Years ago a French anti-Semite asked to meet my friend Issam Sartawi, Yasser Arafat's special emissary in Paris. He offered him the help of the anti-Semites in the fight against Israel. Sartawi interrupted him: "Sir," he said, "Take your papers and get out!"
"The guy disgusted me," he said when he told me about it the next day.
I remembered this the other day, when I read the statement by the Arab intellectuals, who convinced the Lebanese government to cancel a meeting in Beirut of Holocaust deniers from all over the world. Among the signatories were Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet, Edward Said, the well-known Palestinian-American professor, Adonis, the great Lebanese poet, Elias Sanbar, the Palestinian historian, and other esteemed figures from all over the Arab world.
It was a resounding slap in the face for the anti-Semites. They would like to adopt the Palestinian cause, because since the Holocaust, anti-Semitism is not longer respectable, while the Palestinian struggle for freedom is respected by decent people around the world.
On the Palestinian side, the temptation to accept the offer is great. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," says the old adage. The anti-Semites fight against the Jews, the Jews support Israel, Israel oppresses the Palestinians. The conclusion seems obvious - but is manifestly false. Because, objectively speaking, anti-Semitism is the worst enemy of the Palestinians.
The whole Zionist movement came into being as a reaction to anti-Semitism. The notorious Dreyfus affair drove Theodor Herzl into writing "Der Judenstaat", the founding document of the movement. It was anti-Semitism, which had become the hallmark of all national movements in Europe, that prevented the assimilation of the Jews in the modern nations and convinced them to form their own, separate, Jewish national movement. Without anti-Semitism, there would have been none of the great waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine.
All Israeli governments have exploited the memory of the Holocaust in order to gain sympathy in their fight against the Palestinians.
The Holocaust did not create the Zionist enterprise, but it gave it an immense impetus. Without the (belated) awakening of world's conscience, the State of Israel would not have come into being at the time and in the form it did.
During the last few years we have witnessed another great wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, largely prompted by Russian anti-Semitism.
The historian Isaac Deutscher compared our conflict to a man jumping from the window of a burning apartment and landing on the head of a passerby. If the Jews had not jumped from the burning European apartment, they would not have landed on the head of the Palestinian people.
In this respect, the Palestinian struggle differs from any other fight for freedom. When the blacks were fighting for their rights in South Africa, the whole world detested the racist apartheid regime. All the peoples who revolted against colonial oppression could rely on the sympathy of well-meaning people around the world. But the Palestinians had to fight the victims of the Holocaust, who enjoyed world sympathy. As they themselves like to say, they are "the victims of the victims".
All Israeli governments have exploited the memory of the Holocaust in order to gain sympathy in their fight against the Palestinians. Begin called Arafat an "Arab Hitler". Even today the Holocaust is being used to prevent any criticism of Israel in Europe. Every foreign dignitary who comes to Israel in order to preach against its treatment of the Palestinians is taken to "Yad Vashem" and shuts up.
No wonder the Palestinians see the Holocaust as an instrument directed against them, and many of them view it solely in this light. That may be understandable, but it is not wise.
Edward Said has said that the Palestinians will never understand Israel's actions if they do not study the history of the Holocaust. That is very wise counsel. Without knowing about anti-Semitism in general, and the Holocaust in particular, Israeli behavior cannot be understood - much as without knowing about the expulsion and ongoing occupation, Palestinian behavior cannot be understood. Of course, the expulsion of hundr,eds of ,thousands cannot be compared to the murder of millions, but disaster is disaster and pain is pain.
It's good that the Arab world has told the Holocaust deniers, as Sartawi told his guest: "Take your bag and get out!"
Uri Avnery is a journalist, peace activist, former member of the Knesset, and leader of Gush Shalom, the most militant part of the Israeli peace movement.