- The false accusation of Holocaust inversion-the portraying of Israel, Israelis, and Jews as Nazis-is a major distortion of history. This anti-Semitic concept claims that Israel behaves against the Palestinians as Germany did to the Jews in World War II. "The victims have become perpetrators," is one major slogan of the inverters. By shifting the moral responsibility for genocide, Holocaust inversion also contains elements of Holocaust denial.
Holocaust inverters come from many circles. A large number are Arabs or other Muslims. Others come from the extreme Left in the West. A variety of Western mainstream public figures have made Holocaust-inversion statements, including politicians, academics, authors, as well as the occasional Jew or Israeli.
- The portrayal of Israelis and Jews as Nazis occurs in speech, writing, and the visual media, also including cartoons, graffiti, and placards. It employs sinister characterizations, Nazi symbols, and sometimes takes the form of genocidal terminology to describe Israel's actions.
- The motivations of the Holocaust inverters are manifold. Some aim at the destruction of Israel and seek to lay the infrastructure for its moral delegitimization through demonization. Some are extreme pro-Arabs, others anti-Semites. Yet others know little about the Holocaust, the Nazis, and contemporary Israel. For Europeans it is also an effective way to cover up for Holocaust crimes of their countries and expunge guilt by claiming that what was done by the Nazi perpetrators and their many collaborators is a common phenomenon and by now is practiced by Israelis and Jews.
- Contemporary followers and admirers of Nazi methods can mainly be found in the Muslim world, but are also present in Europe and elsewhere. Prewar Palestinian Arab actors had links to Nazi Germany. Examples are the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jerusalem mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini. After World War II, many Nazis fled to Egypt and served in its propaganda apparatus. In particular, current Egyptian but also Palestinian propaganda dates back to this era.
The focus here will be on another major distortion of the Shoah, namely, Holocaust inversion, or portraying Israelis and Jews as Nazis. This anti-Semitic concept claims that Israel behaves toward the Palestinians as Germany did to the Jews in World War II. "The victims have become perpetrators," is one major slogan of the inverters.
Holocaust inverters come from many circles. A large number are Arabs or other Muslims. Many others come from the extreme Left in the West. A variety of Western mainstream public figures have made Holocaust-inversion statements, including politicians, academics, authors, as well as the occasional Jew or Israeli.
Definitions of Anti-Semitism
Natan Sharansky, when he was the Israeli minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs, developed a simple formula that he called the "3D test" to help distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism: demonization, double standards, and delegitimization.
Sharansky included the portrayal of Israel as a Nazi state within his definition of "demonization": "When the Jewish state is being demonized; when Israel's actions are blown out of all sensible proportion; when comparisons are made between Israelis and Nazis and between Palestinian refugee camps and Auschwitz-this is antisemitism, not legitimate criticism of Israel."2
By 2001 Prof. Irwin Cotler, who later became Canada's justice minister, explicitly identified the anti-Semitic character of Holocaust inversion. He pointed to several relatively new aspects of anti-Semitism such as calls for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people, the portrayal of Israel as a Nazi state, and the discriminatory treatment of Israel through denial of equality before the law.3
The EUMC Working Definition of Anti-Semitism
In its 2004 report on anti-Semitism, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) noted the lack of a common characterization of anti-Semitism. This led to the EUMC working definition, which has subsequently been widely accepted.4 It states: "Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.... In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity."
The document that contains this working definition also offers examples of contemporary anti-Semitism. One of these is: "Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust."5
This text also states that "criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic." It lists examples of how anti-Semitism can manifest itself toward Israel:
*Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
*Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
*Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel . . . .
*Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
*Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.6
The core motif of classic anti-Semitism was that Jews embody the most extreme malevolence. During the postwar era, the Nazi regime has become the paradigm for absolute evil. Comparing Israel's conduct to its actions is a new mutation of this ancient theme.
As anti-Semitism historian Robert Wistrich put it:
"anti-Zionists" who insist on comparing Zionism and the Jews with Hitler and the Third Reich appear unmistakably to be de facto anti-Semites, even if they vehemently deny the fact! This is largely because they knowingly exploit the reality that Nazism in the postwar world has become the defining metaphor of absolute evil. For if Zionists are "Nazis" and if Sharon really is Hitler, then it becomes a moral obligation to wage war against Israel. That is the bottom line of much contemporary anti-Zionism. In practice, this has become the most potent form of contemporary anti-Semitism. 7
French linguist Georges-Elia Sarfati points out that the term anti-Zionism was pioneered by the Soviet Union's Information Ministry after the Six Day War. Researching the matter, he found that the word did not appear in dictionaries until the 1970s. He observes that "a number of key equations dominate the anti-Zionist discourse. The master one-which transversally commands all others-is ‘Zionism equals Nazism.'... the anti-Zionist propaganda conveys that you have only to be against, for instance against Nazism-and who is not?-to be an anti-Zionist."8
Historian Joel Fishman asserts that "inversion of reality" constitutes the basic principle of current anti-Israeli propaganda, noting:
One of its most frequent expressions has been the accusation that the Jewish people, victims of the Nazis, have now become the new Nazis, aggressors and oppressors of the Palestinian Arabs. Contemporary observers have identified this method and described it as an "inversion of reality," an "intellectual confidence trick," "reversing moral responsibility," or "twisted logic." Because Israel's enemies have, for nearly half a century, repeated such libels without being challenged, they have gradually gained credence. 9
American historian Deborah Lipstadt has also pointed out this method of establishing a fraudulent proposition as a historical truth. She says about the historical writer and Holocaust-denier David Irving: "Irving realized that a pre-condition for Nazism's resurrection was to strip and wash it of its worst elements. The first important tool to accomplish this was the creation of immoral equivalencies, essentially a balance of bad behavior."10
Manifestation and Motivation
Holocaust inversion manifests itself in many ways. It is expressed in speech, writing, and visual media, also including cartoons, graffiti, and placards. It employs sinister characterizations of Israel and Israelis, Nazi symbols, and sometimes takes the form of Nazi genocidal terminology to describe Israel's actions.
