UK media absurd political analogy watch: The Berlin Wall & Israel’s Security Barrier

Ben Zygier (known as Prisoner X) was the Australian-Israeli Mossad agent imprisoned at Ayalon Prison in Ramla on espionage charges who committed suicide in his cell in 2010.

The 2013 row over revelations regarding Zygier’s incarceration and suicide received saturation coverage at the Guardian, and included this claim by Peter Beaumont – then foreign affairs editor for The Observer, sister site of the Guardian – in a report on Feb. 14th.

“The latest revelations come amid a growing outcry over the case in Israel, with some comparing the treatment of Zygier to that meted out in the Soviet Union or Argentina and Chile under their military dictatorships.”

The comparison, as we noted at the time, was simply bizarre. Indeed, the very term “Prisoner X”, implying that his identity and whereabouts were mysterious, was itself a misnomer, as Zygier’s original arrest warrant was issued by an authorized court, his incarceration was supervised by the Israeli judiciary, and the proceedings were overseen by the most senior Justice Ministry officials. Zygier was also legally represented by a top Israeli lawyer.

To evoke a comparison with the USSR – where several million Soviet “enemies of the state” died (due to overwork, starvation, torture or summary executions) after being sent, without anything resembling due process, to Gulag camps – is risible.

More recently, we found another example of the media’s use of a blatantly false analogy – in an article published at i100 (The Independent’s Buzzfeed-style news brand).

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Did Daniel Barenboim use a fake Rabin quote on the pages of the Guardian?

Daniel Barenboim is an Israeli conductor and pianist who currently serves as the musical director of Berlin State Opera and the Staatskapelle Berlin. He’s also quite outspoken on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and published an op-ed at the Guardian  (Germany must talk straight with Israel, Nov. 10) arguing that Germany – due to its historic ties to the Jewish state – must take a more activist approach to coax Israel into making peace.


Whilst the largely one-sided nature of Barenboim’s imputation of Israeli responsibility for the conflict is par for the course at the Guardian, one purported quote from his op-ed warrants closer attention.

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What about the Grand Mufti’s desire to ‘liquidate the Jews’ doesn’t Robert Fisk understand?

Fisking “Middle East expert” Robert Fisk can be especially challenging, as he often pivots seamlessly between mere distortions and outright fabrications within the same essay.  His latest op-ed at The Independent, The real poison is to be found in Arafat’s legacy, Nov. 18, represents a great example of his talent for such multi-faceted misrepresentations.


Though he dismisses recent accusations that Arafat was poisoned, Fisk, in attempting to explain the legacy of the late Palestinian leader, whitewashes his decades-long involvement in lethal terrorist attacks against Israelis, and risibly claims that his biggest character flaw was that he was in fact ‘too trusting’ of Israeli leaders.

Fisk writes:

He made so many concessions to Israel – because he was growing old and wanted to go to “Palestine” before he died – that his political descendants are still paying for them. Arafat had never seen a Jewish colony on occupied land when he accepted the Oslo agreement. He trusted the Americans. He trusted the Israelis. He trusted anyone who appeared to say the right things. And it must have been exhausting to start his career as a super-“terrorist” in Beirut and then be greeted on the White House lawn as a super- “statesman” and then re-created by Israel as a super-“terrorist” again.

However, the most egregious lie by omission appears later in the essay when he addresses comments Arafat reportedly made about the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, per a conversation he had with Edward Said:

Edward Said told me that Arafat said to him in 1985 that “if there’s one thing I don’t want to be, it’s to be like Haj Amin. He was always right, and he got nothing and died in exile.”

Hunted by the British, Haj Amin, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, went to Berlin during the Second World War in the hope that Hitler would help the Palestinians.

His claim that the pro-Nazi Haj Amin was merely attempting to “help the Palestinians” represents an extraordinary obfuscation.  

