John Rees, Islam Channel, the Stop The War Coalition and the (H)(h)olocaust
In late July, the Stop the War Coalition posted on its website an 18-minute YouTube film and accompanying précis about the Arab-Israel/Palestine-Israel conflict. It is narrated by the coalition’s very own John Rees and is produced by the Islam Channel as part of its “Timeline” history series.
The film combines an unsurprising one-sided broadside against Israel with Rees’s anti-imperialist worldview, which is consistent with his various leadership roles over the years in the STWC, Socialist Workers Party and Respect-Unity Coalition. He examines the so-called “imperial architecture of the Middle East” in which the USA supports Israel for the primary purpose of policing the region; the USA and its allies, according to Rees, support Israel to “neutralise the Arab struggle for self-determination” while paying off Egypt and Jordan not to attack Israel. Additionally, Rees hangs his hopes for regional peace on the rise of the Arab masses of the entire region. Some of these arguments will be familiar to readers of SWP literature – especially its classic pamphlet, Israel: The Hijack State-America’s Watchdog in the Middle East, by John Rose.
A full examination of the film’s treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and certainly its characterisation of the nature of the US-Israel relationship, is beyond the scope of this post. Still, it is worth noting Rees’s comments regarding regional violence before 1948. He emphasises, of course, the role of the Haganah, Irgun and Lehi (Stern Gang), but refers to Arab violence in innocuous terms: the “Palestinians resisted”. Rees does not mention, for example, the major anti-Jewish riots of 1929, which included the murder and dismemberment of 59 Jews in Hebron and the torture of others. Nor does Rees detail the extent of the anti-Jewish violence during the Arab Revolt of 1936-39. He omits the fact that this revolt was made possible primarily due to funds and weapons provided by Nazi Germany – a fact that the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, and the head of German military intelligence, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, acknowledged themselves.
Yet it is the film’s portrayal of the historical role of the Holocaust that is most worrying. Leaving aside the curious decision to de-capitalise “holocaust” in his written précis to the film, he describes the Zionist enterprise as follows: “The First World War gave the Zionist project its start, and the Second World War gave the project its chance of victory”. Notwithstanding the fact that Zionism predates the start of World War I, this implies a somewhat cold calculation among Zionist leaders who were busy pursuing “victory” during one of the darkest moments in Jewish history. Rees also juxtaposes the Nazi genocide with alleged Zionist expropriation:
The industrial extermination of European Jewry by Hitler and the Nazis was only becoming fully known at the time that the Zionists were expropriating the Palestinians. The overwhelming horror of the Holocaust made many more Jews sympathetic to the Zionists, though still most wanted to go to America or Europe rather than to Israel. But the suffering of the Jews also made non-Jews sympathetic to the Zionists. And they did not always stop to reflect on whether Zionists actually represented what most Jews thought.
Rees furthers this line of argument to offer an alternative perception on Israel’s creation:
Yet the truth is that the establishment of the State of Israel deepened the tragedy of the Jewish people. It has allowed the horror of the Holocaust to be used by the Zionists as an excuse for the dispossession of the Palestinians. Thus one tragedy is used to justify a second; one great crime used to hide another.
In other words, the Holocaust was not the lowest point of Jewish tragedy and despair in the twentieth century; the creation of the State of Israel actually deepened the tragedy. Jewish sovereignty and independence in the historical land of Israel, then, is not the culmination of a millennia-long aspiration and a cause for Jewish celebration, but rather a cause for Jewish mourning on a par with, or worse than, the annihilation of six million Jews. It is difficult to conceive of a more perverse and hectoring attitude from a professed anti-fascist.
During this very segment, clips showing Nazis rounding up Jews into cattle cars and Jews with their hands up facing a wall are succeeded by clips showing Israeli soldiers arresting Arab men, scenes of dead Palestinians and a graphic clip of a dead child. This montage conveys in imagery what Rees suggests in words: the Israelis are behaving as Nazis.
To be sure, Nazi-Israel and Nazi-Zionist comparisons are not particularly novel, though they have become a very popular anti-Israel tool. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a particular taste for it, although he takes a different tack to Rees - who is not a Holocaust Denier – telling Der Spiegel:
The Holocaust and Palestine are directly connected with one another. And if the Holocaust actually occurred, then you should permit impartial groups from the whole world to research this…We are saying that if the Holocaust occurred, then Europe must draw the consequences and that it is not Palestine that should pay the price for it. If it did not occur, then the Jews have to go back to where they came from.
Other examples are chronicled here and here. Although in many instances the intention or motivation of those who propagate this analogy is not antisemitic, the consequences are often discriminatory. Jews who do not distance themselves from Zionism and Israel are depicted, in a complete distortion of the historical record, as the “new” Nazis or as sympathisers of Nazi-style genocidal policies.
None of this should astonish us too much. Not long ago, Unite Against Fascism published the following leaflet about stopping the BNP that omitted Jews entirely in its description of Holocaust victims.
The Islam Channel, via its own publication Islam Magazine, has offered its own twist on Nazi analogies on the front cover of its November/December 2006 issue, picturing Tony Blair and George Bush with Hitler-like moustaches sitting on top of an Israeli tank emblazoned with a swastika. And its February 2006 issue carried an article arguing that the “Judeo-Christian alliance” is more likely to embrace the Dajjal (anti-Christ) as their saviour.
Rees himself holds the prestigious title of Vice-President (Europe) for the Coordinating Committee of the Cairo Conference, a gathering of radical leftists alongside leaders from Hizbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose declarations have called for the cancellation of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state, supported all “resistance” against Israel and refused to condemn suicide attacks in Israel. The Second Cairo Conference even endorsed the bizarre conspiracy theory that the American invasion of Iraq was “part of the Zionist plan, which targets the establishment of the greater State of Israel from to Nile to Euphrates”.
So, this “Timeline” series film may not be particularly original, and it may not astonish; but it is regretful that the Stop the War Coalition, which purportedly advocates for peace and justice, should post a video that broadcasts such an offensive message.