Jew-baiters have long invoked Nazism and the Holocaust as a way of getting up Jewish noses. This usually takes such trite and puerile forms as “Hitler should have finished the job” taunts or making mock “Heil Hitler!” salutes, but it generally hits the target. Indeed, Jewish sensitivities in this area are so pronounced as to almost invite such malicious needling. Not only do many of them foolishly allow such mischief-makers to push their buttons — reacting with noisy indignation when they would do better to merely maintain a scornful silence — but they have failed to sufficiently appreciate that invoking Nazism and the Holocaust for purposes of mocking and insulting Jews is increasingly taking on another, and even more pernicious, form.

“Israel the Apartheid State” is evidently not strong enough for a growing number of Israel bashers; now depicting Israelis as the new Nazis and their country as a warmed-up version of the Third Reich perpetrating a ‘holocaust’ against Palestinians is increasingly becoming the order of the day.

One doesn’t have to look very far to find local manifestations of this. For example:

  • On 16 January, the Palestine Solidarity Group and Women in Black SA chose to hold a “Public Women’s Vigil in solidarity with the people of Gaza” in a parking lot close to the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, explicitly to draw attention to what it believed to be “parallels between what Israel is perpetrating in Gaza and the Holocaust which was an unspeakable crime against humanity that virtually wiped out European Jewry”.
  • Speaking at last week’s Cosatu’s-headed solidarity rally in Lenasia, Salim Vally of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee remarked that the people who were “resisting this racist Zionist killing machine” in Gaza was reminiscent of “the brave young Jewish men and women in the Warsaw ghetto when they were resisting Nazi occupation”.
  • “What about the Holocaust that they are creating now?” asked ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte on the Jon Qwelane Show (Channel Islam International, November 25) after referring to the Holocaust in Europe.

It goes without saying that lurid emails juxtaposing Holocaust images with harrowing images from the Gaza conflict are doing the rounds.

It should really be self-evident why evocations of Nazism are both false and deeply offensive. However, given the present climate of irrational rage, I feel constrained to spell out just why this is so. I will endeavor to do so as concisely and unemotively as possible, basing this on certain essential facts whose cannot be seriously disputed.

This is why the analogy is false:

  • It is undeniable that Israel has a formidable array of deadly modern weaponry at its disposal and that it could therefore easily inflict tens, and even hundreds, of thousands of civilian casualties if it set out to kill and maim as many people as possible. One need only refer to the Allied bombing of Dresden in February 1945, which resulted in an estimated 40 000 civilian deaths in just two nights, and that was accomplished with weaponry that was a great deal less sophisticated than what Israel can bring to bear.
  • Next, it is not in dispute that when Palestinian militants carry out their attacks against Israel, they do not try to avoid inflicting civilian casualties but that, on the contrary, they seek to maximise them. This is why their missiles are primarily fired at residential areas rather than military targets and why their bombs are detonated in buses, restaurants and other public places frequented by civilians.
  • It is therefore hardly rocket science to conclude that if Israel were to adopt the Palestinian tactic of deliberately targeting civilians, then real genocide — that is, orchestrated mass slaughter targeting an entire population — would indeed ensue.
  • However, and this is the third “fact”, the number of Palestinians killed in the three-week Gaza war was not much more than 1 200, inclusive of militants and civilians. In other words, Israel very obviously did not carry out “systematic mass murder” against the Gaza Palestinians, although it certainly had the ability to do so.
  • Finally, it can persuasively be argued that the objective facts exonerate Israel of responsibility for those comparatively few Palestinian non-combatants who were killed in the fighting. By launching attacks from within the confines of densely populated areas, by storing missiles and rocket launchers under mosques and civilian residences, by using university facilities and other protected places to develop weapons and explosives, Hamas systematically abused the protections afforded to civilians and civilian objects under international law, while placing the safety and welfare of these civilians at great risk. Such tactics in fact made deaths and injuries to Palestinian civilians impossible for Israel to avoid when countering such attacks.

