Monday, July 21, 2014

Abusing the Language of the Holocaust - Not Just Semantics

During the past few weeks, anti-Israel rhetoric, focused on Israel’s actions in the current battle with Hamas, has become, in many cases, synonymous with virulent antisemitism. 
This antisemitism, in the form of accusing Israel of perpetrating a “Holocaust” or “genocide” in Gaza, or of acting like Nazis, has also contributed to inciting physical antisemitism against Jews in Europe and elsewhere.  
The gratuitous use of Holocaust imagery in the propaganda efforts of Hamas and others is demagogic and dangerous. Such toxic imagery is frequently invoked in combination with elements of classic antisemitism, and venomous anti-Israel invective. It has become the language of discourse not only of Hamas and its supporters, but also of fellow travelers in the Arab world and the West.  
Language has power. The words we choose to use carry weight, and are meaningful. If we choose to label every event a Genocide or equate every event with the Holocaust, then we detract from the real meaning of those words and reduce their ability to represent true horror. As terrible as war is, and as painful as is the loss of civilian life, there is no factual or coherent parallel that can be drawn between contemporary events in Gaza and the historic events of the Holocaust.   
Shockingly, these facts must be repeated and repeated: 
The Nazis’ goal was to murder every single Jewish person in Europe, and ultimately in the world, a policy of systematic, mass murder of all Jews – men, women and children - simply because they were Jews. Based on their racial ideology, the Nazis established ghettos as part of a continuum of anti-Jewish persecution that culminated with mass murder in death factories in the heart of Europe.   
The conflict between the Palestinians and Israel is fundamentally about land and sovereignty, with tangible issues and a long convoluted history.  (Although the Hamas charter does contain genocidal antisemitic language).   
This is far beyond a simple question of semantics. Language is the currency in which we trade, and upon which our civilization rests. It is how we make ourselves understood, it is how we understand our world and reality.   We are already seeing the effects of the abuse of the language of the Holocaust in relation to current events.  It is obvious why Hamas would choose to use these terms, but when leaders of countries, communities, and of public opinion make similar claims, they must take into consideration the direct incitement to violence their words carry.  

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