Who’s a Nazi? You’re a Nazi . . .

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Ron­nie Lan­dau

AMID ALL the be­wil­der­ing cov­er­age of the Gaza con­flict, what fas­ci­nates and ap­pals me is the way the Nazi Holo­caust is used and mis­rep­re­sented by pro­tag­o­nists on ei­ther “side” of the ar­gu­ment. Elie Wiesel, No­bel lau­re­ate and dar­ling of the Amer­i­can Holo­caust es­tab­lish­ment, in tan­dem with at­ten­tion-seek­ing rabbi, Shmuley Boteach, placed a provoca­tive ad­ver­tise­ment in sev­eral US and UK news­pa­pers, brand­ing Ha­mas as “child­killers”. In his an­gry re­sponse to the Lon­don Times’s re­fusal to carry the ad, on the grounds that it was “too strong” and in­flam­ma­tory, Boteach de­scribed Ha­mas fighters as “geno­ci­dal ter­ror­ists” who, he claims, had been ac­cu­rately char­ac­terised by Wiesel, whom he called “the liv­ing face of the Holo­caust”.

While many Holo­caust-con­scious Jews — per­haps the vast ma­jor­ity of JC read­ers — might broadly agree with the tenor of Wiesel’s ad, there are equally many who would draw the op­po­site con­clu­sion. For ex­am­ple, over 30 Holo­caust sur­vivors and 260 chil­dren and de­scen­dants of sur­vivors, mostly based in the United States, signed a let­ter at­tack­ing Wiesel for his “abuse of our his­tory” (ie the Holo­caust) “to pro­mote bla­tant false­hoods” … “to jus­tify the un­jus­ti­fi­able”, namely “the mur­der of nearly 2,000 Pales­tini­ans, in­clud­ing many hun­dreds of chil­dren.” “Noth­ing”, they added, “can jus­tify bomb­ing UN shel­ters, homes, hos­pi­tals and uni­ver­si­ties...[or] de­priv­ing peo­ple of elec­tric­ity and wa­ter”.

De­ploy­ing their “au­thor­ity” as Holo­caust sur­vivors, they also con­demned the “racist de­hu­man­i­sa­tion of Pales­tini­ans in Is­raeli so­ci­ety, which has reached fever-pitch” and, alarm­ingly, ex­tremeright-wing Is­raelis wear­ing “neo-Nazi in­signia” on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Else­where, in letters pages, cartoons, across the un­pa­trolled in­ter­net and bl­o­go­sphere, and even im­plic­itly in sev­eral news­pa­per ar­ti­cles and ra­dio re­ports, there have been clear de­pic­tions of Is­raelis/Pales­tini­ans (es­pe­cially, though not ex­clu­sively of the Ha­mas per­sua­sion) as Nazis. Holo­caust im­agery, un­bri­dled and ir­re­spon­si­ble, abounds on all sides of the di­vide, the sup­posed “lessons” of the Holo­caust be­ing har­nessed to a par­tic­u­lar ide­ol­ogy.

In a kind of vi­cious psy­cho­log­i­cal cir­cle, we tend to view the Holo­caust through the

This blan­ket de­scrip­tion is grotesquely in­ac­cu­rate

anachro­nis­tic prism of present val­ues, be­liefs and con­cerns, while in turn eval­u­at­ing our present crises and dilem­mas through the dis­tort­ing and of­ten mythic lens of a freak­ish and im­per­fectly re­mem­bered past.

It fre­quently amuses, be­muses and out­rages me that it is of­ten those very peo­ple who in­sist on the “in­com­pa­ra­ble unique­ness” of the Holo­caust – thus im­pris­on­ing the whole his­tor­i­cal “event” within the ghet­toised and highly-charged realm of “Jewish ex­pe­ri­ence” — who in­voke the Holo­caust when­ever they at­tempt to score points in dis­cus­sions on the con­tin­u­ing Is­rael-Pales­tine night­mare.

The blan­ket de­scrip­tion, by their ad­ver­saries, of Is­raeli sol­diers and their po­lit­i­cal lead­ers as Nazis, is as grotesquely in­apt as it is in­ac­cu­rate. Equally, on the other side, so much of the pol­i­tick­ing, op­por­tunism and ex­ploita­tion of the Shoah by some of the self-ap­pointed guardians of Holo­caust mem­ory is, quite sim­ply, an in­sult to those mil­lions who were mur­dered.

In my view, the por­trayal (usu­ally an ide­o­log­i­cal rant) of any party to the cur­rent Gaza con­flict in Holo­caust-re­lated terms is a wholly un­ac­cept­able dance on the graves of the Jewish dead. They cer­tainly did not die so that, 70 years later, dif­fer­ent groups can jus­tify killing the in­no­cent, whether Jewish or non-Jewish. The third edi­tion of Ron­nie Lan­dau’s work The Nazi Holo­caust: Its His­tory and Mean­ing will be pub­lished by IB Tau­ris in Septem­ber

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