Posted by: sean | September 29, 2008

History as a political tool

Jeffrey Goldberg has a dishonest account of Tom Segev’s review of a book on Haj Amin al-Husseini up. He makes it sound like Segev is only down on the book because it emphasizes Arab extremism, whereas his problems with the book are much more substantial:

The lack of solid evidence is the main problem throughout the book. While the authors do cite prominent scholars like Martin Gilbert, Bernard Wasserstein and Rashid Khalidi, some of the most outrageous quotations come from quite arguable sources. Hitler’s alleged and highly unlikely pledge to Husseini (“The Jews are yours”) is based on a passage in the mufti’s own memoirs. But there is an official German record of his meeting with Hitler that contains no such statement. In fact the mufti did not achieve his major goal: Hitler refused to sign a public statement of support for him.

Then Goldberg makes it sound like Segev is comparing Jewish extremism in mandate Palestine with Husseini’s support of Nazi Germany:

Segev compares the Mufti’s behavior to that of Yitzhak Shamir, the former prime minister of Israel who was once a terrorist with the Stern Gang, and he criticizes the authors for neglecting to mention Jewish extremism in the time of the Mufti. I’m not sure why a book about pro-Nazi sympathies among certain Arabs need include this…

Actually, what Segev does is remind us, as we can read in his excellent book The Seventh Million, is that Husseini was not the only anti-British nationalist to make overtures to Nazi Germany for the purpose of throwing off the yoke of British imperialism:

The mufti’s support for Nazi Germany definitely demonstrated the evils of extremist nationalism. However, the Arabs were not the only chauvinists in Palestine looking to make a deal with the Nazis. At the end of 1940 and again at the end of 1941, a small Zionist terrorist organization known as the Stern Gang made contact with Nazi representatives in Beirut, seeking support for its struggle against the British. One of the Sternists, in a British jail at the time, was Yitzhak Shamir, a future Israeli prime minister. The authors fail to mention this episode.

So while it’s true that a book on Arabs seeking German support against the British and the Jewish colonialism needn’t mention the terrorism of the Irgun or the Stern Gang, it seems dishonest not to include the fact that some of Husseini’s local Jewish enemies also sought the support of Nazi Germany.

But that’s the whole problem here. The importance accorded to Husseini is meant to conflate anti-Zionism and Arabs with anti-Semitism and Nazis. During World War II, there were many subjects of British imperialism from Ireland to Egypt and beyond who saw the time as ripe to back another European power, not because they were Nazis or anti-Semites, but because they were anti-British and saw Germany as means to the end of ceasing British rule over their lands.

We’ve seen politically expedient but strange bedfellows time and time again, like how many exiled Iraqis supported an American invasion — not because they were particularly pro-American, but rather because they were anti-Saddam. Other alliances include the Afghan mujahideen and Washington against Moscow, or the US and the MEK against Iran. To argue that ideological alliances and strategic alliances are necessarily the same is either obtuse or dishonest.

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