Paul Schneider, lawyer, writer, and member of the Board of Directors of the American Jewish International Relations Institute, an affiliate of B'nai B'rith International, spoke to a March 27th Middle East Forum Webinar (video). He was interviewed by Alex Selsky, the Middle East Forum's Knesset Liaison, about the proper role of Holocaust memory in the Israeli outlook, given Palestinian Arab rejection of the Jewish State. The following is a summary of Schneider's comments:
Some pundits claim the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict resides in the formation of a binational state of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Two decades ago, historian Tony Judt argued in an opinion piece that "Israel is an anachronism ... left over from the era of 19th century nationalism." Judt's controversial thesis gained traction in academia, but considering a century of hostility between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, the thorny problem of implementation remained.
Others echoed Judt's opinion by developing the term "Holocaust transference" to describe the problem. They wrote that because Israeli Jews considered Palestinian Arabs "proto-Nazis," peace was only possible if the Jews could "get over" the Holocaust. The following are four examples of writers arguing that Holocaust memory among Israel's Jews is responsible for the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict:
1. Avraham Burg, Israeli politician and writer: In his book, The Holocaust Is Over, We Must Rise From its Ashes, Burg places the onus on the Israelis to "free the Arabs from the Nazi role we assigned to them."
2. Ian Lustick, political science professor: In 2019, Lustick's book, Paradigm Lost, referred to the "lost paradigm" of the two-state solution. He argued for a "new normal" by dismissing Jewish fears of the Arab threat to "Jewish demographic superiority." Instead, Lustick advocates that Israeli Jews should live under an Arab majority in a "one-state reality," blaming Holocaust memory as the "template" which contributes to "vicious cycles of violence and hatred between Israel and the Palestinians." Omar Barghouti, the Qatari-born Palestinian Arab founder of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement, which wages economic warfare against Israel, shares Lustick's opinion that Jews should live under an Arab majority.
3. Peter Beinart, American writer: He argues that if not for the "collective memory of the Holocaust," Israeli Jews could "abandon Zionism" and support a "one-state solution" in the form of a binational state. In a 2021 essay, Beinart went further and wrote, "national self-determination cannot mean the right to your own state." Beinart insists a binational state would not put Jews at risk, comparing the idea to the lack of bigotry in such binational states as Belgium and Canada.
Beinart makes a false comparison by ignoring the conflicts in the region in multi-ethnic states such as Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. A binational Israel-Palestine would be embroiled in "constant conflict." Palestinian Arabs have opposed Zionist immigration to the region from its inception "under any terms." Expectations that a Jewish minority would be treated equally under Beinart's vision flies in the face of current beliefs held by Palestinian Arabs, who continue to educate their children in Jew-hatred and want Arabs to dominate "from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea."
4. Omri Boehm, philosophy professor: In his 2021 book, Haifa Republic: A Democratic Future for Israel, Boehm argues "true Israeli patriots ... challenge Zionist taboos" by imagining Israel transformed into a "federal binational republic" that would replicate the supposed model of Jewish-Arab co-existence in Haifa.
Boehm, like Lustick, claims that "Jews have a right to self-determination," then contradicts himself with the qualifier that the right to a sovereign Jewish state is "probably mistaken." Boehm argues that Theodor Herzl's conception of a Jewish state called for "Jewish determination in a binational republic," but without including Jewish sovereignty. Boehm completely sidesteps the two major factors that changed Herzl's original idea: the Peel Commission Report recommending partition; and the Holocaust.
Along with authors who similarly call for an end to "Holocaust transference," Boehm insists that if Israelis "get over" the Holocaust, they can then "take responsibility for the "Zionist crimes" of the Nakba ["catastrophe" – Arab defeat in their war against Israel's founding in 1948]." However, Boehm repeats the "Palestinian narrative of Nakba victimhood" and writes nothing about Palestinian Arabs taking "responsibility" for their "genocidal war of aggression" against the Jews in 1948. Characterizing Holocaust memory as an "impediment," Boehm writes that the answer for Israeli Jews lies in "the notion of remembering to forget."
The Holocaust transference argument these authors endorse is that any Israeli Jew who supports Holocaust memory and fears living in a binational state as a minority under the Arabs is "in the grip of paranoid imaginings." The fallacy of the Holocaust transference argument ignores the history of half the Jewish population of Israel, which comprises Mizrahi Jews. In 1948, some 800,000 Mizrahi Jews, similar to the number of Palestinian Arabs who "fled in the war of 1948," were expelled from Arab countries that Jews and their ancestors had lived in for centuries. Most of them made their way to the newly founded State of Israel.
The "Farhud" describes the 1941 pogrom visited upon Iraqi Jews and endorsed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. An avowed antisemite who led the Palestinian national movement during the British Mandate period, al-Husseini formed an alliance with the Nazis following his 1941 meeting with Hitler in Berlin. If not for the allied victory at El Alamein, al-Husseini's plan to liquidate the Jews in a "concentration camp" near Nablus could have come to fruition. After the war, "the Arabs welcomed Husseini as a hero," and his veneration continues to influence Palestinian Arabs today.
The "irony" is that Holocaust memory "does indeed influence relations between Palestinian [Arabs] and Jewish Israelis," but not in the way these authors claim. "Nazi-style antisemitism" remains prevalent among Palestinian Arab leaders and educators. In his 1982 dissertation, Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), claimed that the Jews collaborated with the Nazis to spur immigration to the British Mandate of Palestine. Abbas doubled down on his thesis by publishing his spurious claim in his 1984 book, The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism, republished in 2011. In his 2022 visit to German Chancellor Olaf Schultz in Berlin, Abbas reiterated the "libel" of his Holocaust denial in a news conference, in turn accusing Israel of committing "fifty Holocausts" against the Palestinian Arabs.
Today, "Nazi-style antisemitism, including the usual Nazi tropes, has continued among Palestinian officials" until today. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a nineteenth-century Russian forgery used widely in Nazi propaganda, is "still popular with the Palestinian Authority" and is often cited in the PA's daily newspaper, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, a vehicle for disseminating PA antisemitism. The PA's official television station exhorts its viewers to "oppose the Zionist media, which dominates more than half of the media and the world." Antisemitic ideology, which is taught in grade school, warps the minds of future Palestinian Arab leaders. A UN Watch 2022 report exposes the antisemitism propagated in PA schools sponsored by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). In its 2017 report, Palestinian Arab teachers praise Hitler, post antisemitic videos, and, in a curriculum that includes Holocaust denial, instruct third-graders that "Jews should be exterminated." PA summer camps "modeled on Nazi youth organizations" reinforce this indoctrination.
Such examples of historic and ongoing Palestinian Arab antisemitism disprove those who claim that ending the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict can occur only by erasing Holocaust memory and risking the suicidal formation of a binational state. Although the contemporary resurgence of antisemitism from the left and the right, particularly on college campuses, has occurred in a post-Holocaust climate, vigilance is required in the face of persistent "Nazi-style antisemitism," the major source of which is Egypt.
In Schneider's words, "The point is not to 'get over' the Holocaust, but to understand it. And that understanding should include an acknowledgement of the Nazi legacy of antisemitic hatred ... that still exists in 'Palestine.' That legacy, not Holocaust memory, is the real obstacle to peace."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.