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July 22, 2002

Is "Nazi" an Empty Insult?

Off the Pine posts that" "There is no greater sign of intellectual and moral bankruptcy in discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict than to label Israeli actions 'Nazi.'" Since Michael posted on my weblog on this question, I assume he is talking to me as well.

Let's start with Nazism itself. Michael wants to reduce discussion of Nazism to the "Final Solution" as what was distinct about the movement.

Given that many global activists in the US and elsewhere were denouncing Nazism as a unique evil by the mid-1930s, it is not accurate to say that it was equivalent to other "legally codified racial discrimination." There were seeds of the gas chamber in the rhetoric and actions of the day that others saw early on.

Which brings us to Israel. I actually agree with Michael that there are many admirable things (in a relative sense) about Israel's treatment of its Arab citizens, which is why its recent legislation threatening to codify racial segregation was so alarming. And its treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are reaching levels of inhumanity that makes bland comparisons to "discrimination" a little too simple. But more alarming is that the Likud government has allowed in parties (such as Molodet) to the government which are explicitly calling for ethnic clensing on the West Bank; the term used is "transfer", exactly the term used by Nazis in their early discussion of the Jewish "problem." When the fascist Meir Kahane was killed twelve years ago, most in Israel said good riddance. But when the Molodet leader was killed last fall, despite advocating essentially the same policy, he was given state honors. People may blame this on Palestinian extremism (just as Nazism has been blamed on many causes) but the shift in values in Israel is worrying.

I agree that casual equation of Israel with Nazism is wrongheaded, but it is equally wrong to ignore the danger signs of incipient fascism in Israel. There are strong counter-forces in Israel against Nazi-like policies, but they are strongest when worldwide outrage is mobilized. One reason Israel backed off its proposed racist land policy was the moral outrage expressed.

Posted by Nathan at July 22, 2002 12:29 PM

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I think any rational person would agree that the comparisons between Israel and Germany's Nazis can be right on the mark. The same can be said for this current Bush Administration. It isn't an empty insult, it is a statement of fact.

Posted by: Les Dabney at July 22, 2002 02:15 PM

Any rational person would agree? A statement of fact? Are you being serious, or sarcastic?

Posted by: John at July 23, 2002 01:42 AM

I think that the phrase, "any rational person would agree", may be going a bit far. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn't make them irrational, they just have a different opinion.

I happen to agree that it is perfectly aceptable to compare Israeli, US, Chinese, Russian, Rwadan, or whomever's policy to the Nazis. It may be counterproductive to do so.

Think about it: whenever you have a group that wants to lock up or exterminiate an entire group solely based on their religion or ethnicity, you're doing the same thing the Nazis did. If you do it systematically, you get even closer.It isn't as if we haven't had some examples of systematic mass slaughter since Hitler: Russia, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Kosovo are just easy examples.

Posted by: Felix at July 23, 2002 11:53 AM

Felix proposes a reasonable standard - "anyone wants to lock up or exterminate a group solely based on their religion or ethnicity." I think this is perfectly fair. However, Israel's policies don't rise to this standard.

1) There is no exterminationist trend anywhere in Zionism. The worst apples in the barrel (and I admit they are despicable) want to expel Arabs.
2) The dramatic difference in how Israel treats Arabs that are its citizens, and Arabs in the occupied territories is pretty convincing evidence that religion or ethnicity can not be the sole accounting factor.
3) Finally, Israeli closures of West Bank cities and towns are responses to Palestinian attacks.

If you are looking to describe state policy as "Nazi", the Rwandan genocide, and the China's Tibetan policies (designed to eliminate Tibetans as a distinct cultural entity) are far closer to the mark.

Posted by: Michael at July 23, 2002 07:21 PM

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