As a CAMERA report (based on documentation in a book by Jennie Lebel titled ‘The Mufti of Jerusalem: Haj-Amin el-Husseini and National-Socialism‘) makes clear, Haj Amin’s desire to ‘help the Palestinians’ was superseded by a greater passion – to annihilate the Jews.

Haj Amin El-Husseini, who was appointed Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921 aided by sympathetic British officials, advocated violent opposition to Jewish settlement in the Mandate for Palestine and incited the Arabs against the growing Jewish presence. Lebel describes the violence of 1929, where Haj Amin spread the story that the Jews planned to destroy the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa mosque. Using falsified photos of the mosque on fire and disseminating propaganda that borrowed from the anti-Jewish forgery, the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the mufti instigated a widespread pogrom against Jews in Palestine. On Aug. 23, Arabs streamed into Jerusalem and attacked Jews. Six days later, a second wave of attacks resulted in 64 dead in Hebron


The Mufti injected a religiously based anti-Jewish component into the emerging Palestinian national consciousness….Presaging modern boycott proposals against Jewish settlement, Haj Amin called on all Muslims to boycott Jewish goods and organized an Arab strike on April 10, 1936.

He saw in the Nazis and Italian fascists natural allies who would do what the British were unwilling to do — purge the region of Jews and help him establish a unified Arab state throughout the Middle East…Believing that the Axis might prevail in the war, the mufti secured a commitment from both Italy and Germany to the formation of a region-wide Arab state. He also asked for permission to solve the Jewish problem by the “same method that will be applied for the solution of the Jewish problem in the Axis states.” 

On Nov. 28, 1941, he met for the first time with Adolf Hitler, relaying to the German leader the Arab conviction that Germany would win the war and that this would benefit the Arab cause. 
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, meets Hitler for the first time. Berlin, Germany, November 28, 1941.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, meets Hitler in Berlin

While Hitler shared the mufti’s belief that the present war would determine the fate of the Arabs, his priority was the struggle against what he saw as Jewish-controlled Britain and the Soviet Union. Lebel reveals Hitler’s promise that when the German army reached the southern borders of the Caucasus, he would announce to the Arab world their time of liberation had come. The Germans would annihilate all Jews who lived in Arab areas.

[Haj Amin’s] conspiratorial view of Jewish ambitions are reflected in the widespread dissemination of such publications as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” in the Arab and Muslim world. The view of the Jews as contaminators of society and malevolent conspirators resonate today in the founding Charter of Hamas.

In a radio broadcast from Germany on Nov. 16, 1943…Haj Amin laid out his vision of the conflict with the Jews:

“The Jews bring the world poverty, trouble and disaster … they destroy morality in all countries… they falsify the words of the prophet, they are the bearers of anarchy and bring suffering to the world. They are like moths who eat away all the good in the countries. They prepared the war machine for Roosevelt and brought disaster to the world. They are monsters and the basis for all evil in the world ….” 

As Nazi official Wilhelm Melchers testified after the war:

The mufti was an accomplished foe of the Jews and did not conceal that he would love to see all of them liquidated.

It’s clear that Haj Amin’s relationship with Hitler was no mere ‘alliance of convenience’, but was based on shared eliminationist antisemitic fantasies.  As Jeffrey Herf wrote in his 2009 book, ‘Nazi Propaganda for the Arab world‘, the Mufti “played a central role in the cultural fusion of European with Islamic traditions of Jew-hatred [and] was one of the few who had mastered the ideological themes and nuances of fascism and Nazism, as well as the anti-Jewish elements within the Koran and its subsequent commentaries.”

Robert Fisk’s innocuous description of Haj Amin as ‘pro-Palestinian’ is as morally perverse as characterizing Adolf Hitler as merely  ‘pro-Aryan’.

The Czech Persuasion: Against grandiose ideas & miraculous solutions in the Mid-East


H/T Evelyn Gordon

Following the annexation of Austria into the Third Reich in March 1938, Hitler assumed the role of advocate for ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia, triggering the “Sudeten Crisis”. In April, Sudeten Nazis demanded autonomy.  

