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May 10, 2016 6:41 am

The Outrage of Comparing Israel to the Nazis

avatar by Seth Frantzman

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Comparing lesser events to the meticulously planned genocide of Europe's Jews in the Holocaust is both cheapening and a cheap trick. (Illustrative.) Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Comparing lesser events to the meticulously planned genocide of Europe’s Jews in the Holocaust is both cheapening and a cheap trick, says the author. (Illustrative.) Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

At a UN meeting last Friday, the Venezuelan ambassador Rafael Ramirez listened to a presentation by an Israeli human rights organization about attacks on Palestinians. The ambassador then wondered out loud, “What does Israel plan to do with the Palestinians … does Israel seek probably to wage a final sort of solution as was perpetrated against the Jews?” Later the ambassador said that he apologized if he had offended Jewish people.

His comments are not unusual. Hardly a day goes by without a comment made somewhere by a politician or commentator comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. It takes the form of a fetish that allows people to both degrade and deny the nature and monstrosity of the crimes of the Nazis, while at the same time pointing the ultimate insult at their victims. It plays on pseudo-psychology, portraying victims who are destined to be abusers. Worst of all it, has infected Israeli and Jewish discussions to such a degree that many Jews are actually convinced that this intellectual laziness passes for serious discussion.

The last phenomenon should come first. Why do Jews, who in theory should be knowledgeable of the Nazi crimes, so quickly reach for them as an example of Israeli behavior. There is a pedigree to this. In the 1930s, David Ben-Gurion slandered Vladmir Jabotinsky and the Zionist right in 1933 by calling Jabotinsky “Vladmir Hitler.” In 1948, leading American Jewish intellectuals, including Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, signed a letter to the New York Times comparing Menachem Begin’s Herut party “in organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and fascist parties.” Only three years after the Holocaust, which Arendt and Einstein were fully aware of the extent of, they felt the need to abuse the memory of the six million to make a political point. It has all been down hill from there.

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The obsessive need to compare Israel’s actions to Nazis among the Jewish community was best articulated by Norman Finkelstein in a recent interview at the website Open Democracy. “Once the Nazi Holocaust became the cultural reference, then, if you want to touch a nerve regarding Palestinian suffering, you had to make the analogy with the Nazis, because that was the only thing that resonated for Jews,” he explained. Finkelstein boasted that, in 1982, he was part of a “handful of Jews” who protested the invasion of Lebanon in New York. He held a sign saying, “This son of survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Auschwitz, Majdanek will not be silent: Israeli Nazis – stop the Holocaust in Lebanon.”

Finkelstein was right — the most hurtful comment one can make, that “touch a nerve,” is to call other Jews “Nazis.” At the same time that Finkelstein was holding his sign, Israeli professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz was using the term “Judeo-Nazi” to describe Israelis. Nowadays you can barely read the Israeli press for a year without this term being hammered home. Uri Misgav at Haaretz claimed in 2014 that Israel was reflecting Arendt’s Banality of Evil, and that it was “not Neo-Nazis but Judeo-Nazis.”  In 2016 he claimed there were “Judeo-Nazis in Israel’s legislature.” Israelis have many other comparisons to reach for, some speak of fascism, others claim the country is an apartheid state, and more recently many people compare Israel to ISIS in the Hebrew media — but the “Nazi” comparison is the most powerful, and relatively common.

To commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, Deputy-Chief of Staff Yair Golan made the comparison: “The Holocaust should bring us to ponder our public lives and, furthermore, it must lead anyone who is capable of taking public responsibility to do so,” Golan said. “Because if there is one thing that is scary in remembering the Holocaust, it is noticing horrific processes which developed in Europe – particularly in Germany – 70, 80, and 90 years ago, and finding remnants of that here among us in the year 2016.”

He wasn’t being so original, as only a few weeks before, MK Haneen Zoabi had written to kibbutz Yad Mordechai to say she wouldn’t attend a memorial day event there. “You can’t teach the lessons of the Holocaust when you don’t distinguish between the terrifying similarity between what is happening today all around us and what happened in Germany in the 1930’s,” wrote Zoabi. It’s almost like “Israel is the 1930s” is the go-to comparison for everyone –the banal, obvious, thing to say. Instead of confronting racism or discrimination or discussing real issues, it’s easier just to shock people by mentioning the 1930s and Israel today. It has no impact beyond the shock value. What could possibly be learned from the 1930s, given that the real Israel today bares no resemblance to them?

