The most traumatic event of my life happened six years before I was born. That’s when Nazi Germany implemented their “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.” My immediate family was already in the US by that time, but they lost friends and distant family to the terror.
Their trauma, sadness, and fear were passed down to my generation. Therapists have told me this history could account for my lifelong anxiety and sadness.
In the Jewish community, the post-war reaction was a commitment that this horror could never happen again. But here we are, less than 80 years later, and it is happening again, only this time we’re the ones doing the terror. The horrors Israel is visiting in Gaza and the West Bank remind me of stories we heard in childhood about Germany.
We read about Israel bombing children and we wonder; how is it possible that the victims of Nazism turn into fascists themselves? But after learning more about the tragic history of National Socialism in Germany and Zionism in Israel, this transition seems not only possible but predictable. It was in fact predicted by Jewish opponents of Zionism such as Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt.
We know that abused, traumatized children often become abusers themselves. Why wouldn’t the same be true of an abused people, especially when the world rewards their abusiveness? The victimization of 20th-century Germany was quite different from the centuries of Jewish persecution in Europe, but they both ultimately led to similar places.
National Socialism in Germany
I will briefly analyze the similarities and differences between National Socialism in Germany and revisionist Zionism in Israel.
Historian Marwan Bishara said of the similarities: “They share basic fascistic characteristics, such as belief in a divine and historic nationhood and tradition that is superior to any notion of modern democracy and citizenship; a pronounced sense of grievance and victimhood; and militaristic tendencies.” It’s not hard to see how these beliefs played out.
● Feeling Victimized. After WW1, Germany was saddled with the brutal Versailles Treaty that sent billions of marks to England and France, sabotaging German currency. Slavic people and Jews, whom Adolf Hitler, the founder of the Nazis, considered inferior, were competing with Germans economically.
Hitler wanted to restore Germany to an imagined greatness and right the wrongs that had been done to it. As he wrote in Mein Kampf, he had core beliefs in German superiority, that Germany had been sabotaged during World War 1, and that they were in grave danger of losing their whole nation to international capital. For most of this, he blamed the Jews.
● The state is the most important thing for the long-term welfare of the people. The state’s needs come before the welfare or freedom of individual people.
● Needing more room. Hitler wrote that populations grow and constantly need more agricultural land. He wrote that there was plenty of land in the world, and Germany needed to go out and take it, as the British, French, and Dutch empires had done. Nearby countries like Poland and Russia would have to give up land to the Germans.
Similarly, Israel has never stopped seeking more land for itself. They drove out Palestinians from the coastal parts of Palestine, then in 1967 took the West Bank from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and are currently dispossessing Palestinians from Gaza. Many Israeli Zionists have wanted to take land from Iraq to Egypt to create Eretz (Greater) Israel. (See map.)
● Might makes right. Hitler scoffed at pacifists and those who believed the rule of law could protect them. His first priority was building up Germany’s armed forces.
Likewise, 20th Century Zionist leaders like Ze’ev (born Vladimir) Jabotinsky wrote that the Jewish State in Palestine could only be achieved through force. He condemned the “vegetarians” and “peace mongers” in mainstream Zionism who believed that a Jewish state could be achieved peacefully.
● Rivals are inferior and can be killed in large numbers to advance your people’s ends. Hitler was very open about his advocacy of the mass murder of Poles and Jews, disabled people, and gays. But since most people abhor the murder of innocents, the practice of industrial-scale slaughter, as we saw in the concentration camps and see in Gaza today, took time to gain support.
The development of murder
Those guiding principles of Nazism sound very scary, but they didn’t come into play right away in Germany or Israel. Hitler didn’t start off killing millions of people. He killed people to take their land, as colonizers do.
Then, as the war started to go badly, his treatment of the scapegoat Jews and other minorities became more murderous. Because of wartime deprivation and years of propaganda, the German people went along with seeing their neighbors deported to concentration camps.
In Palestine, Israel didn’t start out dropping 2000-pound bombs on refugee camps. Some of the original founders and theorists were socialists and envisioned a land where Jews would be in charge, but everyone would get along. Two of my parents’ college friends moved to Israel and lived on a kibbutz, a collective farm that sounded kind of like a hippie commune. But things changed.
Zionism becomes Nazified
Originally, there were all kinds of Zionists. Anyone who believed in a Jewish homeland qualified. They didn’t even necessarily advocate a Jewish state, although most did. Politics ranged from the far Right to the communist Left, but the constant desire for more land and the reality of Palestinian resistance gradually drove Israeli politics to the extreme Right. Each new generation of leaders adopted more extreme ideas and practices.
● Ze’ev Jabotinsky was a lifelong fighter for Jewish self-defense. He co-founded armed Jewish groups in Latvia, Russia, and the Irgun in Palestine. He fought with the British during World War I and believed (correctly) that the British would help foster a Jewish state in Palestine. By fighting alongside the British against the Ottoman Turks, he helped bring armed Jews to Palestine.
Jabotinsky called his program “revisionist Zionism.” He was not a fascist. He said, “Each one of the ethnic communities in the Jewish state will be recognized as autonomous and equal in the eyes of the law.” He maintained, however, that this state could only be achieved through force.
● One of Jabotinsky’s followers was Menachem Begin, a leader of Irgun, an admitted terrorist, who carried out massacres of Palestinians, in villages such as Deir Yassin. As a teen, he joined Jabotinsky’s Betar youth movement and rose rapidly to leadership.
His first party, called Tnuat Haherut, was the one Einstein and Arendt warned about. In a letter to the New York Times, they wrote, “This political party is closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy, and social appeal to Nazi and Fascist parties.”
He served time in jail for terrorist activities, but in 1977 became Prime Minister of Israel and leader of the Likud party, taking Israel further into fascism.
● Benjamin Netanyahu started out in Begin’s Likud Party and rose to become Prime Minister three times (so far.) He seems to have grown more extreme throughout his career, until he now compares Palestinians to the biblical kingdom of Amalek, which God commanded Israel to, “Utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” (Sam 1. 15:3)
● Under Netanyahu’s leadership, new ranks of even more fascist leaders such as Avigdor Lieberman, Gideon Sa’ar, Naftali Bennett, and Bezalel Smotrich (an avowed “fascist homophobe,”) who denies the existence of Palestinians as a nation or people.
● Open fascists like the American-born-Israelis Meir Kahane and Baruch Goldstein advocated massacres of Arabs or actively carried them out. According to journalist Andrew Feinstein, “Kahane is globally regarded as an extreme racist and terrorist and was banned from running for election to the Knesset as his party propagated racism. Yet his protégé Itamar Ben-Gvir is today a senior Minister in the Israeli government and wields enormous power over the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
According to Feinstein, Smotrich has said, “Palestinians must ‘choose’ between a life of subjugation under Israeli rule, voluntary emigration or death.”
Why Zionism was Nazified
In 1947, the UN created Israel as a small country bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Israel removed most Arabs from the area and set up a state, depopulating and destroying 500 Palestinian villages by force. Over the decades, Israeli “settlers” (an evocative word) have illegally taken over more Palestinian land beyond the old borders.
These settlers have a much more hostile relationship with the Palestinians, who often live all around them and resent their dispossession. They have not had to follow state or international law and don’t think it applies to them. Some of the fascist leaders I mentioned above live in settlements. They are used to being at war with Palestinians, and Israeli politics have steadily moved in their direction.
A key factor in increasingly Nazified Zionism has been Israel’s ever-closer connection to the US empire. When Israel attacks its Arab neighbors or builds up its nuclear arsenal, they are serving American interests, being what Indi Samarajiva calls “the aircraft carrier parked near the gas station.” American military-industrial corporations have close connections with Israel, from which both sides make billions of dollars.
What a profound tragedy! Millions of Nazi victims died or were traumatized for generations. Germans woke up after World War 2 to find their country destroyed and their people universally despised for the terrible crimes of their regime.
It is too early to know what will happen to Israel, but the contempt and hatred are already happening. Israel tries to blame these attitudes on global hatred of Jews (antisemitism,) but people’s actual statements and actions focus only on the Israeli state, not against Jewish people. Many Jews are among those making the statements and actions called antisemitic. Palestinians are being massacred and traumatized, while Jewish communities are being torn apart.
I don’t know what can make this better. The first step would be the withdrawal of American support for Israel’s crimes. Demand that of your representatives now.
Learn more or get involved
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights https://uscpr.org/
Jewish Voice for Peace https://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org
If Not Now https://www.ifnotnowmovement.org/
If Americans Knew https://ifamericansknew.org/
Contact Congress 202–225–3121, the Senate 202–224–3121, and the White House 202–456–1111 to demand a ceasefire in Gaza now.