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Israel vs Nazi Germany: Are Comparisons Valid or Anti-Semitic?

Israel continues to face criticisms for their ongoing bombardment of Gaza, even garnering comparisons to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

Illustration by Edward B. Webber

On March 10, Jonathan Glazer won the Oscar for Best International Feature Film for Zone of Interest. In his acceptance speech, he referenced the ongoing Israeli occupation in Palestine and the continuous bombardment of Gaza as a response to the October 7th attacks. 

“All our choices are made to reflect and confront us in the present. Not to say, look what they did then, rather look what we do now. Our film shows where dehumanization leads at its worst. It shaped all our past and present. Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the holocaust being hijacked by an occupation, which has led to conflict for so many innocent people. Whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel, or the ongoing attacks on Gaza, all the victims of this dehumanization. How do we resist? Alexandria Bystron Kolodziejczyk, the girl who glows in the film as she did in life chose to. I dedicate this to her memory and her resistance.” 

-Jonathan Glazer after winning the Best International Feature Film Oscar for his film Zone of Interest.

Since then, more than 1,000 Jewish creatives in Hollywood have signed an open letter condemning Glazer’s speech. Published in a Variety article, the letter states: “We refute our Jewishness being hijacked for the purpose of drawing a moral equivalence between a Nazi regime that sought to exterminate a race of people and an Israeli nation that seeks to avert its own extermination.” 

 During the 37th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa in February, Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also came under fire for his comments on Israel. “What is happening in the Gaza Strip with the Palestinian people has no parallel in other historical moments. In fact, it did exist when Hitler decided to kill the Jews.” 

Glazer has not commented on the backlash. Lula has responded by saying he did not compare the situation in Gaza to the Holocaust but maintains that what Israel is doing to Palestinians constitutes genocide. Both Israel supporters and the Netanyahu administration have continued to condemn any comparisons to Israel’s current actions with that of Hitler and Nazi Germany. 

It seems recently that every time someone criticizes the actions of Israel, supporters immediately recoil with claims of antisemitism. Yet these two instances are not the first time they’ve been compared to Nazi Germany, and it’s not the first time supporters have rejected these claims with accusations of antisemitism.

Clarifying Statements

Jonathan Glazer and Family
Jonathan Glazer (center) and his family at the 2024 BAFTAS. Shutterstock/Fred Duval

Let’s be clear about the words of Glazers’ speech. He said, “We stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation, which has led to conflict for so many people.” Now, let’s take it back to 3rd-grade grammar class here. 

“Men’s Jewishness and the Holocaust” is the subject of the sentence, and “being hijacked” is the verbal phrase that is acting upon the subject. Glazer’s speech condemns those who are using Judaism and the tragedy of the Holocaust to justify the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands and the indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza.

This is very different than what some major media outlets like Variety initially reported, grossly misquoting Glazer, implying that he refutes his own Jewishness. The 1,000-person open letter condemning Glazer’s comments also implies that he is directly comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, which, as the grammar lesson above states, is not the case. 

Avi Asher-Schapiro (Journalist for Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Lula’s comments, though he denies it, were more directly comparing Israel to the actions of Nazi Germany. Whether you use the word Holocaust or the phrase “when Hitler decided to kill the Jews,” it is a bold statement to make, especially coming from Lula, who is also being criticized for his inaction regarding the current genocide of the Yanomami people in his own country

Despite his own shortcomings and the political fallout, he stands by his comments, describing the current situation in Gaza as “not a war of soldiers against soldiers. It’s a war between a highly prepared army and women and children.” 

President Lula Twitter
Official X Account of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Old News

These two are not the only ones who are critical of Israel; they are the just latest and loudest. Back in January, South Africa accused Israel of genocide in the International Court of Justice (aka ICJ or World Court), the highest court in the UN and the world. 

The ICJ ruling that came down two months ago ordered  “immediate and effective measures” to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians within Gaza. According to Amnesty International, they have yet to take these actions.

In a NY Times Oped published just days before the Oscars, Jewish writer David Klion wrote: “Watching ‘The Zone of Interest’ as U.S.-made bombs rained down on civilian neighborhoods in Gaza, I couldn’t help but dwell on the banal acceptance of these mass civilian casualties that I’ve witnessed closer to home.” 

