The interview on video can be seen here
Antisemitism and philosemitism are sharing a common basis: They are both incapable of conceiving Jews as normal people, said the renowned historian on anti-Semitism Eleonore Sterling in the 50ies. Following this reflection, Achcar talks of an ambigous philosemitism. It's the attitude by which postwar West Germany tried to white wash the yellow star and integrated into the Western system. Moreover Zionism in Europe and North America was also driven by anti-Semitism. It was the official policy of the Nazis and Hitler until 1941 to deport the Jews to Palastine. Achcar points to the fact that the only non-Nazi political organisation that remained in Germany after the Nazis took power was the Zionist movement. This amalgamation of Zionism and ani-Semitism characterizes the support for the state of Israel by Adolf Eichmann, Konrad Adenauer (at least until 1945) and Christian Zionists in the U.S. among others.
Gilbert Achcar: Political Scientist and Sociologist at the "School of Oriental and African Studies", University of London, Peace Activist, Author of "The Arabs and the Holocaust" and together with Noam Chomsky "Perilous Power"
Talk about your book “The Arabs and the Holocaust. The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives”. What is this “War of Narratives” about?
Gilbert Achcar: Well, the war of narratives of course revolves around how you narrate the birth of the Israeli state. The designers narrative is the one I mentioned. There are various variants of the narrative, but basically Israel is presented as kind of a redemption for the crimes of Nazism and the rest, and that is why Israel keeps saying it's the responsibility of the West to support Israel. Therefore the response to anti-semitism, to historical anti-semitism, and of course the Nazism, is Zionism, is the Israeli state, and that's what you get. The Arabs are continuators of Nazism in this narrative, because they rejected that. Their fight against the Israeli state is a kind of last episode of the second world war. This is the narrative. Now, of course on the Arab and on the Palestinian side, the narrative is completely different. First of all, the narrative does not start with anti-semitism in Europe. It starts for them with Zionism, with the beginning of Zionist colonisation in Palestine. The key turning point for the Arab narrative is the Balfour declaration. Lord Balfour in 1917, in the name of [his] majesty, in the name of Britain, which was to control Palestine after the first World War gave a green light to the Zionist movement for the colonisation in the country. And from the Arab side all this is seen as a colonial process leading to the birth of Israel as a colonial state, as you had Rhodesia or other such white settler colonial states based in Africa. The perception in the Arab world is that Israel is of the same nature. Now, I would say that there is a need to bridge in part this big dichotomy in narratives in the sense that despite what I said about the role of the Zionist movement, one should not also forget the Zionism was one of many answers to anti-semitism. I mean, anti-semitism is what created Zionism as one answer. There are other answers, as you know, Zionism for very long was until Nazism reached power, Zionism was a minority movement among the European Jews. It became much stronger after that because of Nazism and the rest. It appealed as kind of confirmation of the Zionist perspective. This has to be kept in mind. There is a tendency in the Arab world to forget this aspect. And of course, in the most caricatural or more extreme way, it leads also some people to react to Israel and to the uses that Israel makes of the holocaust. They react to that by holocaust denial, which is, I mean, completely foolish and a stupid attitude. I say foolish and stupid because those who do that believe that this is anti-Zionism and actually by taking such positions they feed the Zionist ideology and Zionist project. This whole war of narrative, if you want, that I just summed up in a couple of words, is what I analyse in depth in the book.
You are saying that for Germans there are two ways of drawing lessons from the Nazi genocide of the European Jews: The first is: "Never again to them, the Jews" and the other just "Never again". Talk about the implications of these lessons?
