Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Declarations That “It’s 1938 Again” Are Decried as Alarmist and Pernicious

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July-August 2007

In certain Jewish circles it is being said that today’s world is similar to that of 1938, just before the Nazi assault on Poland began World War II. In April, a conference, “Is It 1938 Again?” was held in New York and featured speakers such as Norman Podhoretz, Alan Dershowitz, Hillel Halkin, Malcolm Hoenlein and Leonard Fein. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly declared: “It’s 1938 again.” A fund-raising letter from the World Jewish Congress concludes: “Iran poses the gravest danger to the Jewish people since the Nazis came to power in the 1930s.”  
Discussing the analogy to 1938 in an article in Moment (June 2007), Leonard Fein, editor of Moment from 1975 to 1987 and now a columnist for The Forward, writes: “If it weren’t so pernicious, it would be downright silly. Wherever you go these days Jews are on the point of panics: ‘It’s 1938 again,’ meaning, as Bibi Netanyahu has been insisting, that Iran is Germany, Ahmadinejad is Hitler, and unless we take strong action, appeasement a la Munich awaits. True, history can be a helpful teacher. But which yesterday should we choose to guide us? Is it September 29, 1938, the day the Munich agreement was signed, or is to be September 13, 1993, on the south lawn of the White House where the Oslo accords were signed, or November 6, 1995, the day Yitzhak Rabin was buried?”  
Upon accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace, 10 months before his assassination, Rabin argued that “the claim that the ‘whole world is against us’ has dissipated in the spirit of peace. The world is not against us. The world is with us.”  
Fein points out that, “Israel in 1995 — just a dozen years ago — was neither excoriated nor vilified. It was a full-fledged and even widely admired member of the family of nations ... It is important to ask what happened between 1995 and 2007 to change so dramatically the views of the world and also our own world view ... What happened: Oslo crumbled, and Camp David failed. Israel’s unilateral withdrawals from South Lebanon and from Gaza didn’t accomplish what they were meant to accomplish. The second intifada erupted ... More than 25,000 new housing units for Jews went up in the West Bank, and the Jewish population of the West Bank grew by 109,000. A security fence was begun and is moving toward completion, 9/11 happened. The war in Lebanon raged on last summer. Most consequential of all, America has been at war in Iraq. ...”  
Fein concludes that, “...the lesson of these last years is that history is a fickle teacher. Look backward, and there’s an ocean of data behind you and no mark to tell you where best to drop your anchor. Landfall is just over the horizon, but if you don’t face forward you will not see it ... Those who forget tomorrow are condemned to deny it ... Ironically, precisely because of Iran’s rising power, another window appears to be opening with the Arab League initiative — the conditional offer for the full normalization of relations with Israel by almost every Arab country. Shall that potential not be examined? Or shall Abba Eban’s oft-quoted line that ‘the Palestinians never miss a chance to lose an opportunity’ now perversely come to describe the Jewish state as well? If we do not probe what lies beyond the windows that are open, those windows will close and we will have only fetid air to breathe. We will have hung history like a concrete slab around our neck and allowed ourselves to be dragged toward perdition.”  
Writing in The Forward (April 20, 2007), Stuart Eizenstat, who served as President Jimmy Carter’s chief domestic policy adviser and as President Clinton’s special representative on Holocaust-era issues, declares that, “There is a growing debate within the American Jewish community about whether the external threats to the Jewish community worldwide are similar to those just before the outbreak of World War II. The challenges facing world Jewry, however, are not remotely similar — because of the creation of the State of Israel, because of the lessons learned from the Holocaust, because of the integration of Jews into Western societies and, critically, because the most profound challenges facing Israel and world Jewry are shared by the wider world. To act on the proposition that the threats today are equivalent to those in 1938 would lead to inappropriate and counterproductive policy responses ...”

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.