgehammer to Israel. In Double Vision, his 1985 study of anti-Israel media bias, Zev Chafets noted that editorial cartoonists were particularly vicious and inclined toward the Nazi imagery favored by so many pundits:
Artist Steve Benson compared Ariel Sharon with Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and showed goose-stepping Israeli storm-troopers guarding a death camp labeled BEIRUT; Tony Auth depicted the ghost of a Jewish inmate of Auschwitz looking at a bombed-out site in Lebanon and, in horrified recognition, saying, “Oh, my God.”The Louisville Courier-Journal ran a picture of Begin looking into a hole where Lebanon had been, captioned “A final solution to the PLO problem,” and the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner carried a Bill Schorr cartoon in which Begin said, “For every problem, there is a final solution.”
The Indianapolis Star carried one cartoon by Oliphant of a wrecked city with a sign saying WARSAW GHETTO crossed out and the words WEST BEIRUT substituted and another with Israeli soldiers saying, “We are only obeying orders.” The Arizona Republic ran a picture of Begin wearing a badge saying NEVER AGAIN, and an Arab standing next to him wearing a button saying UNTIL NOW.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org