Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sunk to a new low in shamelessness when he said that a Palestinian leader gave Hitler the idea for the final solution which, it is always instructive to recount, involved gassing and incinerating millions of people because they were Jewish.
This egregious rewriting of history, which came in a speech Netanyahu gave to Jewish leaders, was immediately lambasted as false by a wide range of Holocaust scholars and survivors. Many pointed out that believing that a Palestinian developed the idea for the final solution played into the hands of Holocaust deniers, because it absolves Hitler and the Germans of some responsibility.
Netanyahu was trying to demonstrate that Palestinian hostility towards Israel predates the 48-year Israeli occupation. Instead he hurt his own credibility, while insulting the memory of millions of victims and their families.
And what did Netanyahu hope to gain by telling a scurrilous lie? Even if Palestinian hatred of Jews extended back decades, it would not justify the brutal and unfair way in which Israel treats Palestinians in the occupied territories today. A large majority of Palestinians living in West Bank and the Gaza strip have only known Israeli rule. It’s the bloody incursions and retaliations, the illegal settlements and the discrimination that shape contemporary Palestinian attitudes towards the Israeli government and Israelis, not some decades or centuries old antipathy to Jews.
The similarity between Netanyahu’s faux pas and the stupidities routinely uttered by American conservatives is obvious. The question is, will Netanyahu’s reputation and political viability suffer as has so many of the Republicans running for office who have uttered inanities?
Over the past few years, we have seen a wide range of Republican elected officials suffer after saying stupid things, some lies, some distortions and some even the true but embarrassing statements. For example, the campaigns of Michele Bachmann and Todd Akins fizzled immediately after telling absurd lies about medical issues, e.g. vaccinations and rape. Mitt Romney shot himself in the foot when he presented a distorted statistic—the 47% of takers who would never vote for him; those 47% of takers referred to the percent of citizens getting some kind of check from the federal government and included veterans who had put their lives in danger fighting our endless succession of ill-wrought wars, retirees who paid for their cash benefits with payroll taxes and the disabled. The most absurd example of a Republican elected official suffering from stupidly telling the truth is Representative Kevin McCarthy, who lost a chance to be Speaker of the House when he admitted that the purpose of the House Benghazi committee was to embarrass Hillary Clinton.
I keep writing about elected Republicans losing because they said something stupid because it doesn’t matter how many stupid things the never-elected Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina say. It doesn’t seem to affect their popularity among likely Republican voters. Bachmann was drummed in the Iowa race after lying about vaccinations, but Trump told the same lie in the first debate and saw his popularity increase. Fiorina’s lies about Planned Parenthood didn’t sink her, nor has Carson’s obnoxious statement that the Jews could have fought Hitler if they had guns or his denial of basic science outside his area of expertise.
Our decisions about the economy and society suffer when they are based on lies, distortions and character assassinations. It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway!) that when an elected official or candidate tells a lie or says something stupid not related to his or her personal background, it invariably supports a policy that is harmful to the economy or imposes a religious restriction on what is supposed to be a secular society. Romney wanted to fund further tax cuts for the wealthy by curtailing spending on social service programs. Bachmann and Trump used false science and a lie to pander to vaccine deniers. Carson wanted to justify looser gun controls, while Netanyahu wanted to justify an increasingly immoral policy of oppression and de facto apartheid.
It remains to be seen whether Netanyahu will get the free pass so far given to Trump, Carson and Fiorina. Let’s hope that he suffers the fate of Romney, Bachmann, McCarthy and others. Perhaps then Israel will elect a government willing to end the bloodbath and make the compromises needed to establish a Palestinian state.