Rant Number 370 5 November 2009
‘There should be a monument to Adolf Hitler in every Israeli town square.’ A ribald utterance. Almost as nasty as that by a British historian who said there should be a monument to ‘obliteration Bomber Harris’ in every German city. Made by a scoffing young man I met during a demo in Trafalgar Square. Naturally, I remonstrated. ‘I am Jewish!’ he countered, grinning. A lie, perhaps. Yet, I wondered. A loony claim. Still, could there be a kind of perverse, deviant logic in it?
Only recently on British TV millions of viewers saw far right leader Nick Griffin boast of his party’s support for the state of Israel. And my Swedish friend Chris tells me that in his country the extreme movement Sverigedemokraterna also roots for the Jewish nation. Ted Ekeroth, one of their members, and an avowed Islamophobe, even enjoyed the Israeli Herzl Award. (Theodore Herzl being the very founder of modern Zionism.) In Italy, former neo-fascist leader Gianfranco Fini also swears eternal support to Israel. Just tactical camouflage, probably. But nobody could accuse the distinguished Jewish intellectual George Steiner of belonging dans cette galere. His argument is literary and fictional in form and yet it is prima facie endowed with a weird, wicked appeal.
In The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. Steiner has a team of Israeli Nazi hunters seizing a taciturn old man hiding in the Amazonian jungle. Yes, A.H. is Adolf Hitler. His captors would like to have him tried, Eichmann-like, in Israel, but time is short, so they decide to judge him there and then. But the Fuhrer, in a long, creepy diatribe, defends himself. In a nutshell, Adolf’s barefaced contention is that he fathered the Jewish state. ‘You should honour me. Thanks to me, Zion’s millenarian dream has come true. You have got your ancient nation back.’ He also raves about being Israel’s awaited Messiah, accuses the Jews of having invented racism...und so weiter.
Provocative but flimsy. First, if the Jewish state really needs a Gentile founder, he isn’t a plebeian Austrian adventurer but a refined English aristocrat. Statesman Arthur Balfour, the author of the 1917 British declaration favouring ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.’ (Methinks there should be quite a few statues to him in Eretz Israel.)
Second, A.H. never remotely intended to bring about a proud, self-assertive and martial polity like the current state of Israel. Hitler’s Steiner no more coheres with the obsessive anti-Semite A.H. than Milton’s Satan resembles the authentic Father of Lies. Indeed, one of Steiner’s characters warns against listening to the terrible old man’s seductive nonsense, lest they end up believing it. A.H. strove to annihilate the Jews, not to restore them to their ancestral homeland. The only similarity between Mein Kampf and Herzl’s Juden Staat is that they were both written in German.
Third, the Messiah thing. It is true during WWII Hitler fantasised about himself being ‘a religious figure. Soon I’ll be the great chief of the Tatars....I shall become Khan’, he declared to Martin Bormann. He even deluded himself that ‘Arabs and Moroccans are mingling my name with their prayers.’ (See Hitler’s Table Talks, p.203) Might as well have fancied himself as the awaited Mahdi! Was it tongue in cheek? Had he really meant it, it would be another example of the Fuhrer’s self-delusion – a bit like certain mad passages in Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, in which the philosopher imagines every stranger’s face lighting up with joy in his presence. Insane, all too insane.
Fourth, pray consider. Where Hitler is now, if he has not perished, what punishment would be more condign to is crimes? I mean a spiritual punishment. (Bodily chastisements make no sense in the Hereafter, because ‘nothing burns in hell, except the ego’.) Have your pick. I submit that the endless contemplation of the triumphs today enjoyed by the race he sought to destroy might suit. The contemplation of a powerful Jewish state might be part of his more exquisite torments. Dig it?
‘Dad, you’ve suddenly gone Zionist? Does justice means nothing to you? How can you whitewash Israeli crimes? The occupied lands, the fanatical colonists, that Liebermann racist guy, the Sabras, the daily oppression, the humiliation of Palestinians, the Gaza massacre – even Judge Goldstone admits that - and Jenin before that and...’ Thus e-mails me from Malmo my angry boy Linus, to whom I submit my incipient writings. The impetuosity of youth! Or, more likely, his current Palestinian girl friend. A familiar syndrome.
‘Calm down, Lin. You are picking on the wrong guy. Since Gaza I have been on four pro-Palestinian marches. I have spoken in conferences, written articles. All on your side. And I have got far too many Arab and Muslim and anti-Zionist friends to start waving the flag with the Star of David. Here I am simply concerned to draw a line between neo-fascist nonsense and...the rest. Liebermann is awful but he balanced by brave Israelis like Uri Avineri and Gilad Atzmon. As to ‘the Sabras’, do you know what you are talking about? You’d better look up Israeli writer Oz Almog. Yes, Sabras were supposed to be a Spartan or Prussian breed. A novel, non-intellectual, non-Jewish Israeli Jew. A self-conscious military elite or, dare I say it? – an agrarian master race – militarism always battens on country values – destined to renew the biblical victories of Joshua and David. Moshe Dayan perhaps came closest to incarnating the Sabra ideal. Guess even A.H. might have admired him. But the culture which gave rise to the sabras is no more. The rural, puritanical world they came from has gone. Most Israelis today are urban creatures, in many ways as deracinated and as individualistic as their Diaspora ancestors. Some of the colonists are fanatical Arab-haters, sure, but you can’t paint all Israelis over with the same brush, can you?’
Linus blabs on. He’ll soon grow even more petulant, as he learns that in his youth his dad actually bought the propaganda myth of little Israel threatened with destruction by its Arab neighbours. At the start the 1967 six-day-war, before the lightening Israeli conquests that stunned the world, a callow, naive Fr Frank then in Rome volunteered to go to Israel and help out as a civil worker. Little I knew what was really going on. Folies de jeunesse. But I have since seen the light.
As to A.H., he no longer means anything at all.
Revd Frank Julian Gelli