UNCANNY PARALLELS IN CHARACTER
I’m not one of those who scribble blunt little mustaches on pictures of politicians I dislike, but here I make some uncomfortable and I believe accurate observations comparing personality and character traits of a contemporary politician with one of history’s darkest figures.
I don’t know whether anyone else has noticed the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu and Adolph Hitler share uncomfortably similar personality and character traits. Certainly there are, and have been, other politicians who also share the same traits, but it is of particular concern today that a man of this nature dominates events in the Middle East. In the case of Hitler we can read about his personality and character in any of a number of scholarly biographies and histories of World War II. In the case of Netanyahu, we can see them displayed on the world stage despite an immense amount effort by public relations flaks and apologists to airbrush them. We have also, something we do not always have for contemporaries, the first-hand testimony of several world figures about key aspects of his behavior to which we wouldn’t otherwise be exposed.
One of Hitler’s most prominent traits was a driving will, really a consuming obsession, to re-build the world he inhabited into a place which conformed to his wishes, illusions, and prejudices. He was, if you will, the dangerous ideologue or dreamer par excellence. Several sweeping idees fixes dominated his thinking.
Identifying with Germany rather than the small country of his origin, Austria, he wanted to see that nation become as great and powerful as possible. Caught in the general blind enthusiasm when World War I was declared, he volunteered for service with Germany. He served with decorated bravery, receiving serious wounds, and ended with crushing disappointment over Germany’s defeat. Within a few years, if not earlier in private, he began thinking of himself as Germany’s man of destiny to lead the nation to future victory, making up for the humiliations of World War I. Undoubtedly, his own odd early life, full of humiliations for a man who always regarded himself as quite special, undoubtedly contributed force to his thinking.
Hitler was a supreme narcissist, one who came eventually around to regarding himself in messianic terms with regard to the German people and their future. As with all narcissists who gain authority through their skills and charm – yes, Hitler could be quite charming in private as many contemporaries have testified – it is easy for them to slip into sociopathic behavior. Lying and dissimulation were as natural as breathing for Hitler, and again as with all narcissists, there was no sense of wrong-doing but rather a sense of success in fooling others to serve his purposes. These qualities are not unknown in the politics of other democratic states, and we observe them in everyday life in fields such as finance or big-time selling.
Hitler was famous for the terrifying rages he could throw in private. Sometimes they were employed against generals or officials who raised objections to an idea or plan of his. It was a favorite method he used on the leaders of foreign states from whom he tried to extract concessions during a crisis negotiation. One can almost picture him sometime after the raging meeting, relaxing in private, laughing about the poor shocked witnesses. The rages were undoubtedly often genuine but they were also a part he played, and played quite convincingly.
Psychiatric studies of Hitler fail to find a psychotic mind. He was not mad, which of course makes his acts all the more frightening. It is easy to dismiss the violent acts of madmen, but the banality of evil is a far less predictable force in human society.
Hitler understood that America’s sheer size in population and resources made her very powerful through huge internal markets and economies of scale, and he wanted to achieve the same status for Germany. His central idea for doing so from his earliest days was the conquest of Russia, whose great resources and lands would be exploited by Germans and whose Slav population would be reduced to slavery. The world’s German people, according to his thinking, would then flourish and increase their numbers. His ideas about Russia had in part a fairly old lineage, there having been many past schemes and efforts to connect German know-how with Russian resources. Many thinkers in the world at the time saw Germany as the most important economic, scientific, and cultural force in Europe and saw Russia as an immense place inhabited by less enlightened people. All of his early victories in Europe were in preparation for the great Russian assault, many of them taken in reaction to those who sought to stop him.
Of course, Hitler’s thinking in such matters as the conquest of Russia was never just straightforward or analytical, being always blurred with a deep sense of values, almost a mysticism, related to early German mythology. Embracing the barbarism represented in these stories was his way of freeing himself of constraints he saw in German society holding back its progress, and embrace it he did.