In September that same year, French Prime Minster Édouard Daladier and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain agreed to Hitler’s demand on the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland. 

The Sudetenland was relegated to Germany between October 1 and October 10, 1938.  However, the Nazis weren’t appeased for long.

The Czech part of Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Nazis in March 1939.

There was not to be “peace in our time”.

The question of why the Czech Republic, alone among the 27 EU countries, voted with Israel and only seven other countries at the UN on November 29 against upgrading the Palestinian status at the UN is likely related to Czech history, but is also informed by a broader understanding of the world – one quite at odds with the modern political zeitgeist,

In an interview following the recent Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Herzliya, Czech Ambassador Tomas Pojar responded to the suggestion that there are historical parallels between Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the pressure exerted on Israel today to agree to partition Israel and create a Palestinian Arab state.

He cautioned on imputing too great of a political parallel with the situation in 1938 in Central Europe, but still, he said, there are similarities.

“There are certain parallels in that Czechoslovakia was the only democratic country in the entire region at the time…There are parallels about how much guarantees you can get from outside, and how much you should rely on them.”

Pojar said that in addition to his country’s tragic experiences during World War II, it also had experiences under the yoke of Soviet totalitarianism. 

However, more intriguing that the historical questions are the cognitive-political habits which Czechoslovakia’s dark history seems to have imbued in the modern Czech Republic.

Pojar added:

“We don’t believe in miracles, and we don’t believe in political miracles and the solutions of ideologies that [posit that] something can be easily implemented and solved.

It is not only either war or peace… Even some interim solutions are sometimes better than crumbled expectations because of grandiose ideas.”

Pojar’s political temperament seems to be shared by an increasing number of Israelis in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian (and Israeli-Islamist) Conflict – political sobriety about the limits of big, radical solutions to the intractable problems of war and peace in the Middle East.

The paternalistic, imperious and often hubristic lectures by Americans and Europeans on the pressing need for Israelis to be “saved from themselves”, rescued from the morass of short-shortsightedness, shown the enlightened path towards co-existence and reconciliation with the Palestinian “other” within the framework of the “New Middle East”, seem frighteningly unmoored from the reality of our existence in the region.

Putative peace agreements, sweeping final-status proposals and unilateral withdrawals have not appeased, nor in the very least even-tempered, our neighbors’ insatiable Judeophobic antipathy.

Pojar, when asked if Europe takes Hamas’s statements calling for the destruction of Israel seriously enough, said he could not speak about the EU, but that he did not feel the “mainstream European elites” did so. The elites, he added, were “sometimes detached from reality”, and not only about the Middle East and the threat posed by Islamists.

After two decades of “noble and naïve ideas” that left the country “battered and bloody”, Israelis understand with a lucidity unburdened by puerile dreams or illusions that land is not valid political currency in the quest to acquire peace for Jews in the Middle East. 

The margin for error in such political calculations are minuscule, and the stakes are enormous.

While the comparison between Czechoslovakia in 1938 and Israel in 2013 can, of course, be overblown, our friends in the democratic West should at least view the dangerous failure, in the first half of the 20th century, of Europe’s stubborn belief in universality of reasonableness, the assumption of good will and the projection of our own positive-sum calculus to zero-sum political actors as a cautionary tale.

The wisdom of the ‘Czech Persuasion’ simply can not be easily ignored.

What must be said: A former Nazi named Gunter Grass and what Germany owes the Jews

I’ve never believed that children inherit the sins of their ancestors.

In the American context, the history of slavery and segregation (de facto and de jure) doesn’t impute guilt to Americans several generations removed from such hideous institutions, nor does it absolve the nation completely of the profound responsibility of “never again”.

Never again will the U.S. allow any form of institutional racism to reign within its shores.

