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U.S. Jewish groups use Holocaust guilt to push for Syria strike

A policy decision on American military action in Syria cannot be justified by an analogy between Syrian suffering under Assad and Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. 

Two weeks after a chemical attack in Syria killed at least 1,400, including 400 children, and one week after U.S. President Obama announced he favors a limited military strike on Syria, mainstream American Jewish groups broke their silence Tuesday and expressed what they conveyed as unequivocal support for a strike.

As reported in Politico, AIPAC – the powerful Israel lobby known for being forthright on all issues related to American policy in the Middle East due to its mandate to protect Israeli security interests (i.e. recent backing of military in Egypt  despite massacre of Muslim Brotherhood supporters), was eerily quiet following the Obama administration’s call for a strike. But on Tuesday, it issued a statement stating that, “simply put, barbarism on a mass scale must not be given a free pass.” It then made clear that its reasoning for backing a U.S. strike has to do with American policy on Iran:

“Our view is that if this vote goes down, it will be devastating to American credibility and send a very clear message to Iran that they can press the accelerator on moving forward with their program. At this point Assad and Hezbollah are merely franchises for Iran,” as The Daily Beast reported.

However, AIPAC was careful to make sure the word “Israel” was nowhere in the statement, which is peculiar for a lobby that proudly declares itself to be THE “pro-Israel” lobby. The reason, according to several reports, is that AIPAC and other major American Jewish groups wanted to make sure their support for a U.S. strike was seen as strictly in American interests, and not tied to Israeli interests – the fear being that if America does get embroiled in a war in Syria, as it did in Iraq in 2003, Americans will blame American Jews and Israel.

Other mainstream American Jewish groups like the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, quickly followed suit, expressing support for a U.S. strike. The Conference’s hawkish executive vice president of the Conference Malcolm Hoenlin also emphasized the need to “not tie it to Israel.”

ADL chairman Abraham Foxman took a different approach, however, directly connecting the need for the U.S. to respond to Assad’s use of chemical weapons to what Jews suffered during the Holocaust. According to Bloomberg news:

‘Our people have been exterminated by the use of gas,’ Foxman said. ‘We cannot stand by without a reaction when we see gas being used to kill others.’

A letter urging Congress to authorize American use of force in Syria drafted by 17 American rabbis from across the religious spectrum made an even more adamant and clear comparison to Jewish subjection to gas during World War II.

‘We write you as descendants of Holocaust survivors and refugees, whose ancestors were gassed to death in concentration camps,’ said the letter sent Wednesday, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. ‘We write you as a people who have faced persecution for many centuries, and are glad to have found a safe refuge where we can thrive in the United States.’

The rabbis’ letter also stated that, “through this act, Congress has the capacity to save thousands of lives.” It is entirely unclear how a U.S. strike would in fact save any lives – and in fact, it is clear the use of force will certainly take lives. Neither the rabbis nor the ADL, nor any of the groups for that matter, demonstrate how a U.S. strike can better the situation. Rather, the emphasis is on punishing Assad because, as Foxman put it, there is a “moral imperative” to act.

Beyond the fact that it is problematic at best and hypocritical and deplorable at worst for American Jewish groups to insist on the moral need to act in Syria – while continuing to be complicit in America’s active support of Israel’s 46-year military occupation that exacts daily human rights violations – my question is: why aren’t these American Jewish leaders interested in being a part of a debate about what kind of strategy will actually be effective in Syria?

It would be one thing if American Jews kept it as a condemnation of civilian suffering – but since they are going the policy route, why express support for military action without actually enumerating how it will be effective? A policy decision on American military action in Syria cannot be justified by an analogy between Syrian suffering and Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. The massacre of innocent civilians by their own leader is bad enough and the whole world doesn’t need to have it compared to Jewish suffering to know it’s f–ked up. Do they really believe that by using Holocaust guilt they can justify an American strike on Syria?

