And Netanyahu Was Silent

No less outrageous than White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s remarks about Hitler was the Israeli government’s failure to condemn them, out of a cold political calculus

Netanyahu, April 2017
ABIR SULTAN/AFP

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s unfortunate remarks, according to which Hitler never used chemical weapons nor used gas against his own people during the Holocaust, are not only testimony to his personal ignorance. You don’t need to be an accredited historian to know that Hitler killed millions of people with gas starting in 1939, and that the victims included citizens of his country, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

Spicer’s remarks, which border on Holocaust denial, are extremely dangerous, because they are liable to strengthen radical actors around the world. Extremists are the ones who benefit from distortions of history, and especially distortions related to the fate of the Jewish people.

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No less outrageous, however, were the lame responses and even nonresponses from the Israeli government and the man who heads it, to these and similar statements from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ideological partners in the United States and in Europe.

These comments by the man who is supposed to be Donald Trump’s mouthpiece should be viewed as part of a worrying trend shared by other right-wing parties and governments worldwide, which seem to have made Holocaust denial one of their trademarks. Just this week, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front party, said that France “isn’t responsible” for the roundup of 13,000 Jews who were rounded up in the summer of 1942 and held in the Velodrome d’Hiver indoor stadium in Paris before being deported to Auschwitz. Yet these actions were organized by the French authorities, and thousands of French policemen participated in them.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer pauses while talking to the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Andrew Harnik/AP

Similar things have been said in recent months in Poland. There, ministers and bureaucrats have claimed that the pogrom in Jedwabne, in which hundreds of Jews were murdered by their Polish neighbors in 1941, was perpetrated by Germans.

What the right’s distortions of history in the United States, France and Poland have in common is that they all constitute a major regression from both historical research and the existing culture of memory in these countries. In France, then-President Jacques Chirac cut through decades of hypocrisy when he said in 1995 that France was responsible for the deaths of Jews deported from its territory. In Poland, then-President Alexander Kwasniewski recognized Poland’s responsibility for the Jedwabne massacre for the first time in 2001.

The fact that Israel’s government, with the exception of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, has been absent from the front lines of the battle against these chilling statements — the result of a cold political calculus — allows them to permeate worldwide nearly unhindered, and it reveals the Jewish state in all its hypocrisy. Netanyahu, who pounces gleefully on every mention of the momentary ideological partnership between Nazis and Muslims, has not said a single word against his fellow travelers from the right around the world. In his view, the joint battle against “the Islamic threat” justifies ignoring attempts to rewrite history about “the Jewish threat.”

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.