Saturday, April 21, 2012

Arabs and the Holocaust

Arabs and the Holocaust

David Keyes

This week I spoke at Columbia University and was asked by a student why I was harping on the issue of Saudi textbooks that call Jews and Christians “apes and pigs.” “We all know they write bad things,” he said, “but why are you bringing this up? It just enforces an ‘us vs. them’ paradigm, which paints us as good guys and them as bad guys.”

Nonsense, I said. The indoctrination of millions of school children with the most hate-filled, dehumanizing rhetoric imaginable should be a pressing concern for everyone who hopes to see peace and human rights. Few problems in the Middle East are more important to solve than rampant state-sponsored incitement.

The great Irwin Cotler – former justice minister of Canada, liberal member of parliament and board member of Advancing Human Rights – wrote recently, “The enduring lesson of the Holocaust and the genocides that followed is that they occurred not simply because of the machinery of death, but because of a state-sanctioned ideology of hate. This teaching of contempt, this demonizing of the other – this is where it all begins. As the Canadian Supreme Court recognized, in words echoed by the international criminal tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers – it began with words. These, as the courts put it, are the chilling facts of history. These are the catastrophic effects of racism.”

Dictatorial Middle Eastern governments are criminally responsible for propagating incitement on official media outlets. From Egypt to Saudi Arabia, they have done nearly nothing to stop the spread of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. I vividly recall walking the streets of downtown Cairo constantly amazed that every corner bookshop I visited had two books prominently displayed, “Mein Kampf” and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Often they were accompanied by a third book, front and center titled “The Jews...Behind Every Crime.” These are the seeds of war, I thought to myself.
The tragic yet undeniable fact is that millions of Jews live with the threat of extermination everyday. 

That is not hyperbole. How can one think otherwise when Mohammad Hassan Rahimian, a representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatens to “replace Israel in its entirety with a big holocaust”? Or when deputy speaker of the Hamas parliament, Ahmad Bahr, calls to “kill the Jews ... down to the very last one.” Or when months ago the Palestinian Authority Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheik Mohammed Hussein, approvingly quoted a hadith saying, “Judgment Day will not come before you fight the Jews, and the Jews will hide behind a stone or a tree, and the stone or the tree will say: Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him ...”

However, there are glimmers of hope. Jordanian Prince Hassan Bin Talal, uncle to the current king, inaugurated the Arabic website of Yad Vashem in 2008 and gave a moving speech about the history of the Holocaust in Arabic. Even if you don’t understand the words, watch it on YouTube here.

Arab leaders should be challenged to emulate Prince Hassan and make their own video in Arabic about the importance of remembering the Holocaust. This quixotic idea may seem tangential and particular, but it is actually central and universal. It will benefit Arabs no less than Jews.