By using the Holocaust analogy, American Jews are not only excluding themselves from a genuine debate about what an effective American strategy in Syria could be for the U.S. and for Middle East stability, but are also making it clear that as Jews (and by extension, as regards Israel as well), they have a special status – the status of eternal victims and thus an authority on what is moral and when military force is just.

It is important to note that Israel also expressed support for a U.S. strike, by way of an official statement made by Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, who assured Americans they should not worry about Israel, as it can defend itself in case of a retaliatory attack by Syria.

While I’m sure many American Jews disagree with this supposed “consensus” on Syria, it would be hard to know, since no other positions have been voiced. J Street, the lobby trying to present an alternative to AIPAC, and Jewish Voice for Peace, an anti-occupation American Jewish organization, have not issued any formal statements on Syria – which is a real shame.

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    1. It is not, in my view, the use of “never again” which should enrage but rather its selective use. Making nonpersons of West Bank prior residents is a violation of “never again,” just as is the use of chemical agents as a form of population control. I do not believe there is a single line of Syrian command with Assad at the top, and I think a strike on ostensive command is necessary to drive home their future accountability: you who claim you control, control your underlings or be struck again. I think this pragmatic and necessary for the long term control of such weapons worldwide. Attacking all conservative Jewish interests because they are conservative, or charging liberal Jewish interests with the impurity of silence, misses the present point entirely. If AIPAC wants to secure a vote among Republicans newly converted to some neo-isolationism to recover electoral standing at home (and find a solid Rock of belief)–let them. “Never again” will never be realized in full. This is not to refuse to apply it as possible; to say otherwise is to say that equal protection, never fully realized, will leave some out, which is itself a violation of equal protection, so equal protection should never be attempted (cf Bush v Gore, USSC, 2000).

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        If you define “never again” to be any action you don’t like then it is objectively entirely meaningless. This is true for both Jewish groups that might use it for their own purposes and people like you that use it for theirs. If you define the Israeli destruction of an illegally built house as the equivalent of the Holocaust then you have lost all capacity for moral judgement and are purely in the land of political spin and symbolic demagoguery.

        The truth of the matter is that there are many many dead in Syria (including in the use of chemical weapons) and the ‘world’ is basically isn’t willing to do anything to stop it. People like Mairav only go as far as demanding that the United States and other Western states stay out. The only people taking a side are those that support the massacres perpetrated by the Assad regime and those that support the Jihadist elements that are fighting in response. To someone like me that sees this scenario as basically a normal event in our sick world the only surprise is how far people that have some sort of twisted faith in the ‘international community’ are willing to go to argue that it is moral by the international community to do nothing. When the use of chemical weapons can only be punished/deterred/prevented via action outside the rules created by the ‘international community’ then all its rules/laws/statements/whatever have absolutely zero moral weight and only power (of various kinds) determines outcomes.

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      • miriam6

        No hold on a minute
        plenty of non Jewish figures -talking head commentators and politicians have been peddling these false comparisons trivialising of both the holocaust and Syria’s war victims propaganda
        John Kerry called the stand off ‘our Munich moment ‘ and referred to previous German use of ‘gas’ to kill

        democratic senator harry Reid also invoked the holocaust in relation to chemical weapon attacks in syria

        It has become very predictable over the last few years that trivialising comparisons are often drawn to describe various smaller in scale war atrocities as reminiscent of the holocaust.


        Reply to Comment
    2. ginger

      Israel and her Israeli Lobby (including Abe Foxman) being unable to lie the US into yet another Middle East war is a catastrophe for the Apartheid state. Without a 10 yr regional war Apartheid will be left to twist in the wind of worldwide Anti-Apartheid sanctions as it loses case after case at the ICC

      Why are we NOT going to war this time? – because the people have HAD IT with the Neocons and Israeli Lobby

      ‘Groundswell on Syria: The people versus AIPAC’
      We’re at a defining moment in the history of the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Israel wants a war and the American people don’t– still, American leadership is pressing ahead. This groundswell of American opposition has fostered a willingness on the part of the American media to broach the issue of blind American support for Israel.

