There is an adage when it comes to arguments on the Internet known as “Godwin’s Law,” which states that the longer a dispute goes on, the more likely it is that one side will be compared to Hitler or Nazis.
Unfortunately, it seems that this is not only true of Twitter or other Internet discussions, but it has become prevalent in Israeli public discourse as well.
Amid the discussion of judicial reform and a bill to exempt all MKs from prosecution unless the Knesset votes to lift their immunity (which was the case until 2005) as a policy the coalition-in-waiting may promote, two very high-profile figures sought to present the move as a slippery slope indicating the decline of democracy. So slippery, they implied, that it was a first step on the road to Nazism.
First came likely opposition leader and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, who made references to two well-known speeches having to do with Nazis in his inaugural speech to the Knesset last week.
“I do not stand here alone,” Gantz said. “I stand here in the name of over a million men and women who voted for Blue and White.” This was a paraphrase of Gideon Hausner, chief prosecutor in the Eichmann trial in which an Israeli court sentenced the architect of the Holocaust to death. Said Hausner: “I am not standing alone. With me are six million accusers.”
Then came Gantz’s tribute to Winston Churchill’s famous speech rousing British troops in their fight against the Nazis: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Gantz’s version was: “We will fight in the streets, in the town squares, in the neighborhoods, in the schools, in the media and the courts – for the rule of law.”
The question must be asked: If Gantz is Hausner, who is Eichmann in this scenario? If he’s Churchill, who are the Axis powers?
The next day, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut spoke to the Israeli German Lawyers Association in Nuremberg, the place where Nazi racial laws were authorized and where Nazi war criminals were sentenced to death.
“You may believe that the institutions defending democracy will stand forever and withstand every attack, but history proves that even existing institutions can be dispossessed of their power and indispensability,” she said.
Hayut cited a 1933 article from a German Jewish newspaper doubting that Hitler and the Nazi Party would succeed, because of the checks and balances built into Germany’s system of government.
The implication was easy to understand.
Both of these remarks are completely unacceptable, especially coming from Hayut who, as head of the Supreme Court, is supposedly apolitical. But they were inappropriate even from Gantz.
There are legitimate arguments for or against judicial reform and the immunity bill, even if the timing of the latter – ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing – is highly suspect.
The fact that an open debate is taking place with harsh criticism on both sides – and a planned mass rally next weekend – is a sign of the strength of Israeli democracy, not that it is in decline to the point of Nazism. What is happening is concerning, but we are not on the verge of seeing the establishment of the Third Reich in Israel.
Therein lies the crux of the problem with Gantz’s and Hayut’s remarks. By implying that this policy debate, of all things, is the road to Nazism, they are making the Holocaust sound almost trivial and far less evil than it was. They are cheapening the memory of the six million Jews who perished, as well as the survivors.
Just last week, Israelis took a stand against the Polish government and US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for whitewashing the Holocaust. For top Israeli officials to do the same is wrong.