Gilbert Achcar: Yes, I mean, I'm not, I think, the only one of saying that and many, many jewish thinkers, philosophers, political thinkers, who are critical of Zionism have said that. And indeed, because you can draw kind of lessons from the holocaust. Either you draw a particularist, narrow kind of lesson. Then you look just at the – of course there is no dispute about the fact of the Nazi genocide of the Jews, of European Jews, was a huge crime, one of the biggest crimes perpetrated by the Nazis, not the biggest one in numbers, because the number of people on the Russian front was greater, but in proportion to the population, of course, comparable to the Roma, who also were the victims of a genocide – so, either you isolate just the Jews from all that and it is "Never again to the Jews" or "Never again to us the Jews". So if you are a Jewish particularist with an ethnic perspective, it will be "Never again to us" and that's it and we don't care about the rest. Or if you are a German for instance some people say "Never again to them, the Jews" because this is our big shame if you want, this is the one from which we have to express the guilt much more consistently over the decades since the second world war. There is, by the way, a very interesting book by an Israeli professor, Frank Stern, on the whitewashing of the yellow star, explaining how philo-semitism became in post-war Germany a way to wash the Nazi-past by the integration into the western system, of western Germany. So, this is one way of looking at it. The other way of looking at it, which is put forward by a lot of Jewish thinkers, one more time, is the universalist perspective. It's to understand that the holocaust is not just a tragedy for the Jews, it's a tragedy for humanity in a sense. There are universal lessons there to be drawn and the (?) lessons are "Never again". This kind of system, this kind of totalitarian, racist segregation, discrimination, oppression and killing and genocide, that we have seen at that time. And if you draw that kind of lessons, then you fight against racism, against racist oppression, against denial of right to self-determination, against occupations everywhere, even when they are done by a state, which pretends to be a Jewish state.
The German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer declared in a private visit to Israel in 1966: “I too was a member of the Zionist movement”. In one of your books you also quote Adenauer’s antisemitic statement about the “power of the Jews”. For you this is one example of what you portray as an ambiguous philosemitic attitude by which West Germany – as you said – was buying into the West and a broader aggressive imperial scheme. Explain what you mean by that?
Gilbert Achcar: I also quote a very good reflection by Eleonore Sterling, whose family is also a victim of the holocaust. When she said the philo-semitism, basically ….
A famous scientist on anti-Semitism.
Gilbert Achcar: …historian of anti-Semitism, of course, major expert on the issue. When she said that philo-semitism is actually some kind of reverse anti-semitism. Philo-semitsm is an inverted anti-semitism. And what they have in common, philo-semitism and anti-semitism, is the inability to see the Jews as normal people. The treatment of the Jews as people who are not normal. Either you hate them abnormally or you love them, or defend them abnormally. The key point, when it comes to Adenauer's statement about I was a Zionist, he was a Zionist in the same way, again, I may sound outrageous to you, I will explain what I mean. You know who also said "I was a Zionist" ?
Gilbert Achcar: Adolf Eichmann. During his trial in Jerusalem. He made the statement "I was a Zionist". Exactly like that. What did he mean by that? He meant by that, that of course we wanted to get rid of the Jews, we want "ein judenreines Deutschland" and until 1941, before the so-called "Endlösung", the Nazis were expelling, were deporting the Jews. The policy was to expel them. Hitler himself, and this is Ian Kershaw and other historians of Nazism have explained that very clearly, Hitler himself was very much keen on having the Jews sent to Palestine and to Palestine alone. He didn't want German Jews to go to the United States. Because there, they could constitute a pressure on the United States or Britain to bring them indoor, or to act against Nazi-Germany, that was before the beginning of the war. And until 1941 that was the policy. And therefore indeed, they wanted to get rid of the Jews and they collaborated with the Zionist movement. The book now exists in German by holocaust studies professor of Vermont University, Francis Nicosia, on Nazism and Zionism, the relation between the two and this is a very scholarly book, that no one can accuse or suspect of any kind of bias. But when you read it you are really consterned and really surprised by the extent of this collaboration, which people don't know much about. The only non-Nazi political organisation that remained in Germany after the Nazis took power was the Zionist movement. It was tolerated, it was accepted, because this collaboration to send people there. I often quote my own experience when I first started getting aware of these issues and problems. It was in 1967. I was in school at that time in Beirut, which is the country, Lebanon, where I come from. And I remember I had a discussion that year with a French classmate. I was in a French gymnasium, like they have here. And this French classmate was defending Israel in 1967 war and we had this dispute. And the argument he gave me to explain why he was a supporter of Israel is something I have never forgotten. He said: "You know, I don't want in any time in my life to work for a Jewish boss. I want the Jews to go there to Israel. That's why I support Israel." And you can see this, there is one form of support of Zionism, which is anti-semitic. People want to get rid of the Jews from Europe or from America and say: "Well, let them go to Israel". The fact is one of the main forces in the pro-Israel lobby in the United States are the so-called Christian Zionists. Basically their ideology is anti-semitic. There will come the moment of rapture and all these Jews will drop Judaism and become Christians. This is the kind of ideology they have. And yet, they are staunchest supporters of Israel.