      ‘Former AIPAC official warns against US ‘retreat’ from Israel’s ‘permanent reality’– conflict’

      The author of the famous statement that the Israel lobby is a “night flower,” former AIPAC official Steven J. Rosen at Foreign Policy explains how painful it is for the lobby to have to come into the sunlight on the Syria question. But the risk of silence was too great, losing a precedent for American military action against Iran:


      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        A hopeful sign that there is as much opposition as there has been. Usually on these issues, Congress lines up in near-unanimity.

        Even after Obomber has pulled the card with “our allies in the region” there is still dissent.

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      • Nothing can be further from the truth.
        Just saying a lie with Israel in it does not make the lie a truth.
        Israel has no interest in toppling down Assad, as the successor may be much worse, too all involved. But Israel is worried, perpahs rightly so, that allowing use of chems is the precursor to allowing use of nukes.
        It still amazes me that after a decade of bloody Middle East (Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria), Israel is still THE Satan. Gaza, 2nd Intifada and 2nd Lebanese war are mere steet fights compared to those wars.

        Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        It is impressive to me how the anti-Israel lunatic left can manage to jump from the position that AIPAC and the Israel lobby are omnipotent to finding an even more dubious explanation for obvious cases where the US executive backed by AIPAC are having a very difficult time lobbying for their desired policies.

        I especially enjoy the followup comment whereby the real conspiracy is that Israel *doesn’t really* want intervention against Assad, which pretty much covers all bases regardless of the outcome of current events. If the war takes place then AIPAC is omnipotent. If it doesn’t then AIPAC didn’t really want a war. It is brilliant how far the lunatic left can manage to stretch a conspiracy theory when much simpler explanations are available, for example like that AIPAC is a lobby with some pull in DC but it is really only capable of influencing decisions on the margins and not the overriding direction of US policy in the Middle East. Chomsky, though I generally don’t like the guy, is vastly more intelligent on the issue than all the Zionist conspiracy lunatics on Mondoweiss put together.

        Also impressive on that site is how much support there is on a supposedly progressive liberal website for Assad, his government and his equally despicable supporters in Iran and Russia. For the purposes of despising Israel the various posters on that site, including ginger, are willing to put their minds at the disposal of any and all Russian and Iranian propaganda regardless of how ridiculous.

        Reply to Comment
      • Laurent Szyster

        What’s an “Antizionist Ginger” ?

        The new “Antisemitic Fruitcake”.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Insightful and thought provoking article.

      ‘Our people have been exterminated by the use of gas,’ Foxman said. ‘We cannot stand by without a reaction when we see gas being used to kill others.’

      Connecting the use of sarin by parties in the Syrian conflict with the Holocaust stokes the wrong kind of reaction. Calling for military action in Syria citing “never again” may be the natural impulse for some, but isn’t particularly helpful if the “solution” is yet more destruction and death courtesy of tomahawk cruise missiles.

      The industrialized assault on European Jewry by the Nazis was an orchestrated act of genocide – cold, calculating mass murder aimed at the elimination of “undesirables” that included not just the Jews but also the Roma and other peoples regarded by the Nazis as “inferior.” The Jews and others were victims of the Nazi extermination machine.

      In Syria chemicals have allegedly been deployed in limited quantities by both sides in a vicious civil war. Al Qaeda-connected al-Nusra Front activists were involved in a plot to bomb a city in Turkey that has a preponderance of Assad sympathizers. When Turkish authories broke up the ring they seized chemicals and bomb making equipment. UN investigators allege the al-Nusra Front has deployed sarin in the past in limited actions within Syria. Likewise the Assad regime has been accused of chemical use, in the current case and in limited quantaties in earlier combat situations.

