Last year, a group of Muslims in Switzerland donned the infamous Holocaust-era yellow Star of David badges with the word Muslim emblazoned on them, in order to call attention to the putative discrimination they claimed to face. The Swiss Jewish community was outraged, with some people briefly considering filing a law suit. It’s unclear what the grounds for such legal action would have been. Given recent actions by Jews, any legal challenge would have faced pretty steep odds of succeeding. It's hard for Jews to complain of incitement and emotional distress when fellow Jews themselves use the same symbolism in an equally reckless, ahistorical, and immoral fashion.
In recent weeks, media outlets, both in Israel and outside of it, have been filled with stories of Haredim donning yellow badges as a means of protesting the supposed discrimination they face. The claim by some in the ultra-Orthodox community that those who engaged in this behavior constituted a fringe group rang hollow – in such a highly-structured and authoritarian society, it's hard to imagine that rabbinic authorities couldn't have stopped them. Moreover, the claim that this was just a fringe group was exposed as a lie in late December, when 1,500 Haredim demonstrated in Jerusalem. Participants wore yellow badges and dressed their children in striped uniforms, drawing all sorts of Nazi analogies, including the declaration:”This is how it began in Germany.”
Sadly, ultra-Orthodox Jews are not the only group who behaves in this despicable fashion. Some West Bank settlers have taken to hurling the epithet “Nazi” at Israeli soldiers, with some donning yellow badges as well.
The use of this analogy is not, of course, limited to Haredim and settlers. Critics of Israel and its policies are quick to declare Israeli soldiers Nazis, speaking of the “genocide of the Palestinians.” While the Israeli army, just like any other army, is not beyond reproach, to call its tactics Nazi-like is so far beyond the pale of reality that it sheds light on the irrationality – if not anti-Semitism -- of some of these extreme critics. To speak of genocide of the Palestinians also makes little sense. Many Palestinians certainly are suffering, but to call what they face genocide is ludicrous.
All these analogies should be universally condemned. They are wrong when they are made by the likes of Glenn Beck, the former right wing darling of the Fox Network, and they are wrong when they are made by those on the left end of the political spectrum. Critics cannot pick and choose against whom they wish to direct their ire. The Progressive Jewish Fund for Justice, which led the fight against Glen Beck’s outrages, lost much credibility when it remained silent about similar actions by those on the left. Nor can those on the right, who know of every left winger who ever used such an analogy, keep silent when settlers or others on the right use such analogies.
While using the yellow badges and Nazi analogy is wrong, irrespective of its point of origin, it's particularly reprehensible when used by Jews against Jews. That is why those Haredim and settlers who have done so have twisted Jewish history, earning the contempt of fellow Jews everywhere, and bringing shame upon the Jewish people as well as on the Jewish state.
Who needs enemies when you have such people in your midst?
Deborah E. Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. Her most recent book is The Eichmann Trial (Next Books/Schocken, 2011)