Equat­ing Is­raelis with Nazis be­yond pale

The Chronicle Herald (Provincial) - - NEWS - YAKOV KERZNER Rabbi Yakov Kerzner, Beth Is­rael Syn­a­gogue, Hal­i­fax

It sad­dens me that the Dec. 18 let­ter to the edi­tor that I penned with Rabbi Gary Kar­lin of Shaar Shalom Con­gre­ga­tion has been con­sis­tently mis­char­ac­ter­ized by those who dis­agree with the re­cent re­scind­ing of Rana Za­man’s Nova Sco­tia Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion award.

First, Ms. Za­man should be com­mended for the work she has done and con­tin­ues to do in our com­mu­nity. Se­cond, she and any oth­ers —whether Is­raeli or non-Is­raeli, Jew or non-Jew — has a right to mon­i­tor and crit­i­cize and even con­demn the ac­tions of the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment and the Is­rael De­fense Forces when they de­ter­mine, in their view, that Is­rael does not live up to the stan­dards that we all ex­pect.

That is a right that all Cana­di­ans should em­brace and one that is en­shrined in the laws of Is­rael. A sim­ple on­line search will show that the North Amer­i­can Jewish com­mu­nity and Is­raeli so­ci­ety are vo­cif­er­ous in their de­fence, and their crit­i­cisms, of ac­tions in the West Bank and Gaza.

What we ob­jected to and be­lieve rep­re­sents anti-Semitic rhetoric is com­par­ing Is­rael’s ac­tions to those of the Nazis. My fa­ther and grand­par­ents nar­rowly es­caped Nazi-oc­cu­pied Aus­tria in Au­gust 1939. My fa­ther, then a 12-year-old boy, wit­nessed Kristall­nacht, when Jewish busi­nesses and syn­a­gogues were de­stroyed and burnt to the ground.

For the one year that they lived un­der Hitler, they could only pray while in hid­ing. My grand­fa­ther was beaten on the streets by Nazi thugs and the Gestapo came look­ing for him.

They were the lucky ones. My fa­ther’s grand­par­ents, un­cles, aunts and cousins, num­ber­ing in the dozens, were all bru­tally starved, tor­tured, mur­dered and burned in the con­cen­tra­tion camp cre­ma­to­ria.

Un­der Nazi rule in ev­ery oc­cu­pied coun­try, Jewish shops were de­stroyed, Jews lost all civil rights, were not al­lowed to work, were used as slave labour, herded into ghet­tos in the most in­hu­mane con­di­tions and shipped in cat­tle cars to con­cen­tra­tion camps.

Upon ar­riv­ing there, chil­dren and adults alike were gassed and cre­mated. Over one mil­lion chil­dren were mur­dered by the Nazis. Those who sur­vived were tat­tooed with a num­ber, no longer known by name, forced to work in the cre­ma­to­ria where their fam­i­lies had just been mur­dered, sur­vived on star­va­tion di­ets, clothed with rags in freez­ing tem­per­a­tures, and ex­per­i­mented upon by the likes of Dr. Josef Men­gele.

Even when the en­emy forces closed in on the Nazis at the end of the Se­cond World War, the few re­main­ing sur­vivors were not aban­doned but sent on death marches. Of 18 mil­lion Jews in the world, six mil­lion were mur­dered. Pre-war Poland had a pop­u­la­tion of 3.3 mil­lion Jews; three mil­lion of them did not sur­vive the war.

Even if the most hor­rific ac­cu­sa­tions against Is­rael and its army are true, they do not war­rant a com­par­i­son to the above. Nazism is not a sym­bolic term to be used any­time a griev­ance is voiced. It con­jures up ev­ery­thing listed above and more.

Many parts of the world that have ex­pe­ri­enced great atroc­i­ties, of a mag­ni­tude be­yond our com­pre­hen­sion. Al­most two mil­lion Cam­bo­di­ans were mur­dered in the 1970s. As well, 800,000 Rwan­dans were bru­tally killed in the 1990s. More re­cently, over half a mil­lion Syr­i­ans have per­ished in a bru­tal civil war.

Why is Is­rael, among all these ex­am­ples, the one coun­try that is la­belled as Nazi? Is­rael, from the time of its con­cep­tion, has been at­tacked by its neigh­bours, has seen ter­ror­ists mur­der its chil­dren, bomb its buses and gun down in­no­cent civil­ians.

Its oc­cu­pa­tion of the West Bank and Gaza was a re­sult of a de­fen­sive war. Has Is­rael’s treat­ment of cit­i­zens in its oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries been above crit­i­cism? I don’t be­lieve so. Is it within rea­son for peo­ple to ac­cuse Is­rael of crimes against in­hab­i­tants of the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries? I be­lieve so.

In this re­gard, there can be a healthy de­bate and even pas­sion­ate dis­agree­ment. By any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion, can this be­hav­iour be com­pared to the Nazis? Ab­so­lutely not.

Some­one who stands for hu­man rights should not be ig­no­rant of, or in­sen­si­tive to, what Nazism and geno­cide mean. They should not be falsely plac­ing that horrible la­bel on the great­est vic­tims of Nazi geno­cide. In gen­eral, this is un­der­stood by all rea­son­able peo­ple, and the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment, as a sign of anti-Semitism. To claim, as Ms. Za­man re­cently did, that la­belling such state­ment as anti-Semitic is meant to muz­zle crit­i­cism is ob­vi­ously far from the truth. Is that the model of be­hav­iour we want our chil­dren to em­u­late?

What we des­per­ately need is for all sides to see the hu­man­ity in those who have op­pos­ing views. We need to sit down with each other, look each other in the eye and dis­pel the ha­tred that has been cre­ated on all sides. Our goal should be mean­ing­ful di­a­logue, an hon­est at­tempt at see­ing an op­pos­ing view and even­tu­ally to cre­ate a peace­ful co-ex­is­tence that can spread to all par­ties in­volved.

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