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on 12 August 2010
In "Arabs and the Holocaust" Gilbert Achcar (co-debator with Noam Chomsky in Perilous Power) has cut through many of the myths, exaggerations, and down right nonsense that surrounds the debate about Arab attitudes towards Nazi Germany and the persecution and eventual genocide of European Jews between 1933 and 1945.

Much of the writing on this subject by supporters of Israel focuses on those Arabs who dallied at one or another rhetorical level with Facism, or on those such as the pernicious buffoon Amin al-Husseini, the British declared Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who spent the War in Rome and Berlin, and whose importance as a historical figure is entirely disproportionate to the enormous literature on him, including one encyclopaedia of the Holocaust where his entry is second to, and only marginally shorter than, that of Hitler. Achcar doesn't avoid these issues and writes critically on them, but keeps his sense of proportion and puts them into their historical context.

He also covers the bigger picture on Arab attitudes to the Nazis in general, and the persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime in particular. Within a number of broad categories (Marxist, Liberal, Nationalist and Religious) he identifies a substantial amount of writing that is highly critical of the Nazi Regime. For Marxists this was complete, with the exception of the political gymnastics required for the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of August 1939 to June 1941, and even then there were a number of Arab Marxists who were deeply critical of that development. Again, for Liberals who were sympathetic to Western secular values, though critical of their imperialist practices, the hostility and critical attitude to the Nazi Regime was almost total. The attitudes of the religious and nationalistic Arabs covered a broader spectrum, from hostility to sympathy. For the Palestinians who were on the sharp end of the Zionists quest for land to build the Jewish State, the reaction was not surprisingly - but again far from uniform - more sympathetic to the Nazis anti-Semitism.

The thorny issue of Zionist-Nazi contacts is dealt with, Achcar deeming them to be tactical arrangements by the Zionists to further their cause. The issue of how Zionists dealt with the threat to Jews in Europe during the 1930's is also given some coverage, and it becomes clear that the attitudes and actions of Zionism, and it's international supporters in Europe and the US, were tilted towards their own goals rather than the saving of as many Jews as possible from the increasing horrors of the Nazi regime.

"The Arabs and the Holocaust" is a mine of information that covers much more than the issues mentioned above including the growth of Arab anti-Semitism, the actual role of Arabs in the fighting during WW2 (a tiny proportion of Arabs who fought in WW2 fought on the Axis side; 1500 Arabs ended up in concentration camps), the Zionist discourse on the Nakba, as well as pro-Zionist writings on the Arabs and Nazism. As a work of scholarship it is exceptionally clearly written despite being dense with detail. Achcars principled and impartial examination of a wide range of issues is a breath of fresh air in a field where much pernicious and partisan nonsense has all too often prevailed. A book I'd whole-heartedly recommend.
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