Sheldon Kirshner

Masha Gessen’s Shameful Comparison

The New Yorker recently published an article by staff writer Masha Gessen in which she erroneously compared the Gaza Strip to Nazi ghettos in Eastern Europe. Understandably enough, her shameful comparison embarrassed the Heinrich Boll Foundation, which had awarded Gessen the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought.

Having deplored her thesis as “unacceptable,” the foundation withdraw from the ceremony in Bremen at which she was due to receive the award. The foundation then delayed the ceremony before transferring it to a smaller and unobtrusive venue.

In her lengthy essay, which appeared in the magazine’s December 9 edition, Gessen — a Russian American whose relatives were murdered by the Nazis — broadly explored the nature of Holocaust memory in Germany, a country that has made laudable strides in coming to terms with its Nazi past, memorializing it, and building a special relationship with Israel.

Gessen not only accused Germany of stifling free and open debate on Israel, but was equally critical of Israel’s posture toward the Palestinians in Gaza. Until Israel’s ground invasion on October 27, Gaza was ruled by Hamas, an Islamic fundamental organization that claimed credit for the devastating October 7 massacre in southern Israel during which 1,200 Israelis and foreigners were slaughtered.

Delving into conditions in Gaza, she wrote, “For the last seventeen years, Gaza has been a hyper-densely populated, impoverished, walled-in compound where only a small fraction of the population had the right to leave for even a short amount of time — in other words, a ghetto. Not like the Jewish ghetto in Venice or an inner-city ghetto in America but like a Jewish ghetto in an Eastern European country occupied by Nazi Germany.”

Referencing Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, Gessen wrote, “The ghetto is being liquidated.”

Acknowledging that there are “essential differences” between Gaza and Nazi ghettos, she noted, “The Nazis claimed that ghettos were necessary to protect non-Jews from diseases spread by Jews. Israel has claimed that the isolation of Gaza, like the wall in the West Bank, is required to protect Israelis from terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians. The Nazi claim had no basis in reality, while the Israeli claim stems from actual and repeated acts of violence.”

She added, “Yet both claims propose that an occupying authority can choose to isolate, immiserate — and, now, mortally endanger — an entire population of people in the name of protecting its own.”

In an interview with Politico following the publication of her article, she admitted that “it is possible to be very upset about that comparison.” But in the same breath, she said, “I also think that in this circumstance, it is morally necessary and politically necessary to make this very, very upsetting comparison.”

Gessen’s comparison is historically invalid.

Nazi administrators established ghettos for the sole purpose of shoving Jews into miserably congested spaces, like the Warsaw ghetto, and depriving them of life’s necessities before deporting them to killing fields or extermination camps such as Treblinka and Sobibor.

The Nazis, in accordance with the Final Solution, were hell bent on murdering Jews on an industrial scale, as per the 1942 Wannsee conference, where the systematic destruction of European Jews was discussed by top-ranking German officials.

Israel, on the other hand, has no genocidal intentions whatsoever toward the Palestinians of Gaza. Israel is not Nazi Germany. That this needs saying is sadly indicative of the fact that the Palestinians and their supporters have been assiduously promoting the utterly false and malicious notion that Israel is guilty of genocide or ethnic cleansing.

Let’s be clear.

Israel sought coexistence with the Palestinians of Gaza after its unilateral withdrawal from that coastal enclave in 2005. Hamas was not in the least interested in such an arrangement, being vociferously committed to the goal of destroying Israel and establishing an Islamic state in its place.

From the moment Hamas assumed full control of Gaza in 2007, it was on a war footing with Israel, arming itself to the teeth and building an elaborate network of tunnels. Hamas squandered scarce resources to convert Gaza into an armed camp.

Today, in the wake of the October 7 slaughter, the worst single atrocity since the Holocaust, Israel is at total war with Hamas, not with Gaza’s civilians.

In attacking Hamas, Israel is exercising its fundamental right of self-defence.

Hamas, having cynically used civilians as human shields and having expropriated civilian infrastructure as command centers, firing positions and rocket launching pads, is primarily to blame for the current humanitarian crisis and the appalling death toll among civilians in Gaza.

Shockingly enough, Gessen glossed over these inconvenient facts in her article, reaching glib, superficial and insupportable conclusions, which can only serve the malevolent interests of Hamas and its allies, Iran, Hezbollah and the Houthis of Yemen.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,
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