There are those who know full well that appropriating Nazi imagery will provoke exactly the response they crave, but ultimately it delegitimizes their cause
Acknowledge Apartheid Exists is a pro-Palestinian Facebook group founded in 2013 to “promote the narrative that Palestinians deserve the same rights and liberties that Israelis enjoy.” It holds that “Israel’s occupation of and actions in Palestine constitute apartheid.” The Facebook group, which supports the boycott,divestment and sanctions movement againstIsrael, boasts more than 94,000 likes. According to its Twitter account, IAAE is based in Manhattan.
Recently, the site published a Photoshopped picture of the liberation of emaciated Jewish survivors at the Ebensee concentration camp at the end of World War II. The altered image showed starving Jewish inmates holding signs with anti-Israel messages: “Israel assassins,” “Break the silence on Gaza,” “Stop the Holocaust in Gaza” and “Stop U.S. aid to Israel,” among others. One sign Photoshopped into the picture reads, “Gaza the world’s biggest concentration camp.”
The reaction here and abroad has quite rightly been outrage, even among those who otherwise make common cause with anti-Israel messaging.
Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan, who in the past has compared the Israel Defense Forces’ actions during the first Gaza war to the Nazis’ (and later apologized), objected. “This is wrong,” he said. “There is no time or place for this type of disgusting imagery.”
Local human rights advocate Patrick Case made what I believe is the key point: the image crosses the line. “It draws on images of a whole people at their most vulnerable and debased and seeks to use those images to rally criticism against the condemnable behaviour of the current Israeli government.”
He added, “Those who put this image out would probably never use images of enslaved blacks in chains to criticize Barak Obama and the black members of his cabinet.”
However, a Facebook friend of mine defended the group’s position, writing: “I don’t support censorship. Period, full stop. Better to argue, expose, decry, etc. There are many things in this world that I’d rather not see… the indiscriminate use of white phosphorus against civilians, the unlawful destruction of Palestinian homes, bulldozing and burning of olive groves, unlawful settlements…. Claiming that acknowledgement of these atrocities – even via a Photoshopped image, offensive though it may be – constitutes anti-Semitism is ridiculous in the extreme.”
I get it. Advocacy should be edgy. I am a progressive Zionist who embraces and supports the State of Israel and believes in the necessity of holding Israeli policy up to the light.
For example, I reject, as do many prominent Israelis, the new “nation-state bill” that PM Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to force down the throats of Israelis, as I reject the occupation of the West Bank.
But, sadly, there are those behind strongly-held causes who have wrongly tried to apply Nazi imagery or analogies with the Holocaust to modern-day situations.
Some are absurd, as in a football telecast I saw a while back where one team was handily beating the other and a commentator offered that “it’s a Holocaust out there.”
Anti-abortion groups have compared the murder of 6 million Jews to the “murder of the unborn.”
And then there are those who know full well that appropriating Holocaust imagery for their cause will provoke exactly the response they crave – and don’t give a damn as long as attention is paid.
When PETA undertook a campaign with Nazi imagery several years ago to draw attention to gruesome modern agricultural practices, for years afterward it remained a thorn in the org’s side, delegitimizing what many believed was a just cause.
Using Nazi imagery to suggest that the actions of the state of Israel against Palestinians are comparable to the Holocaust is simply anti-Semitic.
Responding to that criticism, I Acknowledge Apartheid Exists claimed the image is intended to teach a lesson. The page’s administrator wrote defiantly: “I am not going to stop posting something because some people do not get it. We have to teach them at some point. If people think we should not post because some people do not get it, we may as well not post anything at all.”
The group itself has not backed down. The image and others like it have received numerous likes that compare Israel’s policies toward Palestinians to the Nazis.
IAAE turned up the temperature further this week, posting an image of concentration camp prisoners behind barbed wire and the words “I can’t breathe…” – a reference to the last words uttered by New York police choking victim Eric Garner – and the hashtag “From Palestine to Ferguson.” It was posted with the status “The Jewish people understand ‘I can’t breathe.’ From Palestine to Auschwitz.”
Sadly, my guess is that there will be those in Toronto who will support this group.
Bernie Farber is former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
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