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Judeo-Nazis in Prime Time

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
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Religious Zionism's Itamar Ben-Gvir in the Israeli Knesset, last month.
Religious Zionism's Itamar Ben-Gvir in the Israeli Knesset, last month.Credit: Emil Salman
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

MK Itamar Ben-Gvir was upset by the latest parody of him on the satirical TV show “Eretz Nehederet,” in which his character wore a yellow armband recalling the Nazi swastika. In an interview Sunday with Radio 103FM, he protested in the name of the “six million Jews who were murdered and slaughtered.”

“Why compare an MK of the State of Israel to a Nazi?” he asked. “Am I a Nazi?”

Israel was founded as a way of preventing the  from happening again. This is an essential part of Israelis’ national consciousness. This message is planted deep in the public soul every day. The Holocaust is present in everything and justifies everything.

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To borrow from Paul Celan’s brilliant poem, one could say the Holocaust is the “black milk” Israeli Jews suckle from the breast; they are addicted to it from the day they are born. The Holocaust is their raison d’etre, their reason to suffer and their reason to celebrate, and it shapes the deepest layers of their collective self-image. It’s the voice of the narrator reading their national narrative.

And therefore, it’s the context in which the comparison of Ben-Gvir to a Nazi on “Eretz Nehederet” must be judged. After all, Ben-Gvir doesn’t represent only those who voted for his party, but also millions of people who voted for Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties, which supported his inclusion in a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu when they cast their votes.

He also represents the media, which view him as a legitimate and desirable interviewee. He represents the interviewers who joke around with him and the audience that’s entertained by him. He represents an entire country in which he is a legislator like any other, sought after and accepted.

By this point, , it’s no longer possible to separate the Holocaust from the banal, routine, everyday Israeli existence. They are inextricably bound together, two issues that cannot be discussed separately.

Similarly, it’s impossible to distinguish between Ben-Gvir and the core of the nation. The Holocaust is Israel’s flesh and blood, and Ben-Gvir is flesh and blood of the masses holding barbecues to celebrate Independence Day.

Here is the heart of the issue: It’s impossible to discuss Jewish racism in Israel, the institutionalized racist discrimination, the apartheid and the occupation without discussing the Holocaust. And that includes discussion by means of satire.

The deep-rooted Zionist narrative holds that Israel was founded to prevent another Holocaust. Therefore, the issue of Ben-Gvir’s attitudes toward Arabs (and those of the entire country gathered around him) is closely and directly related to the Nazis’ racism against Jews.

It’s impossible to discuss the Ben-Gvir-ization of Israel in any way other than against the background of the Holocaust. Without that background, any discussion of this phenomenon would be shallow, sloppy and devoid of the historical insight needed to understand it.

Ben-Gvir obviously exploits his new, symbolic status as an MK to make the damage to his reputation seem even worse. “Why compare an MK of the State of Israel to a Nazi?” But the fact that he is an MK merely intensifies the need to cite the Holocaust as the unavoidable frame of reference.

And beyond the dispute over the parody on “Eretz Nehederet” lies the shadow of “Judeo-Nazis,” the term coined by philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz. Those who didn’t want Judeo-Nazis in the Israel Prize awards ceremony ultimately got them on prime-time television over Shabbat. Whatever is repressed and kicked down the front stairs will ultimately creep in through the window.

This provocative term has validity because Israel, through its conduct in the territories, is cheapening the Holocaust – and not because every Israeli soldier in the or Kahanist MK acts like a Nazi in every respect, or because Israel has drafted an orderly plan to annihilate the Palestinian people.

On the ashes of the Holocaust Israel decided to resurrect itself and nourish the divine righteousness of its actions. Thus Ben-Gvir has no moral right to protest in the name of the “six million Jews who were murdered and slaughtered.” But the Palestinians do.

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