By ETGAR KERETJAN. 17, 2014
TEL AVIV — “NAZI” is a short word. It has only two syllables, like “rac-ist” or “kill-er.” “Democracy,” on the other hand, is a long word with lots of syllables that is very tiring to say. It may not be as tiring as saying “freedom of expression” or “social justice,” but still, there is something really exhausting about it.
People in Israel use “Nazi” when they want the most vicious curse possible, and it’s usually directed at someone they perceive as belligerent. It could be a cop, a soldier or an elected official who, in their opinion, is acting like a bully.
Such usage is offensive and infuriating. As the son of Holocaust survivors, I find it particularly rankling. This week the Knesset gave preliminary approval to a bill that would criminalize saying “Nazi” under inappropriate circumstances. The 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.
Many Israelis think that passing a law against a word is stupid and juvenile; others see it as fascist and anti-democratic. Incidentally, saying “fascist” or “anti-democratic” is also seen as insulting and offensive. And I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to outlaw those words in the future, too.
Imagine a different state of Israel, one very much like our own: 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?
And now that we’re exercising our imaginations, let’s picture yet another new Israel — one where 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.
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