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Opinion/Austria Is Invoking the Nazis to Legitimize Mass Death in Gaza

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This article has first been published on ZNetwork, and later on Diem25.

“No explanation, no justification or excuse could ever cover up [the] horror [in Gaza]. It would be best if Israel’s [hasbara] machine didn’t even try to. No stories of “Hamas is responsible for it all,” and no excuses pointing to Hamas hiding among civilians. Horror of this scope has no explanation other than the existence of an army and government lacking any boundaries set by law or morality.” 1Gideon Levy

Despite best efforts, Israels vile revenge in the form of a horrific mass murder campaign exacted against Palestinians can no longer be hidden by any propaganda. “Even the winning Israeli [concoction] of victimhood, Yiddishkeit, chosen people, and the Holocaust can no longer blur the picture”, 2 notwithstanding the admission that the “horrifying October 7 events have not been forgotten by anyone”. 2

The hypocrisy and sheer silliness of much political commentary claiming ad nauseam that “Hamas is responsible for it all” diligently omits “to reconcile the [blatant] contradiction between the vision of mass protests by Hamas opponents in the Gaza Strip and the axiom according to which, “all Gazans are Hamas.”” 3 This is by far not the only contradiction; no one has yet lucidly explained “how [one] brings Hamas to “demoralization and despair” by means of cruel punishment of Gaza’s inhabitants, while at the same time claiming that Hamas is a murderous ruler that doesn’t care about them in the least?” 3 The fact that these astonishing statements escape comment reveals an impressive discipline of the media.

Another striking feature of Israel’s savage escalation of violence after October 7 is a sheer unanimous “consensus” and “blind support” for a war “without objection, without protest, without refusal to serve, without opposition, neither in the beginning or in the middle” 4; a war that has fewer displays of resistance in supposedly democratic Israel than in Putin’s Russia 4. On Israeli television “Gaza’s suffering [simply] doesn’t exist. Israel hasn’t killed thousands of children and didn’t evict a million people from their homes. […] According to the Israeli media, the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) hasn’t committed in this war even one tiny little war crime.” 5

One might attribute this “unbelievable disregard and pathological indifference in Israel” towards “Gaza’s sacrifice [to the fact that it is] totally out of the picture”. 5 Giora Eiland’s “Nazi proposals” 5 advocating that “epidemics in Gaza are good for Israel” as “one only has to wait for the daughters of Hamas’ leaders to contract the plague and we’ve won”, 5 are broadcast in centrist Yedioth Ahronoth 6 without eliciting a public outcry. “These and a thousand other examples testify to moral degeneration on such a scale that talk about the “normal channels” of political action and protest becomes meaningless or hypocritical. We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in [Israel] is dissent — or denazification. The question is a debatable one. Reasonable people may differ. The fact that the question is even debatable is a terrifying thing.” 7 (p.16)

The latest savage massacre 8 9 perpetrated by the IDF on Thursday, February 29, 2024, is yet another example among countless others underscoring that there is “absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during [this] massive military offensive on Gaza”. 10 (p.107) As large groups of starving people congregated at Harun al-Rashid Street in Gaza, where aid trucks carrying flour were believed to be on the way, “[were desperately] waiting for much-needed aid […], they were shot at by all kinds of military equipment. After the first round of shooting stopped, people returned to the trucks, only for the soldiers to open fire once more”, with “Israeli tanks [advancing] and [running] over many of the dead and injured bodies.” 11 “The [complete] breakdown in the soldiers' conduct” 12 that “ended in the [killing] of 118 civilians […] — is”, according to Haaretz columnist Amira Hass, " understandable if commanders rely solely on Israeli media outlets. These rarely report on what can’t be justified as attacks on terrorists and show tolerance and understanding for all the scenes of soldiers humiliating and abusing Palestinians posted on social media by the soldiers themselves." 12

It is misleading to believe that this level of moral bankruptcy in the IDF breaks new grounds. “It took shape under the military spirit that preceded the October 7 massacre and [only] intensified after it”, 12 following the all too familiar logic that “if it’s acceptable to bomb residential buildings with their civilian occupants inside because of the presence of a single senior Hamas member, then there must surely be a license to shoot at people in the dark, indifferent to the fact that their hungry, elderly parents or little children are waiting for them to return with some flour.” 12 13

Anyone who puts a fraction of his mind to the task can construct a case that is overwhelming; surely it is now obvious that what Israel has done in Gaza since October 7, by “virtually every dimension, the intensity of bombing, the density of bombing, the magnitude of destruction of civilian dwellings and infrastructure, the absolute number of children killed, the relative number of children killed, the number of medical personnel killed, the number of journalists killed, the number of UN workers killed,” 14 is unprecedented and the reason why Israel was brought before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Whether the ICJ proceedings will substantially change the course of history remains to be seen. It need hardly be pointed out that Israel has emerged too many times as the victor in a conflict in the past. As revolutionary pacifist A.J. Muste pointed out in his essays about revolutionary nonviolence: “The problem after a war is with the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Who will now teach him a lesson,” 15 especially if he has the world’s greatest hegemony as its servile chaperone?

