Roytenberg: Palestinians must learn about their complicity in the Holocaust

On May 10, a Yahoo-hosted podcast called Skullduggery released an interview with freshman Democratic Michigan congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.  In that interview, she discussed her position in support of a “one state solution” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Her comments ignited a firestorm of reaction in social media.

Tlaib noted that “we have just observed the international day of remembrance for the Holocaust,” and that it “gave her a calming feeling” when she thought that the misfortune the Palestinians had suffered provided a safe haven for the survivors of the Holocaust

Tlaib, who is the first Palestinian elected to the U.S. Congress, drew a storm of denunciation from Republicans, including U.S. President Donald Trump, who tweeted that “She obviously has tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.” 

In response Tlaib denounced her Republican critics as racists.

Interestingly, Tlaib was also criticized by Palestinian scholars. In a May 15  article in Haaretz,  Palestinian historian Adel Manna, a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute,  said  Jewish immigration before, during and after the Holocaust represented a “colonial settler project.” 

Another scholar Khaled Elgindy, a nonresident fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, called her remarks “obtuse” and expressed interest in more clarity in her ideas about a one state solution.

Tlaib’s remarks were very problematic, but not because she voiced any endorsement of the Holocaust. It’s clear, if you listen to the whole podcast that she did not do that. When critics accuse her of somehow whitewashing the Holocaust, they miss a chance to discuss what she actually said and the profound state of denial and historical ignorance that it demonstrates.

When a Palestinian speaks about the Holocaust and expresses regret at what happened to the Jews, we should welcome that. At the same time, it is natural that we discuss the role that the Palestinian Arabs played in the destruction of the European Jews.


When recalling the history of the Palestine Mandate, we must remember that Palestine was entrusted to British rule by the League of Nations with the mission of implementing the Balfour declaration, which called for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.  This mandate stemmed from the work of Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann and other pioneering Zionists who recognized that the European Jews were in peril. The Mandate was established to give those Jews a safe place to go if they needed one.

When leaders of the Arabs in Palestine complained that the mandate threatened to make them a minority in their own country, the British set aside 78 per cent of the territory and closed it to Jewish immigration.  However, this did not satisfy the Arabs who continued to oppose Jewish immigration and any plan for a Jewish state in the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine.

In the Haaretz article Israeli historian Benny Morris points out that Tlaib’s ancestors, meaning Palestinians, “did nothing to alleviate the suffering of the Jews at Nazi hands. Rather, the opposite: the Arabs of [British Mandatory] Palestine, during the whole period –  and supported by the neighbouring Arab states – did all they could to prevent Jews trying to escape Nazi hands from reaching the (relatively safe) shores of Palestine.”

Britain’s shameful accommodation to the political pressure from Palestinian leaders led them to curtail overall Jewish immigration into Palestine in the 1930s, just when it was most needed. These limits on Jewish immigration came about just as the rise of the Nazis revealed the prophetic nature of Herzl’s vision. With nowhere to go, the destruction of the European Jews that Herzl had foreseen came about.

In a time when Israeli historians like Morris have acknowledged mistakes and crimes committed during the struggle for Israeli independence, Palestinians must likewise learn about their complicity in the Holocaust. In order to achieve peace, both sides must learn the whole truth about the conflict.