Book Review: The Arabs and the Holocaust (Part I)


By As’ad AbuKhalil

Angry Corner

Gilbert Achcar’s book, The Arabs and the Holocaust, is a very good study of the subject of Arab attitudes toward the Holocaust. First, I must confess that Achcar and I engaged in a lengthy intellectual/political duel on the pages of al-Akhbar newspaper in Lebanon. Our debate was related to the subject of his study.

My disagreements with him did not dissipate with the reading of this book. But Achcar’s study is very interesting and very well-researched and effective in its arguments — or many of them. The author clearly spent time examining the sources and honestly comparing and verifying evidence. If there is a criticism of the sources it is that the book was far from being based on an “exhaustive survey of Arabic sources,” as Eugen Rogan says in a blurb on the jacket of the book.

For example, he did not cite Sami al-Jundi’s book Arab wa Yahud, which was a pioneering work on the subject (he cited al-Jundi’s book on the Baath). He also did not cite Mustafa Allush’s writings on the Jewish question (although he cited the anti-Semitic writings of his son, Ibrahim). But the book exhaustively studied Western writings on the subject and skillfully identified the Zionist propaganda impulses in many of those studies, especially the ones that dealt with Hajj Amin al-Husayni. The author also effectively undermined many of the arguments by Bernard Lewis on the subject.

But the book suffers from a number of problems, namely methodological ones. It is aimed primarily at Western readers and provided — perhaps unwittingly — yet another condemnation of Hajj Amin al-Husayni (who does not deserve any defense whatsoever). In other words, the author regarded the plethora of books and articles on Hajj Amin as being often motivated by Zionist propaganda impulses and yet he provides another study of the subject, and provides more condemnation.

And the author goes too far in being sensitive to Western — even Zionist — standards and terms of reference. He, for example, maintains that the uprooting of the Palestinians has not been “exceptionally extensive or cruel” (p. 31). He adds that none of the Israeli massacres of Palestinians compares in scope to French massacres of Algerians (p. 31). And as an affront to Palestinian suffering, Achcar adds: “As colonial administrations go, the fate of the Palestinians is far from being the worst” (p. 31).

What is Achcar trying to say here? Is he trying to send a message to the Palestinians that they should be less angry with Israel for its crimes? And why is he comparing the suffering of Palestinians when he categorically rejects any comparison of the suffering of Jews and accepts the uniqueness of that suffering? He certainly would not have accepted a comparison between Nazi crimes against Jews with the crimes of Genghis Khan, who may have been the most prolific killer in history. In other words, this point that Achcar is trying to make — and I must confess that it eludes me — winds up minimizing the suffering of the Palestinian people, and the crimes of Zionism. This was my main objection to the book.

There are other sections of the book that required either explanation or elaboration or expansion, and the last section seems rushed. The treatment of the evolution of the rhetoric of Hezbollah needed updating and the author did not address anti-Semitic statements falsely attributed over the years by Zionists to Nasser, Shuqayri, Nasrallah, etc. Zionist propaganda often fabricated hateful statements and attached them to the names of Arab leaders. Zionists worked hard to stigmatize Nasser, and all they were able to find was one lone interview in which Nasser (foolishly) recommended the Protocols to an Indian journalist.

Furthermore, the author brushes off — or seems to (p. 79) — Nazi influence over Pierre Gemayel, when the latter was honest about his inspiration during the Berlin Olympic Games. He does not dwell on the Phalanges as a case study of a Nazi-like party, but dwells instead on the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (although he could have said more on the anti-Semitism of its founder, Antun Saadah). He even seems to belittle the extensive ties between the Phalanges and Israel, when there is evidence of support from as far back as the early 1950s (he mentions only the 1951 parliamentary election). We still don’t know the full extent of the military-intelligence relationship between the Phalanges and Israel prior to 1975, but it was indicative that the Phalanges proposed ending the Lebanese adherence to the Arab boycott of Israel back in 1967 (when that stance was considered treacherous then).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *