Former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw revealed a shocking lack of understanding of the Holocaust and Israeli–Palestinian realities in a question posed on June 5 to President Barack Obama during a visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Brokaw asked:
What can the Israelis learn from your visit to Buchenwald and what should they be thinking about their treatment of Palestinians?
The President responded:
Well, look there’s no equivalency here. The Holocaust is sui generis and I would not presume to ever try to suggest to Jews how to think about the Holocaust.
Buchenwald was a concentration and slave labor camp in which hundreds of thousands of prisoners were confined and more than 40,000 died, victims of disease, starvation, inhuman work conditions, sadistic medical experimentation and myriad forms of killing. Brokaw’s implication that Israeli conduct toward Palestinians resembles in any way that of the Nazi genocide against the Jews and the murder of millions of others echoes the most extreme propaganda attacks on the Jewish state. In addition, the notion that Israelis should “learn from” others about Nazi persecution is highly offensive. All in all, the spectacle of an NBC correspondent of Brokaw’s stature invoking such linkage is a stain on the reputation of the network.
Explicit or implicit linkage of Israeli conduct to that of the Nazi extermination of six million Jews is factually baseless and morally repugnant. Israel’s actions taken in self defense against violence and terrorism by Palestinian groups and its many attempts to seek a negotiated settlement of a decades-long conflict have not the least resemblance to the Nazis’ actions – as any rational observer knows.
It is Palestinian groups that, from the 1920’s onward repeatedly unleashed murderous attacks on the Jews of what was then the British Mandate in Palestine. It was they who rejected the 1947 UN partition plan creating a Jewish and an Arab state in Mandate Palestine and went to war to annihilate the Jewish community there. It was this aggression that led then to the displacement of large numbers of Palestinian Arabs. It was Arab preparations for war in 1967, blockading of Israel, and declarations of intent to wipe out the Jewish state, that led to Israel’s control over the West Bank and Gaza. And it was Palestinian rejection of Israeli concessions (as well as of those suggested by President Clinton) in 2000, Palestinian unleashing of incessant rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza after Israel’s full evacuation of Gaza in 2005, and Palestinian rejection of Prime Minister Olmert’s concessions in the West Bank in 2008, that have perpetuated the Palestinians’ living in political limbo.
“How do you address the reality that today the Jewish state is being subjected to demonization that resembles that in Nazi Germany and might again lead to serious violence against the Jews?”
“As Americans and liberators of Buchenwald, should we be especially conscious of the dilemma of modern-day Israel as it faces Hezbollah on its north and Hamas on the south, both of which call for genocide against the Jews and destruction of the Jewish state?”
“Buchenwald reminds us of the evils of anti-Semitism. Do you think Americans are aware that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe again and a troubling factor as well in the belief system of many Arabs and Muslims?”
MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) documents the Arab and Muslim world’s anti-Semitic portrayals of Israel and the Jewish people. A recent survey of cartoons and commentary gave multiple examples of the comparison of Israelis to Nazis.
Are these themes with which Tom Brokaw agrees?
The German onslaught against the Jews was a genocide that resulted in the loss of more than a third of world Jewry. By contrast, the Palestinian population, despite conflict and difficulty, is one of the fastest growing in the world.
Israel’s attempts to reach a modus vivendi with its Palestinian neighbors have included decades of projects aimed at improving the standard of living of West Bank and Gazan Arabs. Among these efforts have been the introduction of modern water systems, new medical clinics, vaccination and child birth programs. The result has been a dramatic reduction in infant mortality rates, as well as a dramatic increase in Palestinian longevity and the size of the Palestinian population.
According to UNICEF, the infant mortality rate was more than 100 per 1000 live births when Israel first began to administer the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1967 (Hassan Abu-Libdeh and others, 1992). That rate fell to 19.2 per 1000 by 2006 (CIA Factbook, 2006). In 1967, Palestinian life expectancy was 48 years, while by 2008 it was 72. Figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics show that in 1997 (the first PCBS survey) there were 2,783,084 Palestinians and in 2004 there were 3,827,914 in the West Bank and Gaza.