I’ve never been to a concentration camp in Europe. It’s not due to lack of opportunity; it’s due to a disinterest in seeing the places of mass death and dying, and a greater interest in spending time seeing the synagogues that represent life and the Jewish history. What strikes me is how different my perspective is from many Jewish people. Many Jewish Israelis have visited death camps, and the Holocaust is a central part of Jewish identity for many American Jews. Ostensibly they are familiar with the history of the Holocaust. But familiarity breeds contempt.

Remember the actual 1930s? On November 9-10, 1938, more than 30,000 Jews were arrested, 91 murdered, 1,000 synagogues burned, and 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed on Kristallnacht. And you see signs of the 1930s in Israel? If only the Jews had been so lucky to live in such a Nazi Germany that actually resembled Israel in 2016.

Let’s recall the real Holocaust. In 1944, a woman named Orli repeated a quote from the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele. “When a Jewish child is born or a woman comes to camp with a child already, I don’t know what to do with the child…it would not be humanitarian to send the child to the ovens without permitting the mother to be there to witness the child’s death, that is why I send the mother and child to the gas ovens together.” That is what the Nazis did. And you, you legions and legions of Israelis and Jewish commentators who over the years smirked and said “Israeli Nazis” and “Israel is like the Nazis” and “my political opponents are like the Nazis,” you all are engaged in Holocaust denial. It’s not just intellectual laziness that people reach for the Nazi comparison, it is actually a form of degrading the Holocaust, making the Nazi crimes run-of-the-mill, and inflicting grave harm on the real victims.

What about the abuse directed at the Holocaust by those numerous non-Jewish commentators who always need to find a way to make Jews into “Nazis”? Since shortly after the Holocaust, there has been a pathological comparativeness. Arnold Toynbee, the British historian, claimed that the treatment of Arabs was “morally equivalent” to the Nazi treatment of Jews. This past April, the Swedish Housing Minister resigned after claiming, “Israelis treat Palestinians in a way that is very like that in which Jews were treated during Germany in the 1930s.” In 2008, Neil Clark, writing for The Week, claimed that “German protesters dare to compare Israelis to Nazis.” The writer argued that “European guilt” over the genocide was receding and now they were “not afraid to compare Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews.”

Is this because European “guilt” is receding or because Europeans need to feel that what they did to the Jews — putting them in gas chambers and relishing in the murder of 1 million Jewish children in the arms of their mothers — is normal. It’s not that guilt has receded, it’s that many Europeans were never guilty — and that, in fact, they need Jews and Israelis to be the “real Nazis” so that their own Nazi crimes can be forgotten. In the minds of many of the these pathological comparers, Israeli Jewish actions are the only “Nazi” actions. They don’t think the real Nazis were so bad.

David Ward, a Liberal-Democrat MP from the UK, claimed in 2013 that Jews had not “learned the lessons” of the Holocaust. “The Jews who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians…and continue to do so on a daily basis.” This is the real pathology of European views of Jews. European Nazis commit a genocide and then Europeans claim that Jews must learn a special lesson from that genocide and be held to a special standard. It’s like Europeans colonizing and genociding the aboriginals in Australia and then finding out an Aboriginal man got in a fight with someone and saying, “They haven’t learned the lessons of our genocide of them.”

Think about it.  When someone says that the Kenyans didn’t “learn the lessons” of having been colonized and that they are now treating Somali refugees badly, what is really being said? But no one makes that weird comparison with Kenyans. Only with Jews are they constantly compared to the Nazis. It is part of a pathology.

We have to admit that whether it is Israeli academics or European MPs, the central reason for comparing Israeli actions to the Nazis is due to a pathology. For some like Finkelstein, it is openly an attempt to shock. For others, it is due to base ignorance and intellectual laziness grounded in a self-flagellation. For many non-Jews, it is due to a deeply ingrained subconscious need to reduce Jews to the level of their abusers in order to advance a view that Jews not only deserved the Holocaust, but to make the European Holocaust less unique.