      Unacceptable though the use of chemical weapons are, it still doesn’t justify an attack on Syria by the U.S. who nobody appointed to the role of global sheriff. In fact given the stand-off in the security council, U.S. bombing would be illegal under international law. Let’s not even get into the hypocrisy of a nation that has used napalm, agent orange, depleted uranium and white phosphorus presenting itself as a defender of moral codes.

      A U.S. attack could destabilize the situation further and make the liklihood of atrocities, including the use of chemical weapons, more rather than less likely. Look at Libya and Iraq. Since the allied intervention Libya has descended into chaos. Iraq likewise is teetering on the brink of civil war. Based on the track record, U.S. interventions tend to make bad situations worse.

      Difficult though it is to see a way out of the Syrian impasse, resorting to a U.S. sponsored attack is not the solution and bringing the Holocaust into it doesn’t help.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Gideon (not Levy)

      The U.S. will Fight Israel’s War against Syria.

      Asked to comment on whether Israel wants Assad or the Rebels to win, Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York described the Israeli position (to the NYTimes):
      “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking in Israel. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria”.

      Another Israeli motivation is that Israel wants to hold the Occupied Golan with Obama’s help.

      That is why Israel wants the war on Syria not to be a brief limited TOMA HAWK “Session”. And that is why AIPAC puppets in both houses extended the mandate they issues to Obama to 90 days. The Israeli argument is, according to NYT, “A prolonged conflict is perceived as hurting Iran, which finances Mr. Assad’s war effort.”

      And that is also behind Obama’s decision to order the Pentagon to Expand Potential Targets in Syria.

      In short: Since 2003, America’s Wars in the Mideast are Made in Israel.


      Reply to Comment
      • miriam6

        “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death:

        That was pretty much America’s way of thinking during the Iran- Iraq war
        Left them both bleed to death

        Reply to Comment
    5. The Trespasser

      Meirav is right, of course.

      Syrian turmoil is nothing like Holocaust, and Syrians should be allowed to happily exterminate each other.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Laurent Szyster

      Sure, the most important right now about Syria is to critize how American Jews try to mobilize for strikes intended to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

      Right on Mairav !

      Continue the good work, your pil-pul has never been so needed (in french I would have said “enculer les mouches”, alas that cannot be translated …)

      Reply to Comment
    7. Gideon (not Levy)

      Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales wrote today in Wash Post an opinion piece under the title “A war the Pentagon doesn’t want”. Scales writes: “Killing more Syrians won’t deter Iranian resolve to confront us… As the Israelis learned in 1973, the Syrians are tough”.

      So allow me to disclose a secret that Scale doesn’t mention:
      This war is planned by the ISRAELI Gang, for ZIONIST Interests.

      It is the same gang that pushed GWB to attack IRAQ in 2003.

      Their core was made-up of Zionist Neo Conservatives:
      Richard Perle, Norman Podhoretz and his son John, Irving and William Kristol, Donald Kagan, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, Abram Schulsky, and
      they were well coordinated with Binyamin Netanyahu, as AIPAC is today.

      Read their 26 January 1998 Letter to President Clinton, in which they advocated a war on Iraq.
      To was signed by Elliott Abrams, Richard L. Armitage, William J. Bennett, Jeffrey Bergner,
      John Bolton, Paula Dobriansky, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan,
      Zalmay Khalilzad, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Peter W. Rodman,
      Donald Rumsfeld, William Schneider, Jr. Vin Webe, Paul Wolfowitz,
      R. James Woolsey, and Robert B. Zoellick


      Clinton didn’t go to war on Iraq. So George W Bush did.

      Now the Question is: Will Obama follow on GWB’s footsteps???

      Reply to Comment
    8. Giora Me'ir

      Shameful use of the Holocaust, but not surprising.

      Reply to Comment
      • Laurent Szyster

        Shamful ?

        You’d rather have some shameless use of the Holocaust about Syria ?

