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The fall of the Nazi language

This is a guest post by Gabriel
(The post was wrongly attributed to another author, for which we apologize.)

In the generally interesting and important “Understanding and Addressing the ‘Nazi Card’”, Paul Iganski and Abe Sweiry write:

Playing the Nazi card refers to the use of Nazi or related terms or symbols (Nazism, Hitler, swastikas, etc.) in reference to Jews, Israel, Zionism or aspects of the Jewish experience. It is usually targeted against Jews individually or collectively and scratches deep wounds by invoking painful collective memory of the Holocaust.

This is increasingly true and the report is generally very good. However, there is a flip side to this. The use of Nazi terminology to “invoke painful memories of the Holocaust” are not just used by anti-Semites and anti-Zionists but also by Israel and by Jews, usually on the right, with a political agenda. Playing the Nazi card is wrong always, not just when used against Jews.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu, while visiting Germany, told the German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “Judea and Samaria cannot be Judenrein” . He did not say “Ethnically cleansed”, he did not say “have all its Jews removed”, he said “Judenrein”. He used the term specifically to invoke the “painful collective memory of the Holocaust”. Now, attempting to draw the parallel between the persecution and murder of millions of Jews in the Holocaust with the removal of settlers who are illegal under international law a few kilometres away is simply disgusting and does nothing except further cheapen the experience of the Holocaust. (Interesting, isn’t it, how he did not compare it to the more similar, although still much worse Palestinian expulsion from Israel in 1948) Jews cannot complain about anti-Zionists casually throwing around Nazi terminology at Israel and then just as casually use it for Israel’s enemies. Had someone talked about the Israelis treating the Palestinians like “undermenchen”, Netanyahu and his ilk would have been hypocritically irate.

Israel and the Jewish community outside of Israel have a responsibility to keep the Holocaust as well as the history of Jewish suffering real and keep it in its proper historical context. Nazi terminology is used far too often by the Israeli far right to silence critics and to attempt to make, often ludicrous parallels with modern political situations.

There are two different types of Nazi/Holocaust analogies. The first are the ludicrous comparisons such as the Gaza settlers wearing stars (orange instead of yellow) during their expulsion from Gaza or the settlers squatting in Hebron who called the soldiers who evicted them “Nazi traitors”. The second is reasonable such as comparing anti-Semitic cartoons in much of the Arab press to the anti-Semitic cartoons of the Nazis. The first type are incredibly damaging in that these actions demean the memory of those who suffered during the Shoah and diminishes the terminology of the Holocaust. However, I think the second should be stopped as well unless it is absolutely necessary.(Which, I think, would be an incredibly rare occasion. There is nothing weaker about saying “the Arab press often prints horrifically anti-Semitic cartoons” instead of involving the Nazis in the discussion).

The problem with using Nazi terminology, however, goes beyond the cheapening of the Holocaust. To say “Hamas are like the Nazis”, “Ahmedinijhad is like Hitler”, “soldiers who evict settlers are Nazis” and so on, are also completely inaccurate statements which simplify what are complex and unique political problems. Hamas is certainly, at least largely, an anti-Semitic organization. However, Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. Without the 40-year occupation of Palestinian lands, there is no Hamas. This does not justify Hamas’ anti-Semitism, but it is a completely different story than wanting to wipe out Jews simply because they are seen as scum of the earth. Each political situation is different and should be treated as such. I am tired of seeing terms like “Undermenchen”, “Judenrein”, and “Nazi” being carelessly bandied about. The Holocaust was a traumatic event in world history and its victims deserve respect instead of the near constant belittling of their incredibly painful experiences to score cheap political points.

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