The right to be heard

Last week we celebrated Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of the1967 liberation of Jerusalem. Today, hundreds of Syrians tried to breach Israel’s border in the Golan to commemorate what they call Naksa Day—the Arab “setback” in 1967 http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=223768. Just a few days before, I finished reading an excellent new book by Deborah Lipstadt on the 1961 Eichmann trial  (The Eichmann Trial [New York: Schocken Books, 2011])–so I guess I keep blogging on Israel.

Eichmann was the Nazi functionary in charge of transporting Jews to the death camps. Israeli agents captured him in Buenos Aires, where he’d been living under a false identity, and smuggled him out of the country.

The book cites some evidence that the Argentines were aware of the whole Israeli operation in their country and chose not to interfere, but of course they still had to raise a public protest over the violation of their sovereignty. Lipstadt describes the words of the Argentine UN ambassador, Mario Amadeo:

Equating Jews who fled the Nazis with Nazi war criminals who fled punishment at the end of the war, he observed that not just Eichmann, but Jewish refugees had also benefitted from his country’s liberal admissions policy. . . . He lauded his country’s open door to those ‘flee[ing] persecution.’ (p. 23)

Some American newspapers described Israel’s capture of Eichmann as “jungle law” and “tainted with lawlessness.” The Christian Science Monitor “argued that Israel’s claim to have the authority to adjudicate crimes against Jews committed outside of Israel was identical to the Nazis’ claim on the ‘loyalty of persons of German birth or descent’ wherever they lived” (p. 25). When I read these words I was amazed at how freely people were tossing around comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, even as they do today—and at how baseless these comparisons were then and still are. But what was most striking is that they were spewing this rhetoric at a time when Israel was relatively weak, well before the 1967 victory that led to its “occupation” of Arab lands, and not so long after the Holocaust itself. Fifteen short years after the Nazi defeat, people felt free to compare the Nazis’ victims with the Nazis themselves.

Here’s one of the worst examples. The famed psychologist Erich Fromm, author of The Art of Loving, which was an iconic touchy-feely text of the 60s, “claimed that Israel’s action was an ‘act of lawlessness of exactly the type of which the Nazis themselves . . . have been guilty’” (p. 31). The arrest of one very guilty war criminal was exactly the sort of thing the Nazis did? This is such an absurd comparison that I’ll refrain from going off on it.

Instead I’ll ask why this tactic of labeling Israelis as Nazis was used so recklessly and so early in Israel’s history. The world took a long time to speak up, and even longer to take any action, when Jews were victims during the Holocaust, but when Jews began to assert themselves on the world stage, it was immediately too much, immediately labeled as Nazi-like behavior despite the absurdity of any such comparison. Perhaps it goes all the way back to the Augustinian idea of the Jews as a witness people, who should be allowed to survive but not thrive, to demonstrate the consequences of rejecting the Messiah. Once Jews exert power they become very threatening. Whatever the reason for this attitude, for me the bottom line is that anyone who compares Israelis to Nazis has lost the right to be heard.

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