The (Jewish) N-Word

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

I suppose it was inevitable. Once you try to legally control the use of some historical references, others follow.

Mind control begins by controlling history. It’s an attempt to put the subversive genie back into the bottle. Such attempts don’t work too well. Sometimes they have the opposite effect.

First it was limiting invocation of the Nakba by Palestinians in its various manifestations. Now it is Nazi and the Holocaust by Jews. It seems that some in the Israeli government are concerned that Nazi and Holocaust are being used in inappropriate ways and, by doing so, trivializing the Jewish experience of suffering.

Thus the New York Times reports on the preliminary approval of a Knesset bill that would make it a “crime to call someone a Nazi – or any other slur associated with the Third Reich – or to use the Holocaust in a non-educational way.” The Times cites the examples of a satirical television show that compares the interior minister to a concentration-camp supervisor in light of his handling of migrant workers, protesters at the Western Wall who shouted “Go back to Germany” at police officers, and a sports commentator who ridiculed a veteran basketball referee as “Gestapo.”

But the problem is much bigger and more important. Israel’s occupation of Palestinians has brought the Nazi/Holocaust terminology back in an unexpected and inverted way – with reference to Israeli policies and Jews that implement them.

Nazi and Holocaust terminology has been employed by Palestinians for years. It is increasingly invoked by others in the world community concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people. It is also used by dissenting Jewish Israelis and Jews of Conscience in other parts of the world.

When Nazi and Holocaust aren’t being used directly by critics of Israeli policies, it is being thought. It’s an obvious place to go when one thinks of Jewish history, how often Nazi and Holocaust are invoked by Jewish leaders in Israel and America, and in light of the ongoing incredible inversion – destruction really – of the Jewish ethical tradition.

If Jews incessantly claim to having been wronged by anti-Semitism and the silence of the world, ending with the Holocaust, and then incessantly claim that Israel is the response to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, it’s only natural – and right – to ask how those claims are justified when another people are cleansed, humiliated and ghettoized in the name of that suffering and state.

The Israeli Knesset is a busybody when it comes to monitoring speech. Why not look in the mirror of the oppression it dishes out daily? Why not banish the occupation in reality?

This brings up the obvious point. Is occupation itself on the Knesset To-Do List of terms to outlaw?

Trivializing Nazi and the Holocaust. Ethnically cleansing a people to create a state, placing permanent settlements to expand the state and then building a wall around the remaining occupied population – that’s the ultimate trivialization of Jewish suffering.

If Israel doesn’t want Nazi and Holocaust to be invoked so easily, they should outlaw the occupation.

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