Hitler had what all educated people today would regard as crackpot ideas about the nature of human biology, but they actually did not seem quite so far out in the 1920-30s when general understanding of such matters was rudimentary. Terms like race purification were not heard only from Hitler but from a surprising assortment of people in the West. The “land of the free,” for example, had government eugenics programs well before Nazi Germany, programs in which tens of thousands of American citizens were involuntarily sterilized, having been judged unfit for reproduction. Many famous American business barons supported these and other related views and policies, most notably Henry Ford who wrote openly, among other things, of the need for eugenics and of his visceral hatred of Jews. Hitler actually kept a photo of Ford in his Chancellery office. Other Americans who went out of their way to demonstrate sympathy with the Nazis included Prescott Bush, Randolph Hearst, Irénée Du Pont, Henry Luce, Joseph Kennedy, John Rockefeller, Thomas J. Watson, Charles Lindbergh, plus a host of executives in major American corporations who did business with the Nazis and generally regarded them exactly as Hitler regarded himself, as a bulwark against communism and social chaos.
Hitler’s views on race and people were twisted outgrowths of his brutal – he liked that term, considering it a compliment to his hard-nosed insight and rejection of sentimentality - views on the economy and the state. Despite using the word socialist as part of the name of his party, Hitler was a social Darwinist, a philosophy shared in one degree or another by many influential Americans even today from corporate leaders and “think tank” flaks to the Tea Party and many so-called libertarians. He used the term socialist as just one lure for support in the chaos of Germany from the 1920s into the early 1930s, a time when he tried fervently to be elected to office, something he never achieved (about 37% of the vote at his high-water mark, eventually being appointed as Chancellor by an aged President), but he used the term also because he felt always the state had the right and obligation to interfere in the economy to serve greater ends. Not a few Americans embrace the same view, so long as the areas of concern are limited to the military, the national security apparatus, or the well-being of huge corporations – with none of which Hitler would have disagreed.
He viewed the military as the supreme tool of the state, and he once said, when reminded many young men would die, that that was what they were for. Through the early- and mid-1930s, he built formidable new armed forces in Germany which put him in a position eventually to carry out his dream. In the end, Hitler did achieve something out of ancient Germanic mythology, not the part he wanted but something terrible which destroyed the lives of tens of millions, Gotterdammerung.
Netanyahu is also something of a transplant, having been born in Israel but having spent many years in the United States. His English has an American accent.
Netanyahu is notorious for his lying and his rages. While the general public often would not be able to detect all of the lies, those involving confidential or secret matters, we have the extraordinary testimony of former presidents Clinton and Sarkozy as well President Obama that you cannot believe one word that Netanyahu utters. He spins whole webs of lies to get what he wants or to avoid what he doesn’t want. I think it pretty clear that anytime he uses the words peace or a Palestinian state, he is lying. President Obama, in his earlier dealings with Netanyahu and before he was quite reduced to a spineless servant of powerful lobbyists, actually said he did not believe Netanyahu wanted peace. Certainly every step of Netanyahu’s political career supports the perception, from his early rejection of the Oslo Accords to his mass slaughter of fenced-in civilians in Gaza. Yes, he has made speeches about peace, but then so did Hitler who made a speech about peace in the 1930s, William Shirer called one of the greatest ever made.
His rages, at least some of them, are public knowledge. You may easily search for pictures on the Internet of Netanyahu shouting, finger pointing, red in the face, and virtually spitting with his eyes bulging like those of some ancient Asian warlord in a scroll painting. As was the case sometimes with Hitler, some of the rages may be deliberate acts but that does not make them any less frightening.
Netanyahu also adheres to a mythology, the biblical myths about the Promised Land and the narcissistic stuff about God’s chosen people, and that expression “God’s chosen people” is frightfully reminiscent of Hitler’s vision of the Germanic people. So far as I am aware, Netanyahu has not used that expression in public, but belief in it is implicit in so much that he does. It certainly is implicit in the very concept of claiming the ancient land of Israel as belonging to you and your people. People may be forgiven for believing such things in private as part of their religious faith, but when they provide templates for a state and its policies, they are utterly pernicious nonsense. Also, Netanyahu is known to have uttered in private and in not-so-private situations many contemptuous expressions describing Palestinians and Arabs.
There is a second layer of myth in Netanyahu’s thinking, one just as fantasy-like as Hitler’s Germanic myths, and that is the idea that he and his fellow countrymen are descended from the biblical Hebrews. The Ashkenazi Jews who are the bone and sinew of modern Israel are simply a European people, the name Ashkenazi meaning German. Recent DNA tests suggest the Ashkenazi trace to a woman from around Italy who migrated to Germany maybe a thousand years ago. Other tests suggest Ashkenazi origins as the Kazhars, a Caucasian tribe who were converted to Judaism and lived in and around modern Ukraine a thousand years ago, later migrating west, settling in a number of Eastern and Central lands. Some of the early Zionists and future Israeli politicians were well aware of this latter possibility, there being many suggestive clues in language and cultural artifacts, because they wrote and spoke of it. In all events, the native language of many Ashkenazi people is Yiddish, a hybrid of German evolved over a very long period. Hebrew has long been studied in the Hebrew schools associated with temples in many places as part of religious observance the same way many Muslims learn some Arabic and by biblical scholars in universities, but until it was artificially imposed on Israel, it was virtually a dead language spoken day-to-day by no one.
There is no record of the original Hebrew people of the Bible having been expelled en masse from Palestine, and such behavior was totally uncharacteristic of the Romans. The Romans faced many ferocious enemies in their conquests – the Celts, the Gauls, Germanic tribes, and others - as well as many people whose customs they regarded as barbarous, but they did not expel any of them en masse, or the Roman Empire would have been very thinly populated with no agricultural economic base to pay the taxes and tributes Rome always exacted. The stories of an expelled people wandering about here and there for ages are certainly as fanciful as the older Hebrew stories of Jonah or Lott’s wife or slavery in Egypt (which not one bit of archeological evidence has ever confirmed). All such stories are just as unsuitable to claiming territory as the Teutonic myths would be.
And they are particularly unsuitable to claiming a place already long populated by another group of people. In saying this, I do not question the existence of Israel, just its belligerent expansion. I do believe supporting its 1948 unilateral declaration was a matter of poor judgment and political skulduggery, particularly by the United States, because it created something completely not-in-keeping with its environment and a source of future ceaseless hostilities. But the mistake was made, and the world can accept an Israel which keeps to its early boundaries and behaves civilly to its neighbors – and that includes the Palestinians and even Hamas, it being a Netanyahu lie that Hamas will never do so since it has already said in private that it will. The problem is precisely that Netanyahu’s Israel does not want to keep those boundaries. The creation of Greater Israel is something we see underway year in and year out, slowly and brutally doing something not entirely different to what Hitler had dreamed of for Russia, taking the land and reducing its natives to slaves or people with no status and rights, untermensch, as he called them dismissively.
Some Israelis compare what they are doing to Palestinians with North America’s treatment of indigenous people, but that is an entirely false comparison. All indigenous people in Canada and America are citizens, and they may go to live and work where they wish. That is certainly not what Palestinians under Israeli control experience, nor is it what the Netanyahu-minded of Israel have in mind for the future, demanding always recognition as an exclusively Jewish state, a seemingly simple formulation which hides a multitude of potential evils. In any event, comparing the ethics of your behavior in the early 21st century to what others did in the 18th century - a time of general slavery, inferiority of women, and capital punishment for modest crimes - is a ridiculous proposition.
Although he has never declared so in public, judging by the totality of his aggressive acts and seizures with flimsy excuses, Netanyahu is dedicated to some form of Greater Israel, an Israel which includes the West Bank and Gaza and Jerusalem and even parts of Syria and Lebanon in most definitions. The Six Day war was deliberately engineered by like-minded Israelis earlier to lay the foundation of a future grander state. Netanyahu has never indicated disagreement with what was done. The millions of people who live in those places now are either to simply pick up and leave everything behind – going someplace, any place, Jordan or the Sinai having featured in Israel’s wishes at times - or accept perpetual existence as nonentities living in unconnected reservations behind walls and fences and earning their living as cheap temporary labor for Israel. If Netanyahu did not embrace this vision, he has had plenty of opportunity to end the nearly half century of repressive occupation but has never made the smallest effort to do so, only adding his own large-scale confiscation of more peoples’ homes and farms and a terrible, bloody investment and invasion of the open-air prison of Gaza. And when soldiers in the occupation zones kill innocent people, as they frequently do for slight provocations, they are never held to account, so too in the case of fanatical “settlers” who periodically swarm poor Palestinian farmers, chopping down or burning ancient olive trees or other property. Netanyahu’s voice is never once heard against outrages.
Netanyahu’s version of Greater Israel is a place that influences events and peoples around it for a thousand miles, as it already is doing in its early days, which is why the people of Egypt again live under American-influenced tyranny, the people of Syria are fighting armed madmen owing in part to Israel’s dark collusion, Iraq is left a broken and bleeding state, as is Libya, and Iran, which has started no wars and never threatened Israel, is threatened regularly in ugly rants from Netanyahu much resembling those of Hitler aimed at Czechoslovakia or other non-offending states he was eventually to destroy. It is of course to be a Greater Israel only for one kind of people. Those living in the occupied territories are kept miserably uncomfortable in hopes they will leave. Even the Arabs who are citizens of Israel – an unintended accident of events in 1948 and a purely technical status for them – are undoubtedly seen as leaving one day after living under the duress, as they do, of unequal laws and frequent attacks on their loyalty, especially once Israel has formal recognition as a Jewish state. Can you image a better formula for endless war and instability, a formula strongly resembling Hitler’s vision of Greater Germany, ending his rhetorical thousand year Reich in just twelve years?
Just as was the case for Hitler, Netanyahu is not a majority leader, his government depending on alliances with some even more unpleasant, extremist personalities, as for example his present Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who has made outrageously racist speeches and openly suggested pushing Israel’s non-Jewish citizens out of their homes. This sly pattern of underlings making distasteful suggestions represents a game Hitler, too, played. He did not always go on record himself saying the most terrible things. He often let lieutenants say them, observing to see the strength and direction of public reaction. All reasonable people will agree that the leader of a country must be held responsible for what his ministers say, unless the leader refutes the words in public and dismisses the offending minister, something we do not see from Netanyahu.
Again, looking for pictures on the Internet, it is not hard to find some of Netanyahu suggesting the ability sometimes to charm with a sly smile and inviting gestures. Here we also have the testimony of some world figures. He is apparently able to be quite charming in private, while at the same time lying through his teeth. The narcissism is clear.
The army too is the primary tool of state for Netanyahu. He himself served, was wounded, and he expects others to do so uncomplainingly, including those with religious objections. Israel spends an inordinate amount of money – its own and a great deal from others – on armed forces which are immensely out of proportion to its size and legitimate needs – that is, if you aren’t thinking in terms of conquest and occupation and arrogant demands, just exactly the terms which characterize Netanyahu’s entire career.
One of the interpretations of Hitler’s statesmanship and conquests, that of a modern biographer, Ian Kershaw, sees him as having been an obsessive high-rolling gambler who just kept raising the stakes until luck abandoned him. I actually cannot think of a better description of Netanyahu’s entire political career.
More than a few well known observers have said that Netanyahu quite possibly will end by destroying Israel, something I regard as distinctly possible, a parallel to Hitler’s Gotterdammerung for Germany. And in the meantime, countless people will be threatened, intimidated, imprisoned, tortured, or killed needlessly over a set of feverish, unrealistic obsessions.
Apologists for Israel often say that it acts with great restraint in its violence. Yes, Israel has not murdered the millions who live under its endless occupation, and in that limited sense only does Israel show restraint. Hitler murdered millions, but he did so largely in secret and under cover of the bloodiest war in all of human history, the invasion of Russia. The whole world watches Israel, even though Israel does a great deal to make observation and reportage difficult. But Israel works under conflicting impulses. It desperately wants to be considered as an open, modern, and democratic society, notions promoted in Netanyahu’s every speech aimed or delivered abroad and through truckloads of slick propaganda. It must be mindful of attracting immigrants and avoiding an exodus. It simply isn’t possible to completely shut the world out without Israel imploding, and it is hardly a merit not to have imitated Hitler.
But, remember, Israel has kept millions as prisoners for nearly half a century, depriving them of all rights, depriving them of property, offering them no hope, and terrorizing them with periodic home invasions, attacks, and atrocities. Freely-elected members of Palestinian governments have been arrested, leaders have been assassinated, and thousands of innocents at any given time languish in Israeli prisons where torture is common. The Palestinians have experienced such horrors as water wells poisoned, human waste dumped or sprayed, crops poisoned or otherwise destroyed, shops bulldozed, children shot for throwing rocks, and an entire police-state apparatus of check-points and identity papers and outrageous rules imposed twenty-four hours a day. There is nothing in Israel’s behavior resembling ethics or human values or even a genuine democratic impulse, and calling it restraint ranks as some of the world’s sickest humor.