Similarly, I don’t, in most respects, view modern Germany through a Nazi lens. When I backpacked through Europe in my 20s, and interacted with Germans who must have seen the Star of David prominently displayed beneath my chin, I saw modern, liberal, democratic Europeans unburdened by the bondage of a Judeophobic ethos.

Here’s a poem by a “liberal” German writer named Gunter Grass, dutifully published at the Guardian.

Grass revealed in 2006, 60 years after WWII, that he had been a member of the Nazi Waffen SS during the war.

What must be said

Why have I kept silent, held back so long,

on something openly practiced in

war games, at the end of which those of us

who survive will at best be footnotes?

It’s the alleged right to a first strike

that could destroy an Iranian people

subjugated by a loudmouth

and gathered in organized rallies,

because an atom bomb may be being

developed within his arc of power.

Yet why do I hesitate to name

that other land in which

for years—although kept secret—

a growing nuclear power has existed

beyond supervision or verification,

subject to no inspection of any kind?

This general silence on the facts,

before which my own silence has bowed,

seems to me a troubling lie, and compels

me toward a likely punishment

the moment it’s flouted:

the verdict “Anti-semitism” falls easily.

But now that my own country,

brought in time after time

for questioning about its own crimes,

profound and beyond compare,

is said to be the departure point,

(on what is merely business,

though easily declared an act of reparation)

for yet another submarine equipped

to transport nuclear warheads

to Israel, where not a single atom bomb

has yet been proved to exist, with fear alone

the only evidence, I’ll say what must be said.

But why have I kept silent till now?

Because I thought my own origins,

Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,

meant I could not expect Israel, a land

to which I am, and always will be, attached,

to accept this open declaration of the truth.

Why only now, grown old,

and with what ink remains, do I say:

Israel’s atomic power endangers

an already fragile world peace?

Because what must be said

may be too late tomorrow;

and because—burdend enough as Germans—

we may be providing material for a crime

that is foreseeable, so that our complicity

will not be expunged by any

of the usual excuses.

And granted: I’ve broken my silence

because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;

and I hope too that many may be freed

from their silence, may demand

that those responsible for the open danger

we face renounce the use of force,

may insist that the governments of

both Iran and Israel allow an international authority

free and open inspection of

the nuclear potential and capability of both.

No other course offers help

to Israelis and Palestinians alike,

to all those living side by side in emnity

in this region occupied by illusions,

and ultimately, to all of us.

There’s so much pathos in Grass’ political “lyricism” its difficult to know where to begin.

  • The Holocaust denying Iranian President who openly seeks the end of the Jewish state – representative of a regime which has provided religious and moral justification for genocide against Israel, a fatwa on the lives of millions of Jews – as merely a “loudmouth”.
  • The classic antisemitic victimological conceit: that criticism of Jews will bring unfair “punishment” over false claims of antisemitism…and, that such critiques of every conceivable sin, real and imagined, of the Jewish state are brave and, yes, rare. Grass is breaking the silence“!
  • The fiction that Israel is considering a nuclear “first strike” against Iran. Anyone following the issue would surely know that the only thing Israel (and, it should be noted, the U.S.) is contemplating is a strike (with conventional weapons) specifically targeting Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities.
  • There are at least nine nations with nuclear weapons, yet Grass’ poem is strangely concerned with the nuclear capabilities of just one of those countries – not North Korea, not Pakistan, and not the U.S. (which possesses the largest nuclear arsenal by far with over 5,000 warheads, and the capacity to strike any target in the world).
  • Finally, it is only “Israel’s atomic power [which] endangers an already fragile world peace.

Its truly hard, especially in the context of Grass’ past, not to contextualize this grotesque caricature of a Jewish state which threatens world peace with the Nazi fear of world Jewry, whose very existence was similarly seen as a threat to humanity.