The harrowing scenes described above mostly stem from Israeli reporters truthfully expressing the vivid awfulness unfolding in Gaza, despite a vast propaganda campaign aimed at repressing opposition and dissent by carefully managing the framework of permissible discourse. The cited articles 1 2 3 4 5 12, however, are slippages in Israeli mass media, as the facts tend to undermine the government line, and while “it is possible that the volume of inconvenient facts can be expanded […] in response to the growth of a critical constituency […], even in this exceptional case, […] it [is] very rare for news and commentary to find their way into the mass media if they fail to conform to the framework of established dogma” (postulating that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that needs to be dismantled, Israel responding to aggression and terror, etc.). 16 (p.xiv)

“It would have been impossible to wage a brutal war against [Gaza] and the rest of [Palestine], leaving a legacy of misery and destruction that may never be overcome, if the media [and Israel’s allies] had not rallied to the cause, portraying murderous aggression as [self] defense […], and only opening the doors to tactical disagreement when the costs to the interests they represent became too high.” 16 (p.xv) To illustrate this point, we are going to look at a rather recent and intimately close ally of Israel, Austria; a tiny country in the heart of Europe “projecting neutrality on the world stage” 17 and displaying a particularly complacent acceptance of Israels atrocities.

After all, it is precisely this intimate relationship that explains how Austrian establishment journalist Anneliese Rohrer, lauded as a critical observer and commentator on domestic political and foreign policy events, often referred to as the “Doyenne” or “Grande Dame” of Austrian political reporting 18, is worried about “the moment when one realizes that Hamas’s atrocities cause less horror than Israel’s retaliation”, constituting “a relapse into barbarism”. 19 While it was widely reported that Israel killed more than 12,500 children in 150 days of unrestrained state terror, that is more than 80 children per day, compared to 36 children 20 killed on October 7; this somehow did not factor into Rohrer’s assessment as she elucidates that Hamas' attack “wasn’t a terrorist attack”, but “an explosion of violence that wiped out centuries of civilization - out of pure pleasure in dehumanization and brutality.”

She then goes on to express her trepidation about “the reaction in many civilized countries, including Austria”, where “the barbarism of Hamas is not condemned, the mutilated bodies on the music festival grounds are not talked about, and the release of the remaining hundred or more hostages, including small children and young people, is not demanded.” 19 Rohrer’s agitation is remarkable as the Austrian government has almost silenced the Palestinian solidarity movement by cancelling dozens of events and peace vigils 21; associating any protest for a ceasefire with Nazi ideology, a serious offense in Austria punishable under its Prohibition Act, initially passed in 1945. The most astonishing example of a protest cancellation targeted a carefully planned act of solidarity aimed at drawing attention to the fate of Gaza by leaving a pair of shoes at Vienna’s Heroe’s Square. 22 In fairness, Rohrer’s argument is not without merit. She is not lamenting that the Austrian government is not doing enough to suppress the Palestinian solidarity movement, her objection is that it is not doing enough to abet Israels mass murder campaign in Gaza by providing diplomatic cover in the form of “[…] necessary illusions and emotionally potent oversimplifications”. 23

However, the most grotesque question Rohrer expounds is “why [we] don’t ask representatives of Arab states in TV interviews in Austria how they can allow this humanitarian catastrophe? Why are they […] unwilling to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians by admitting them into their states?” 19 Despite large scale efforts as part of Austria’s education system to inculcate its citizens about the evils of the Nazi era to “Never Again” allow history to repeat itself, Rohrer seems to have overlooked the part of history where the Nazis used the exact same argument against the Jews. According to Yehuda Bauer’s publication in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, “some have declared that the Nazis with Hitler at the helm did indeed plan the mass execution [of Jews] even before the 1930s, [however,] nowhere is there any pronouncement of this before 1939! The plan the Nazis did have was to evict all Jews from Germany. Although several hundred thousand did leave, those left behind as well as the millions conquered as the Nazis swept through Europe provided a dilemma. Hitler wanted them out. No one wanted them.” 24 (emphasis mine) Many more similar remarks by Rohrer might be cited, but it is depressing to continue.

