November 2, 2023
The Nazis attempted to exterminate the Jews during the Second World War. But can we say that Nazi ideology characterises the state that defines itself as Jewish?
In the following text, I will first explain the characteristics of Nazism as a mindset and political action program, and then discuss to what extent we can find this mindset and political action in Israel today.
Nazism – a racist, genocidal ideology
The term Nazism, short for National Socialism, was invented by Adolf Hitler after he took control of, and renamed, the German Workers’ Party (DAP), which was founded in 1920, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). Any description of Nazism as an ideology must therefore be based on the fact that it must cover the program Hitler developed. Academic descriptions of Nazism, however, tend to be more time and place specific than is politically meaningful.
In SNL.no’s article on Nazism, the main features are described as «an aggressive, race-based nationalism, an extreme anti-Semitism and a distrust of democratic forms of government.» «Extreme» is not precise enough to describe Hitler’s anti-Semitism. The singular uniqueness of Hitler’s thinking is that he openly formulates a genocidal intention. The Jews were not only to be kept down and in place, they were to be exterminated.
Anti-Semitism is a form of racism aimed at Jews, but must the genocidal intent be aimed at Jews for us to be able to talk about Nazism? In that case, it means that if a country were to start sending children belonging to another minority group to gas chambers, we could not define the policy as Nazi, since the extermination policy would have been aimed at another ethnic group. It would not be Nazi even if it were possibly the Roma people, the other ethnic the group that Hitler sent to the gas chambers, and who were selected as targets for extermination again. Do we then have to invent a new political term to denote such an ideology? I don’t see that it is expedient.
Although we can say that the Norwegian Labor Party in the 1930s was a classic social democratic party, we cannot limit social democracy as an ideology narrowly to what was, and was not, the Labor Party’s policy in Norway at that time. Correspondingly, in order to understand Nazism as an ideology, we must go beyond the concrete program of Hitler’s party so that it is at least theoretically possible that other parties and movements, in other countries and at other times, can also be described as Nazi .
If we go to Hitler himself, to Mein Kampf, he describes his basic perspective, which he calls “folkish» in general terms:
The 'folkish' view recognizes the importance of mankind in its racially innate elements. In principle, it […] also favors the fundamental aristocratic thought of nature and believes in the validity of this law down to the last individual. It sees not only the different values of the races, but also the different values of individual man (Mein Kampf p. 580)
Central to Nazism’s mindset is the link between extreme nationalism and racism to a social Darwinist unity, where the world is understood as a struggle for survival between different peoples. The state is the tool of one people against others. In this battle it is win or lose, where the weak deserve to be exterminated, simply because they are weak. And this way of thinking applies to all ethnic groups. Hitler was keen to advance the cause of the Germans, and other related «Aryan» groups, because he himself belonged, or rather, perceived that he belonged, to this «race». For Hitler, it was also quite natural to expect that other ethnic groups would fight for their group with the same ruthless and unrestrained means.
Jews who pay tribute to Hitler or genocide
Hitler [..] was the most correct person there ever was, and was correct in every word he said… he was just on the wrong side.
The quote originates from Rabbi Giora Redler, and is referenced in an article in the Times of Israel from 2019. When we read more about what the rabbi has said, it is hard not to see that the ideology he stands for is completely consistent with what Hitler promoted, the only difference being that he sees the Jews as the master race while Hitler saw the «Aryans»:
Yes, we're racists. We believe in racism... There are races in the world and people have genetic traits, and that requires us to try to help them [..] The Jews are a more successful race. [..] The gentiles will want to be our slaves. Being a slave to a Jew is the best. They're glad to be slaves, they want to be slaves," he told a class in one of the video clips. "Instead of just walking the streets and being stupid and violent and harming each other, once they're slaves, their lives can begin to take shape.
While some Israeli Jews imagine a state where Jews exploit Palestinians and other ethnic groups as slaves, there are several who openly agitate to eradicate the Palestinians from Palestine, by killing and/or expelling them. This ideology had a partisan political expression in the Kach party, which won one seat in the Knesset in the 1984 elections. However, the party was banned in Israel as a racist and pro-terrorist party, after a party member, Baruch Goldstein, put this idea into action. In 1994, Goldstein shot and killed 29 Palestinians while they were reading prayer in a mosque in Hebron, before he himself was beaten to death by others from the mosque who survived.
Apartheid – not Nazism – until now
Redler, and Goldstein and the Kach party, tell us that Nazi ideology can certainly exist among Jews, just as it can among other people groups. But at the same time, the fact that Kach was banned after Goldstein’s massacre also tells us that such thinking has not been dominant, or at least not government policy, in Israel.