        What about “Only 100.000 deaths, what are they complaining about ? We had 6 millions !”

        Or, even better, “Syrians swallowed all the nazi propaganda translated in Arab, let them reap what they deserve now …”

        Now, wait, here’s the best possible shameless use of the Holocaust on Syria: “We told you they were genocidal maniacs, you f**cking fools !”

        Reply to Comment
        • The way this number comes up all the time reminds me of the that other famous number, 6 million.
          Where’s the breakdown? Who killed who and why? Where are the facts? Simply giving a number mythological status does not justify another massacre.

          Reply to Comment
    9. Siren

      What a great piece to publish on Rosh Hashana. When the organizations you accuse of lying and cynically using Holocaust comparisons in the US and elsewhere are all open and able to respond to your claims.

      Oh, wait…

      Reply to Comment
    10. Richard

      Meirav says: “…but are also making it clear that as Jews (and by extension, as regards Israel as well), they have a special status – the status of eternal victims and thus an authority on what is moral and when military force is just.” Not only does this statement not follow logically, at all, from what Foxman and others have said, it is quite unsavory on its own. Surely Jews have as much a right to express an opinion on Syrians being gassed as anyone else – why should we ourselves having been gassed be seen as anything other than a reason to chime in? For Meirav, either we keep our mouths shut, or hold ourselves out as some kind of arrogant, uppity, superior moral authority. Unfortunately, this kind of perverse, anti-semitic logic is becoming more common – this statement is a good example of how some unsavory people take every opportunity to invoke some concept of Jewish “specialness”, in this case “eternal victimhood”, wherever they can and even if it doesn’t make sense, in order to portray Jews as exclusionary, apart, and worthy of scorn. Classy stuff.

      Reply to Comment
      • Laurent Szyster


        Reply to Comment
    11. Kolumn9

      Brilliant. The Holocaust denier posts freely while my comments are stuck in moderation. Wonderful set of preferences you guys have on this site.

      Reply to Comment
    12. If you would read, “The Nameless War”. I think you might see we’ve been brainwashed. This is getting ridiculous. About 30% have woke up….but it’s easier to fool someone than convince them they’ve been fooled.

      Reply to Comment
    13. If you want to read the whole of the letter from the rabbis (and the whole list of signatories, which is rather diminutive), you can read it here. I don’t need to tell you that I regard all this as meretricious codswallop.

      Reply to Comment
    14. EYES2C

      The cat is out of the bag: It Is ISRAEL’S WAR
      Reuters reports: AIPAC to deploy hundreds of lobbyists to push for Syria action

      Looks like AIPAC only tries to help Barack Hussein Obama – to become a real WAR MONGER, who’ll fight to the bitter end — to maintain ILLEGALLY OCCUPIED Syrian Golan Heights in Israeli hands.

      But Obama “FORGOT” to tell us that his Darling (ISRAEL) DID NOT RATIFY that Chemical Weapons Ban Treaty (!!!)
      [2] and that Israel also has NUKES, ready to use (since Guy Mollet, another French “Socialist” gave Shimon Peres the NUKE Reactor of DIMONA in gratitude for Israel’s participation in the 1956 SUEZ WAR)
      [3] and that Israel developed its OWN BIO WEAPONS in the NES TZIONA Labs, near the Weizmann Institute of Rehoboth.


      Reply to Comment
    15. Aaron M.

      “By using the Holocaust analogy, American Jews are not only excluding themselves from a genuine debate about what an effective American strategy in Syria could be for the U.S. and for Middle East stability, but are also making it clear that as Jews (and by extension, as regards Israel as well), they have a special status – the status of eternal victims and thus an authority on what is moral and when military force is just.”
      This sentence is packed with code-terms that have anti-jewish meaning. The accusations that Jews claim “special status” has centuries of history behind it, a history of resentment and Jew-hatred.

      Reply to Comment
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