US Congressional Representative Rashida Tlaib faces false accusations of antisemitism after attempting to speak empathetically and magnanimously about the relationship between the Holocaust and Palestinian history.
“There’s a kind of a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the Holocaust in the fact that it was my ancestors — Palestinians — who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways had been wiped out, and some people’s passports — I mean, just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time. And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right?, in many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right, and it was forced on them.”
Tlaib was attempting to extend an olive branch through history by saying, on the eve of the 71st commemoration of the expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine, that at least there was a space created for Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.
Of course, the creation of the state of Israel came as part of a larger British colonial project, and Palestinians never voted to become Israelis or refugees, but Tlaib sees a humanitarian consequence of the bloody history of Palestinian dispossession.
It is this generosity that got her in trouble with Israeli occupation supporters who cannot stand the sight or sound of an act of goodwill from someone who they can only see as an enemy.
To her critics, Tlaib was attempting to cover up what Tlaib’s critics believe is Palestinian complicity in the genocide of Jewish people, by resisting the establishment of Israel. For the fiercest supporters of occupation, any resistance against Israel, even peaceful, is on a spectrum that includes the Holocaust itself.
The reason this narrative can exist is because Europeans and Americans have not come to terms with their role in the Holocaust, a kind of communal crime committed by their ancestors.
In the United States, which had its share of Nazi sympathisers and once turned away Jewish refugees, back to Nazi gas chambers, we have been able to convince ourselves that our role was only as liberators of Nazi death camps.
This story, we decided to tell ourselves preserved our sense of goodness as a country, heroism and bravery. We did it so well to ourselves that our current president resurrected, like an ancient Nazi curse, the slogan “America First,” the rallying cry of Nazi sympathisers who wanted the US to stay out of Hitler’s way.
Accusing Palestinians of culpability of the Holocaust is a distortion of history that only serves to whitewash the real culprits behind the immense crime: European fascists.
The main image and historical fact that propels this distortion is Adolf Hitler’s 1941 meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, and the absurd claim the Mufti gave Hitler the idea for the Holocaust itself. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself perpetuated this lie in 2015. Netanyahu has gone on to take photo ops with far-right figures across Europe, who see eye to eye with Bibi about a shared threat from Muslims.
The Mufti met with Hitler in Berlin in November 1941, days before the US had entered the war and before the Soviet Union, and Russian winter, had repelled the Nazis. A full accounting of the history remains. As it seemed Hitler was set to swoop into the Middle East through the caucuses, the Mufti sought Hitler’s approval to launch a revolt against British colonial rule.
There is no evidence, however, to suggest that the Mufti gave Hitler the idea to start the industrialised slaughter of Jewish people. That decision had been made long before, preceded by a decade of forced deportation of Jews across Europe.
“A great deal of evidence indicates that the decision to murder all the Jews of Europe had been taken sometime during the prior six months,” writes historian David Kaiser.
“The implementation of the policy, indeed, had begun immediately after the invasion of the USSR on June 22, when Einsatzgruppen squads began rounding up and shooting Jews by the thousands as troops advanced into the USSR. The construction of death camps in Poland had already begun.”
Indeed, blaming Palestinians for the Holocaust plays directly into the hands not only of historical amnesia but also assists white supremacists in masking the role of their ideology in antisemitism. Iowa Rep. Steve King has a record of white supremacist utterances, but he can still declare himself a “friend of Israel.”
More broadly, it is the kind of thing that lets US school children flip through picture books about Charles Lindbergh, learning he was the first person to fly across the Atlantic in an aeroplane. But those books never say he was one of America’s most convincing and prominent Nazi sympathisers.
The Mufti can’t compare to the damage Lindbergh did in front of cheering crowds of fellow fascists. Although his meeting with Hitler was a cynical, selfish, and antisemitic choice, there were American fascists whose support of Hitler did far, far more harm.
So what can we learn from this episode? First, even when Tlaib tries to see a beneficial consequence of the Nakba, namely Holocaust survivors finding refuge from genocide in Europe, she gets attacked for contradicting the narrative that casts Palestinians as the eternal enemy of Jewish people.
It is this kind of narrative that libels Palestinians Muslims for the crimes of European Christians, that will continue to doom attempts at effective peacemaking and obscure Nazi culpability for the Holocaust.
It is a false story, based on delusional lies. It was never worth telling.
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