LIVINGSTON, N.J. (JTA) — For decades, the Palestinian nationalist cause has sought to draw a dark line linking the experience of ordinary Palestinians from 1948 on to the experience of ordinary European Jews from 1933 to 1945. That link, it appears, is firmly embedded in the mind of the president of the United States.
Barack Obama, in his much-anticipated speech to the Arab world last month in Cairo, expressly linked the two historical events. In one breath, Obama said, “Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust … Six million Jews were killed — more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful."
Then, without breaking stride, Obama said, “On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation.”
This remarkable linkage, in the throwaway phrase “on the other hand,” cannot be dismissed as a sloppy transition. It is the president’s way of agreeing with those who say that Zionism created a new class of victims who have suffered as much as the Jews of Europe.
As someone with family members who survived the Holocaust and are still alive to testify, I find this comparison and linkage intellectually false and offensive. Let’s consider the facts to fully appreciate the amount of suffering of the Palestinian Arabs and determine whether they have a legitimate claim to share the mantle held by the Jews who suffered during the Final Solution perpetrated by the Nazis.
First, consider the Jews of Europe. In 1933, 9.5 million Jews lived in Europe. By 1945, 6 million Jews were murdered — two out of every three on the continent. The Nazis first forced Jews to live in segregated ghettos, then mowed them down with machine guns or put them on trains to gas chambers. Others were forced into slave labor camps.
Now consider the case of the Palestinian Arabs. Palestinians are subject to long waits at hundreds of military roadblocks throughout the West Bank. The Israeli army monitors or restricts access to major Palestinian roads. As a result, many Palestinians can no longer work in Israel and must rely on welfare from the state or others.
In addition, Israeli roadblocks limit the ability of humanitarian agencies to deliver food and supplies into the territories. It is worth mentioning here that the “daily humiliations” to which Obama referred are not motivated by racial animus but by efforts to prevent terrorists from killing Israelis.
Say what you will about the Israeli efforts to control the Palestinian population — Israel’s worst critics may call it dehumanizing, they may call it apartheid, they may call it an illegal occupation. But it is not mass murder. It is not Auschwitz.
There is no comparison. By now the Palestinians could have had their own state. They could have had secure borders, citizenship rights, and easy access between Gaza and the West Bank. But time and again, they refused to compromise with the Jews.
By comparison, the Jews of Europe were not offered a thing: not safe passage to neutral countries far away from Europe. Their cries were ignored by the leaders of the world, who thought a rescue effort would detract from their economic, military and other interests. They were not provided with water, electricity and other humanitarian supplies by their oppressors. They were not given hundreds of millions of dollars to ease their economic privations. They were not given a seat at the table of international organizations.
To put it mildly: They would gladly have put up with checkpoints, security barriers and everything else with which the Palestinians live.
Those who promote the moral equivalence of the Holocaust and the plight of the Palestinians are engaging in an unconscionable revision of history. This is not an “on the one hand, on the other hand” comparison. On one hand is the memory of the 6 million, all innocent, all murdered in cold blood. There is no other hand. Let the Palestinians find another analogy.
(Cheryl Halpern was an appointee of former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.)