The comparison has become a trope, de rigueur in some circles. If it’s Israel, then it must be “Nazis” in the discussion. If it is Jewish people, then it must have something to do with “learning” from the Holocaust. Can we confront this trend with greater education about the Holocaust? Is it worth describing it as antisemitism?

The fact that many of those who make this comparison subsequently apologize or suffer political consequences could be seen as a good sign. Yet the task of confronting this offensive comparison is made more difficult with the frequency with which it is made in Jewish circles. It is essential as the last generation of Holocaust survivors begins to fade from our time, that we not replace them with clichéd, intellectually lazy comparisons. Jewish communities should confront those who make this comparison and remind them of the real history and demand that using this for shock value is grotesque. We say, “Never again,” but if we meant it, then we would combine it with an attempt to view the Holocaust as unique and not abuse its memory. It’s time to make it clear, across the board, that comparing everything today to the 1930s is unacceptable.

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  • Yuyu Ilany

    The Nazis did not come into power from one day to the next. Nor did they start their horrid practices from one day to the next. There was a prolonged process of fascist legislation and racist activities as well as a gradual erosion of democratic values and principles.
    If one wants to prevent another holocaust/mass murder, one does well to learn what happened in Nazi Germany in the 30-ies (and perhaps the late 20-ies) and to wonder and thoroughly investigate what should or could have been done to bring about another outcome, because precisely that might enable us to prevent another catastrophe.
    As an Israeli i am truly and very deeply worried about the deeply rooted racism and the willingness to forgo democratic principles expressed by my compatriots. Research carried out by the Israel Democracy Institute and the annual “democracy index” published by them should deeply worry anyone who cares about the country.
    And yes, if we wish to prevent a further degradation and erosion of democratic practices, we MUST compare, precisely in order to prevent.
    The official festivities on Israel’s independence day included a flag bearing ceremony stating “1 people, 1 state”. Ouch.

    • A Zionist

      It is clear that you have an impoverishment understanding of both Nazi Germany and Israel. To use the word “horrid” in relation to the Nazi state and their exterminationist antisemitism is another political attempt to call Jews Nazis and the Jewish State, a Nazi State. Netanyahu is not Hitler and the attempt to imply that he is, is another unoriginal attempt to put the “left wing” agents first and if that includes lies, libels and fabrications, it is justified. In The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways of Winning an Argument, Arthur Shopenaur writes that to win an argument even when it is weak, put your opponent into an Odious category and then attack. No democracy is perfect, including Israel, but to libel and defame by likening with Nazis shows the hatred of, not love for, Eretz Yisrael. I am an Israeli and your comment is “horrid!”

      • Daniel Ben Shalom

        Impoverished, not “impoverishment”.

  • Yale

    There are two reasons Leftists and Leftist Jews describe Israel as “Nazi-like”.

    The first is that Israel has succeeded by rejecting Leftist notions of how society should be ordered. Note that there was none of this as long as the Labour Party held uncontested control of the country, and it has blossomed since Likud came into a similar position.

    The other is that few people remember that the Nazis were the Nationalist *Socialists*. I suspect emphasizing that the Nazis were Socialist would put an end to the Nazi talk almost immediately since it would connect the Left to the Nazis and they would move quickly to remove that meme from the discussion.

  • abie sekete

    Why Jews and Palestinians not leaving site by site like before the arrival of Eastern European Jews.The were living in harmony.
    Abie Sekete
    Rustenburg .RSA

    • Ann Sinclair

      “Why Jews and Palestinians not leaving site by site like before the arrival of Eastern European Jews.The were living in harmony” –

      ignorant nonsense.

  • Geoff

    It is a sure sign when in any type of debate when one side goes after the other and either labels them to be something negative or blames them for the EVIL or personalized their comment toward the other then it clearly points out how ineffective their argument is carrying no water, lacks an ounce of substance or to use the kids today term they are HATERS.

