“There have been no major changes, but more continuity” in the way Arabs view the Holocaust in the past few years, Prof. Meir Litvak of Tel Aviv University told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
“Maybe there is not the same crude denial, claiming that nothing happened, but lately the denial has become more sophisticated,” said Litvak, from the university’s department of Middle Eastern history and the director of its Alliance Center for Iranian Studies.
He is the author with Esther Webman of From Empathy to Denial: Arab Responses to the Holocaust (2009).
Litvak spoke with the Post on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day to note any changes in the way Arabs view the Shoah since his book was published.
Asked about the equation of Israel and Nazism, he said that it still is very prevalent in the Arab world.
In his and Webman’s book, they write about how on one hand, Arabs will deny or belittle the Holocaust, but on the other will equate Israel with the worst crimes of Nazism, thus accepting the cruelty of the Nazi regime while at the same time rejecting it.
A recent trend, possibly spurred by the Arab uprisings, is that “people in the Arab world are now accusing each other of being Nazis,” he said.
Another symptom of the unrest in the Arab world is the use of The Protocols of the Elder of Zion, an old forgery meant to demonstrate the Jews’ evil plans. This document is still used by anti-Semites around the world as “proof” that the Jews are evil and are trying to take over the world. Russian secret police based in Paris are believed to be behind the forgery that first appeared around 1895.
Today, said Litvak, the Protocols are everywhere and ever-present on Arab websites. This trend “is more problematic than before,” and the Arab uprisings are “being used as proof that the Protocols are correct and that there is a Jewish conspiracy.”
As for the views of Arabs who visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, “there are some who come to problematic conclusions and some that do not.”
Asked if Iranian leaders’ statements about the Holocaust are affecting Arab opinion, Litvak said there is not much influence because Iran is less popular than before because of its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is massacring Sunnis. The growing Arab opposition to Iran is not due to pro- Israel opinions, he noted.
Since the Arab uprisings there is a growing practice of Arabs accusing other Arabs of being Jewish, Litvak said. His colleague Webman has made the same observation. Assad, Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak have all been accused of being Jewish or having Jewish blood or ancestors.
Moving to Hamas, Litvak sees little change and the movement continues to deny or otherwise belittle the Holocaust, he said. For example, From Empathy to Denial: Arab Responses to the Holocaust quotes Shaykh Ibrahim Mudayras of Hamas as justifying the Shoah because of the Jews’ evil nature.
Mudayras “presented Germany as a double victim of Jewish machinations in a Friday sermon in which he accused the Jews of inciting the major European countries to wage an economic war against Germany, while provoking Germany to launch a war against the whole world.”
The key point, Litvak said, is that Arab discussion of the Holocaust is not really about the Holocaust, but is used as a weapon against Israel. It is the political reality that dictates how the Holocaust is viewed. A quote in the book expresses this clearly: “The Arab Holocaust discourse had begun by the end of World War II and was shaped, from its inception, by the political developments related to the Jewish-Arab conflict in Palestine.
Following the 1948 war and the escalation of the conflict, it became an integral part of the broader Arab anti-Semitic discourse, which evolved under the shadow of the conflict.”
Hence, Litvak concluded, “If progress ever comes in the peace process then maybe after that, and only afterwards, may there be a change in the perception of the Holocaust."