In the wake of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments about Israel and the Holocaust, condemnation has been rightly loud and pointed. Denunciations have rung out from the usual capitals, and the European Union has waded in with threatened sanctions. Most observers are citing his remarks as an indication of the alarming drift Iran has taken away from moderation back to the fundamentalist zeal that marked the original revolution in 1980.
But in the hoopla surrounding Ahmadinejad’s speech people are carefully avoiding commenting on the parts that could strike a nerve among the Western nations that are so quick to condemn his comments. Everybody has been eager to talk about his denial of the Holocaust, but the rest of the speech is barely mentioned.
In it he asks the West, why if they were the ones guilty of committing crimes against the Jewish people, they have not paid the price in land? Why, he asks are the Palestinians bearing the burden of Western atonement?
I’m not defending his comments about the myth of the Holocaust, or his arguments about the land that’s been designated as Israel by the U. N. But he has certainly torn at the scab of the barely healed over wound of the treatment Jews received by the West in the days leading up to and during World War Two.
In spite of the fact that as early as 1933 people were aware of the existence of the concentration camps, and the laws in Nazi Germany stripping Jewish people of all rights and privileges. In spite of Kristallnacht in 1938 (a concentrated attack on Jewish businesses, synagogues and homes throughout Germany and Austria over the course of one night), and the high profile immigration of such people like Albert Einstein and Bertol Brecht, a blind eye and a deaf ear were turned to the crimes and the pleas for opening boarders to refugees.
Canada, the United States, and Great Britain all refused to take in any more people than they would in a normal year. Anti-Semitism was still rife in these predominantly Anglo-Saxon countries, and even sympathetic people like Franklin Roosevelt had his hands tied by an isolationist congress that was unwilling to get involved in what they viewed as another countries internal problems.
As the Nazi’s occupied Europe, both in the East and the West, they never had any shortage of willing assistants form local people when it came to rounding up the Jewish populations. Old ingrained bigotries were quickly brought to the surface in places like Poland, the Ukraine, Latvia, France, and Romania to name a few.
Ironically enough one of the countries that had the lowest rates of collaboration was Germany’s ally Italy. Even though they had the same laws on the books as the Germans enforcement was never strictly adhered too.
Of course throughout Europe there were always individuals who were willing to risk themselves for the sake of others but they were not their governments. No government was willing to take in or offer succour to Jews and risk alienating their own voters. Nobody was going to go to war “over the Jews”.
The Zionist movement was formed long before World War two and it’s accompanying horrors. Already prominent Jewish leader, bankers, and business people were realizing that to have any hope of Jews exiting as a viable cultural identity in the world they would need to be able to stop wandering. One of their first choices was the land of Palestine.
Since the exile had begun in Palestine, or Israel as it was referred to in the Torah from the time of Moses onward, and it was the dream of most Jews to return to the holy land, they thought that it was the right objective. At that time of course it was physically impossible as the whole territory was controlled by the Turkish Empire and had been since the time of the Crusades.
It wasn’t until the end of World War one that the situation changed and Jerusalem was opened to the world again. At that time there were both Jews and Arabs living there who could trace their roots back since the dawns of their respective religions. As had been the case in Moorish Spain everyone had lived a peaceful co-existence under the rule of the Saracens of the Ottoman Empire.
It would have seemed like a natural occurrence for Jews fleeing Hitler and the Nazis to in the thirties go to Palestine, but the British were limiting immigration into the territory so as to maintain a balance of populations between Jew and Arab. Any boats caught carrying refugees from Europe were turned back or sunk by the British Navy.
The events of World War Two only emphasised the need for a homeland in the eyes of Jewish leaders. Once again the leaders of the countries they had settled in had betrayed them. The death camps were just the climax to the injustices of the previous millennium of persecution at the hands of Europeans for Jews.
Unfortunately Ahmadinejah’s speech was correct when he accused the Europeans of being guilty of crimes against Jewish people. Of course he probably doesn’t really care about that, he was just using it as an excuse to justify previous remarks that Israel should be wiped off the map.
But as the saying goes, even a blind pig will find an acorn on occasion, and he did here in pointing the finger of accusation at the Western World for creating and allowing the circumstances that necessitated the state of Israel existing. The death camps could not have occurred if there had not already been a long developed culture of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Until such time as this is acknowledged and dealt with there will always be room for people like Ahmadinejah to claim false motivations on the part of those involved in the support of Israel. Perhaps if Western and other European leaders showed themselves to be inclined to deal with the issue of reconciliation over past injustices, the leaders of Israel might be more inclined to relax and not feel like they are such an isolated state, fighting for survival in a world full of enemies. After more than two thousand years it’s a hard to break the habit of not waiting for people to turn on you for no apparent reason.
So while it’s important to condemn Ahmadinejah’s claim that the Holocaust was a myth, it’s equally important to accept the truth in what he was saying. We cannot live in denial of our past and hope to progress very well in the future.