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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 Once you try to legally control the use of some historical references, others follow.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.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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27 Responses

  1. Scott
    January 16, 2014, 10:48 am

    The Times piece says some young Israelis now use the word “shoah” to describe a messy kitchen.

  2. Philip Munger
    Philip Munger
    January 16, 2014, 10:59 am

    I carefully avoid making any comparisons between Israeli policies or actions and anything having to do with the Third Reich – to the point that I’m reluctant to even comment on it at this essay. Such comparisons are not usually apt, and often show sloppiness or lack of historical awareness on the part of the accuser(s).

    That being said, this Knesset legislation proposal is another example of onerous Israeli laws designed to limit freedom of speech that is critical of the State.

    • lysias
      January 16, 2014, 11:05 am

      Would they be considering this ban if they didn’t themselves find the comparisons uncomfortably apt?

    • puppies
      January 16, 2014, 11:44 am

      @Munger: “Such comparisons are not usually apt”
      It depends.What you should do, if you think they are misplaced, is to list item by item what characterizes Nazism with regard to the specific point under discussion –as different from generic reactionary policy, authoritarianism, plain fascism, etc. Place the list against that of the current defendant’s characteristics. If the gap is really too wide, you’ll be justified. Otherwise, just opposing systematically references to one particular brand of well-defined behavior, on the grounds that it could hurt feelings, is plain loopy.

    • marc b.
      marc b.
      January 16, 2014, 11:53 am

      the problem with your self regulation is also part of the problem of properly interpreting history. German racial policies are not solely the consequence of the rise of Hitler, and those policies are inseparable from 19th-20th European and American ideology and policies. the development of the modern nation state was built in part on the concept of race and on the isolation, displacement and removal of what were believed to be insufficiently loyal and patriotic groups. that, and frankly, Israeli policy has been often neatly analogous to German National Socialist policy. see for example the selection process for the migration of ‘healthy Jews’ from post-war Europe to the nascent Israeli state. the myth is/was that Israel was a safe haven for all Jews, but the reality is/was that the state has also attempted from time to time to filter out the wrong type of Jews, so as not to weaken the health of the state. so what do such policies naturally remind you of?

      • Keith
        January 16, 2014, 9:16 pm

        MARC-B- “German racial policies are not solely the consequence of the rise of Hitler, and those policies are inseparable from 19th-20th European and American ideology and policies.”

        Indeed, I think there is an unfortunate tendency on Mondoweiss to gloss over a lot of shameful US history, and of our allies as well. In some ways, Hitler broke new ground, in many ways he did not. The horrendous World War II death toll was more a reflection of technological improvements in killing efficiency than of any change in ideology.

        “…up to a certain point, the Nazi war crimes consisted largely of inflicting on white Europeans levels of brutality that had previously been reserved only for Asians, Africans, and the native populations of North, Central, and South America.” (Bertram Gross)

      • Antidote
        January 20, 2014, 5:48 pm

        “I think there is an unfortunate tendency on Mondoweiss to gloss over a lot of shameful US history, and of our allies as well. In some ways, Hitler broke new ground, in many ways he did not.”

        Agreed. Hitler certainly broke no new ground re racism, eugenics, ethnic cleansing / genocide , or forced/slave labor. The conquest of the American West was Hitler’s model for his own plan of conquest and colonization of Eastern Europe. On race and eugenics, he preferred Madison Grant’s ‘scientific’ treatises to the more mystical musings of fellow Nazi Rosenberg.;jsessionid=22925185CB3D00F13A43F6FD8026552B?cc=bs&lang=en&

        Slave labor was abolished in the US after the Civil War, right?

