European anti-Zionists have their new poster boy. In 1943, Henk Zanoli helped save a Jewish boy from the Nazis in Holland, a feat for which he was later honored by the State of Israel as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.” This past week he returned the medal he got because some of his relatives by marriage were killed in Gaza during the recent fighting. As such, he is the perfect witness for the prosecution against the Jewish state. But though the 91-year-old Zanoli still deserves our respect, he’s lost sight of the truth about the war of his youth as well as the one being waged now against the same Jewish people he once helped.
I don’t doubt the sincerity of Zanoli’s current position as he is grieving the loss of several relatives through marriage of his grand niece, a Dutch diplomat, who lives in Gaza with her Palestinian husband. Nor do his current actions diminish the importance of what he did 70 years ago. But the implicit comparison between his condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza and the Holocaust is as ill considered, as it is offensive.
Mr. Zanoli claims to have supported the creation of Israel after World War Two but the letter he sent to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial along with his returned medal made clear that he has withdrawn that backing and not just because of what happened to his grandniece’s in-laws. Nor is he, as many of Israel’s critics say they are doing, merely advocating the end of the “occupation” in the West Bank or even that of Gaza which he claims is also “occupied” even though every last soldier, settlement and individual was pulled out of there nine years ago. Instead, he says he opposes the existence a specifically Jewish state, even though Israel grants its Arab minorities full rights. As such, what he is doing is not so much a cri de coeur against oppression as an echo of Hamas’ genocidal program that is similarly aimed at Israel’s extinction.
His characterization of the treatment of Palestinians as “ethnic cleansing” during Israel’s War of Independence is also strangely out of tune for someone claiming to be acting in concert with his support of human rights. While the plight of Palestinian refugees has been terrible, he takes no notice of the fact that these people have been kept stateless specifically in order to perpetuate the war against Israel and the Jews. Nor does he take into account the fact that an equal number of Jews were expelled from Arab and Muslim countries during this period creating a population exchange that closely resembles what happened in much of Europe after World War Two. Does Mr. Zanoli also think the descendants of Germans who were expelled in far greater numbers from parts of their country that were subsequently annexed to Poland and other nations also have a right of return and of sovereignty over their former homes? Or does he think these rules only apply to people displaced by Jews?
More to the point, the obvious analogies to the war during which his heroism happened raises other more pointed questions about Zanoli’s scruples about Israeli actions that are not explored in the New York Times feature that gives him free rein to blast Zionism with no opposing voices heard.
During the course of World War Two, bombs dropped by Allied planes killed millions of Europeans, both Germans as well as the citizens of countries occupied by the Nazis. While postwar moralizing about the Allied strategic bombing campaign has become a staple of scholarly ruminating, the consensus at the time and among sensible scholars since then is that responsibility for these deaths primarily belong to the Germans, not the nations struggling to free Europe from their tyrannical grip.
Were Zanoli primarily seeking to censure the Israelis for their alleged improprieties in bombing targets in Gaza, we might well ask whether the same standards applied to the Israel Defense Forces now should also be used to judge the Allies who liberated the Netherlands from its German torturers. Innocent civilians die in all wars, even those considered justified by most people. This fact didn’t delegitimize the Allied cause then and doesn’t discredit the Israelis now either.
But the main takeaway from Zanoli’s letter — as opposed to the symbolism of a Righteous Gentile censuring Israel for its actions in Gaza — is that Zanoli is not actually interested in changing the Jewish state’s policies toward Palestinians or to ask it to fight against Hamas terrorists — whose indiscriminate bombardment of Israeli cities with thousands of rockets and attempt to use tunnels to inflict massive terror atrocities does not attract his notice — with more restraint. Instead, he is merely supporting the Hamas plan to destroy the state that sheltered the Jews who survived the Holocaust that he resisted.
Seen in that light the only way to properly assess Zanoli’s stance is to conclude that the attempt to claim that his fight against the Nazis is the same as is his current position is a lie. Rather than the Israelis becoming modern day Nazis, it is Zanoli who has, sadly fallen under the influence of his relatives and gone over to the cause of Jew hatred championed by the rulers of Gaza and its Palestinian adherents. His past heroism doesn’t give him carte blanche to deny the right to self-determination and self-defense to the descendants of the survivors of the Shoah that is accorded every other people.