All the News That’s Fit to Print

The story of the Zanoli family of Eamnes, Holland, as told by Christopher Schuetze and Ann Barnard in the New York Times, August 15th, 2014, the righteous behavior of the Zanoli family’s members during  World War II, and the loss of Zanoli family relatives with the name Zeyada recently in Gaza as the consequence of Israeli bombing, is a heart-wrenching one. But the effort made by Schuetze, Barnard, and others in the New York Times to turn it all into a morality play and to offer it as something resembling an explanation for the shift in European thinking about Israel since 1967 is literally beneath contempt.

One wonders about the analogy, as if Europe itself acted as did the Zanoli family, protecting and rescuing Jews and offering sharp resistance to the Nazis! How late to the retrospective embrace of heroism and enlightenment fraternity? What kind of amnesia has Schuetze and Barnard poured into their journalism? And surely, as numerous writers like Alain Finkielkraut have insisted, there is to be sure no limited effort by Europeans to seek release from the continuing burden of guilt for Europe’s wartime record when those on the continent faced the supreme test of fraternity and equality and failed. Yes, a Jewish state with an army and an air-force unfortunately can kill and commit atrocities and create significant collateral damage. States do that sort of thing, even when trying not to do so, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Gaza.

One of my dear colleagues just wrote me all abuzz about the New York Times piece. My colleague observed: “The righteousness of what he (Zanoli) did in World War II (and for which he was declared a Righteous Among the Nations) gives what appears to be [specious] moral authority to a wrongheaded critique of Israel, giving credence to partisan comments about Israel and Zionism as a racist project founded on ethnic cleansing, etc…” Didn’t Israel withdraw from Gaza? Didn’t Hamas press forward this latest conflagration? Didn’t Hamas keep it going by refusing ceasefires? Didn’t Hamas show little regard whatsoever to the safety of nearby civilians?

Moreover, my colleague wrote, the story is presented as reflecting some “broader shift” that has allegedly taken place in Europe — yes, as if all of those anti-Israeli critics in Europe were likewise once upon a time Nazi-resistance fighters (“Yeah! We’re just like Mr. Zanoli! And if he criticizes Israel, then our critiques are just as justified too! That is because in our view of history we all once resisted the Nazis and we loved the Jews!”). Right!

This New York Times piece plays into the “Israel as the new Nazis” narrative that has surreptitiously invaded public discourse from unappealing sources without saying it explicitly. This happens in the piece largely by the authors using the word “resistance” as the same interchangeable term whether they are talking about Zanoli’s anti-Nazi World War II activities or Palestinians fighting Israel today. Yes, Zanoli and Hamas, think of them as equivalent resistance fighters! Just the same sort of thing. Zanoli treated Jews as his brothers, but Hamas treats Jews and see Jews as a people to be eliminated. Zanoli stood against the Nazis and risked his life; Hamas apes the Nazi imagination, daring to think like the Nazis of a world without Jews.

What too are the logical fallacies in a piece that generalizes from the specific to the general — saying “how much it hurts to see those they helped save become the aggressors”. Is it clear that the people Zanoli saved in Holland have become the aggressors? Says who? The New York Times? Are the people saved then the same who drop the bombs today? Pilots of the drones and the F16s? Or are they the people mostly taking shelter from rockets, like other Holocaust survivors who are settled in Ashkelon and Ashdod and Beersheva and Rehovoth.

Talk about claims that are torn from historical and real context? Talk about twisting reality. How dare the New York Times talk about survivors–who have to suffer again seventy years later the same torments and traumas they did earlier because they must take shelter at the sounds of sirens, or be prepared to duck flying metal and Iranian-supplied rockets –as Nazis!

I empathize with the Zanoli family and its losses in Gaza – apparently innocent people who meant no one any harm and who were committed to helping others. I know the power of returning Mr Zanoli’s Righteous designation and affirm it as a significant protest.. But I say to the writers and editors of this New York Times piece that you traffic too easily in what is just plain antisemitism. Yesterdays Jews you imply are today’s Nazis. These are lazy formulas without any relation to the complex reality. And what is worse, you know it. “Oh those Jews. We saved them so they could become just like the Nazis.” Tsk tsk….

The New York Times should know better and hold itself to higher standards. Those defending Israel are not “just like the Nazis.” It is demeaning to have to point this out. Those on the other hand who peddle that line have no right to call themselves the best in print.

About the Author
Kenneth Waltzer is former director of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University and a progressive opponent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. He a historian of the Holocaust completing a book on the rescue of children and youths at Buchenwald. He directed the Academic Engagement Network 2015-2019.