A July 1 letter to the AJP titled “West Bank, Warsaw ghetto alike,” inverts the Holocaust by claiming that Israel behaves like Nazi Germany. The letter was written with the aim of clarifying the “obfuscation,” “distraction” and “fabrication” the author found in the “Shaliach’s View” column of June 17, where Guy Gelbart wrote about his experience at a program called “Steadfast Hope: Perspectives on Peace and Justice for Palestine and Israel.”
By misusing and misrepresenting the Holocaust this letter only further muddied the dialogue. The author curiously equated Israeli Jews of today with European Jews of the 1930s and ’40s. The letter referred to “numerous examples” of European Jews that “took up arms against their Nazi oppressors almost immediately.” European Jews did not take up arms early and often. In one rare case Herschel Grynszpan, a Jewish teen, fired his pistol at Ernst vom Rath, the Third Secretary at the German Embassy in Paris. Germany used this event as cause to launch the pogroms of Nov. 9-10, 1938 (Kristallnacht). Grynszpan disappeared in the concentration camps.
Discourse surrounding events as emotionally fraught as those addressed in “West Bank, Warsaw ghetto alike,” warrants semantic prudence and precision. This letter, filled with generalizations and inaccuracies, a letter that dressed up the State of Israel in the clothes of Nazi Germany, did nothing to promote understanding or forward civil dialogue.
The Holocaust and its iconography have come to represent a universally recognized symbol of evil. This trend has led to the prevalent misuse of the Holocaust for particular and often propagandistic aims. One unfortunate consequence of this misappropriation of the Holocaust is that the history becomes distorted and reduced to an ideological tool. Another unfortunate consequence is that efforts to seek truth, understanding and civil discourse are undermined when groups or individuals raise the Holocaust as a point of comparison for situations where there is no genocidal intent.
—Bryan Davis, youth and Holocaust education coordinator, Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona