Why Huckabee's Holocaust rhetoric has fallen flat in Israel

The Republican presidential candidate has attacked the White House's nuclear agreement with Iran. By painting a picture of an Israel on the brink of annihilation, he isn't winning new friends in Israel's government.

Denis Poroy/AP
Republican presidential candidate former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks at the American Legislative Exchange Council 42nd annual meeting Thursday, July 23, 2015 in San Diego.

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's claim that the nuclear agreement reached with Iran is "marching the Israelis to the door of the oven" continues to be slammed, this time by Israeli officials.

Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the US and the point man in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's lobbying campaign in Congress, said that Israel thinks the deal is a bad one, but that Mr. Huckabee's language is inappropriate. 

"I don't doubt is the sincerity of the president or his team when they say they believe this deal not only makes America safe but makes Israel safe. Where we disagree is the judgment of actually what this deal is going to do," Mr. Dermer told USA Today. "We don't in any way impugn the motives of the people who are doing this deal."

The agreement reached July 14 would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for substantial reductions in its enriched uranium stockpiles; the dismantling of nuclear centrifuges; and the redesign of the nuclear reactor at Arak so it won't produce fuel that could potentially be used for a weapon.

Huckabee's rhetoric – comparing President Obama and his policies to Nazi Germany and bringing up the specter of the Holocaust, the Nazi genocide that killed about 6 million Jews – is surprisingly common among anti-Obama partisans. But Huckabee this week claimed that ground as all his own, repeating the claim multiple times even as other Republican presidential candidates have backed away.

Huckabee's "oven door" comment is a reference to the vast crematoriums at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, where over 1 million Jews were gassed to death.

On Monday, Huckabee refused to apologized and cited his own insights from visits to the camp. "Three times I've been to Auschwitz. When I talked about the oven door, I have stood at that oven door. I know exactly what it looks like."

Now Israeli politicians are responding. Israel Katz, a member of parliament from Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party, addressed Huckabee today. "Nobody marches the Jews to ovens anymore," he said. "To this end we established the state of Israel and (the Israeli military). If need be, we know how to defend ourselves."

While Huckabee and his supporters may think they're supporting Israel, it's also the case that insisting that the country is on the brink of annihilation tends to discourage Jewish immigration to the country, an Israeli government policy. Israel has the region's most powerful military and is the only nuclear-armed country in the Middle East. And the US has long sought to ensure Israel has a substantial edge over its neighbors in both the quality and quantity of its military technology.

Israel's national mythology is as a homeland to world's Jews and the only place they can be truly safe. With that in mind, it appears that Huckabee, by predicting another Holocaust, has given offense in multiple directions. 

Daniel Kurtzer, President George W. Bush's ambassador to Israel between 2001-2005, told MSNBC that Huckabee's remarks remind him of the atmosphere of incitement that led to the 1995 murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a religious Zionist who objected to the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian leadership.

“There are serious issues to be debated here but for anybody to equate what the president’s doing to what Adolf Hitler did in World War II is just extraordinary,” Kurtzer said. “And in some ways it’s a form of incitement, and we’ve seen the results of that 20 years ago in Israel.”

Following the Oslo Accords, Israel's far right began to warn that it would need to another holocaust and Rabin was called a Judenrat - a collaborator with the Nazis - by both protesters and prominent Rabbis.

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