Even at the liberal end of the spectrum, the contours of a “special relationship” between Israel and Austria are clearly discernible. Austrian journalist and television anchor Armin Wolf, revered as “one of Europe’s most skilled (and feared) political journalists” 25, named European Journalist of the Year 2019, 26 presents a case in point. In an interview conducted in November 2023 with Israeli army spokesperson Arye Shalicar, Wolf was called out for his adversarial and cantankerous style “challenging [Israels] narrative of a humane war” 27, followed by a more recent interview in February 2024, were Wolf basically reiterates his concerns about the high number of civilian casualties and whether the goal of eradicating Hamas is attainable. 28 29 Note that both questions fall within the acceptable framework of discussion. Shalicar’s response to Wolf’s former question was that “Hamas terrorists and Palestinian civilians invaded [Israel] on October 7, kidnapped innocent people, burned children, raped women and murdered old people [, and] they will [therefore] pay the price for this” (emphasis mine). It was surprising to observe how Shalicar casually admitted Israels plan to exact collective punishment as a response to October 7 by including Palestinian civilians in the list of perpetrators, without any pushback by Wolf. Shalicar addressed Wolf’s latter question by elucidating that it “could have been asked in Nazi Germany in 1945 [after] the elites were gone, and the Nazi armies were defeated [and surrendered]. That’s exactly what we’re doing with Hamas now, and just like the Nazis in 1945, who didn’t completely disappear into thin air in 1946, Hamas won’t disappear into thin air either.” Needless to say that by failing to respond to this non-sequitur, Wolf accepts Shalicar’s premise, namely the legitimacy of equating Hamas with the Nazis.

Regrettably, Wolf excludes any “challenge [to] fundamental premises or suggestions that the observed modes of exercise of [Israeli] state power are based on system factors […] from the [debate,] even when elite controversy over tactics rages fiercely.” 16 (p.xii) Remaining within the bounds of acceptable controversy and discourse entails that neither Hamas nor any other Palestinian official spokesperson is ever invited to present its case to the Austrian public as Wolf brazenly proclaims that “surely no one wants him to speak to a [terrorist] Hamas representative”. 29 Hence the legitimacy of Israels assault as well as Austria’s staunch diplomatic support are unchallengeable presuppositions and therefore not allowed to enter the arena of debate.

To gain a better understanding of the roots of Austria’s special relationship with Israel, it is essential to provide some historical context. Contrary to the status-quo, Israel had a “stormy relationship” with Austria; the land of Hitler, Adolf Eichmann, and a political spectrum dominated by the far right. 17 Ever since Sebastian Kurz became Austria’s foreign minister in 2013, and remained its top diplomat until December 2017, he sought to establish an intimate relationship with Israel. In May 2017, Kurz was elected chancellor in a landslide victory, and during his first chancellorship, “Austria under Kurz has taken action — it adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes some forms of hatred of Israel. Kurz was among a handful of European leaders who publicly chided Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for saying in 2018 that Israel’s land should be “returned to the owners.”” 30 In February 2020 Austria’s parliament unanimously passed a resolution calling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel, a form of anti-Semitism. 31 It has also labeled Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

In terms of diplomatic support, “Austria is the only Western European nation whose government is actively shielding [Israel] from sanctions by the European Union over Netanyahu’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank.” It can easily accomplish this task as “new sanctions […] require [full] consensus among its […] members.” 30 As voting got underway at the United Nations on October 27, 2023, on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, David Roet, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, praised “Austria for standing for what Austria believes and voting against that resolution” 17 together with only 4 other EU countries. On December 12, 2023, another UN Emergency Special Session was called as the ongoing crisis in Gaza showed no signs of abating, voting for a resolution demanding an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages as well as “ensuring humanitarian access”. Again, Austria voted against that resolution 32, this time with only 1 other EU country, namely its neighbour Czechia.

In both cases, Austria’s chancellor Karl Nehammer defended its rejectionist stance by highlighting that “a resolution in which the terrorist organization Hamas is not named, in which the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7th are not condemned and in which Israel’s right to self-defense, which is enshrined in international law, is not stated - […] cannot be supported by Austria”. 33 Official doctrine holds, “irrespective of the fact, that Israel is dedicated to the highest moral values and “purity of arms””, defending itself from “the Palestinians, the very epitome of extremism, terrorism, and barbarity”. 34 (p.36) Hence Nehammer does not even conceive objecting to the omission that Israel as a terror state is not named, and its vastly disproportionate and brutal mass murder retaliation campaign is not condemned; and while it is true that a state has the right to defend itself against criminal attacks, it does not follow that it has the right to defend itself by force. “That goes far beyond any principle that we would or should accept. Putin had no right [to invade Ukraine despite NATO’s aggressive encroachment or] 35 to use force in response to the Chechen terror. […] Nazi Germany had no right to use force to defend itself against the terrorism of the partisans. Kristallnacht was not justified by Hershel Grynszpan’s assassination of a German Embassy official in Paris”. 10 (p.116) However, any such “rational assessment, giving an accurate portrayal and analysis of the scale and purpose of the terrorism of the emperor [Israel] and the pirate [Hamas], is excluded a priori, and would indeed be barely comprehensible, so remote would it be from received orthodoxy.” 34 (p.36)

Further commenting on Austria’s rejectionist stance, foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg expounds that “of course it is the goal to reach a ceasefire agreement at some point, however, the question is all about timing”, 36 and now is simply not a good time. Unfortunately he does not mention how many more people have to be slaughtered until he regards the timing for a ceasefire to be propitious. Howbeit one can logically conclude from the overall doctrinal framework that Schallenberg refers to a successful ethnic cleansing campaign by expelling Palestinians from Gaza, when he seeks to explicate and contextualise his thoughts on the importance of “good timing”. One might argue that Schallenberg’s conclusion regarding the timing for a ceasefire is repugnant, but one can’t fault him for being without logic; it is obvious that a ceasefire agreement in Gaza on terms favourable to Austrias partner Israel is much “easier” to achieve once the population has been expelled, as there is no one around to counter it. To ensure Austria’s concerns for the region are not misunderstood, chancellor Karl Nehammer adds that “Austria has always advocated a balanced position in the Middle East conflict and stressed the importance of treating both sides of the conflict fairly. Furthermore, Nehammer emphasized that the rejection of the [UN] resolution should not be understood as a lack of solidarity with the Palestinian people.” 37 The level of cynicism in those statements is suffocating, especially in light of the fact that “some new term is needed for the sadistic and cowardly torture of people caged with no possibility of escape, while they are being pounded to dust by the most sophisticated products of US military technology – used in violation of international and even US law”. 38 The fact that Nehammer’s statements can even be made without evoking ridicule is another sign of the extraordinary success of the system of indoctrination.

In concert with international diplomatic support for Israel exercised via rejections of inconvenient UN General Assembly resolutions, Austria’s government has elevated Hamas to the same level as the Nazis by further tightening its 39 national Prohibition Act, originally aimed at denazification of Austria by punishing any trivialization or relativization of the Nazi holocaust or other Nazi crimes against humanity. “Anyone who publicly wears [Nazi] badges or Hamas symbols in the future should be punished equally severely.” 40 Legislation of this ilk is installed as a backup, in case the power to rationalise Israel’s mass murder campaign fails to fulfil its primary function to keep the public minds from being cluttered with inconvenient facts.

It is remarkable that such an attitude is so blandly expressed and easily accepted. What can one say about a country that formally equates Hamas resistance with Nazi crimes against humanity by officially anchoring it within its legislation? “What can one say about a country where such an idea can even be considered? You have to weep for this country”, 7 and those who can extricate themselves from the Western doctrinal system should have no greater difficulty in detecting the real motives in this case.

  1. Gideon Levy, 11,500 Children Have Been Killed in Gaza. Horror of This Scale Has No Explanation, Haaretz, Feb.4, 2024. ↩︎

  2. Gideon Levy, There’s No Way to ‘Explain’ the Degree of Death and Destruction in Gaza, Haaretz, Dec.28, 2023. ↩︎

  3. Zvi Bar’el, Invoking the Nazis to Justify Mass Death in Gaza, Haaretz, Dec.21, 2023. ↩︎

  4. Gideon Levy, Israel’s First Unanimous War, Haaretz, Dec.13, 2023. ↩︎

  5. Gideon Levy, Giora Eiland’s Monstrous Gaza Proposal Is Evil in Plain Sight, Haaretz, Nov.23, 2023. ↩︎

  6. Jonathan Ofir, Influential Israeli national security leader makes the case for genocide in Gaza, Mondoweiss, Nov.20, 2023. ↩︎

  7. Noam Chomsky, American Power and The New Mandarins, The New Press 2002. ↩︎

  8. Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman, When Israel slaughtered the starving, The Electronic Intifada, Mar.5, 2024. ↩︎

  9. Maureen Clare Murphy, Palestinians seeking food aid killed as Israel starves Gaza, The Electronic Intifada, Feb.29, 2024. ↩︎