Last December, Russian-American Jewish writer Masha Gessen won the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought for a piece arguing that the conversation about Israel is stifled within Germany. While they make clear distinctions between the persecution of Jews during 1930s and 40’s Europe and present-day Palestinians, Gessen also directly compares Gaza to a Nazi ghetto. 

Screenshot of Masha Gessen’s award-winning New Yorker story

The comparisons and criticisms also predate the context of October 7th. In 2016, on Holocaust Memorial Day no less, the then deputy head of the Israeli military, Yair Golan, commented, “If there’s something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance, it’s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe – and particularly in Germany – 70, 80 and 90 years ago, and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016.” He also called for Israel to do some “national soul searching” and avoid the pitfall of “hating the stranger.” 

One of the oldest examples of resistance to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians happened all the way back in 1948, just a few months after Israel became a state. Joseph Abileah was born in 1915 in Austria and is known today as the first person to stand trial for refusing to join Israel’s military (Israel has mandatory service requirements for all men and women till this day). 

The tradition continues, and today, people who refuse Israeli conscription are known as  “refuseniks,” and Israel continues to try and convict people who refuse military service, like 18-year-old Tal Mitnik, who, back in December, was sentenced to 30 days in military prison for just this reason. His reaction to his sentence: 

“I believe that slaughter cannot solve slaughter. The criminal attack on Gaza won’t solve the atrocious slaughter that Hamas executed. Violence won’t solve violence. And that is why I refuse.” 

Tal Mitnik after being sentenced to 30 days in military prison

Valid or Antisemitic?

A critical mind could argue that anti-Zionist bias is being placed upon these quotes and instances, that readers are guilty of confirmation bias, where they already believe Israel to be like the Nazis in 1930 and 40’s Europe.

It should be pointed out, though, that Israel defenders and supporters just as often infer these comparisons and then vehemently refute any criticism of Israel as anti-semitic even when no such comparisons are made, Glazer’s acceptance speech being a prime example.  

There is a clear distinction between anti-zionist beliefs and antisemitic conspiracy theories. The crimes of Israel are well documented. It is not conjecture or conspiracy that 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed during the Nakba of 1948; even Israeli historian and ardent zionist Benny Morris would not deny this.

In fact, it was Morris himself who is responsible for proving this in his 1987 book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947—1949, which is considered to be a seminal text amongst academic circles. Other important historians like Norman Finkelstein and Mouin Rabbani have for years now condemned the actions of Israel as a colonial apartheid state.

Finkelstein, son of Holocaust survivors, is another prominent figure who has compared Israel’s actions to that of Nazi Germany. In 2000, in his book, The Holocaust Industry, he argues that some people have and continue to exploit the tragedy of the holocaust as an “ideological weapon” to give Israel “immunity to criticism.”

In a Twitter/X thread in November of last year, Mouin Rabbani commented on the comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany. Rather than directly comparing the two, he instead pointed out the hypocrisy of Netanyahu, recalling an instance where the Prime Minster himself engaged in Holocaust revisionist history.

Rabbani twitter thread condemning Israel
X Thread published by Rabbani in Nov 2023.

The current death toll in Gaza surpassed 30,000 late last month, over half of whom are women and children. The continual denial of humanitarian aid for Palestinians has landed Israel in hot water across the world and at home, with famous Israeli news outlets like Haeretz even condemning the blocking of aid to starving children

The UN Security Council has also weighed in this Monday. After five months of attempts, the council was finally able to pass a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and release of all the hostages taken on October 7th. The United States has used their veto to block all previous ceasefire resolutions. The final vote count was 14 in favor, none against, and one abstention (the US).

Whether or not the parallels between Israel and Nazi Germany are valid is up for debate, but the fact of the matter is these comparisons are by no means uncommon, and they are by no means a new phenomenon. It is not outlandish to think that unless something changes, these comparisons will likely continue.

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I am a 26 year old grad student interested in politics, basketball, literature, and cooking.

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