By David K. Shipler
As if the Palestinians hadn’t done enough to Israelis, Prime Minister Netanyahu now blames them for the Holocaust by fabricating a tale that Hitler had not planned to exterminate the Jews of Europe until the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, suggested it in 1941. Netanyahu thus lends his office to the sordid practice of manipulating and distorting the Holocaust, a timeworn occupation in the Middle East.
When Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, posters appeared in Jerusalem depicting the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, wearing a tie covered with swastikas, doctored from the backwards swastika pattern on the tie he inexplicably wore when he addressed Israel’s parliament in 1977. Begin was shown as the obsequious Jew with a yellow Star of David on his lapel, the label the Nazis had required. Pedestrians walked past the posters unfazed, accustomed as they were to such smears.
If Begin ever saw those caricatures, he must have been stung. He himself had survived the Holocaust by fleeing Warsaw for Lithuania, where he was arrested by the Russians, spent a year in Soviet prisons, and was released to join the Polish army. In 1982, I happened to interview him in his office soon after he had been called by President Ronald Reagan, who had likened the carnage during Israeli’s bombardment of West Beirut during the war in Lebanon to “a holocaust.”
“He hurt me very deeply,” Begin told me, “and I said to him, ‘Mr. President, I know what is a holocaust.’”