In the Diaspora: Stealing our song

The equation of Israeli Jew with German Nazi has become part of proper conversation.

yellow star 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
yellow star 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Anti-Semites long ago perfected the mental gymnastics of simultaneously holding contradictory calumnies and fervently believing both to be true: Jews are bloodsucking capitalists and Jews are wild-eyed revolutionaries; Jews are the secret puppeteers of the world and Jews are the parasites living off the labor of others. To this roster of oxymorons, so cherished by the hateful, we may now add another. More and more, the rhetorical assault of choice against Israel, and by inference against Jews, is that they are Nazis. In this season of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the concept of Holocaust remembrance has been put to an end the Knesset surely never envisioned in 1951 when it passed the law enacting the holiday. The imperative then seemed to be the protection of historical memory, as well as, in the Israeli context, the honoring of those Jews who resisted. As Holocaust Remembrance Day has been adapted in much of the world, with even the United Nations in 2005 designating an annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the premise has been that intolerance feeds on ignorance, or on active Holocaust denial of the David Irving and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sort. But suppose we were wrong about that, or only partly right? Suppose Holocaust remembrance has become the cudgel of choice to be wielded against Israel, Zionism, Jewish self-determination? Suppose we are delegitimized not by effacing the memory of genocide but by embracing it? THAT TIME has sadly come. In the aftermath of the Gaza incursion, the equation of Israeli Jew with German Nazi has become part of proper conversation. Pat Oliphant, a renowned political cartoonist, produced and syndicated the image of a jackbooted, goose-stepping soldier pushing a Jewish star (accessorized with fangs) toward a cowering figure labeled "Gaza." The celebrated British playwright Caryl Churchill, in her widely-performed work of agitprop Seven Jewish Children, manages within just a 10-minute span to go from a Jewish mother hiding her daughter from the Nazis to an Israeli mother telling her daughter, "We're the iron fist now... I wouldn't care if we wiped them out... I don't care if the world hates us... we're better haters." Indeed, when Churchill invokes the phrase "chosen people," she plainly means it as a stand-in for "master race." As Elie Wiesel walked outside the Durban II conference in Geneva last week, a middle-aged, respectably attired protester repeatedly cried out, "Zion-Nazi." His words drew the same parallel as the visual aids at pro-Palestinian rallies several months ago in Chicago and California - an Israeli flag with a blue swastika in place of a six-pointed star, a placard with the slogan "Stop the Israeli Third Reich." IT'S NOT as if the Nazi analogy began with the Gaza war. Well before it, the UN's special rapporteur for the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, was tossing around terms like "genocidal tendencies," "Holocaust implications" and "Holocaust-in-the-making." But the appropriation of Jewish tragedy for anti-Semitism is especially pernicious as talk grows of war-crimes prosecution against Israeli political and military leaders, a Nuremberg tribunal of our very own. This is Jew-hatred wearing the garb of Jew-sympathy, and in a way that especially seduces a certain breed of Jewish or philo-Semitic liberal: You've suffered so much, how can you possibly do the same thing to someone else? Beneath its pacifism and seeming idealism, the contention depends on a kind of historical theft. This past weekend, I happened to attend the terrific revival of August Wilson's play, Joe Turner's Come and Gone. Inspired by actual events and people, it tells the story of a former slave who is recaptured and put into plantation bondage by a bounty-hunter. The captive, finally freed, asks another character in the play what he had that the white man wanted so badly. The character answers, "Your song." Stealing the Holocaust is a form of stealing our song - not the only Jewish song, thank God, but a genuine one, a dirge for the ages. It is using a piece of our past to disenfranchise us in the present and imperil us in the future. Part of the reason the blood libel worked so well, after all, was that it relied in a pivotal way on a Jewish truth, the centrality of matza to Passover. So if the Holocaust is a kind of proof-text on the necessity for Jewish sovereignty, then to snatch it away, to possess it on false terms, is an argument for Jewish helplessness. Which, lest we forget, is how it all could happen in the first place.