On March 9, 1933, brown-shirted Sturmabteilung went on a rampage. “In several parts of Berlin a large number of people, most of whom appeared to be Jews, were openly attacked in the streets and knocked down. Some of them were seriously wounded. The police could do no more than pick up the injured and take them off to hospital,” the Guardian reported. “Jews were beaten by the brown shirts until blood ran down their heads and faces” the Manchester Guardian noted. “Before my eyes, storm troopers, drooling like hysterical beasts, chase a man in broad daylight while whipping him,” Walter Gyssling wrote in his diary.
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I know: you were outraged before you even finished the paragraph above. “How dare he compare isolated incidents here and there to Nazi Germany,” you are thinking to yourself. “This is an outrageous trivialization of the Holocaust.”
You are right, of course. My intention is not to draw any parallel whatsoever. Both my parents lost their families during World War II, and I need no convincing that the Holocaust is a crime so unique in its evil totality that it stands by itself even in the annals of other premeditated genocides.
But I am a Jew, and there are scenes of the Holocaust that are indelibly etched in my mind, even though I was not alive at the time. And when I saw the videos and pictures of gangs of right-wing Jewish racists running through the streets of Jerusalem, chanting “Death to the Arabs,” hunting for random Arabs, picking them out by their appearance or by their accents, chasing them in broad daylight, “drooling like hysterical beasts” and then beating them up before the police could arrive - the historical association was automatic. It was the first thing that jumped into my mind. It should have been, I think, the first thing that jumped into any Jew’s mind.
Israel in 2014, it goes without saying, is not “The Garden of Beasts” that Erik Larson wrote about in his book on 1933 Germany. The Israeli government does not condone vigilantism or thuggery, as the Nazis did for a while, before Germans started complaining about the disorder on their streets and the damage to Berlin’s international reputation. I have no doubt that the police will also do their utmost to apprehend the murderers of the Palestinian boy whose burnt body was found in a Jerusalem forest. I am even praying that they find that the killing wasn’t a hate crime at all.
But make no mistake: the gangs of Jewish ruffians man-hunting for Arabs are no aberration. Theirs was not a one-time outpouring of uncontrollable rage following the discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped students. Their inflamed hatred does not exist in a vacuum: it is an ongoing presence, growing by the day, encompassing ever larger segments of Israeli society, nurtured in a public environment of resentment, insularity and victimhood, fostered and fed by politicians and pundits - some cynical, some sincere - who have grown weary of democracy and its foibles and who long for an Israel, not to put too fine a point on it, of one state, one nation and, somewhere down the line, one leader.
In the past 24 hours alone, a Facebook Page calling for “revenge” for the killings of the three kidnapped teens has received tens of thousands of “likes,” replete with hundreds of explicit calls to kill Arabs, wherever they are. The one demanding the execution of “extreme leftists” reached almost ten thousand likes within two days. These, and countless other articles on the web and on social media are inundated, today as in most other days, with readers comments spewing out the worst kind of racist bile and calling for death, destruction and genocide.
These calls have been echoed in recent days, albeit in slightly more veiled terms, by members of the Knesset, who cite Torah verses on the God of Revenge and his command on the fate of the Amalekites. David Rubin, who describes himself as a former mayor of Shiloh, was more explicit: in an article published in Israel National News he wrote “An enemy is an enemy and the only way to win this war is to destroy the enemy, without excessive regard for who is a soldier and who is a civilian. We Jews will always aim our bombs primarily at military targets, but there is absolutely no need to feel guilty about ‘disrupting the lives of, and killing or wounding enemy civilians who are almost entirely Hamas and Fatah supporters.”
And hovering above all of this are Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, who persist in portraying our conflict with the Palestinians in stark terms of black and white, good versus evil; who describe Israel’s adversaries as incorrigible and irredeemable; who have never shown the slightest sign of empathy or understanding for the plight of the people who have lived under Israeli occupation for nearly half a century; whose pronouncements serve to dehumanize the Palestinians in the eyes of the Israeli public; who perpetuate the public’s sense of isolation and injustice; and who thus can be said to be paving the way for the waves of homicidal hatred that are now coming to light.
Some people will draw a parallel between the ugly right wing violence that swept Israel after the Oslo Accords and today’s rising tide of dangerous racism, implicating Netanyahu in both: from his fiery anti-government speeches in Zion Square to Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and from his harsh anti-Palestinian rhetoric to the outburst of horrid racism today. But that is an easy out. It is not Netanyahu who is to blame, it is the rest of us, Jews in Israel as well as those in the Diaspora, those who turn a blind eye and those who choose to look the other way, those who portray the Palestinians as inhuman monsters and those who view any self-criticism as an act of Jewish betrayal.
This comparison is surely valid: Edmund Burke’s maxim ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing’ was true in Berlin in the early 1930s and it will hold true in Israel as well. If nothing is done to reverse the tide, evil will surely triumph, and it won’t take too long.