Taboo-breaking books look at Israeli occupation and the Holocaust

A Time to Speak Out: Independent Jewish Voices on Israel, Zionism and Jewish Identity is a must-read new book featuring thought-provoking essays on a range of topics.

In “The ‘Arab Nazi’ and the ‘Nazi Jew’”, British sociologist Anne Karpf has written a nuanced exploration and condemnation of the ways in which the terms “The Holocaust” and “Nazis” have been nearly emptied of meaning through their political exploitation in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Glenn Greewald has written about the freewheeling use of these images on Fox News to condemn liberals.) While Karpf documents the myriad ways in which Jewish and Israeli leaders have invoked this imagery to characterize Arabs and Palestinians, Karpf also looks at how Arab and Muslim leaders have characterized Israelis as Nazis and Palestinians as Jews, wondering how this comports with a policy Holocaust denial.

While Karpf largely considers the issue of name-calling and explosive imagery, we should also ask if there is a place for a thoughtful historical, political and even personal consideration of the relationship between the dehumanization practiced by the National Socialists, and that which is practiced by the Israeli military? In this country, self appointed thought police like the Anti-Defamation League would say no.

Hajo Meyer, a Dutch physicist from Germany who survived 10 months in Auschwitz in 1944, has answered this question with a resounding YES in his absolutely captivating memoir: The End of Judaism. An Ethical Tradition Betrayed. With tremendous love for the Jewish tradition he knew as a child, Meyer’s morally challenging and well documented book is not the kind that makes hyperbolic charges of equivalency between the gas chambers and Israel’s occupation that we have come to expect from the fringes. Far from it.

Rather, he poignantly describes the many years, prior to the mass murder of some 6 million Jews and 5 million others, of his own family’s experiences of dehumanization and humiliation at the hands of other Germans. He is fearless about making the connection to the callousness he sees displayed by many Israeli soldiers in the territories:

We are all too familiar with photographs of Germans in their immaculate uniforms making fun of destitute and frightened Jews. Jews in Germany could count on such humiliation at the hands of the authorities and their fellow citizens. The intimidation and harassment at Israeli checkpoints is not much different from what I experienced in my youth. I will never forget what I went through in this regard, even though it is no longer particularly painful. What I do find painful, however, is the knowledge that the Jews, who are my own people, are involved in similar humiliation of Palestinians.

His admission that the great unhealed trauma for him was being given one day to pack his bags and leave his home forever (an experience familiar to virtually every Jewish family), cannot help but evoke the image of some 3/4 of a million Palestinians fleeing their homes during the Nakba 60 years ago, many with keys still in hand, and never returning.

While unequivocally condemning the killing of all civilians, Meyer marvels that Palestinians are criticized for resisting oppression by the very people, Israelis, who, he suggests, have been the most “critical of the defenselessness and passivity of German Jews in the face of humiliation and persecution.” While not giving credence to ideas of genocide against Palestinians coming from anyone other than “complete fanatics”, Meyer’s point is that the Palestinians have already suffered “more than a people should have to bear.” While still hopeful that a just peace is possible, Meyer’s book is most of all a kind of lament for the ethical Judaism he knew growing up in Germany.

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