        “…up to a certain point, the Nazi war crimes consisted largely of inflicting on white Europeans levels of brutality that had previously been reserved only for Asians, Africans, and the native populations of North, Central, and South America.” (Bertram Gross)

        Not sure this holds up to historical scrutiny. Surely, the horrific religious wars in Europe affected Europeans. Here’s one of many gruesome examples:'s_Day_massacre

        The Boers in Kitchener’s concentration camps were Europeans, including the descendants of some Huguenots who had fled to South Africa from French persecution. In BNA, Huguenots partially replaced some of the perfectly white and and Catholic Acadians who were expelled during the Seven Years War (often called the real First World War). Longfellow doesn’t tell the whole story, though.


      • OlegR
        January 17, 2014, 6:32 am

        It reminds me that there are plenty of blatant antisemites tolerated on this site .

      • annie
        January 18, 2014, 2:22 pm

        but oleg, wrt German racial policies are not solely the consequence of the rise of Hitler

        isn’t it true that after darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, within the scientific world (globally) there was a rush to figure out how that applied to mankind (perfect/ideal man)? that wasn’t just a german thing, was it? and wasn’t nationalism a younger expanding movement vs today. i always saw German racial policies coming about as a result of political and scientific fads of the day merging with a fanatical leader. but the era had something to do with it which served as an incubator for his fanaticism. no?

        would hitler have risen to power had he existed in another era? in this regard i think it behooves us to ask not if the policies were a consequence of the rise of Hitler, but if hitler’s rise was a consequence of the intellectual (political and scientific) climate that already existed during that era.

      • Keith
        January 18, 2014, 4:04 pm

        ANNIE- “would hitler have risen to power had he existed in another era?”

        Obviously, there were multiple factors involved in the rise of Hitler. Having said that, a key factor was the disastrous state of the German economy as a consequence of World War I reparations. France and England required these reparations to pay down American war loans and proposed to greatly reduce them if the US would accommodate them on their loan payments, which the US refused to do (see “Super Imperialism: The Origin and Fundamentals of U.S. World Dominance” by Michael Hudson).

        Other factors? “The class confidence of European conservatism was shaken by the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia whose declared aim was to destroy global capitalism. Fear stalked the corridors of power in every capital and the presence of large numbers of Marxists of Jewish origin in both the Bolshevik and Menshevik parties stoked anti-semitism throughout Europe…..British and American bankers and businessmen were in the forefront of arming the Third Reich as a ‘bulwark against Bolshevism’ (as Lloyd George, mimicking Churchill, explained). The Governor of the Bank of England did not mince words: British loans to Hitler should be seen as an ‘investment against Bolshevism.’ This was a common view of the elite at the time.” (Tariq Ali)

        How did Hitler consolidate control? “The Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, at a time when its economy was in total collapse, with ruinous war-reparation obligations and zero prospects for foreign investment or credit. Yet through an independent monetary policy of sovereign credit and a full-employment public-works program, the Third Reich was able to turn a bankrupt Germany, stripped of overseas colonies it could exploit, into the strongest economy in Europe within four years, even before armament spending began.” (“Nazism and the German Economic Miracle,” Henry C. K. Liu, Asia Times)

        It is well to remember that prior to World War II, Hitler was much admired in the US, both for his economic success and for his anti-communism.

      • Talkback
        January 18, 2014, 2:34 pm

        OlegR: It reminds me that there are plenty of blatant antisemites tolerated on this site.

        Nah, that’s just you projecting your antigentile hatred.

      • yrn
        January 18, 2014, 3:05 pm


        Nah, that’s just you projecting, there are not plenty of blatant antisemites tolerated on this site .

      • Talkback
        January 20, 2014, 3:01 pm

        Your use of the word “projecting” doesn’t even make sense, Hasbara clown.

  3. Maximus Decimus Meridius
    Maximus Decimus Meridius
    January 16, 2014, 11:01 am

    These attempts at sacralising the holocaust (only in the context of Jewish suffering, of course, Roma or other victims are insignificant) are really starting to take the proverbial. The holocaust was a historical event and should be subjected to the same scrutiny as any other such event, not treated as a quazi-religious taboo.

