Should we ban ‘Nazi analogies’?
Tony Lerman discusses a new report, Understanding and Addressing the “Nazi Card”: Intervening Against Antisemitic Discourse, from the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (EISCA)
Using Nazi analogies to criticise Israel and Zionism is offensive, but should it be banned, criminalised or branded as antisemitic? Comment is free itself has a policy on this, according to which moderators generally rule Nazi comparisons out of order for being provocative, abusive and doing nothing to promote better understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict; a distinction is made, however, when actual historical connections between Zionists (or Arab nationalists) and the Nazis are a legitimate topic under discussion.
The authors of a new report, Understanding and Addressing the “Nazi Card”: Intervening Against Antisemitic Discourse, from the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (EISCA), take a different line. The chairman of EISCA is Denis MacShane, and the report carries a strong endorsement from Shahid Malik, minister for communities and local government, the government department that gave a £20,000 grant to EISCA to produce the report.
Researchers Paul Iganski and Abe Sweiry are concerned about what they see as the increasing normalisation of the use of what they call the “Nazi card” against Jews and Israel. They say this is often antisemitic; but in relation to the first three of four uses of the “Nazi card” that they consider – abuse against Jews, as in swastika daubings on Jewish gravestones; abuse of the collective memory of the Holocaust, as in Holocaust denial; and casting Jews as conspirators and collaborators with the Nazis – almost always so.
Their principal concern, however, is use of the “Nazi card” in modes of criticism of Israel. Here, they acknowledge that it’s hard to decide when using Nazi analogies is or is not a manifestation of antisemitism. So much so, they argue, that “labelling the playing of the Nazi card against Israel and Zionism as antisemitic, even though it is perceived to be so by many, leads to a discursive dead-end”. What really matters is the consequences of this use of the “Nazi card”, whether it’s offensive, hurtful or harmful. On this, “more people would be more certain”. The authors write: “although the playing of the Nazi card is not always antisemitic, it unquestionably always harms”. As a result, where this occurs, it could already be defined as a criminal act, and if not, Iganski and Sweiry say, consideration should be given to changing the law so that it would be. In other words, if you said “the way the IDF operated in Gaza was like the way the SS acted in Poland”, and a Jew found this offensive, hurtful or harmful, you could, in theory, go to jail.
I also believe that there should be no place for Nazi analogies in public debate, but in my view, the argumentation and recommendations in this report are deeply flawed. And when you dig deeper into the reasoning, it seems confused, muddled and contradictory…