Sunday, February 01, 2009

A little perspective, please

Walter Reich, a former director of the US Holocaust Museum, has a thought-provoking piece in today's Washington Post. He points to something that has outraged me, namely the increasing tendency to liken Israel to Nazi Germany, in other words using the Holocaust as a cudgel against Israelis for their actions in Gaza, e.g. Gaza as a "big concentration camp," Israel as the "fourth Reich," etc.

I'd like to see a permanent moratorium on the use of the word "holocaust" to describe anything but the attempted murder of an entire people between l939 and l945. What happened in Gaza can certainly be described as a tragedy, an outrage, a human catastrophe, whatever, but a cursory examination of the facts of the Holocaust vs. Gaza brings up NO similarities between the two. The Third Reich purposefully and consciously set out to murder the Jews of Europe, and presumably any others they encountered. They established speecial camps for this purpose and carefully honed the necessary technology to kill as many as possible. When the war was clearly lost, they diverted supplies and personnel from the front to the killing grounds. This was deliberate and very well planned mass murder--of an entire people.

It is fair to say that the Israelis overreacted to the rocket attacks from Hamas in Gaza and are engaging in serious overreaction on a number of fronts vis-a-vis the Palestinians. The layers of recriminations in this conflict would take days to peel away. But Israelis are NOT in the business of trying to mass murder the Palestinian people, and it is dishonest in the extreme to imply there is some comparison with modern Israelis and their Nazi murderers.

I also register my strong objection to the use of the word "holocaust" to describe abortion, slavery, or any other regrettable institution. You have to ask yourself: is there a discernible plot hatched in the US, or ANYWHERE, against unborn children? Was there a master plan to obliterate everyone taken or sold into slavery? In both cases, the answer is a resounding NO. So stop using the world "holocaust" already!

Words really do need to retain some meaning. So let's use the word "Holocaust" to refer to the terrible, singular event it captures so well.


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