Modern day anti-Zionist imagery includes similar tropes:

Trafalgar Square, London, 2011: Al Quds Day rally organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission

It would be easy to dismiss Grass’ contempt for the Jewish state as a one-off, the musings of a perhaps senile octogenarian former Nazi, but, as a recent essay in ‘Comment is Free’ by Hans Kundnani (editorial director at the European Council on foreign relations) argued, the poem can reasonably be seen in the context  of Germany’s increasing anger at Israel:

what makes the…the poem significant is that it expresses a sense of anger against Israel that – justified or not – many Germans seem increasingly to share. This anger is partly a response to Israel’s rightward shift during the past decade.  But it seems also to be a product of developments in Germany and in particular the way that the Holocaust has receded in significance during the last decade. Increasingly, Germans seem to see themselves as victims rather than perpetrators.

Nearly half of respondents said they saw Israel as an “aggressive country” and only around a third of respondents said they felt Germany had a special responsibility towards Israel. Sixty per cent said Germany had no special responsibility…This anger against Israel is exacerbated by the sense some Germans have of not being able to say what they really think… [emphasis added]

Please, any Germans out there within range of this post, by all means tell me what you think.

We can start off by telling you what I (a Jewish citizen of Israel) really think about what responsibility you have towards us – what you owe the Jews.

To those of you without ancestors who were complicit in Nazi crimes – those who simply inherited the shared national legacy of German’s attempt to annihilate the Jews, all you owe us is a passionate commitment to defend against even the slightest resurgence of antisemitism in your country, and moral seriousness in the face of similar (often murderous) Judeophobia in the larger world (whether from the radical left, the radical right, Islamist movements, or the Republic of Iran.)  That’s what “never again” should mean to you.

To those of you whose parents or grandparents were complicit in the Nazi’s murder of one out of every three Jews on the face of the earth, I think its fair to say that, although you don’t inherit the sins of your fathers, neither can you ignore them.  You have a greater responsibility.

Perhaps, an understanding of what I mean can be derived from a particular Jewish tradition.  

The most profound Jewish principle I came across during my time of study (on the traditions of death and mourning with Judaism) following my father’s death in 1997, and one which I still find relevant and inspiring, was “The merit of the children“.  What this means, according to Jewish tradition, is that the surviving child, by living a moral, just, and purposeful life, can, in the eyes of G-d, redeem the imperfect life of his deceased parent.

At first, the ethical connection between my current life and my father’s previous life (a quite counterintuitive moral calculus) eluded me. How could what I do now in any way effect how the life he once lived is judged? After some time, however, the inspired moral logic became apparent. The way I live my life is necessarily connected to the way he lived his life – serving as a living testament to who he was, as a father, and as a man. For, I am the living embodiment of the sum of his moral life. My virtue inherently emanates from his virtue. I am, after all, and will always be, my father’s son.

So, to Germans struggling with how to deal with the sins of your fathers, the merit you achieve in this world necessarily reflects both on you and your family. It doesn’t provide posthumous moral atonement, but how ethically you behave and the values you teach your children is a powerful testament to the redemption of your family’s name, your country’s honor.

The historical context of your national T’shuvah (recognizing and repenting for a sin) necessarily must involve a responsibility to living Jews, not simply the millions of souls who were murdered (in death camps named Auschwitz, Sobibor, and Treblinka) 65 years ago.

This is what you owe us: a rigorous duty to never again succumb to classic (and still supremely dangerous) antisemitic narratives of Jewish villainy.

And, finally, a quick word to Gunter Grass, who, in your own life, and out of your own volition, was guilty of complicity with indescribable evil:

If this ever gets translated to German I sure hope the admittedly far less than lofty prose I’m about to employ is properly expressed in a manner which native German-speakers can understand.

If you served in the Nazi Waffen SS killing machine, perhaps the best thing you can do when contemplating lecturing Jews on morality – what you owe us, and the world,  if you have even a shred of decency remaining in your soul – is to show humility, feel a healthy degree of shame, and, to please, whatever you do, keep your damn mouth shut!

Gunter Grass' POW record