Friday, February 5, 1999 | return to: opinions


Stop calling political, theological opponents `Nazis’

by David Weinberg

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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 Eliahu Bakshi-Doron recklessly accused the Reform movement of responsibility for Jewish assimilation that is "worse than the Holocaust." The Reform movement's Rabbi David Forman, justifiably angry, 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 only 50 years after the Shoah. The far right put prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in an SS uniform. Intellectuals and politicians on the extreme left freely applied the Nazi label to settlers and settlements.

Israelis remember Yeshayahu Leibowitz's infamous "Judeo-Nazi" wisecrack and 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 the Israeli 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 the fervently religious from blocking roads on Shabbat know well that somebody is going to throw the word "Nazi" in their face.

But notice the alarming shift. The use of fascist metaphors is seeping into the mainstream. Bakshi-Doron is no fringe player.

Nor is Uzi Benziman. He is the lead op-ed writer at Ha'aretz, one of this country's leading newspapers, not an off-beat columnist writing in an alternative tabloid on the political periphery. 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.

Israeli demagoguery is reaching new heights. Or should I say, depths.

The problems with such loose talk are clear. For one thing, Holocaust analogies trivialize and devalue the enormous evil of Hitler's Holocaust. If you have any understanding of the monstrous acts that ravaged our people more than 50 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 II 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, especially if the opponent's views are diametrically opposed to yours. Just brand him a Nazi and be done with him.

This is a distressing sign of a democracy that is beginning to fray; legitimate ideological debate is stifled by character assassination with genocidal overtones.

Once upon a time we tended to chalk up such 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 obscene. 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 please, just leave Hitler out of it.

The writer, who lives in Israel, comments on current affairs. This column appeared previously in the Jerusalem Post.


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