The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives, By Gilbert Achcar

Message of hope from the Holy Land
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The Independent Culture

The subtitle to Gilbert Achcar's excellent study points to his care for the particularities of language as well as of history.

The precise meanings of words matter when people are dying over the precise nature of borders and territories and histories.

It might seem self-evident to declare that Israel "plainly owes its creation to the Holocaust", as that land was by no means the goal of most European Jews before the Second World War, but this discomforting message for Zionists has been turned into an end which justifies the means, Achcar argues. His account of the Arab response to the Jews' plight shows up divergent opinions, and the shifting nature of what constitutes the "enemy". For Egypt's President Nasser, the enemy was Britain; for Marxist Arabs, it was fascism, soon represented in their eyes by Zionism. This criss-crossing of enemy types has been solidified since Israel's military action in the 1990s; the "Nakba", the tragedy of the Palestinian expulsion has only, Achcar argues, united disparate voices under a single nationalist banner.

The concern of liberal thinkers such as Achcar (whose "faith in human reason" concludes the book with a message of hope for the future) is what we can learn from the mistakes made by governments before, during and after the Holocaust. Not everyone will agree with his thesis, but his attention to linguistic and historical detail is indubitable.

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