Israel = Nazis: Chronicles in Moral Schadenfreude

The tall story we Europeans now tell ourselves about Israel

By Charles Moore
The UK Telegraph


Sir Peter Tapsell is, if the phrase is not a contradiction in terms nowadays, a distinguished backbencher. He first entered the House of Commons in 1959. Noted for his grand manner, he is the longest-serving Tory MP.

At foreign affairs questions in Parliament on Tuesday, Sir Peter rose. He wanted Margaret Beckett to tell him whether the Prime Minister had colluded with President Bush in allowing Israel to “wage unlimited war” in Lebanon, including attacks on civilian residential areas of Beirut. These attacks, he added, were “a war crime grimly reminiscent of the Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter in Warsaw”.

Mrs Beckett firmly rejected the premise of the question – that Mr Bush had permitted “unlimited war” – and moved on, but I found myself winded by Sir Peter’s choice of words.

What is happening in Lebanon? After the kidnapping of two of its soldiers and the firing of hundreds of rockets against its people from across the Lebanese border, Israel is trying to crush the Hizbollah fighters who have perpetrated these acts. In doing so, it has also killed civilians. Some 500 people have died in Lebanon as a result.

What was the “Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter in Warsaw”? There were many, of course. But Sir Peter was probably referring to the events of April-May 1943. The Nazis had earlier deported 300,000 Polish Jews to Treblinka. As news of their fate reached Jews in Warsaw, they decided to revolt against further round-ups. For about a month, they resisted. They were subdued: 7,000 of them were killed and 56,000 were sent to the camps.

Sir Peter surely knew this, yet he chose to speak as he did. Here is a man who has been in public life for more than 50 years (he was an assistant to Anthony Eden in the general election of 1955), and yet he compared Israel’s attack to the most famous genocide of the 20th century. What possessed him?

I ask the question, not because I am interested in Sir Peter – he is not an important figure in the current debate, though he may differ on this point. I ask, rather, because his remark seems to me a symptom of a wider unreality about the Middle East, one that now dominates. It tinged the recent Commons speech by William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary. It permeates every report by the BBC.

You could criticise Israel’s recent attack for many things. Some argue that it is disproportionate, or too indiscriminate. Others think that it is ill-planned militarily. Others hold that it will give more power to extremists in the Arab world, and will hamper a wider peace settlement. These are all reasonable, though not necessarily correct positions to hold. But European discourse on the subject seems to have been overwhelmed by something else – a narrative, told most powerfully by the way television pictures are selected, that makes Israel out as a senseless, imperialist, mass-murdering, racist bully.

Not only is this analysis wrong – if the Israelis are such imperialists, why did they withdraw from Lebanon for six years, only returning when threatened once again? How many genocidal regimes do you know that have a free press and free elections? – it is also morally imbecilic. It makes no distinction between the tough, sometimes nasty things all countries do when hard-pressed and the profoundly evil intent of some ideologies and regimes. It says nothing about the fanaticism and the immediacy of the threat to Israel. Sir Peter has somehow managed to live on this planet for 75 years without spotting the difference between what Israel is doing in Lebanon and “unlimited war”.

As well as being morally imbecilic, this narrative is the enemy of all efforts to understand what is actually going on in the Middle East. It is so lazy.

Read the rest.

9 Responses to Israel = Nazis: Chronicles in Moral Schadenfreude

  1. Eliyahu says:

    Peter Tapsell is described as a former associate of Anthony Eden. Now Eden was foreign minister during WW2. He and/or his ministry [the Foreign Office] controlled the BBC’s reporting on events in Poland during the war. Shmul Zigelboym, delegate of the Jewish Socialist/Labor Bund of Poland to the Polish govt-in-exile in London, wrote that the BBC at first suppressed, then minimized, coverage of the Holocaust as it was unfolding. Furthermore, Eden himself twice during the war publicly urged the Arabs to work for Arab unity. These statements by Eden are considered the impetus behind formation of the Arab League. British officers in Iraq during the pogrom [called Farhud] against the Jews of Baghdad in 1941, wanted to intervene to stop the massacre, but complained of Foreign Office interference. So Peter Tapsell came out of a good school when he criticized Israel for being Nazi-like. Of course he doesn’t see the Hizbullah as being Nazi-like.
    Links: 1- Anthony Eden and Arab League
    2- Eden, bbc, and Holocaust
    3- Britain and Holocaust, Baghdad Pogrom [Farhud]
    4- British governmental guidance of the media during the Holocaust

  2. glertwfralwn says:

    Here’s a related item, another MP, a cabinet minister in the news…


    “In an eye-popping bold attack on Blair’s American-led foreign policy of equidistance between Israeli attack and Lebanese suffering, former foreign secretary Jack Straw fired the first cabinet salvo on the prime minister.”

    “Speaking to his mainly Indian Muslim constituents in Blackburn, north west England, Jack Straw said that he was speaking for several cabinet colleagues when he voiced concern over Israeli tactics in bombing Lebanese civilians.”

    This is enlightening to a US reader. Could Jack Straw have been impartially looking out for Britan’s national interests when he was foreign secretary while he relies on popular support from his district for reelection?

    This is a pecularity of the parlimentary system that US readers may not be aware of – that cabinet ministers also have to get elected to parliment which must mean that cabinet posts and election districts would influence each other.

  3. RL says:

    answer to Eliyahu:
    extemely interesting material which underlines not only how much inertial force foolish british policies continue to have long after they’ve proved mistaken, but to some extent why. it’s more than hypocrisy we’re dealing with here, it’s displacement.

  4. RL says:

    answer to glertwfralwm:
    your comment touches on a particularly striking aspect of european foreign policy — how self-destructive it is. this kafr kana affair is what the israelis call a goal-atzmi, or we in the usa would call “shooting yourself in the foot.” by hysterically blaming israel (rather than Hizbullah) they give a victory to the Hizbullah just as it looked like they were beginning to realize that Hizbullah was on the other team. it’s like a kid with ADD — hard to stay focused too long on difficult problem sets.

  5. Guilt vs Shame

    When the West moved from a predominantly Shame based culture (which is tribal) to a guilt based culture (Judeo-Christian) modernity ensued. Developmentally, guilt is a later, more mature (and more differentiated) affect than shame and cultures that ach…

  6. stuart williamson says:

    Enough of all this blatherskite blogging! What is truly repelent about all this is the news services and MSm generally treating Hezbollah as if it had political or moral legitimacy. It is de facto and proudly a religious terrorist organization. Compare it to the Ku Klux Klan of our own recent history – openlly dedicated to the extermination or total subjugation of blacks, Jews, and possibly Catholics. Would the KKK’s venom and total dismissal of moral precepts be not only not challenged but eagerly accepte splashed on TV and the front pages of our newspapers? Yet that is what these “courageous” and “truth-seeking” yellow journalists are pandering to to today,sucking up to those who, when the right time comes, will joyously behead them!

  7. RL says:

    to SW: your comment underlines what Charles Jacobs calls the human rights complex: it’s not the severity of the crime that matters, nor the victim, but the identity of the perpetrator: white (better yet Jewish)? outrage. people of color? let’s not mention it.

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