Rafi Eitan, the Israeli Mossad operative responsible for the capture and extradition of Adolf Eichmann, a pivotal figure in the World War Two genocide of European Jewry, released a video statement in support of Germany’s current and growing neo-Nazi party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Eichmann, who was kidnapped from his sanctuary in Argentina and taken to Israel for trial, was executed in 1962. His capture, and the subsequent trial, helped to bolster Israel’s credentials as a safe haven for Jews from the storms and homicidal trials of anti-Semitism.
His capture and trial for war crimes in Israel was the subject of an important book by philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: a report on the banality of evil. This book is a pivotal study for scholars who examine the genocide, the perpetrators and the reasons (ideological or otherwise) why such events take place. The book, based on Arendt’s on-the-spot coverage of the Eichmann trial as it unfolded, sparked a tsunami of debate and scholarly criticism regarding the motivations for why such heinous crimes, such as the Holocaust, occur.
Eitan, who posted his video statement on his social media account, praised the platform of the AfD, made his remarks in the context of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He expressed his best wishes for the continued success of the neo-Nazi AfD, and suggested that this party was not only the best hope for Germany, but for the whole of Europe. Eitan, whose statement was criticised on the Electronic Intifada magazine, stated that Europe must close its borders to what he sees as ‘mass Muslim migration.’
The veteran Mossad investigator expressed his view, echoing the talking points of the European ultra-right, that Muslim culture is incompatible with European values, and that Islamic immigrants cause violence and terrorism wherever they settle. Eitan supported the AfD, a party that valorises Nazi soldiers and officers, and upholds the doctrines and values that motivated, among others, Adolf Eichmann.
Eitan faced heavy criticism from Israeli political figures and historians for his comments, and issued a half-apologetic, kind-of-remorseful climb-down from his previous position – sort of. An Israeli figure, and an important one such as Eitan, provided a public relations embarrassment for the state that regards itself as the inheritor of the memories of the Holocaust.
Eitan’s comments, while shocking, are not entirely surprising. His statement represents a continuation of an old-new friendship. What does ‘old-new’ mean? That expression comes from an article by Ali Abunimah, a co-founder of Electronic Intifada. In an article he wrote called “Why has an Israeli Nazi-hunter embraced Germany’s neo-Nazis?”, Abunimah examines how the ideological correspondence between the champions of Zionism and anti-Semitism is a longstanding practice. Abunimah wrote that:
Today, European and American neo-Nazis wear their support for Israel on their sleeves, and use the blessings of figures like Eitan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to whitewash their anti-Semitism and white supremacy.
Eitan’s comments are a revival of an old-new friendship. In the 1930s, the German Zionist Federation extended its hand in cooperation to the Nazi authorities. The Nazi government sent several envoys, as part of its political and economic agreement, to the land of Palestine to inspect the burgeoning Jewish settlements. One of the emissaries sent by the Nazis was the young Adolf Eichmann. The latter, met by officials from the Labour Zionist Haganah, visited a kibbutz, and returned to Germany in 1937, expressing his admiration for the expanding Zionist settlements.
Eichmann was not the first Nazi official to visit the settlements in Palestine. From 1934 to 1936, SS Nazi officer Baron von Mildenstein visited the new Zionist settlements, wrote supportive articles for a Nazi newspaper, and a commemorative medal was struck – a Nazi travels to Palestine. Eichmann himself, looking back on his career as a war criminal, fondly remembered his days in Palestine in the 1930s:
I did see enough to be very impressed by the way the Jewish colonists were building up their land. I admired their desperate will to live, the more so since I was myself an idealist. In the years that followed I often said to Jews with whom I had dealings that, had I been a Jew, I would have been a fanatical Zionist. I could not imagine being anything else. In fact, I would have been the most ardent Zionist imaginable.
This convergence of views and interests between Zionism and anti-Semitism is not just one of historical interest – it is also a fact of political life in Europe today. The ultra-rightist, racist parties in Europe – whose ideology includes virulent anti-Semitism – are fervent admirers of the state of Israel. Germany’s new anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi party – the AfD – is a strong supporter of Israel. While the German Jewish community is under no illusions about the political platform of the AfD, the latter have made strenuous support for Israel a plank of their policies. AfD leaders have expressed admiration for Israel, citing it as a model of a state based on ethno-nationalist exclusion.
The German AfD’s support for Israel is echoed by the ultra-rightist American white supremacist movement, led by Richard Spencer. Spencer, an articulate and educated bigot, regularly highlights how he finds the ethno-supremacism of Zionism an inspirational model for the kind of state he would like to construct in the United States.
The leaders of the emergent European ultra-right have made common cause with the state of Israel not only as a tactical alliance – ridding Europe of its Jewish population would provide a pipeline of Jewish emigrants into the Israel state. Support for the colonisation of Palestine is just one side of this support. European anti-Semitism and Zionism have converged on another theme – Islamophobia.
A shared targeting of Muslim immigrants, and Islam in general, has rejuvenated the political alliance of anti-Semitism with the leaders of the Israeli state. How this happens, and how the far right has upheld Israel as an ethno-supremacist garrison state it seeks to emulate, is the subject of the next article.
For now, let us conclude with the words of Ali Abunimah, who provides a clear reminder of the urgent need for an anti-racist struggle:
That is why in the struggle against all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, Jews and Palestinians committed to equality and human rights stand together on one side, while Israel, Zionists and their bigoted cheerleaders are on the other side.