David Saks from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies writes a response to Oscar Van Heerden saying making false comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany is a spiteful form of Jew-baiting, no matter how much it is dressed up as moral indignation over the plight of the Palestinians.
The systematic annihilation of three-quarters of European Jewry by the regime of Nazi Germany during World War II can be regarded as history's ultimate expression of antisemitism.
Previously, Judenhass – Jew hatred - had revolved around what Jews believed, not who they were, hence even in times of the worst persecution, Jews were generally given the choice of expulsion or converting to the dominant faith if they wanted their lives to be spared. The Nazis, by contrast, allowed their intended victims no escape route. For them, Jews were intrinsically and immutably malevolent, a corrupt and corrupting element that needed, like any other vermin, to be exterminated for the greater good of society. The war they unleashed would provide them with ample opportunities to show that they meant exactly what they said.
Given this sombre legacy, it is hardly to be wondered at that those wishing to bait, insult and in general demean Jews regularly invoke Nazi themes and imagery. Sometimes, this takes obvious, in-your-face forms, such as comments that "Hitler should have finished the job", daubing swastikas on Jewish property or greeting Jews with stiff-armed salutes and chants of 'Sieg Heil'. It is easy to recognise such crass behaviour for what it is and denounce it as such.
There is, however, a more insidious and arguably even more malicious way in which the Holocaust is being invoked for purposes of wounding Jews and impugning their dignity. Whereas the former approach is essentially to taunt Jews for being victims of Nazism, this form of Holocaust-themed abuse manifests as portraying Jews themselves as being modern-day Nazis because of the actions of the State of Israel. Because such rhetoric is invariably framed in terms of supposed moral outrage, it is all too often allowed to pass as legitimate 'criticism' of Israel instead of being called out as the repellent anti-Jewish bigotry that it is. In his recent column ("The Israel-Gaza conflict and the banality of evil"), Oscar van Heerden reveals himself to be an expert proponent of this kind of Jew-baiting masquerading as moral outrage.
Before quoting what Van Heerden writes, it is relevant here to point out that the majority of South African Jews originate from Lithuania and adjoining territories in Eastern Europe. By the end of World War II, 90% of the Jews in those areas were dead. Of the once thriving Jewish communities that had lived there for 500 years, the mass graves on the outskirts of virtually every city, town and village were virtually all that remained. Compare this with how both during the years of Israel's occupation (1967-2006) and subsequently, the Palestinian population of Gaza more than quadrupled. It is in this light that the following passage in Van Heerden's article should be read:
Van Heerden's malign intent is made even clearer by his upfront reference to Hannah Arendt's famed term "the banality of evil" by which she sought to characterise Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official perhaps more responsible than anyone else for the implementation of the "Final Solution". In this way, he equates the average Israeli with one of history's most evil mass murderers. The effect is, on the one hand, to demonise the Israeli state and its people and, on the other, to by implication, play down and minimise the true extent of Eichmann's crimes.
To make false accusations of genocide, the most monstrous of all crimes, against any regime is appalling enough, but it has particularly ugly overtones when the nation-state of the Jewish people is so slandered. The understandable sensitivity that Jews have regarding the Holocaust and Nazism is well known, and in drawing crass and baseless comparisons of the above nature, Van Heerden's intent can only have been to wound and insult them. The comparison is racially defamatory for other reasons. Apart from falsely charging the Jewish state with grotesquely inflated crimes that bear no relation to objective realities, it amounts to an insidious form of Holocaust denial since it has the effect of minimising the extent of Nazi atrocities. Then there is the intimation, a standard canard when it comes to this kind of Judenhass, that Jews are guilty of abusing the memory of the Holocaust for purposes of engaging in moral blackmail to silence justified criticism of Israel. It has to be asked why the Jewish community should even have to defend itself against such vile accusations. Such dehumanisation has no place in our society and should never have been given a platform.
Knowingly making false comparisons between Israel and the regime of Nazi Germany is a spiteful form of Jew-baiting, no matter how much it is dressed up as moral indignation over the plight of the Palestinians. In closing, I can do no better than quote in this regard the UK novelist Howard Jacobson, who in response to comparisons between Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto wrote (The Independent, February 2009):
- David Saks is a Associate Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies
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