Exploding the myth of the Arab bystander

 The Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem in Berlin. He was an ally of the Nazis and shared their aims: to exterminate the Jews

While most Arabs and Muslims were indifferent to the Holocaust, a sizeable number sympathised with the Nazi objective of the extermination of the Jews, and leading Arabs were among active promoters of it. Shimon Ohayon, MK for Yisrael Beytenu  – spearheading the drive in a Knesset for a memorial day for Jewish refugees from Arab lands – explodes the myth of the innocent Arab bystander.  The article appeared in the Jerusalem Post and was timed for International Holocaust Memorial Day(with thanks: Ashley)

 In recent years many writers have attempted to grapple with the history
of the Israeli-Arab conflict by trying to create a metaphor to
demonstrate a shared injustice perpetrated both against Jews and Arabs.

The general theme is along the lines: “Suppose a man leaps out of a
burning building… and lands on a bystander in the street below. Now
make that burning building Europe and the luckless man the Palestinian
Arabs. Is this a historical injustice?”* This metaphor for the conflict
was apparently created by writer Jeffrey Goldberg and has been
approvingly cited by others, including by polemicist and author
Christopher Hitchens.

Quite apart from the facts that the metaphor does not relate to the
historical connection of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, and
that the ancient historical impulses for Zionism are unrelated to
persecution, it also displays a stunning ignorance of history,
especially surrounding the enduring trope that the Palestinians in
particular and the Arab world in general were mere bystanders to the
Nazi genocide.

This fabrication of history allows for a complete innocence on the
parts of the Palestinian and Arab populations during the Holocaust.
Nevertheless, the Arab stance toward Hitler and the Nazis has been
firmly and historically established as an ally and supporter.

The Arab masses and leadership gleefully welcomed the Nazis taking
power in 1933 and messages of support came from all over the Arab
world, especially from the Palestinian Arab leader, Mufti Haj Amin
al-Husseini, who was the first non-European to request admission to the
Nazi party.

Husseini, who was to be arrested for his role in the bloody Arab Revolt
1936-9, had fled to Germany in 1941 and was immediately granted a
special place among the Nazi hierarchy.

The Mufti and Hitler relayed many declarations to each other explicitly stating that the main enemy they shared was the Jews.

However, the Mufti’s ideology transcended words and directed his
actions. In 1945, Yugoslavia sought to indict the Mufti as a war
criminal for his role in recruiting 20,000 Muslim volunteers for the SS,
who participated in the killing of Jews in Croatia and Hungary.

Adolf Eichmann’s deputy Dieter Wisliceny (subsequently executed as a
war criminal) in his Nuremburg Trials testimony stated: “The Mufti was
one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry
and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the
execution of this plan… He was one of Eichmann’s best friends and
had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures.”

On a visit to Auschwitz, Husseini reportedly admonished the guards
running the gas chambers to work more diligently. Throughout the war,
he appeared regularly on German radio broadcasts to the Middle East,
preaching his pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic message to the Arab masses back

Even the Mufti himself explained that the main reason for his close
cooperation with the Nazis was their shared hatred of the Jews and their
joint wish for their extermination.

“Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand
to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world,” the
man who was known as the “Fuhrer of the Arab World” wrote in his
post-World War Two memoirs.

However, the affection, emulation and cooperation with the Nazis were
not just found among the Arabs of Mandatory Palestine, they were
replicated across the Arab world.

Many have suggested that the Ba’ath parties of Assad’s Syria and
formerly in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq were strongly inspired by the Nazis.
The most influential party that emulated the Nazis in the Arab world
was “Young Egypt,” which was founded in October 1933.

The party had storm troopers, torch processions and literal
translations of Nazi slogans – like “One folk, One party, One leader.”

Nazi anti-Semitism was replicated, with calls to boycott Jewish businesses and physical attacks on Jews.

Sami al-Joundi, one of the founders of the ruling Syrian Ba’ath Party,
recalls: “We were racists. We admired the Nazis. We were immersed in
reading Nazi literature and books… We were the first who thought of a
translation of Mein Kampf. Anyone who lived in Damascus at that time
was witness to the Arab inclination toward Nazism.”

