In Jerusalem, the Holocaust Is Trivialized
Even for the ultra-Orthodox, the Holocaust and Nazism are tossed blithely into political discourse. Is nothing sacred?
(Daily Beast) -- by Dan Ephron--
An Israeli protest over the weekend by ultra-Orthodox Jews who dressed their children to look like inmates at a Nazi concentration camp highlights the sometimes peculiar role the Holocaust plays there in political discourse and even in everyday exchanges.
The spectacle at a Jerusalem square Saturday night, staged by the most extreme of the ultra-Orthodox community’s myriad factions, featured mostly adults but also several dozen kids in striped uniforms and yellow stars, evoking the Holocaust’s most iconic images. The demonstrators were protesting an effort by secular Israelis to roll back gender segregation on some bus lines and in certain neighborhoods—a dispute that has surged in recent weeks.
Politicians from across the spectrum voiced outrage, as did Jewish groups in Israel and abroad, describing the display as an ugly trivialization of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were murdered by Nazis and their sympathizers.
But while it amounted to the most graphic insinuation in recent memory that Israelis are somehow perpetrating Nazi-like crimes against fellow Israelis, it was hardly the first time the Holocaust has been used cynically here in a political context.
In fact, even as Israel zealously guards the memory of the genocide, many Israelis invoke it frivolously in a manner that can seem shocking to outsiders and might even be illegal in some countries (the EU has a provision against trivializing the Holocaust, as do several European countries individually).
“People in Israel misuse the Holocaust in politics and other areas all the time,” says Yehuda Bauer, a Holocaust historian and the academic adviser to Yad Vashem, Israel’s primary Holocaust memorial and museum. “It’s used mainly by the right wing but also by the left and center” to vilify political adversaries.
In its more benign form, Israelis might talk about the 1967 line that divides Israel and the West Bank as “the Auschwitz border,” or equate Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Adolf Hitler. Bauer recalls that during Israel’s Lebanon war in 1982, Prime Minister Menachem Begin famously likened the blockade against PLO leader Yasir Arafat in Beirut to the siege on Hitler’s bunker near the end of World War II.
“The comparisons tend to dilute the real significance of the Holocaust,” he says.
But it’s not uncommon to hear Israelis refer to other Israelis as Nazis as well. Jewish settlers regularly use the term against Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, as when troops are sent to dismantle unauthorized outposts. The late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a well-known left-wing intellectual, once described settlers as “Judeo-Nazis.” Israeli traffic cops occasionally complain they’re called Nazis by the motorists they pull over...MORE...LINK
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