Saturday, January 24, 2009

Deparment of "I wish I'd said that"

Charles Lenchner of Peace in the Middle East nails something that has been bothering me lately, but I haven't been able to put into words:

Why Using Nazism and the Holocaust to Support Palestine is a Grave Error

1. Because if the killing of some hundreds, or even thousands of people is "genocide" on a par with the Holocaust, then where do you go when the death toll hits five or six figures? Just as the Israeli response in Gaza is deemed "disproportionate" by the international community, we need to recognize that some verbal responses are "disproportionate" as well.

2. Part of the desire to use the Holocaust against the Jews/Zionists/Israelis is a natural and understandable desire to 'tweak the noses' of one's opposition. This kind of dark sarcastic or spiteful language isn't unique to this issue, but it's rarely as harmful. The problem is that political messaging to observers doesn't work when couched in this kind of language. In the same way that email often fails to convey humor, dark and spiteful doesn't convey political messaging well.

3. The Holocaust is an awful tragedy that befell the Jewish people. Taking that experience and turning it around as verbal barbs against the same group is tasteless and offensive. It's like white people using the "N word". Even though Blacks do it, you can't.

4. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has spread, and now includes many other groups. The Lebanese, for example, who paid an enormous price as a consequence of the Nakba. Or the Jordanians, whose demographics were drastically altered. By using Holocaust imagery and language, you are conveying that the opposition isn't merely Israel, or the Zionists, but all Jews. This has the effect of portraying your side as anti-Semitic, thus strengthening Israel's case. It also helps unite Jews in active or passive support of the Israeli PR effort.

Notice I'm being careful in my words to convey mostly strategic reasons to avoid this kind of imagery. There is of course, the moral and ethical imperative to treat other groups, and the sacred cows of those other groups, with a certain degree of respect. That doesn't mean supporting Israel just because most Jews do; Israel is a legitimate political issue. Violating Jewish sensibilities to score rhetorical point for Palestinians is cheap, mean-spirited, hateful, dishonest and vicious. These are sentiments that play well (sadly) with some overwhelmingly Arab, Muslim and far-left audiences. Since it comes at the cost of building support for Palestinian rights in the Western world, we can also say that using this language is also, ultimately, a blow against the Palestinian cause.

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