The Limits of Political Protest

By Doni Kandel

In 21st century American culture, political correctness has become a mainstay of the national discourse.  While the idea of political correctness is honorable, the practical implications of its virtue are tainted by political interests and subjectivity.   While the battle over what is considered politically correct continues to be waged, one specific usage of terminology should be established as strictly taboo. This is the blatant and unconscionable usage of Nazi and Hitler comparisons. While this phenomenon is prevalent in many societies, Israel included, there has been a dramatic and troubling rise in its usage in the modern American political dialogue.

While the 1st amendment protects the free speech of all people, and taking issue with what every single citizen says in the privacy of their own homes is futile, the alarming rise in Nazi and Hitler desensitization on a national political level should not be tolerated and must be combated.

The constant linking of political parties, movements, and policies to Nazi practices is an insult to every soul tortured and slaughtered in the camps. There is no comparison to the heinous actions of the Hitler regime, yet it is shamelessly used to get a rise out of people whenever the political climate darkens. It is egregious for anyone to compare President Obama’s healthcare bill to Nazi policy in a political forum, as it was by a woman who attended a townhall meeting with Barney Frank, who discredited the rhetoric with aplomb). This woman, and others like her, must be reminded that her unfortunate word choice may hold water at a Klan meeting, but certainly not a townhall meeting. Similarly, while one may vehemently oppose the policies of a particular Israeli government, in no rational reality does Zionism equal Nazism. This is exactly the type of unsubstantial delegitimization Israel’s enemies have attempted to achieve in the international community, with worrisome results.

More disconcerting than a pedestrian Obama objector or a pro-Palestinian protestor playing the Nazi match game is the utilization of this tactic by American academia. Noam Chomsky, lauded hero of the American Left and a Jew himself, dared to compare the right-wing media in America to Nazi Germany. Chomsky has a responsibility as a public figure whose opinions shape countless others, to be far more judicious with his words. Using such appalling rhetoric to emphasize a point is wrong no matter how passionately he may believe in his argument. He effectively transforms himself from well respected intellectual to a radical nut who seeks to equate Nazism with any person or group they might disagree with.

Avid internet forum debaters may be familiar with the term Godwin’s Law. Godwin’s Law is an internet decree that states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1,” and when this occurs, “the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically ‘lost’ whatever debate was in progress.” The American political lexicon needs to adopt Godwin’s Law. It must be regularly recognized that the use of Hitler and Nazi terms in relation to anything else is an inexcusable method of debate. While there is a social stigma in regard to the usage of Nazi lingo, it needs to be acted upon. A ban on this type of language, while effective (as Germany itself has demonstrated), would violate the Constitution.  However, the most effective way to stand up to a politician or pundit is with a checkbook and at the polls. Public figures who irresponsibly engage in Nazi and Hitler comparisons, or even abstain from denouncing them, must be shown that their constituency will not stand for it. Letter must be written, funds must be withheld, and votes must be cast elsewhere.

My Grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor, had made a habit of going to sleep with the radio on full blast, always listening with one ear for the news of an approaching tragedy. Sleeping just one floor above her, I was blessed to instead fall asleep to the sounds of a sitcom on my television and a smile of ignorance on my face. In today’s world we are lucky enough to not have to know anything close to the misery our ancestors suffered at the hands of the Third Reich. The difference between my grandmother’s bed-time habits and my own illustrate the absurdity of comparing today’s political situations to the Holocaust.

8 responses to “The Limits of Political Protest

  1. Robert Blitzstein

    Beautifully written, keep up the great articles.

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  3. I agree ! This practice is offensive, abhorrent and potentially dangerous. I commend you for giving voice to those who no longer have one. As the child of Holocause Survivors, I am personally touched by your efforts to enlighten others of how repulsive and hurtful this practice is. On behalf of my grandparents, parents and countless aunts, uncles and extended family I thank you .

  4. Doni–well said! I have had several recent conversations on the same topic. We delegitimize and trivialize the horror of the Holocaust with this ludicrous hyperbole.

  5. Amen. A peeve of mine as well.

  6. Very nice Doni!! I agree with every word you wrote….

  7. Orlando Von Ron Sicarino Jr.

    Mr. Kandel,
    As a recent immigrant to the great country of Israel, its nice to see that someone in this land is finally standing up for these baseless comparisons of modern democracies to Nazism. I want you to keep writing and stay strong with your beliefs and opinions even if you feel alone. We are behind you and NEVER AGAIN (rmk)!

  8. James Carlson

    The use of historical metaphors is common in America Those holding right wing allegiances are often referred to as Nazis, just as liberals are referred to as Communists. These are the result of historical parallels that are all too easily applied by those who understand the power behind a good metaphor. Those with right wing beliefs repeatedly attempt to inhibit government control of business and the economy while increasing control of purely societal agendas, and it is this apparent hypocrisy wrapped about in the apparent zeal for social control that leads to comparisons with Nazi beliefs — valid comparisons that are quite often made for very good reasons. In the same way, liberal causes are all too often centered around the government-backed redistribution of private wealth, an issue that can very often be compared with some validity to Communist goals. By making such comparisons, Americans are able to keep their personal beliefs alive and centered around the political definition of those terms you might find offensive. What you’ve apparently forgotten, however, is the importance of context. You see only one side of the issue — “the absurdity of comparing today’s political situations to the Holocaust” — while refusing to acknowledge that any comparison to “Nazis” could refer to anything else. Nazism, removed from the context of what the Nazis actually did, and the crimes many of them eventually authored, was a political movement, not a criminal one, as the Holocaust very clearly was. If you take away everything else from our use of the term “Nazi”, you end up with no understanding whatsoever regarding how a political movement might eventually result in the very personal and insane horrors your Grandmother was so unfortunately familiar with. “Nazi” becomes synonymous with “murderer”, and it really isn’t. In my opinion, it’s far more important to keep those political associations alive and well-defined. Very few people today are aware that concentration camps and organized, government-centered and enforced racism was entirely the result of colonial ambitions established under the monarchies of Western European nations. Due to this ignorance, it’s entirely conceivable that such ambitions can once again be fostered by the leadership of younger nations — something we can see occurring, for instance, within some political parties in Latin America. By focusing your definition of “Nazi” on only a single aspect of the word, one that tends to neglect the political meaning behind it, you are also making it much more difficult for us to learn the great lessons that such movements can teach us: that political beliefs can and do bring out the very worst qualities of human nature. Believe me, I mean no disrespect to you or your family, but I think it’s much more important for us to understand every aspect of meaning behind the term “Nazi”, and recognize that it encompasses much more than the horrible, pitiless and inhuman crime that it gave birth to.

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