Equating Israelis with Nazis beyond pale
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.