By Harry Storm
Of all the absurdities that abound in wokeness, possibly the silliest is the notion of cultural appropriation. Ignoring thousands of years of human history in which cultures “appropriated” from each other to the betterment of their own societies and civilization as a whole, the advocates for “social justice” believe that cultural appropriation is a form of colonialism that exploits other cultures’ traditions in language, art, music, food or fashion, among other things.
But if, as the progressives claim, the appropriation of a peoples’ culture is disrespectful or even a sign of desecration of that culture, then surely appropriation of a people’s suffering is that much worse. Strangely though, the same people who talk up cultural appropriation are more than happy to appropriate Jewish suffering.
The progressive world is rife with ideas and terminology taken directly from the plight of Jews under the Nazis, and used in ways that often diminishes their experiences, and at worst, is used against them.
Among the chief practitioners of this sort of piggybacking are the Palestinians and their supporters, who routinely talk about the Palestinian “holocaust” and the “concentration camps” and “open-air ghettos” that the Palestinians are supposedly forced to live in.
But the appropriation of Jewish suffering in the holocaust isn’t limited to anti-Zionists and social justice warriors and goes back to an earlier time. For example, In a review of the 1997 movie Bent (starring Mick Jagger, and based on a 1979 play of the same name), about a homosexual man in concentration camp who passed himself off as a Jew to get “better treatment,” historian Barry Davis noted that not only is the playwright’s claim that the Nazis treated gays worse than Jews false, it leads to a “who suffered more” narrative.
Piggybacking onto Jewish suffering also diminishes the extent of the genocide the Nazis inflicted on the Jewish population of Europe. Consider the current use of the term “denier.” Of course, anyone who denies something can be considered a denier. But the current “political” use of the term – e.g. climate change denier – clearly is appropriating the word from its etymology regarding the holocaust. So when advocates for climate change label someone who doesn’t agree with them a “denier,” they’re using it to imply that catastrophic climate change – a series of events that hasn’t happened yet – is as real as a documented historical event, and therefore, it’s not enough to call such a person a skeptic, he/she must be a denier, and as ill-intentioned as a holocaust denier.
Using the term denier in a such slipshod way not only diminishes the murder of millions of Jews, it also lessens the stigma associated with holocaust denial.
Unsurprisingly, the Palestinians have latched onto this idea too. For example, in February a Professional Development Day at a Toronto high school included a session entitled: “Anti-Palestinian Racism: Nakba Denial.”
While I have no doubt that from the Palestinian point of view, the events of 1947-48 were catastrophic, this catastrophe (Nakba) was largely of their own doing, and coincided with Israel’s War of Independence, which was the opposite of a Nakba for the nascent Jewish state. Subtly (or not-so-subtly) linking those events to the Jewish holocaust via the use of the word “denial” qualifies as a prime example of piggybacking onto Jewish suffering.
Of course perhaps the best and most egregious example of appropriating Jewish suffering is the claim that Israel is committing “genocide” against the Palestinians. This vicious slur not only appropriates Jewish suffering, it inverts it, making the Israelis the new Nazis. No invective against Jews could be more painful than comparaing them to their recent exterminators, which I suspect is precisely why this calumny is repeated so often.
As the above examples show, progressive leftists generally have few if any qualms about appropriating or piggybacking onto Jewish suffering. And while I’m contemptuous of the practice of using terms like “denier” so inappropriately, it isn’t my intention to have those terms banned or to deny anyone’s right to free speech.
If only those who cancel even the mildest and least egregious examples of cultural appropriation operated in the same manner.