Ex­on­er­at­ing the crim­i­nals

The Covington News - - OPINION -

Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s anti-Semitism is get­ting the bet­ter of him. Once again, the Turk­ish prime min­is­ter has trot­ted out the Hitler anal­ogy in re­la­tion to Is­rael and what it has done in Gaza. “They curse Hitler morn­ing and night,” he said of the Is­raelis. “How­ever, now their bar­barism has sur­passed even Hitler’s.”

Er­do­gan’s Hitler fetish is both re­volt­ing and in­ac­cu­rate. Hitler mur­dered an es­ti­mated 6 mil­lion Jews, not to men­tion mil­lions of Poles, Rus­sians, Gyp­sies and, as a group, ho­mo­sex­u­als; the Is­raelis have killed in the cur­rent Gaza op­er­a­tion over 1,000 Pales­tini­ans. The dif­fer­ence be­tween mur­dered and killed — the for­mer on pur­pose, the lat­ter mostly what’s called “col­lat­eral dam­age” — ought to be clear to any­one whose mind is not ad­dled by anti-Semitism.

Is­rael has gone out of its way to try to avoid civil­ian deaths. It has of­ten — maybe too of­ten — not suc­ceeded. But it has warned civil­ians with tele­phone calls and text mes­sages and even dummy bombs hit­ting the roof. This, I point out, is far more than Pres­i­dent Obama has done when Amer­i­can drones kill ter­ror­ists in Pak­istan or wher­ever. Ha­mas mil­i­tants are also ter­ror­ists and they hide, as ev­ery guer­rilla army has ever done, among the peo­ple.

The loss of civil­ian life is aw­ful, but it is no Holo­caust. It is, though, an op­por­tu­nity for anti-Semites, la­tent or oth­er­wise, to ex­press their big­otry. Their im­plied state­ment is that the Jews had it com­ing — see how they act now! Their big­otry over­pow­ers their logic and they deliri­ously lose all sense of pro­por­tion — 6 mil­lion ver­sus 1,000 or so in Gaza — and they con­flate the killer with the killed. It is re­pug­nant.

For Er­do­gan, the hand­ier and closer to home ref­er­ence would have been what the Turks did to the Ar­me­ni­ans. This geno­cide — the very word was coined by Raphael Lemkin to en­com­pass what hap­pened to 1.5 mil­lion Ar­me­ni­ans dur­ing and af­ter World War I —has been roundly de­nied by the Turk­ish govern­ment. In a dizzy­ing feat of ir­ra­tional­ity, the head of that govern­ment brushes past the crimes of his own na­tion to point an ac­cusatory fin­ger at the vic-

of another na­tion. Er­do­gan’s re­marks are merely the re­duc­tio ad ab

of the anti-Is­rael ar­gu­ment. Some ac­cuse Is­rael of a hideous lack of pro­por­tion­al­ity with­out paus­ing to say what the proper pro­por­tion of death and de­struc­tion should be. Would Ha­mas have ceased fir­ing rock­ets into Is­rael if Is­rael had bombed less? Some­how, I think not. Would Ha­mas have blown up its own tun­nels if Is­rael had ceased its at­tack af­ter, say, a week? Again, no. Af­ter the at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001, did the U.S. go into Afghanistan to kill ex­actly 2,977 al-Qaeda and Tal­iban, an eye for ev­ery eye ex­tin­guished on that in­fa­mous day? Is­rael is a small na­tion of only about 8 mil­lion peo­ple, more than a fifth of them Arabs. Pro­por­tion­al­ity is a lux­ury be­yond its reach.

It is clear that much of the world has grown weary of Is­rael. Its per­sis­tent set­tle­ment of the West Bank is surely cause for in­dig­na­tion. Yet there is an edge to the out­rage that is else­where lack­ing. When did thou­sands gather in Europe to protest the Syr­ian slaugh­ter — not just the govern­ment’s ab­hor­rent bomb­ing, use of gas and re­pres­sion, but the tor­ture and mur­der of about 10,000 ac­tivists and dis­si­dents? It was a mass mur­der that the



Syr­ian govern­ment stu­diously archived — pho­tos and such — which surely de­serves the Nazi anal­ogy that comes so eas­ily to the tongue of Er­do­gan and oth­ers. No mat­ter. Si­lence.

To un­der­stand the fury of the Euro­pean protests, it’s use­ful to re­call — and ex­pand upon — the re­mark of the Is­raeli psy­chi­a­trist, Zvi Rex. “The Ger­mans will never for­give the Jews for Auschwitz.” For any part of Europe that was com­plic­i­tous in the Holo­caust — es­sen­tially most of it — this means com­ing to grips with a ter­ri­ble legacy that has to haunt sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions and raises a creepy ques­tion: Why did grandpa kill the Jews? Look at what they have done in Gaza. Now we know.

I take psy­chi­atric the­o­ries with a grain of salt, but the ef­fort of Er­do­gan to make the vic­tim worse than the vic­tim­izer is not only false and taste­less, it is psy­cho­log­i­cally in­trigu­ing. It does more than blame the vic­tim. It tends to ex­on­er­ate the crim­i­nal. His­tory is re­peat­ing it­self — not, as Marx said, as ei­ther tragedy or farce, but in Er­do­gan’s telling as pornog­ra­phy.

Richard Cohen is a writer with the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. He can be reached at co­henr@wash­post.com.



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