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October 10, 2016 2:59 pm

Antisemitism Experts Disagree on Legitimacy of Holocaust-Aleppo Comparison During Second Presidential Debate

avatar by Ruthie Blum

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Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Wikipedia.

Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Wikipedia.

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…”

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  • henrytobias

    Everyone wants to jump on the Holocaust bandwagon to deny the Jews using it as a justification for keeping Israel strong and safe.

  • There is no legitimate reason to compare Aleppo, Syria to the Nazi Holocaust against European Jewry. The humanitarian crisis in Aleppo is not 1944, it’s 2016. America doesn’t have air superiority over Syria, like it did over Nazi-occupied Europe. America has no leverage to help the Syrian refugees because the U.S. State Department foolishly mishandled the Russians again. And Mrs. Clinton will only make it worse.

  • Wallsingham

    The adoption, use, exploitation of ‘Holocaust’ memes for political criticism, hatred, demonisation of Israel’s actions in Gaza and the occupied West Bank is antisemitism.

    Comparing seaborne refugees drowning in south-east Asia, the Mediterranean or the bombing in Allepo, using holocaust is an attempt to indicate an attitude of complacency in the face of a huge human right catastrophe.

    The context is the difference! How and what is being discussed? Why the word is being used?

    Am I Jewish? No I’m not. Can’t even claim some of my best friends…. i.e. Comparing what the IDF does in Gaza to what the Germans did in The Warsaw Ghetto is antisemitic. Comparing what the IDF does in the occupied West Bank to the Nazi Warthegau creationin in eastern Poland is antisemitic.
    Comparing the war in Syria to the holocaust I would interpret as a political comment on the apparent abnegation of human responsibilty for a man made disaster.
    ‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls….’

  • carpe diem 36

    They do not know what really happened in the Holocaust. To call this a Holocaust is not only desecration, but it does not help people understand what is happening. This is just a civil war that is very bad but to call it Holocaust does not help people understand what is happening. Those people are being killed by their own kind!!! the Holocaust was happening to people by others who were not their kind, never mind other difference. To use God’s name in vain is prohibited in the Ten Commandments. To call a tragedy of civil war a Holocaust is also using this name in vain, and is prohibited just like using God’s name in vain.

  • Reb_Yaakov

    Jews are not an ethnicity. They are a people derived from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and nationalities who have chosen to follow a certain faith and way of life. Of course, the Nazis did regard them as an ethnicity, as do people of both Jewish and non-Jewish background who are separated from Judaism.

    I think that those who invoke the Holocaust generally mean well. And if the Holocaust is to be used as a lesson for the future, a way of teaching respect for all life, then why not? We shouldn’t be so sensitive about the appropriateness of applying the Holocaust to modern genocidal events.

    As for these two candidates, it matters not what either of them has to say, because both lack even a modicum of credibility.

  • No because in this case the US State Department, CIA and NGOs actually fomented the civil war and chaos. It doesnt take genius to figure that out. Its just the same instigations like Central and South America a generation ago.