Nazism is an extreme version of ethno-nationalist thought, while the form of Zionism that has dominated Israel until now is a more moderate variety, which is, however, also fundamentally racist. The closest parallel to the policy Israel has pursued has been the apartheid regime in South Africa.
As long as the apartheid regime ruled South Africa, Israel and South Africa were close allies. The cooperation was practical and military, but also underpinned by a common ideology. According to the Jewish-South African anti-apartheid activist, and former minister in Nelson Mandela’s government, Ronnie Kasrils, the first person to describe Israel as an apartheid state was none other than the architect of apartheid in South Africa, former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd.
The apartheid system in South Africa ensured white control of the state by defining the black majority as foreigners. Instead of getting civil rights in the country they were born and raised in, the apartheid regime created independent “Bantustans” in resource-poor areas, where few if any white settlers lived.
Depending on which ethnic group they belonged to, the blacks were defined as citizens of their respective Bantustan. The blacks were still needed as labor on white farms, in industry and mining and service industries in the cities, so most were allowed to stay, but were then defined as foreign workers, who could at any time risk being deported to their homeland.
At the same time, other non-white groups, primarily the so-called «coloureds», descendants of mixed marriages between white settlers and African groups, and descendants of Asian, especially Indian, immigrants to South Africa during the British colonial rule, received citizenship rights in South Africa, with their own representation in the national assembly. This did not threaten the political and economic dominance of the whites.
Israel was similarly established as a Jewish state after the 1948 war, when three quarters of the Palestinian population were displaced. Central to the expulsion was the massacre in the village of Deir Yassin, carried out by the Zionist terrorist group Irgun, which was founded by Menachim Begin. After the massacre, Begin stated:
Tell the soldiers: you have made history in Israel with your attack and your conquest. Continue thus until victory. As in Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will attack and smite the enemy. God, God, Thou hast chosen us for conquest.
Begin later became prime minister, for the Likud party, the same party that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads today. As a result of the flight after Deir Yassin and other massacres, the territory which in 1949 was recognized by the United Nations as the State of Israel gained a Jewish majority. The majority of Palestinians who fled, primarily to Gaza and the West Bank which until 1967 were controlled by Egypt and Jordan, were never allowed to return, other than as migrant workers, similar to the blacks in South Africa. The minority of Palestinians who, for various reasons, had not fled, however, were given civil rights in Israel, similar to coloreds and Asians in South Africa during apartheid, but did not receive full rights corresponding to the Jewish citizens. Among the rights Palestinian-Israeli citizens do not have is the right to family reunification. If an Israeli Palestinian marries a Palestinian from the families that were displaced to Gaza or the West Bank, the two cannot move together in Israel.
This has continued even after Israel took control of the rest of historic Palestine; The West Bank with Jerusalem, and Gaza, after the 1967 war. The Palestinians there have not been given civil rights in Israel, but have lived under Israeli occupation or, in the case of Gaza since 2006, blockade.
Israeli radicalisation after the assassination of Rabin
The fact that the majority, but not all, of the Palestinians were expelled from what is recognised under international law as Israel, but not from the whole of historical Palestine as such, while the Palestinians have mainly been allowed to retain cultural and religious rights, including access to Islam’s third holiest site, the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, means that the apartheid parallel has been precise and comprehensive, while drawing a parallel between Israel and Nazi Germany, or claiming that Israel is imbued with Nazi ideology, has been a gross exaggeration.
In the early 1990s, there was also optimism about the prospect of the Palestinians gaining a state of their own based on the parts of historic Palestine that remain after subtracting what was recognised by the United Nations as the State of Israel in 1949. This included Gaza and the entire West Bank, including Jerusalem, and would, even if it covered only a quarter of historical Palestine, be a state formation with an economic and resource-based basis for independence, quite unlike the South African Bantustans. In 1995, however, the Prime Minister of Israel who had signed the Oslo Accords, Yitzhak Rabin, was shot and killed by the Jewish right-wing extremist Yigal Amir.
The basis for the murder was resistance in the Israeli right against the implications of the Oslo Accords, which were that the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which violate international law, must be dismantled, and that the illegal annexation of Jerusalem must be repealed to make way for a Palestinian state. Although Amir is still in prison, the murder gained political influence when Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu won the 1996 election, in opposition to the Oslo Accords.