There was of course the infamous pogrom in Iraq led by the pro-Nazi
Rashid Ali al-Kaylani in 1941. Kaylani also asked of Hitler the right
to “deal with Jews” in Arab states, a request that was granted. Apart
from the secular pro-Nazi stance, there were many other religious Arab
leaders who issued fatwas that the Arabs should assist and support the
Nazis against the Allies.

From June 1940 to May 1943, the Nazis, their Vichy French collaborators
and their Italian fascist allies applied in Arab lands many of the
precursors to the Final Solution. These included not only “racial” laws
depriving Jews of property, education, livelihood, residence and free
movement, but also torture, slave labor, deportation and execution.

Thousands of Jews perished under Nazi and Axis control and in most
cases, like their European counterparts, the local population at times
assisted, collaborated and participated in this oppression and murder.

Robert Satloff has written extensively on the Arabs and the Holocaust
and he found that much of the local Arab population willingly
participated in this institutional Jew-hatred. One example Staloff
provides is in an interview with a survivor from the concentration camp
in Djelfa, in the Algerian desert. When asked whether the local Arabs
who administered the camp were just following orders, he replied
“Nobody told them to beat us all the time. Nobody told them to chain us
together. Nobody told them to tie us naked to a post and beat us and to
hang us by our arms and hose us down, to bury us in the sand so our
heads should look up and bash our brains in and urinate on our
heads…. No, they took this into their own hands and they enjoyed what
they did.”

Satloff’s book Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s
Reach into Arab Lands
chronicles much of the nature of the Holocaust in
Arab Lands. He tries to show that there were Arabs who helped rescue
and hide Jews during the Holocaust, but just like in Europe these
examples are exceptions to a sadly more pervasive assistance or
indifference to Jewish suffering and murder.

In Libya, many Jews were sent not only to local concentration camps but
also to European camps like Bergen-Belsen and Biberach. In a film
titled Goral Meshutaf (“Shared Fate”), some Tunisian
eyewitnesses claim that the Nazis had begun building gas chambers
there. If the Allies had not won the decisive battle at El Alamain,
perhaps the fate of North African Jews would have been the same as
befell European Jewry.

A willing or indifferent local population was an important ingredient
in the destruction of European Jewry and it was certainly present
amongst the Arabs of North Africa.

Many of the current leadership in the Middle East owe their power base
to the emergence of their predecessors during those dark times. The
Palestinians still revere Husseini and many of terrorist groups are
named after groups he founded.

The myth that the Arabs were innocent bystanders to the Nazi Holocaust
is unfortunately widely accepted at face value. It is about time that
this capricious fallacy was exposed, not just out of respect to those
Jews who suffered at the hands of the Nazis and their allies
everywhere, but also to deconstruct the simplistic notions used to
explain the history of the conflict, especially that the Arabs were not
responsible for the suffering that resulted from their continued


Read article in full 

* A more suitable analogy of the man jumping out of the burning building would be: the Palestinian Mufti was one of those who set fire to the building
in the first place. Other arsonists were the Muslim Brotherhood, the
Ba’ath party, the proto-Nazi youth movements. The Assyrians, Kurds,
Maronites and Copts have been jumping out of the windows too.

The myth of Palestinian innocence


  • Well allow me to say that we Jews have drifted away from Arabs becuase the British were very smart at deviding people! Their moto very well known today was "diviser pour reignier"
    It all goes back to the days when the British were in Palestine
    We should try and rerun to that friendship with the Arabs. But I don't know if it is possible

  • Jeff Goldberg is not the source of the analogy. Isaac Deutcher is and Deutcher went on to write that both were victims and neither should see each other as the enemy.

  • Biblical commentaries note the close familiy ties that Ishmael and Issac maintain. Surely their spiritual and geneological descendants would continue to support each other, even transcending temporary barriers to doing so. Thus, we see the recent building of ties between Israeli Christians to the Jewish state. Perhaps, they are Ishmael's heirs. Here is an example of a Biblical commentary that supports the famialial respect that Abraham's progeny have for him and each other.


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