Dear Ms. Trine Lilleng,
You were an unknown Norwegian diplomat till this month.
As first secretary in the Norwegian Embassy in Saudi Arabia, you recently sent out an email on your office account in which you declared: “The grandchildren of Holocaust survivors from World War II are doing to the Palestinians exactly what was done to them by Nazi Germany.”
Accompanying your text were photos, with an emphasis on children, seeking to juxtapose the Holocaust with the recent Israeli military operation in Gaza.
Clearly, you are miscast in your role as a diplomat, all the more so of a nation that has sought to play a mediating role in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In fact, you’re desperately in need of some education. Let’s begin with your current posting. You’ve been in Riyadh since 2007.
If you’re so anguished by human rights violations, perhaps you could have begun by devoting some of your attention — and email blasts — to what surrounds you.
Or were your eyes diplomatically shut?
Have you failed to notice the many legal executions, including beheadings, going on in your assigned country?
Have you ignored the often abysmal treatment of foreign workers, many from Asia, who also happen to be disproportionately counted among the victims of Saudi capital punishment?
Have you neglected the gender apartheid that surrounds you? Did you ever look out of your car to notice that Saudi women are proscribed from driving, and that’s hardly the worst of it?
Have you checked the skyline of Riyadh or Jeddah lately to count the number of church spires or other non-Muslim houses of worship?
Have you bothered to inquire about the fate of homosexuals?
Okay, you were AWOL on those issues. Maybe you just didn’t want to offend your hosts by speaking the truth, or maybe you’re suffering from that diplomatic disease known as “localitis” or “clientitis.”
But surely a woman like you, with such capacity for empathy for those in far-away places, and especially for children in danger, couldn’t remain silent about other human rights transgressions, could she?
After all, could an individual so deeply moved by the plight of Palestinians in Gaza remain silent about what a New York Times columnist earlier this month described as “hell on earth” — Zimbabwe? Could a person so anguished by the fate of Palestinian children stay mum about a country where a girl’s life expectancy at birth is 34, much less than half that of her Norwegian counterpart, and where the health care sector has vaporized, all thanks to the one-man rule of Robert Mugabe?
Could such a dedicated humanist possibly avert her eyes from the deadliest conflict since the Second World War, which has killed over five million people, many of them children, in the Congo in the past decade — not to mention the documented and widespread use of torture, rape, and arbitrary detention?
An observer of such acute sensitivity could hardly hold her tongue while Afghan girls attempting to go to school have been doused with acid by those who wish to deny young women access to education, reminiscent of the five years of Taliban rule, could she?
In neighboring Pakistan, where you served in the Norwegian embassy for three years, the beleaguered human rights community must have been fortunate to have such an impassioned voice for all that’s wrong in this failing state. Or was that voice, perhaps, on mute?
The children of Sderot, the Israeli town near the Gaza border, have been in desperate need of just such a spokesperson as you for the past eight years.
After all, their town has been in the crosshairs of literally thousands of missiles and mortars fired from Gaza. Those Israeli children live with all the signs of trauma, knowing that, with only 15 seconds warning, they could be hit at any time in their schools, their parks, or their beds. Yet, during my visit there last week, for some reason, those children and their parents had yet to hear you speak out for them. What a pity.
And the children of Iran could use your help as well. According to human rights groups, Iran has no compunction about executing children or those who were children when their crimes were allegedly committed.
Oh, and by the way, your compassionate help would also undoubtedly be welcomed by others under the gun in Iran, including women’s rights activists, union organizers, student protesters, independent journalists, reformist politicians, and religious minorities. And let’s not forget, once again, the children of Israel, who, according to the Iranian president, don’t have a right to live.
But wait. A Google search about you reveals nothing, not a single word, regarding your views on Zimbabwe, Congo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sderot, or Iran. Or, for that matter, Burma, Darfur, Syria. Shall I go on?
Only Israel, faced with those who wish to destroy it, manages to prompt your impassioned correspondence and righteous indignation. Why?
No less, your stunning lack of education extends beyond the contemporary world to 20th century history, specifically the Holocaust.
Your invocation of the Holocaust to describe what’s taken place in Gaza is, frankly, nothing short of obscene.
Your claim that the grandchildren of the survivors are doing to the Palestinians exactly what was done to them goes beyond any norm of decency, much less honesty.
Approve or disapprove of the Israeli military operation, but there is no basis whatsoever for such a comparison.
When Israel entered Gaza in a war of self-defense in 1967, the population was 360,000. After Israel withdrew totally from Gaza in 2005, it was estimated at 1.4 million.
Would that the Jewish population under Nazi rule had quadrupled.
When Israel entered Gaza in 1967, life expectancy for women was 46. When it left Gaza, it was 73.
Shall we even bother to discuss life expectancy for Jews under Nazi occupation?
The Second World War in Europe lasted from Sept. 1, 1939 to May 8, 1945 — 68 months in all. That means an average monthly extermination rate of nearly 90,000 Jews.
Compare that to the total number of victims in Gaza over three weeks —roughly guesstimated at more or less 1,000 — and recall that the majority were armed fighters committed to Israel’s destruction, who used civilians, including children, as human shields, mosques as arms depots, and hospitals as sanctuaries.
Believe me, Ms. Lilleng, if the “grandchildren of the Holocaust survivors” had wanted to do exactly what the Nazis did to their grandparents, they would have unleashed their full air, land, and sea power. They would have thrown the Israel Defense Forces’ ethical guidelines to the wind, kicked out the U.N. and Red Cross personnel on the ground, stopped humanitarian transports of food, fuel, and medicine, prevented media reporting, and left absolutely nothing — and no one — standing.
Unless, of course, they needed slave labor, in which case they would have carted off the able-bodied to work in Auschwitz replicas until they dropped. Or material for ghoulish medical experimentation, in which case, in the spirit of Mengele, they would have kept Palestinian twins alive temporarily.
But Israel didn’t do any of these things. It’s a peace-seeking democracy dedicated to the rule of law — unlike so many of the countries whose horrific sins you blithely choose to overlook.
What are we to make of your selective moral outrage and rank hypocrisy?
You ought to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself why Israel, and only Israel, makes your blood boil and leads you to speak out, even at the risk of grossly distorting both reality and history.
The answer, Ms. Lilleng, should be painfully obvious.
(David A. Harris is executive director of the American Jewish Committee.)