The fact that the Likud government from 1996 chose to halt the implementation of the Oslo Agreement, and instead renew and strengthen the illegal settlement activities in the West Bank, was not met with any form of sanctions from the Western states that had facilitated the Oslo Agreement, sent the message to Israeli voters that it is completely up to them to decide if they want to give something to the Palestinians or not. In either case, the support from the West is unconditional. The result has been a steady turn to the right in election after election. The centre-left parties have become completely marginalised, while various Israeli right-wing parties have competed to outdo each other in promises to settlers and others who want to take over more and more Palestinian land.
In 2012, the party Otzma Yehudit – Jewish Power – was established. The party has progressed with the ideology of the previously banned Kach Party. The party was first represented with one representative in the Knesset after the 2021 election, but with the 2022 election, the party, which can be described as a distinctly Zionist variant of Nazism, gained more support, and received six seats in the Knesset. After that, the party also became a member of the government, with party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, in the role of national security minister.
Ben-Gvir has done nothing to hide his genocidal intentions. An expression of this is that he has a portrait of the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein in his living room.
The Hamas attack from Gaza into Israel on 7 October was called Al-Aqsa storm by the organisation itself. The title refers to repeated violations of the Al-Aqsa shrine committed by Ben-Gvir and his followers. Given that Ben-Gvir has been security minister from 2022, the Israeli state, which previously also protected the sanctuary from right-wing Jewish invaders, has on the contrary supported the invasion. Ben-Gvir has again not been unclear in his intentions. «This place is important to us and we have to return to it and prove our sovereignty,” stated Ben-Gvir, who thus made it clear that Israel now has no intention to safeguard the agreements that the country has had with Jordan so far regarding safeguarding the sanctuary.
For Hamas, it was clear that maintaining the status quo was not an option because Israel had no intention of doing so. Without the desperate but advanced and militarily successful attack on October 7, Israel would have steered towards the takeover and destruction of al-Aqsa, further expansion of the settlements, annexation of the Jordan Valley and, in sum, the total destruction of the Palestinian nation.
Yes, Israel has become a Nazi state!
The presence of a party in the Israeli government whose political program is explicitly to break all existing agreements, expel Palestinians, and take over their religious sanctuaries in Jerusalem, means that the apartheid parallel is no longer applicable. Since 2022, the Israeli government is far more right-wing than any apartheid government in South Africa.
Although the party that can be characterised as openly Nazi on the ideological level has only been a minority party in the Israeli government since 2022, we must remember that the same was the case with Hitler’s first government from January 1933. It was a coalition government where the Nazi government members were in the minority.
It was the open and direct provocations by the Nazis in the Israeli government that triggered the Hamas attack on 7 October, but at the same time this attack has acted as a catalyst to further radicalise Israeli public opinion. The political goal of expelling all Palestinians from historical Palestine, which was once a marginal position among Jews who simultaneously expressed admiration for Hitler, and a party banned as racist and terrorist, has now become mainstream.
Although spokespeople for the Israeli government to Western media maintain the rhetoric that Israel tries to avoid civilian casualties in the war against Hamas in Gaza, there are no indications that Israel is actually doing this. On the contrary, Israel’s Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, sent a message at the start of the war that the population of Gaza would from now on be cut off from not only electricity and fuel, but also food and water.
The population of the northern part of Gaza has been ordered to evacuate, but the justification that they should evacuate for their own safety is not credible. Leaked documents show that Israel’s government is now working for a «solution» which involves the displacement of the entire population of Gaza into the Sinai desert in Egypt.
Social media in Israel is overflowing with hate speech, including videos that caricature Palestinian facial features, reminiscent of Nazi caricatures of Jews, while making fun of the Palestinians who cry because they have lost their houses and have no food or water.
What the Israeli government is carrying out is a genocidal program, perpetrated with genocidal methods, based on an ideology which, if not directly inspired by Hitler, is entirely parallel. Israel has not initiated gas chambers for the Palestinians, but neither did it happen in Hitler’s Germany until well into the Second World War. Hitler’s goal in the first place was to expel the Jews from Europe, and where they eventually went after that was less important to him. It was when this goal proved unfeasible that the gas chambers became an alternative.
The hatred and dehumanisation that the Palestinians are subjected to in Israel today is completely parallel to the rhetoric of hatred that the Jews were subjected to in the run-up to the Holocaust. The expansive and unrestrained policies of the Israeli government, which run counter to international law both in terms of territorial expansion on Palestinian soil and, uniquely compared to Hitler’s Germany, into religious sanctuaries, similarly have the potential to trigger a world war.
One should not compare types of war prematurely, and although it has been wrong in the past to categorise Israel as a Nazi state, it is no longer so. We must cry wolf, when the wolf is here. And we must speak out about the fact that Israel has now become a Nazi state, because that is what Israel has become.