What would you do if someone called you a "kike"? How would you respond to this racist remark?
Etgar Keret's father, who had to hide from Nazis during World War II, was presented with this question at a train station in Norway more than 30 years ago. Keret explains his father's retorts to the group of Norwegian drunks in "Sometimes 'Nazi' Is the Right Word," an op-ed in the New York Times on January 17.
Keret wrote the article in response to an Israeli bill that would ban the use of Nazi symbols and the word "Nazi." The bill passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset this past week. He summarizes the bill's passing, writing, "The [Israeli] government views the word as a weapon of mass destruction no less lethal than an Iranian nuclear bomb, and so it insists on Israel’s basic right to protect itself from the threat."
He goes on to describe two alternative futures for the State of Israel. In the first, the country is almost exactly the same as it currently is, but the Nazi bill has passed, outlawing its utterance:
"This other Israel would also be sunny, with golden beaches, roadblocks in the territories, targeted killings and rockets hitting the southern towns. The only difference between this new Israel and the current one would be that in the new Hebrew language that would be spoken there, you could say anything except 'Nazi,' 'fascist' and 'anti-democratic.' Wouldn’t that be a better place to live than our current Israel?"
In his second hypothetical Israeli reality, Keret asks his readers to exercise their imaginations. The word "Nazi" is permitted "but the government genuinely wants a peace accord and its members do not treat the Palestinians like 'shrapnel in your butt' — as our economy minister, Naftali Bennett, recently put it — but rather as neighbors seeking freedom and self-determination."
The readers' imaginations are asked to be stretched even further:
"The government gives serious consideration to African refugees’ appeals rather than locking them up in camps while Knesset members like Danny Danon and Miri Regev call them 'a cancer,' or 'infiltrators,' and use racial epithets not unlike those my parents were subjected to in that miserable war in which my grandparents were murdered by you-know-who."
The "Brave New Israel" that Keret hopes readers would prefer is the one that "strives for peace and defends human rights regardless of religion, race or gender." But he blatantly points out the Israeli government's desire for the other version.
So, which reality would you rather be in, if you were called a "kike" by a group of drunken racists?
"What my father did, according to the Knesset members who support the 'Nazi' ban, was a criminal act that justifies a prison sentence," writes Keret. "And in their Brave New Israel, it’s worth noting, the racist Norwegians would have been well within their rights."
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