The perpetrators of the most severe Holocaust distortions have manifold motivations. The most extreme aim at the destruction of Israel. This was expressed by Holocaust-denying Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki at the International Conference on Review of the Holocaust Global Vision held in Tehran in December 2006. At this assembly of Holocaust deniers and minimizers, Mottaki stated: "if the official version of the Holocaust is thrown into doubt, then the identity and nature of Israel will be thrown into doubt."11
*More specifically, the most extreme Holocaust inverters seek to lay the infrastructure for Israel's moral delegitimization by first demonizing it.
*Many Western Holocaust inverters also aim to bolster the Arab and Palestinian cause by demonizing Israel.
*Other Westerners seem to act out of anti-Semitic motivations. They show little or no interest in the frequent murdering of Palestinians by other Palestinians nor in the plight of Palestinians killed and persecuted elsewhere-for instance, in Iraq. This also pertains, of course, to the murdering of Israelis by Palestinians.
*Yet others know little about the Holocaust, the Nazis, and contemporary Israel. They are influenced by members of the media and other societal elites who are Holocaust inverters.
*Absolving one's ancestors of guilt is another motif of many Holocaust inverters. The Holocaust was not exclusively the work of Germany-which incorporated Austria-as well as several nations allied with it. Large numbers of Europeans collaborated with the German occupiers. The most effective way to neutralize this is to shift the moral responsibility to Israel by claiming that what was done by the perpetrators is widespread and now practiced primarily by Israelis and Jews.
This malicious identification of Israelis as Nazis is intended to free Europeans of their remorse and shame for their centuries-long history of lethal anti-Semitism. Above all, it liberates Europeans from any residual guilt they might have experienced in the wake of the Shoah. If the Israelis-who are, after all, mostly Jews-can be depicted as Nazis, then not having helped them during World War II might not have been misbehavior.
Israeli Holocaust-psychologist Nathan Durst related European expressions with anti-Semitic undertones to guilt toward the Holocaust. "If the guilty person is bad, the Jewish victim becomes good. The moment it can be shown the latter is bad too, the ‘other'-that is, the European-is relieved of his guilt feelings. To claim that Israelis behave like Nazis reduces the sin of the grandparents. Then the children of the victims can no longer be the accusers. This equalizes everybody."12
Jeffrey Gedmin, the new American president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, observes: "It is very helpful for a certain ideology in European political culture to see the Palestinians as helpless underdogs being repressed by the Israelis. This thesis enables many Europeans to relativize, or even balance, Europe's guilt."
This reflects further European hypocrisy...since there is no passion in either Germany or Europe for independent Kurdish or Basque states. There is no concern for Tibetan underdogs. One can only conclude that the reasons Europeans consider the Palestinian cause for independence central are their cultural bias, burdens of the past and anti-Semitic feelings. It would be much more logical to see the Israelis as underdogs, a small democracy in a large, hostile Arab environment.13
Visual Forms of Holocaust InversionAn effective way to grasp the main modes of Holocaust inversion is by analyzing placards and cartoons. These rely on familiar and immediately perceived core stereotypes of hatred, of which the number is limited. This iconography must appeal to ideas with which the public at large is familiar. This particularly pertains to Arab societies where so many people are illiterate.
In many anti-Israeli demonstrations, banners are carried that show the Star of David as equivalent to the swastika. The phenomenon is international. At such a demonstration in the Place de la République in Paris on 7 October 2000, a placard was inscribed "Stop the Jewish Hitlerian terrorism!" Below the words a Star of David was drawn as equaling a swastika.14
That same year a placard in French at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Brussels read: "The years change, the executioners change."15 Under it was a Star of David, an equal sign, and the SS symbol. At the September 2001 UN World Conference against Racism in Durban (hereinafter Durban conference), Arab-looking women carried a banner saying "1940s Hitler 2000s Sharon."16
Another example among many occurred at a 2002 demonstration in Washington where a young Arab-looking woman held a placard designed as the Israeli flag, reading "Hitler & Sharon are the same." A swastika appeared on the flag instead of the Star of David.17
Also in cartoons this equation is a frequently recurring theme. At the Hamashahri Holocaust-cartoon exhibition in Tehran, a drawing by the Algerian Choukri Bellahadi showed an Israeli flag turning into one with a swastika.
Israeli Leaders as Resembling Hitler
A regularly recurring motif is that Israeli leaders are like Hitler or Nazis. Comparisons between Israelis and Nazis, and of swastikas and the Star of David, are especially commonplace in the Arab world. In his standard work on Arab anti-Semitic cartoons, the Belgian political scientist Jöel Kotek devotes a section to Holocaust inversion. In 1996, the major Egyptian daily Al Goumhouriya published a cartoon showing Hitler saying to Shimon Peres: "I made a mistake by not apprising the importance of Arab support."18
Ariel Sharon was perhaps the Israeli prime minister most often depicted as a Nazi. The well-known Lebanese cartoonist Jabra Stavro, in Lebanon's Daily Star in 2002, transformed in four pictures Sharon with his white hair into Hitler with a mustache and black hair. A Star of David on Sharon's collar is also transformed into a swastika.20 The Tehran exhibition included a caricature by Bahraini Mohammed Amano showing Sharon in Nazi uniform wearing a skullcap.