Denying the Holocaust

Prof. Robert S. Wistrich


As a student of modern Jewish history and contemporary antisemitism, I have always tried to avoid using the term "Shoah" for rhetorical purposes. But this time around "Yom Ha-Shoah" strikes me as being very different from earlier commemorations of the event. Since October 2005, the president of Iran, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for wiping Israel off the map and has simultaneously denied that the Nazi Holocaust ever took place. Meanwhile, his country feverishly marches toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Over twenty years ago I wrote a book called Hitler's Apocalypse which, among its main theses, warned that the Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Republic and radical fundamentalist Islam were the true heirs of the Nazis. More recently I acted as historical advisor to a new film Obsession: Radical Islam's War against the West, which graphically demonstrates the genocidal logic of political Islam today. Now, more than ever, it seems to me that the prospect of a new kind of Holocaust – involving the mass annihilation of Jews and the extinction of civilization as we have known it, is a real possibility. Ahmadinejad's threats, the jihadi war against the West, and the fanatical antisemitism which underpins radical Islam, are obvious examples of the threat. Then, there is the outpouring of hate and violence across the Muslim world last month in response to a few Danish satirical cartoons; the unbelievably sadistic and antisemitically motivated murder of Ilan Halimi in France by a gang of so-called "barbarians" led by a black African Muslim; and the "democratic" victory of the radical Islamist Hamas movement in what is left of the Palestinian Authority. The ideological foundations of Hamas are clearly based on the destruction of Israel, jihad and virulent antisemitism.    

Radical Islamists have the motivation, the reasons, the will and (if not stopped) they will soon have the means as well as the opportunity, to implement a "final solution" of their own to what they call the "Jewish / Zionist cancer" in the Middle East. It is in this context, that we need to see the denial of the Nazi Holocaust, currently rampant not only in Iran but throughout the Arab world – including the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Such denial is a necessary prelude to the planned annihilation of Israel. When President Ahmadinejad told the leaders of Hamas, Hizbollah, Islamic Jihad, and other "holy warriors", assembled together in Tehran last week, that "the land of Palestine will be freed soon", he did not forget to mock the "myth of the Holocaust" through which the Zionists have allegedly blackmailed Western governments for the past 60 years. It is worth recalling that 40 years ago the Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser also denied the Zionist "big lie" of six million murdered Jews, in an interview with a German neo-Nazi publication. Not long afterwards Nasser embarked on his megalomaniac effort to destroy Israel, with its well-known disastrous results for the Arab world.

Now, once again, antisemitism and Holocaust denial, have become linked to the government policy of a Middle-Eastern state bent on wiping out Israel in the name of "Palestinian rights".

In Iran's case, the trends are towards appeasement, "constructive engagement" or "critical dialogue", especially in Europe – for predictable reasons. Iran is bursting with gas and oil profits; it has close business relations with Europe (especially Germany); it has also signed multi-billion dollar oil and gas deals with China; and in Putin's Russia Iran has a major economic partner and important strategic protector. Not only that, but Iran has major terrorist allies – controlling as it does Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad, financing Hamas and enjoying warm ties with Al-Qaeda. Syria today is little more than an Iranian vassal state while Iraq's Shi'ite majority is steadily coming under the control of Iranian agents.

In this context, to hope that the UN, international diplomacy or even economic sanctions will seriously deter the Iranian leadership (which may be no more than 6 months to a year from the point of no return in its nuclear program) stretches credulity. The unhappy American adventure in Iraq and vacillating, ineffective leadership in Washington during the past three years have emboldened Iranian self-confidence. The growing chorus of appeasement (including all too many Diaspora Jews) reveals just how little has been learned from the history of Nazi Germany in the 1930's. In 1936 Adolf Hitler, too, could have been stopped with relative ease at the time when his troops reoccupied the Rhineland. His passionate speeches about the "self-determination" of the Sudeten Germans (compare the Palestinians today) prepared the ground in an appeasement-drunk Europe for the betrayal of Czechoslovakia and its physical destruction by Nazi Germany. Then, as now with Iran, Russia was willing to strike a deal with the Devil which would later backfire with a vengeance against it. Then, as now, radical antisemitism was essentially treated as a side-issue by the Western democracies (including the U.S.) rather than as the most striking herald of the looming totalitarian threat. How much attention was paid in the west to Hitler's Reichstag speech of 30 January 1939 threatening the Jews of Europe with total annihilation? Is the West today overly concerned by the fact that the three top Iranian leaders of recent years – Ali Akhbar Rafsanjani, the Supreme Guide, Ali Khomeini and President Ahmadinejad, so openly speak of a real (nuclear) Holocaust against the Jewish state?

The stark truth is that no nation (not even the U.S.) can ultimately be expected to defend Israel and the Jewish people from those who seek its extinction. That is the lesson of  Yom Ha-Shoah, of Judaism, Zionism, World War II, and the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Hence it is a matter of vital existential importance that we grasp the full gravity of the Iranian and the radical Islamist threat in the shape of Hizbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad it already exists on our northern, southern, and eastern borders including the West Bank. The danger of an Iranian nuclear bomb or an Al-Qaeda-style mega-terrorist assault inside Israel is obviously the most serious security issue. But the spread of an Islamo-Nazi culture of hatred which nourishes and motivates these designs is no less alarming. We are confronted today with enemies that are even more brazen than the Nazis in their annihilationist mind-set towards Israel, Zionism and the Jews. Indeed, they have openly threatened America and the Western world as a whole.

This is surely the time for Israel to show some moral leadership and speak in a clear and compelling voice against such unrestrained rhetoric of mass murder. History has shown that when political leaders publicly threaten to wipe out their enemies, they usually mean it. Closing the Teheran conference in mid-April 2006, the Iranian president could not have been more frank. He contemptuously referred to Israel as "a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm."

It is obvious that we do not have the luxury of repeating the terrible error of the Western democracies in the 1930's when facing Hitler's bellicose threats, a failure which resulted in the mass murder of European Jewry.  This Yom Ha-Shoah must become the beginning of a new and far more robust Israeli defense of fundamental Jewish and human values, against the enemies of freedom – a mobilization which must convince the West that the future of civilization is at stake.


This article was published in Ma’ariv Newspaper, 25 April, 2006