    • marc b.
      marc b.
      January 16, 2014, 11:59 am

      maximus, timothy Snyder makes a similar point, less directly. a synopsis of his book ‘bloodlands’ can be found in a talk he gives at the Ukrainian Art Museum (?) in Chicago available on youtube. his starting point for the annihilationist policies of Hitler and Stalin, as he puts it, is the 14 million targeted for intentional killing in E. Europe, of which, according to him, approximately 5.7 million were Jews. (That figure does not include millions of other deaths that were not the direct result of the intentional killing of defenseless persons.) as he also puts it, any history that primarily focuses on the deaths of Poles, Roma, Jews, Ukrainians, etc. is necessarily a flawed history.

    • yrn
      January 20, 2014, 3:44 pm


      Smart guy, there are many here that were banned from other sites because of that reason. ask them.

  4. DaveS
    January 16, 2014, 11:06 am

    Aside from the sheer lunacy of criminalizing speech, my next thought was about Netanyahu and others routinely invoking the Holocaust and Hitler and Nazis and Munich 1938 when discussing Iran, and previous comparisons over the years of Arafat and Saddam Hussein to Hitler and Palestinians to Nazis. How would this bill allow such comparisons to be made but prohibit Nazi-related accusations against Israelis. Rudoren does raise the specter of such prosecutions, noting Netanyahu’s accusations and quoting a Hadash MK who opposes the bill. There is no real possibility that he would ever face such a charge, but the public embarrassment of such a blatant double standard probably would make him oppose the bill.

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius
      Maximus Decimus Meridius
      January 16, 2014, 11:30 am

      It goes well beyond Arafat. Back in the 50s, when memories of the holocaust were still raw, the Israelis referred to Gamal Abdul Nasser as the ‘Hitler of the Nile’.

      You see – Israel owns the holocaust. THEY are allowed to make even the tackiest and most offensive holocaust allusions, but if anyone else does it, even with much greater reason, it’s sacrilege and antisemitism.

    • pabelmont
      January 16, 2014, 12:04 pm

      David S. The State (in Israel, in USA, almost everywhere) CONTROLS (or itself, solely, PERFORMS) the prosecution of crime, and can overlook whatever it wishes to overlook — to avoid embarrassment or worse of political favorites, or to allow vague criminal laws to be focused on politically expendable folks.

      No danger of N’yahu being prosecuted for calling Ahmedinejad a Nazi even after passage of the law in question.

  5. Philip Munger
    Philip Munger
    January 16, 2014, 11:06 am

    Michelle Goldberg just linked to a Times of Israel article that headlines “Israel’s anti-Nazi censorship law would jail half the cabinet.”

    • Tzombo
      January 16, 2014, 11:09 am

      Yeah, nobody loves to use the word Nazi more than Israeli rightwingers. This will make it almost impossible for them to talk about Iran or the Palestinians.

  6. Tzombo
    January 16, 2014, 11:08 am

    I think it is a bit of a breakthrough that the Gawker has this story and is playing up the absurdity of banning the word Nazi for freedom.

  7. talknic
    January 16, 2014, 11:53 am

    For the Jewish state to be in breach of a Charter and International Laws the UN adopted and codified in large part because of the ghastly treatment of our Jewish fellows treatment by the %^%$#@ Nazis, is quite bizarre Naziesque

  8. Sycamores
    January 17, 2014, 1:07 am

    talking about controlling the narrative. would this mean if a israeli troll calls me (or anyone else for that matter) a nazi i can report him/her to the israeli judicial system.
    and if that person is found guilty they would be fine of as much as $29,000 and up to six months in jail. bizarre indeed.

  9. Talkback
    January 17, 2014, 8:26 am

    What about Yeshayahu Leibowitz term “Judeonazi”? Will it be verboten, too?

  10. RoHa
    January 20, 2014, 9:12 pm

    “If Jews incessantly claim to having been wronged by anti-Semitism”

    As I have said elsewhere, Jews should stop whining about anti-Semitism and start promoting justice for all.

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