Did Zionism Cause the Holocaust? A New Biography Says Yes.
The authors of a new history of the Grand Mufti Amin Al-Husaini’s ties to Nazis fail to carry their logic to its flawed conclusion
Rubin and Schwanitz also bring up the Arab rejection of the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, which they see as another missed Palestinian opportunity masterminded by the extremist al-Husaini, but here they are on even shakier ground. The moment the U.N. resolution passed, there were massive street demonstrations in the Arab world protesting the outrage. Arab governments went to war because the resolution had ignited the passions of the people. The U.N. partition plan was no bargain for the Palestinians. Nearly half of the Palestinians would have become a minority under Jewish rule; the Zionists would have gotten over half the land, including the best regions for agriculture, though they were far less than half of the population. Of course, the Arab countries might have rejected any partition plan; but this one especially could not be defended in the face of the intense uproar in the streets. Al-Husaini had little to do with the Arabs’ decision to go to war.
Yet it is also a fact that sympathy with the Nazis runs deep in the Arab world. Even now, the mufti’s closeness to Hitler increases rather than diminishes his reputation. No Arab country ever expelled a Nazi war criminal; on the contrary, Arab regimes sheltered thousands of ex-Nazis, many of whom were guilty of war crimes. Nazi sympathizers—Nasser and his men, Assad’s Baathists—ruled Egypt and Syria for decades after WWII. Nasser’s ex-Nazi adviser Johann von Leers introduced him to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which Nasser made a canonical text for the Middle East. Even Anwar Sadat, who later became a heroic maker of peace with Israel, began his career as a Nazi collaborator, and when rumors surfaced in 1953 that Hitler was still alive, Sadat wrote a fervent public letter declaring, “I congratulate you with all my heart, because though you appear to have been defeated, you were the real victor. … That you have become immortal in Germany is reason enough for pride.”
Rubin and Schwanitz set the stage for the Nazi-Islamist connection with an account of Max von Oppenheim, the subject last year of a fascinating exchange between Walter Laqueur and Lionel Gossman in Tablet. Oppenheim spearheaded the German effort to spur an Islam-wide jihad during WWI, and he continued to work for Germany in WWII as well. (Rubin and Schwanitz claim that Oppenheim had Jewish parents who converted to Catholicism when he was a child; in fact, his mother was Catholic, and his father was a Jew who had converted to Catholicism before Oppenheim was born. Such errors aside, the story of Germany’s effort to spark a Muslim uprising against British rule during WWI, as well as the alliance between Germany and the genocidal Turkish government, is grippingly told here.)
Despite the overblown claims for the mufti’s central role, Rubin and Schwanitz do an illuminating job showing the extent of the partnership between Germans and Islamists; this is by far the best part of their book. Germany had a long history of encouraging Jihadism even before Hitler’s rise to power. But Max von Oppenheim is not any more responsible for 21st-century suicide bombers than the mufti or Hitler is. The German connection does not explain Islamic radicalism; it remains part of the background.
Rubin and Schwanitz present their book as a necessary look back at the past that helps us understand the present, but the present needs a more careful analysis, one that pays serious attention to today’s bewildering, strife-ridden Middle East. Yes, the mufti remains a source of inspiration to those who dream of annihilating Israel and establishing a purely Muslim Middle East cleansed of Jews and Christians. But that doesn’t mean he changed history. There is never a lack for prophets of violence in the Arab world, or Islamists who look to the Nazis as models of proper neighborly relations with Jews and with others.
The Nazi-Islamist connection doesn’t explain the staying power of Middle East extremism. What we need to grasp instead is why, despite the hopes aroused by the Arab Spring, the alternatives to extremism in the Middle East remain so weak. Muslim extremism has behind it a long tradition, bolstered by Oppenheim and al-Husaini, among others. But that’s not what makes the pursuit of heroic martyrdom pay off, or what renders the frightened majority in the Arab world so incapable of taming the terrorists—secular and religious—among them.
Iran’s quest for the bomb has made the question of whether the Muslim rejection of Israel is at bottom eliminationist properly seem urgent to many Jews and to others who believe that genocide in the Middle East would be a bad thing. The answer can’t be found in great men, nor was the eclipse of moderation in the Muslim Middle East caused by personalities like al-Husaini, Nasser, Arafat, Khomeini, and Assad père and fils. The bad guys are only the expression of something more basic: a region splintered ethnically and spiritually, marked by fervent religious yearning, burning with rage against both Western meddling and its own rulers, and in desperate need of a common enemy—a role in which the Jews have always served rather nicely.
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