Just when you think no one can come up with a genuine modern analogy to Nazi Germany, someone does. Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the conservative Likud Party in Israel, offers a scary and wholly plausible comparison. "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany," he told the annual General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities the other day in Los Angeles. "When someone tells you he is going to exterminate you, believe him -- and stop him."
No sooner than he completed his speech the Iranian newspapers reported that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was boasting that "we will soon witness [Israel's] disappearance and destruction." Ahmadinejad and his men are preparing a Holocaust that Hitler would envy, not limited to a tiny fledgling democracy in the Middle East. The Iranian nuclear program poses a threat to the entire West.
"Israel would certainly be the first stop on Iran's tour of destruction, but at the planned production rate of 25 nuclear bombs a year . . . [the arsenal] will be directed against 'the big Satan,' the U.S., and the 'moderate Satan,' Europe,'" Mr. Netanyahu told the assembled Jewish communities. But the ordering of events has changed. Hitler started a war first and began work on the atomic bomb; Ahmadinejad is building nuclear weapons first.
To do nothing is to appease, which is yet another allusion to the careless international diplomacy before World War II: "No one cared then and no one cares now." Hitler went on building a formidable military machine while the world pretended not to notice. Winston Churchill was the lonely prophet whose warning went unheeded. Appeasement, he said, is "a bit like feeding a crocodile hoping that it would eat you last." This time everyone notices what Iran is doing, but wants to go about business as usual: "What, me worry?" The first missiles will have Europe in range, then America. Israel will be the canary in the coalmine, the first to disappear as a warning to everyone else.
Ahmadinejad isn't trying to sell a Holocaust analogy; he insists the original never happened. But the 5 million Jews in Israel understand that rhetoric precedes the reality. Erasing Israel from the map is real to them. "Because Auschwitz really happened, it has permeated our imagination, become a permanent part of us," says Nobel Prize-winning novelist Imre Kertesz. "What we are able to imagine -- because it really happened -- can happen again."