Seeing Hitler in Lebanon

Seeing Hitler in Lebanon

Then Israel is at war, outrageous Nazi analogies are never far behind.

So it was during Israel’s battle against the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon in 198′, and the Hitler analogies are in full swing again today.

At a recent anti-Israel rally in Michigan, Arab-American militants carried signs equating the Star of David with the swastika and proclaiming "Israel Nazi Are the Same Thing."

Meanwhile, in London, Jihad Al-Khazen, the former editor of the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, branded Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "a young f?hrer" who is "perpetrating definite Nazi practices against the Palestinians and the Lebanese." His explanation: Olmert and other Israeli leaders are the grandchildren of Nazi war criminals who disguised themselves as Jews and fled to Palestine after World War II to escape prosecution. "I cannot find any other logical reason for Israel’s Nazi-like practices," Al-Khazen wrote.

Al-Khazan’s theory may be dismissed as lunacy, but one wonders if British Member of Parliament Peter Tapsell (of the Conservative Party), will garner a similar response to his recent declaration that Israeli behavior in Lebanon is reminiscent of the Germans’ annihilation of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Although there was a time when Israel-Nazi analogies were rarely protested at the official level, fortunately that has begun to change. The United States government has now officially defined such analogies as anti-Semitic, in its first-ever report on anti-Semitism around the world.

The report, issued by the State Department last year — as required by Rep. Tom Lantos’s Global Antisemitism Review Act — stated that "[t]he demonizaton or vilification of Israeli leaders, sometimes through comparisons with Nazi leaders, and through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them, indicates an anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of policy concerning a controversial issue."

In another notable change in public rhetoric, American commentators have drawn striking parallels of their own to the Hitler era, in their analyses of the Lebanon situation.

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., editor of The American Spectator, sees the United Nations’ response to Hezbollah as comparable to, and even worse than, that of "the international community of appeasers in the 1930s." Likewise, pundit Bill O’Reilly has warned, "Just as in World War II, the bad guys have gotten off to a fast start. The good guys turned it around 60 years ago, but, today, the betting line in Teheran is that [U.N. Secretary General] Kofi [Annan] and the world body he represents will continue to be no problem."

Media analyst Jonathan Mark of the New York Jewish Week, criticizing CNN’s emphasis on Lebanese casualties, remarked: "Somehow, when Edward R. Murrow went from the rooftops of bombed-out London to bombed-out Berlin he didn’t look for little German children to turn into martyrs."

The accusation that Israel’s action against Hezbollah is "disproportionate" has elicited a variety of World War II comparisons from syndicated columnists. "Did Britain respond to the blitz and V-1 and V-‘ rockets with ‘proportionate’ aerial bombardment of Germany," Charles Krauthammer asks. "Imagine if we had been concerned about a proportional response at the beginning of World War II," writes Cal Thomas. "Instead, America nuked Japan and firebombed Germany."

Paul Greenberg, for his part, recalls the Normandy invasion: "Think of the troop ships that covered the ocean to the horizon, the unending bombardments from sea and air, the armor and artillery and paratroops and supplies and support of every kind, the innocent civilians caught in the middle…. Now there was a totally disproportionate response. Thank God."

Although the editors of The New Republic recently referred to Hezbollah’s leaders as "religious fascists with genocidal fantasies," commentators have generally refrained from direct comparisons of Hezbollah to the Nazis, perhaps because of the stark difference between the Jewish homelessness and weakness of the 1940s and the sovereignty and military strength of the Jews today.

On the other hand, if the pundits are looking for historical analogies to the phenomenon of Iran and Syria using Lebanon-based terrorists as their proxies to harass Israel, the Hitler era does offer an interesting case study: the Sudeten German Freikorps, a legion of Nazi-armed "freedom fighters" whom Hitler used to put violent pressure on the Czech government to surrender the Sudetenland region, the buffer zone that helped protect Czechoslovakia from Germany.

Historical analogies are necessarily imprecise, since each era has its own unique set of leaders, factors, and events. Such analogies can be used as crude bludgeons, or employed as sharp tools. When used with appropriate caution and careful regard for the facts, they may help illuminate complex situations with lessons from the past. Or they may be used recklessly — as Israel’s enemies often do — to distort history and smear a just cause.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.