  10. Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe: Gaza in Crisis, reflections on the U.S.-Israeli war on the palestinians, Haymarket Books 2013. ↩︎

  11. Flour massacre: How Gaza food killings unfolded, and Israel’s story changed, Al Jazeera and News Agencies, Mar.1, 2024. ↩︎

  12. Amira Hass, The Israeli Military Doesn’t Grasp the Risk of Mass Death by Starvation in Gaza, Haaretz, Mar.3, 2024. ↩︎

  13. Norman Finkelstein, Gaza: an inquest into its martyrdom, University of California Press, 2018. ↩︎

  14. Israel-Hamas War: Norman Finkelstein vs Rabbi Shmuley, Feb.20, 2024. ↩︎

  15. A.J. Muste, Crisis in the World and in the Peace Movement, Essays, pp. 464-78. ↩︎

  16. Edward S. Herman, Noam Chomsky: Manufacturing Consent - The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Vintage 1994. ↩︎

  17. Matthew Karnitschnig, How Hitler’s homeland became Israel’s European BFF, Politico, Nov.15, 2023. ↩︎

  18. Anneliese Rohrer - Austrian Journalist, Wikipedia, retrieved Mar.6 2024. ↩︎

  19. Anneliese Rohrer, Wenn die Frage nach genügender Kompetenz überflüssig wird, Die Presse, Mar.1, 2024. ↩︎

  20. Israel social security data reveals true picture of Oct 7 deaths, The Times of India, Dec.15, 2023. ↩︎

  21. Bisher ein Dutzend Demoverbote in Österreich, Palestine Solidarity Austria, retrieved Mar.3, 2024. ↩︎

  22. Selbst Schuhe dürfen nicht für Palästinenser sprechen – sie würden „nationalsozialistische Bestrebungen fördern“, Palestine Solidarity Austria, retrieved Mar.3, 2024. ↩︎

  23. Reinhold Niehbur Quote: “rationality belongs to the cool observer…” ↩︎

  24. Yehuda Bauer, Genocide: Was it the Nazis' Original Plan?, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol.450, pp.35-45, Jul, 1980. ↩︎

  25. Politico 28 - class of 2018. The 28 people who are shaping, shaking and stirring Europe, Politico.eu. Brussels: Politico s.p.r.l., retrieved Mar.7, 2024. ↩︎

  26. Smiling Faces at PRIX EUROPA 2019, Berlin: Prix Europa/Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg RBB. 11, retrieved Mar.7, 2024, published Oct.1, 2019. ↩︎

  27. Doris Priesching, Israelischer Militärsprecher kontert Armin Wolf in der “ZiB 2”, Der Standard, Nov.16, 2023. ↩︎

  28. Der israelische Militärsprecher Arye Sharuz Shalicar zu Gast bei Armin Wolf in der “ZiB 2”. ↩︎

  29. Interview transcript between Armin Wolf and Israeli army spokesperson Arye Shalicar, ORF: Austrian national public broadcasting, retrieved Mar.7, 2024, interview date Feb.12, 2024. ↩︎

  30. Cnaan Liphshiz, Sebastian Kurz has totally shifted Austria’s treatment of Israel. Is it because of a bromance with Benjamin Netanyahu?, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Jun.19, 2020. ↩︎

  31. Benjamin Weinthal, Austrian Parliament condemns BDS movement as antisemitic, The Jerusalem Post, Feb.29, 2020. ↩︎

  32. UN resolution, demanding an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and well as “ensuring humanitarian access”, Dec.12, 2023. ↩︎

  33. Österreich stimmte gegen UNO-Resolution zu Waffenruhe, Kurier, Oct.28, 2023. ↩︎

  34. Noam Chomsky, “Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World”, Haymarket Books, 2015. ↩︎

  35. Benjamin Schwarz, Christopher Layne: Why Are We in Ukraine? On the dangers of American hubris, Harper’s Magazine, Jun 2023. ↩︎

  36. Schallenberg: „Die Hamas muss verschwinden“ ↩︎

  37. Austria’s Rejection of UN Resolution Raises Questions Within the Government ↩︎

  38. Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe: Gaza in Crisis, reflections on the U.S.-Israeli war on the palestinians, Haymarket Books 2013. ↩︎

  39. Raffaela Lindorger, Strafverschärfung: Nazis und Hamas auf eine Stufe gestellt, Kurier, Nov.11, 2023. ↩︎

  40. Innenministerium, Entschiedenes Vorgehen gegen Antisemitismus und NS-Verherrlichung, Artikel Nr: 26295, Nov.8, 2023. ↩︎

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