Published in The Jerusalem Post on January 31, 1999
The Nazis are back – in our overheated political rhetoric, that is. In the polemic free-for-all into which our politics is degenerating, Holocaust imagery is a hot item. Level-headed Israelis should be outraged – and worried.
Last week, Chief Rabbi Bakshi-Doron recklessly accused the Reform movement of responsibility for Jewish assimilation that is “worse then the Holocaust”. The Reform Movement’s justifiably-angry Rabbi David Forman retorted hyperbolically that Bakshi-Doron “has made Nazi and Jew interchangeable”.
And nobody bats an eyelash.
On the political extremes, the use of Nazi or Holocaust imagery to delegitimize the opposition is not new, even to Israel barely a generation after the Shoah. The far-far-right postered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in an Nazi SS uniform. Intellectuals and politicians on the extreme-left youth freely applied the Nazi label to settlers and settlements.
Everyone remembers Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s infamous “Judeo-Nazi” wisecrack, and Prof. Moshe Zimmerman’s “Hitler youth” characterization of children growing up in Judea and Samaria.
During the Rabin years, right-wing zealots miffed at the strong-arm tactics used by Israel Police in controlling their demonstrations said the police “acted like Nazis”. Liberal Jews shoved out of the Western Wall plaza said the police, acting under orders and under pressure, behaved “like Nazis” too.
Police keeping hareidim from blocking roads on Shabbat know as well that somebody is going to throw the word “Nazi” in their face.
But notice the alarming shift. The appeal to fascist metaphors is seeping into the mainstream. Bakshi-Doron is no fringe player. Nor is Uzi Benziman. He is the lead op-ed guy at this country’s main, intellectual, Hebrew daily newspaper, not an off-beat columnist writing in an alternative tabloid on the periphery of politics.
Yet this didn’t stop the noted publicist from penning a learned piece last week denouncing the Likud as a “fascist” movement and urging all-out war against it.
And thus, Israeli demagoguery is reaching new heights. Or should I say — depths.
The problematics of such loose talk are clear. For one thing, Holocaust analogies trivialize and devalue the enormity of evil embedded in Hitler’s Holocaust. If you have any understanding of the monstrosity which ravaged our people some fifty years ago — your conscience simply won’t allow for comparisons. Any comparison is blasphemous.
Even worse, in our context, is the delegitimizing, demonizing use of World War Two epithets. Don’t like your political opponent and really want to bury him? Call him a Nazi or say that he is causing a Holocaust. It’s easy.
There is no need to see the other side of a political argument, you see, especially if the opponent’s views are diametrically opposed to yours. Just brand him a Nazi and be done with him.
This distressingly is the sign of a democracy that is beginning to fray; where legitimate ideological debate is stifled by character assassination with genocidal overtones.
Once upon a time we tended to chalk-up the rough talk to Israeli gruffness and shrug it off. But the disgraceful level to which mainstream politicians and writers have sunk over the past year is intolerable. Moderation, nuance, restraint and reasonableness have become orphan concepts in this country’s political landscape.
It is time to set some limits. Comparing Israeli military occupation to the crematoria – is beyond the pale. Name-calling that attributes Nazi behavior to a political or theological opponent – is seditious. Cavalier and wanton exploitation of Holocaust symbols — is a crime against Jewish history and peoplehood.
Let us say to the would-be prime ministers and chief rabbis: halt the vulgarization of our polity, before political violence rears its ugly head once again. Run an election campaign tempered by restraint and you will earn our respect. And just leave Hitler out of it.