    The Jews have for 2000 years been the worlds preferred “scapegoat”, thus, making hem the easy target. Tell the lie (s) over and over again and eventually it will become the TRUTH, Joseph Gobbells, Hitler’s Propoganda Minister.

  • Paul Winter

    Seth’s analysis is thorough and insightful. The question is why Jews quietly tolerate such sadistic, deceitful, antisemitic filth.

    I suggest three reasons:
    1) we have allowed the term genocide to be diluted to encompass any major massacre; only the gypsies and the Jews were destined for murder wherever they were found
    2) Jewish leaders just shrug their shoulders instead of loudly and forcefully denouncing Jew haters. In particular, the KGB constructed “Palestinians” and their Jew-hating mohammedan kin should be unequivocally condemned.
    3) Jewish decency demands that we hold ourselves to the standards demanded by our religion. We stand by the oppressed and the underdog. Where many Jews fail is their refusal to distinguish between underdogs and the rabid Jew-hating dogs of the mohammedan world.

  • Venezuela continues to be a cesspool because of its leadership.

  • Carol

    Tell the lie enough times, it becomes fact. Not sure people can differentiate, fact from fiction.

  • Richard E Sherwin

    the current rulers of venezuela took a working country and with great zeal turned it into a failed state. mentally economically and politically. they joined with all the other failed or terrorist states they could find. so what’s surprising their UN representative represents their successful failure mentally… morally they went bankrupt long time passing. along with much of the UN.

  • Jack Holan

    Firstly,D/COS Maj General Golan should be terminated, period. Obviously, he suffers from impaired judgment if he is going to make such a remark in front of what likely will be the last gathering for many concentration camp survivors, if they didn’t drop dead right there from his high minded speech. He degraded the memory of those who perished in the Shoah, every Man or Woman who has ever worn an IDF uniform, every Israeli citizen past and present and likely has fed the current European Anti-Semitism taking place Worldwide; as if it needs more fuel. I have just one question, since in your mind things are what you said and it didn’t happen overnight. Why do you wear the uniform of the IDF? Frankly somethIng somethIng occurred to you personally along the way and you no longer deserve to wear It.

  • Monty Pogoda

    I see us as the most moral nation on earth and to hell with anybody that does not think so, especially these “human rights” pontses.

  • nat cheiman

    Its amazing that Venezuela hasn’t got electricity nor a currency, and yet they are concerned about the palestinians. Perhaps it is significant that most loser nations harbour hatred towards Israel

  • Seth Frantzman is correct to speak of “pathology.” Those who invoke the memory of Nazi persecutors against their Jewish victims are like recidivist child molesters returning to the playground for still more young victims.

    By contrast, modern human-rights methodologies teach that an historically-victimzed population like the Jewish People is positively owed: firstly, a sincere apology; secondly, effective reparation; and thirdly, a measure of extra vigilance lest there be revictimization.

    All Peoples are owed non-discrimination, fairness and sound social science. But, modern human-rights methodologies require that we be specially alert to spot negative discrimination against historically-victimized populations like Black Americans, the “Aboriginal Peoples of Canada,” and the Jewish People.

    There is no logical, ethical or legal sense in which the Holocaust justifies holding Jews, the Jewish People or Israel to a higher standard than other Peoples and countries, in the same or similar circumstances. The pertinent issue is the fundamental human-rights prohibition against negative discrimination, of which the ban against “antisemitism” is historically a prominent subset.

    The modern meaning of “antisemitism” probably includes persistently targeting Jews and/or Israel and persistently applying to Jews and/or Israel a more exigent standard than regularly applied to other Peoples and countries, in the same or similar circumstances. When does criticizing Israel become antisemitic? I have already discussed this important human-rights issue at:

    http://www.allenzhertz.com/2009/11/when-does-criticizing-israel-become.html

    Nor is a Jew, allegedly licensed by Jewishness, especially entitled to persistently target Jews and/or Israel and to persistently apply to Jews and/or Israel a more exigent standard than regularly applied to other Peoples and countries, in the same or similar circumstances. Such a pattern of negative discrimination by Jews is also antisemitic, and potentially even more reprehensible as frequently even more harmful than the antisemitism of non-Jews.

  • Robby

    Very well said, Seth. I agree with you 100%.

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