Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assertion that the Palestinian people were responsible for the Holocaust tells us not only what is wrong with the leader who made the statement, but reveals, twenty years after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the racial hatred that is undergirding the occupation, Israeli politics and society.
Speaking at the World Zionist Organization, Netanyahu offered that Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, gave Hitler the idea to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe. The prime minister said the Palestinian leader "had a central role in fomenting the final solution. He flew to Berlin. Hitler didn't want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews." Netanyahu added: "And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, "If you expel them, they'll all come here.' 'So what should I do with them?" he asked. He said, 'Burn them.'"
Engaging in a form of historical revisionism that would make even a member of the Texas Board of Education blush, Netanyahu attempted to clarify and recently retracted the outrageous statement. But the damage had been done, and he knew what he was doing. Not only did his words make light of the Holocaust and reek of Holocaust denial, it also set up the Palestinians for current and future reprisals against them. Surely, Netanyahu is paving the way for the next perennial bombing of Gaza.
In order to effectively oppress a people, it is necessary to create the "other," to paint, with broad brush strokes, a group of people as the source of your problems -- as the foreigner and not like us, as a criminal element, as inferior, or the moniker of one's choosing. And in scapegoating that group, the dominant force in society is able justify, to rationalize all forms of punishment that follow. For African Americans, the notion of a genetically inferior, permanent class of criminals was reflected in white attitudes and codified into law, helping to undergird slavery and Jim Crow segregation.
Centuries of European anti-semitism, of the racist notion of blood libel -- that Jews kidnaped Christian children to use their blood for ritual purposes -- and the horrific depiction of the Jewish people as vermin made the Nuremberg laws and Hitler's final solution possible. Under South African apartheid, the white minority maintained its own system in which white supremacist ideology and laws kept blacks hopelessly suppressed and economically subservient.
And in Israel and Palestine, an indefensible occupation of the Palestinians remains the last bastion of colonialism, but also becomes entangled with the unresolved trauma of intergenerational Jewish suffering and the notion of "never again." The lessons of the past should dictate that no one should be oppressed. However, right-wing Israeli politicians representing the interests of West Bank settlers have been able to manipulate that very real sense of trauma by turning Palestinians into boogeymen. They have spun the occupation and the current unrest as a war against Muslim terrorism, and anything other than what it really is -- an Israeli land grab on the one hand, and a struggle for Palestinian liberation, human rights and self-determination on the other.
The occupation, with its unabated construction of settlements, has promoted a dehumanization of the other that allows for unchecked racial hatred and extremism, erodes any semblance of democracy and enables creeping fascism in Israeli society.
• A recent poll found that a majority of Israelis think Arab Israeli citizens support terrorism.
• Mizrahi Jews, those Jews of Arab descent, people of color who had their own Black Panther movement, have faced discrimination because they look like the "enemy."
• Netanyahu whipped up Israeli fear of Arabs on Election Day by warning they were going to the polls "in droves."
• He and the Israeli right have branded black people -- African refugees and asylum seekers -- as "infiltrators" who threaten the Jewish character of the nation. Racist Israeli mobs have lynched Africans, and Ethiopian Israelis have faced police brutality and racial discrimination to such an extent that they protest in the streets proclaiming that #BlackLivesMatter.
The Jewish tradition of justice demands far more than this. Far better than this.