In Friday’s Wheel there was a disturbing cartoon directly comparing the Nazi ghettoes with the separation fence the Israelis have erected on the West Bank. This equation is historically spurious and highly prejudicial. The Germans put Jews from throughout Europe in ghettoes to either die a slow death of starvation, deprivation and disease or a faster death with a bullet or poison gas.
Irrespective of what one thinks of the fence/wall (most of it is a fence), it was not built for this purpose. It was built as a defensive mechanism. Even if one opposes it, one cannot ignore the fact that it has tremendously reduced homicidal bombings (sometimes mistakenly called “suicide bombings”) of Israeli targets. There was no fence/wall before there were these bombings of busses, schools and other civilian targets. It was built in response to them.
Regarding the disparity of wealth which Woodliff seems to blame on the wall/fence, this existed long before the wall/fence was ever there. The Palestinian Authority has received countless billions of dollars to help its people. During the corrupt regime of the late Yasser Arafat most of these funds disappeared. (Look under Swiss Banks to find some of them, or in Paris, where his widow lives a life of supreme splendor.) The funds obviously were not used to aid the Palestinian people, many of whom are suffering terribly.
When Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, it left behind fertile farms, hothouses filled with advanced hydroponic systems for growing vegetables, and other installations which could have been used to better the Palestinians’ lot. Most were destroyed by the Palestinian people. International funds were raised to help the residents of Gaza. These too have resulted in little improvement. Meanwhile, rockets from Gaza continue to be fired into Israeli towns. A barrage Saturday put 18 people in the hospital. In response, Israel has shut the border between Gaza and Israel, further increasing the suffering of the residents of Gaza.
There is a serious problem in the Middle East but Woodliff’s glib comparison of Jews to Nazis is not only ill-informed, it demonstrates a certain prejudice — antisemitism — which will never help resolve the situation. Whatever one thinks of Israeli policy, to describe it as akin to the Nazi policy of murdering all of European Jewry is to engage in antisemitism and a form of Holocaust denial.
Finally, I was struck by the explanatory note the Woodliff appended to the drawing. No editorial cartoon should need an explanation or an addendum. If the cartoonist is any good, his work should speak for itself. With that I rest my case.
Deborah Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies in the Institute for Jewish Studies.