Last week we ran Jerry Slater’s post saying that comparisons of Israel’s behavior to Nazi Germany’s conduct, in the documentary The Gatekeepers, are exaggerated. Jerry points out that Israel’s conduct in the occupation does not approach actual Nazi crimes. Well, by coincidence, this Tuesday the New York Times reported that Betty Friedan used the Nazi analogy, and that day I also happened to read Mark Rudd’s use of the analogy in a 2005 paper. Those examples follow.
From the article in the Times reassessing Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, after 50 years, by Jennifer Schuessler:
Indeed, Friedan was hardly without her critics in the movement, who blasted what they saw as her myopic focus on educated white women or her sometimes over-the-top language, whether she was comparing suburbia to “a comfortable concentration camp” or warning the National Organization for Women, which she help found in 1966, against an encroaching lesbian “menace.”
Some scholars, however, have defended aspects of Friedan’s work that sound most outlandish to contemporary ears. In an essay excerpted in the new Norton critical edition, Kirsten Fermaglich, a historian at Michigan State and the volume’s co-editor, argued that Friedan was hardly the only Jewish thinker of the period to make use of extended Nazi metaphors while saying nothing about Jews. The historian Stanley Elkins, the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton and the psychologist Stanley Milgram, she wrote, all used Nazi concentration camps, much as Friedan did, as a metaphor for mass society’s destruction of the individual.
And below is an excerpt of Mark Rudd’s excellent essay, “Why Were There So Many Jews in the SDS?”
Identifying with the oppressed seemed to me at Columbia and since a natural Jewish value, though one we never spoke of as being Jewish. We were socialists and internationalists first. I myself joined the cult of Che Guevara, putting posters of him on my apartment wall and aching to be a revolutionary hero like him. He wasn’t very Jewish, incidentally.
But World War II and the holocaust were our fixed reference points. This was only twenty years after the end of the war. We often talked about the moral imperative to not be Good Germans. Many of my older comrades had mobilized for the civil rights movement; we were all anti-racists. We saw American racism as akin to German racism toward the Jews. As we learned more about the war, we discovered that killing Vietnamese en masse was of no moral consequence to American war planners. So we started describing the war as racist genocide, reflecting the genocide of the holocaust. American imperialist goals around the world were to us little different from the Nazi goal of global conquest. If you really didn’t like somebody—and we loathed President Lyndon B. Johnson—you might call him a fascist.
P.S. I have often written that visiting Gaza reminded me of what I’d learned about the Warsaw Ghetto as a boy.