The real moral responsibility for those casualties must therefore be squarely laid at the door of Hamas.

So much for disproving the grotesque “Nazi = Israel” comparison. Why, in fact, is it so very offensive? Here’s why:

  • By equating Nazi methods of tyranny with Israeli self-protection measures, it implies that Israeli actions are as bad as Nazi ones, a repellent accusation given the kind of unrestrained brutality the Nazis indulged in and which the Israelis have so scrupulously avoided despite the intense provocation they face.
  • Atrocity denialism is further implicit in the way that Palestinians are depicted as the “new Jews”. This effectively depicts them as being as harmless, helpless and completely innocent as Jewish victims of Nazism undoubtedly were. Thus are countless acts of Palestinian aggression — including the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians, frequently in extremely barbaric ways, shamelessly airbrushed out of the historical record.
  • Another implied message suggests is that the Nazi campaign of mass murder against the Jewish people was in some measure provoked by Jewish atrocities against the German civilian population when in reality they were done to death not because of what they had done but solely for being what they were. To infer otherwise is an infamous slander against their memory.
  • Finally, it implies that what the Palestinians are enduring can be equated to what the victims of the Holocaust suffered. This minimises Nazi crimes to an extent that borders on outright Holocaust denialism.

In responding to this last point, the British-Jewish political scientist Emanuele Ottolenghi wrote the following: “In Gaza, since the start of Israel’s offensive, there have been fewer than 50 deaths a day, up to 70% of them Hamas fighters. Nazis took joy at massacring civilians. Israelis give warning via phone to civilians. Nazis starved their victims for months before destroying the Ghetto. Israel sends humanitarian aid in the form of food and medicines every day. Intelligent people should be able to see the difference and refrain from such comparisons. But the effect is to demonise Israel by comparing it with Nazism, the quintessential evil of modern European history. And, in the process, it ends up trivialising the Holocaust as well, much like Holocaust denial. If only 50 people a day died in the Warsaw Ghetto while the Nazis were resupplying their hapless Jewish victims with food and medicine, one cannot fault the Nazis too much.

It also follows, logically, that Jews trying to turn that history into a paradigm of evil are exaggerating. For political goals perhaps? You see where this can go. Anyone with a sense of history should know better than to compare Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. Even in Zimbabwe things are worse than Gaza. Does that remind them of the Warsaw Ghetto?”

“Look at me, Jew — I’m a Nazi!” right-wingers taunt; “Look at you, Jew, you’re a Nazi!” hiss their lefty counterparts. There is, in other words, a “right wing” and a “left wing” way of using Nazi-Holocaust terminology to humiliate and/or intimidate Jewish people. The second is perhaps even more repulsive because it is framed in the guise of concern for justice and human rights (although, to be fair, some have been sufficiently taken in by the dominant anti-Israel line to have convinced that their intentions are good).

Last year, an investment company ran an advertisement that posed the question, “Is your bank manager a dictator?” accompanied by a picture of someone made up to look like Hitler. I found the ad rather amusing but certain of my Jewish brethren took such serious umbrage that the company hastily removed it. It reminded me of an absurd incident in Cape Town several years ago prior to that when someone named Nazim caused consternation by having a personalised number plate that bore the first four letters of his name. In the end, he agreed — rather generously in the circumstances — to render the offending legend innocuous by having the ‘i’ removed.

It seems ridiculous that such innocuous skirmishes are being pursued when Nazi imagery has come to be used in a far more demeaning, and even threatening, manner in the way anti-Israel propaganda is developing.

Fluit, fluit, my storie’s uit. What’s the bet that responses to this post will include at least one sneering observation about Jews “crying anti-semitism” in order to draw attention away from their “brutal oppression of the Palestinian people”. Watch this space.


David Saks

David Saks

David Saks has worked for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) since April 1997, and is currently its associate director. Over the years, he has written extensively on aspects of South African...

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