Matthias Küntzel and Colin Meade critically review Gilbert Achcar’s ‘The Arabs and the Holocaust’

Matthias Küntzel

In the Straightjacket of Anti-Zionism: A critical review of Gilbert Achcar’s The Arabs and the Holocaust

This review is published exclusively on Engage

Download the PDF of the whole review by following this link: In the Straightjacket of Anti-Zionism

In almost every part of the world, since the end of the Second World War, “Nazi” has been a synonym for “criminal”. Not so, however, in the Arab world, where positive references to Hitler and the destruction of the Jews have been an accepted part of public discourse for decades. For this reason alone – but also in the light of the current upheavals in the region – the topic of Gilbert Achcar’s recent book, The Arabs and the Holocaust, is of great importance.

Gilbert Achcar

In the first part of his book, Achcar tackles the issue of “Arab Reactions to Nazism and Anti-Semitism, 1933-47“. A good half of this part is devoted to an account of the origins of the Islamist movement, described as the “reactionary and/or fundamentalist pan-Islamists”, in the Arab world. Further chapters deal with the attitude of the other political currents in existence in this period: the “Liberal Westernizers“, “Marxists“ and ”Nationalists“.

In the second part the author deals with “Arab Attitudes to the Jews and the Holocaust from 1948 to the Present“. The treatment of these matters is divided into three successive epochs, “The Nasser Years (1948-67)“, “The PLO Years (1967-88)“ and “The Years of Islamic Resistances (1988 to the Present)“.

Colin Meade

“A straightforward and logical structure”, thinks the reader, as he opens the book with eager anticipation. Alas, the experience of actually reading it confirms the verdict of two history professors, Stephen Howe and Jeffrey Herf, that “Achcar is a man at war with what he has written in his own book“ and “a combatant, and even victim, in such a war within his own pages“.

Another way of putting it would be: this is a book in which an author from the political left seeks to protect the dogmas of Western anti-Zionism from the reality of Arab antisemitism….

Download the PDF of the whole review by following this link: In the Straightjacket of Anti-Zionism

Dr. Matthias Küntzel is a political scientist and teaches political science at a technical college in Hamburg , Germany.

Dr. Colin Meade teaches at London Metropolitan University, in the Faculty of Law, Governance and International Relations.

This review is published exclusively on the Engage

Gilbert Achcar is invited to respond to this review on the Engage website.

UPDATE:  Matthias Küntzel and Colin Meade have changed the order of the references in footnotenumber 30

4 Responses to “Matthias Küntzel and Colin Meade critically review Gilbert Achcar’s ‘The Arabs and the Holocaust’”

  1. zkharya Says:

    Very interesting review (I have only skimmed the book, but read the chapter on Nasser in some detail). I think the review dismisses too readily that Arab antisemitism can be conducive for pro-Israeli discourse, especially when it is of the more colourful variety, and obviously barking. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be documented, of course.

    The problem with Achcar’s argument that Israel and Zionism is chiefly responsible for Arab, Islamic antisemitism, is that, as the authors observe, it abolves Arab, Muslims from all effective moral responsibility. Achcar must know that at least some discrimination, inequality or apartheid existed in Arab, Islamic society towards Jews, long before Zionism became a major political force. At some level he should address, surely, its continuity with, say, the effective expulsion of non- or anti-Zionist Arab Jews. As Meade and Kuntzel note, Achcar attempts to absolve Nasser of an essentially, or even incidentally, antisemitic attitude. This despite the fact that the effective expulsion of Egyptian Jews took place ‘on his watch’, as it were.

    Achcar admits that, in 1947-49, Arab soldiers like Nasser sought the expulsion of Palestinian Jews, even if it was not, or did not prove, a realistic proposition. Later, in 1955, Nasser said to MP Richard Crossman that “the idea of throwing the Jews into the sea is propaganda. Israel exists and we must face the fact”. So, clearly Nasser’s view of the situation had evolved.
    By 1970 he seems to have envisaged a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority. This Achcar uses to ‘prove’ Nasser had ‘always’ sought a merely political solution, whatever that might mean, which had never changed. But citing a view he held at the end of his life does not demonstrate the views Nasser had at the beginning of his career, not even during it. Clearly his view did evolve. In fact, his only agreeing to implement the Roger’s Plan as a truce, his ‘Israel exists and we must face the fact’, plus envisaging a Jewish minority in a Palestinian state, does not mean he did not seek the ultimate end of Israel. An Israel whose population he had boosted by effectively expelling Egyptian Jews. Likewish the P.L.O’s drafting of the 1968 charter (I think) that allowed only Jews resident in Palestine ‘before the Zionist invasion’ (1882; 1917 or 1947: probably 1917) to become Palestinian citizens took place under Nasser’s auspices. Achcar asserts a monolithic Nasserite view in the face of a more complex reality.

    As M/K also say, Achcar’s reading of Nasser’s reading of the Protocols is also strange. Effectively he absolves Nasser’s use of the Protocols as antisemitic, since Nasser’s substitutes for ‘Jewish’ or Jew’, to describe the conspiracy with which that text opens, with ‘Zionist’.

    I think M/K go too far to say that Achcar’s calls such a use non-reactionary. But he effectively diminishes it to an ‘ignoramism’, a kind of educational or mental handicap. Again for which Israel and Zionism is primarily responsible.

  2. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    “The problem with Achcar’s argument that Israel and Zionism is chiefly responsible for Arab, Islamic antisemitism, is that, as the authors observe, it abolves Arab, Muslims from all effective moral responsibility.”

    And, of course, as so often, this then blames the victims for the discrimination inflicted upon them, when it should be the prejudice of those who discriminate that is to blame.

  3. David A. Guberman Says:

    Pending a surreply from M/K, Achar’s reply appears to expose a serious breach of academic and intellectual integrity on the part of his critics.

  4. conchovor Says:

    ‘Pending a surreply from M/K, Achar’s reply appears to expose a serious breach of academic and intellectual integrity on the part of his critics.’

    They do footnote the quotation, it just isn’t clear that it is from the article (which is cited in the footnote) rather than the book.

    Achcar does imply Holocaust denial goes back until at least 1970 (he says ’30-40 years earlier’ in his 2010 interview). Of course, in a sense, Holocaust denial is simply the other side of Holocaust and Nazi approbation, when the latter, or the fact of the record of the latter, becomes embarrassing but kind of indisputable. It is odd that Achcar doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that Holocaust denial is a function of a fairly solid record of Arab sympathy for the Nazis i.e. Arabs routinely deny the Holocaust because Arab sympathy for the Nazis was so commmon that it could scarcely be denied with a straight face. Denial of Nazi atrocities is then the response, in the face of increasing western scrutiny of awkward Arabic discourse. I wonder if Holocaust denial didn’t start to strongly emerge in Europe in the 1970s too. That was certainly the period of the NF in the UK.

    In Achcar’s record, there is no link between open Arab sympathy for the Nazis and later denial of their atrocities. Which is odd, to say the least.


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