Antisemitism Experts Disagree on Legitimacy of Holocaust-Aleppo Comparison During Second Presidential Debate
The Holocaust has frequently and rightly been invoked when subsequent genocides and mass killings are ignored, an antisemitism expert told The Algemeiner on Monday, the morning after the second US presidential debate.
Ben Cohen, author of Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism, was referring to a question posed on Sunday night — during the town hall-format debate, held at Washington University in St. Louis — to Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic contender Hillary Clinton by a social media user.
The question, read aloud by co-moderator Martha Raddatz, was about whether the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo could be likened to that of the Holocaust, in the sense that America “waited too long” before intervening.
Cohen said the query was perfectly legitimate. “I remember both the late [eminent Holocaust survivor and author] Elie Wiesel and [the late WWII Polish resistance fighter and Georgetown professor] Jan Karski doing exactly this during the war in Bosnia in the 1990s, for example,” he said. “So the moral assumption is sound and relevant.”
Manfred Gerstenfeld, author of The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses, had the opposite reaction to the parallel.
“Comparing the war in Syria to the Holocaust is radically wrong,” he told The Algemeiner, explaining:
Most or all of the key elements of the Holocaust pointed out by a variety of top scholars do not apply to the horrible Syrian war and its carnage. What is central to the Holocaust is that never before — nor since — had a state aimed at murdering systematically all members of a certain ethnicity, wherever they were in the world. None of the parties in the Syria war even remotely aim at something similar. The Holocaust was a genocidal program carried out systematically and — however horrible it sounds — “efficiently.” There is no similar systematic and “efficient” program by anybody in Syria, not even ISIS.
Regarding the issue of American action, or lack thereof, during the Nazi genocide and currently in Syria — where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed and the bloodshed continues — Cohen made a distinction about the behavior of the United States in both cases.
“When the Holocaust was at its height, the US was already involved in World War II, whereas in Syria, the Obama administration has pursued appeasement,” he said. “On the other hand, ending the Holocaust was not an immediate Allied war aim; and in Syria, this administration has been clear that continued diplomacy with Russia and Iran is more important than stopping the horrors in Aleppo. So while these are two distinct events — with the Holocaust, the ultimate goal of the Nazi dictatorship was to eliminate all Jews, everywhere — what links them is the fact that when it comes to America’s strategic calculus, stopping genocide and mass slaughter is about where it was in 1945.”
On this point, Gerstenfeld was more forgiving of current White House policy. “The failures of Franklin Roosevelt’s America in relation to the Holocaust were much greater than are those of the Obama administration in the Syrian war,” he said. “Obama’s failures may be great, but they did not lead to a Holocaust-like situation, nor are they likely to at present.”
Raddatz prefaced the question that Cohen and Gerstenfeld were responding to as follows, “Just days ago, the State Department called for a war-crimes investigation of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and its ally, Russia, for the bombardment of Aleppo. This next question comes from social media, through Facebook. Dianne from Pennsylvania asked: ‘If you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo? Isn’t it a lot like the Holocaust, when the US waited too long before we helped?'”
Clinton replied, in part:
The situation in Syria is catastrophic. Every day that goes by, we see the results of the regime, by Assad, in partnership with the Iranians on the ground, the Russians in the air, bombarding places, in particular Aleppo… I advocate… a no-fly zone and safe zones. We need some leverage with the Russians, because they are not going to come to the negotiating table for a diplomatic resolution unless there is some leverage over them. And we have to work more closely with our partners and allies on the ground…
Trump rebutted, in part: “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS. Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS. And those three have now lined up, because of our weak foreign policy…”