Please behave, the world is watching

Exploiting the memory of the Holocaust for petty political gain is an outrageous insult to the six million.

IDF Artillery 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF Artillery 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
It is not uncommon at anti-Israel rallies in Europe and around the world for protesters to compare Ariel Sharon to Hitler and Israeli soldiers to Nazis. For decades, Israel's actions toward the Palestinians and others have been obscenely equated with Nazi Germany during World War II. However, this sad phenomenon of associating certain Israeli actions with Nazism has also crept into the internal Israeli scene. During the 2005 disengagement, some extremist Gaza settlers wore orange stars, evoking memories of the expulsion of European Jews to concentration camps. The Nazi attacks do not just come from the Right. It has also become fashionable in some far-Left circles to call settlers Nazis. THE NAZI comparisons continued last week during an ugly incident in the Knesset on Tuesday when attorney Amnon De Hartog slapped United Torah Judaism MK Ya'acov Cohen. The justice official's action was despicable, and he was rightly censured and expelled from the Knesset. Violence has no place in a democratic parliament, where words, not fists, are supposed to make the final decision. But there was a deeper aspect to this fight than the normal political brawl. Before De Hartog attacked MK Cohen, the Orthodox Knesset member viciously declared: "You're worse than the Germans; they wanted to destroy the body, and you want to destroy the soul." Furthermore, Knesset officials present during the argument heard Cohen call the justice official "a Nazi." Instead of rationally and maturely discussing the very emotional issue of funding for haredi schools, Cohen decided to take the easy way out by labeling his opponent a Nazi. There is certainly some merit to debating how much money ultra-Orthodox schools are entitled to, and whether the students should be taught math and history along with Talmud and Torah. Yet by comparing De Hartog to a Nazi, by going to the extreme, Cohen silenced debate instead of initiating it. THE LAWYER obviously did not gas any women or children - but that is tantamount to what Cohen accused him of. And when such accusations are tossed around easily, without any seeming discomfort, it is a sign of an ugly cancer growing within Israeli society. There is something especially vile in a Jew calling another Jew a Nazi. Over the course of Hitler's 12-year reign over Germany, he managed to exterminate six million Jews. In fact, so evil were the Nazis' actions during World War II that they cannot be adequately described in words. Therefore, when Cohen said De Hartog was "worse than the Germans," he clearly crossed a "red line" that has been blurred in Israel by all the prevalent Nazi talk. I am definitely not justifying De Hartog's disgusting behavior, but Cohen has to share some of the blame for that Knesset brawl. In Israel, whose population is so heavily touched by the Holocaust, it should not come as a surprise that 20 members of De Hartog's family perished in Auschwitz. De Hartog is absolutely correct that even in the heat of a political debate "there are things you do not say in Israel." Thus in addition to De Hartog's apology, the public must also demand one from Cohen. NAZI comparisons dilute the meaning of the Holocaust, certainly the Jewish people's most tragic event in its modern history. Whenever the Holocaust is exploited in political debate, the memory of those who perished is desecrated. If De Hartog's decision to limit funding for haredi schools was really "worse than the Germans," then how are Israeli children, especially from the haredi sector, supposed to understand the magnitude of the Holocaust? There is a reason why there is only one Yad Vashem and one Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. The aging survivors of the death camps should not be forced to have their painful experiences constantly dragged into the public discourse to score cheap political points. For the sake of the entire Israeli public, this type of behavior must stop. Let's hope these kinds of ugly incidents, which diminish Israel's standing in the international community, become the exception rather than part of an ongoing trend. Slapping around a member of the Knesset or calling a member of the Justice Ministry a Nazi is not only bad hasbara - it's plain bad. The writer is a Jerusalem Post intern.