When ‘never again’ becomes a war cry

In an Israeli war that has been retrofitted onto a Holocaust template, it is obscene that a plea to stop further killing is now read as moral failure.

A convoy of Israeli tanks at sunset near the southern Israeli border with Gaza, October 12, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

A convoy of Israeli tanks at sunset near the southern Israeli border with Gaza, October 12, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

This article was produced in partnership with Diaspora Alliance.

In a 60 Minutes interview less than a week after Hamas’ attack on southern Israel, which killed over 1,400 Israelis and saw over 200 more abducted to the Gaza Strip, U.S. President Joe Biden said that the Palestinian Islamist movement had “engaged in barbarism that is as consequential as the Holocaust.” The assessment joined a catalog of statements by Israeli, American, and other politicians and commentators who have explicitly linked the Oct. 7 massacres to the Nazi genocide, whether by citing the attacks as the biggest loss of Jewish life since World War II, or by portraying Hamas as Nazi-like or Nazi successors.

Biden’s antisemitism envoy, Deborah Lipstadt, for example, tweeted the day after the attack that it was “the most lethal assault against Jews since the Holocaust”; not long after, the U.S. Holocaust Museum put out a similar tweet. Israeli politicians have also helped drive this discourse. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last week that “Hamas are the new Nazis … And just as the world united to defeat the Nazis … the world has to stand united behind Israel to defeat Hamas.” Netanyahu expressed similar sentiments to French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday.

The rhetorical value of casting your enemies as Nazis — which the Israeli right and its supporters frequently do when discussing Palestinians writ large — is the way it suggests, implicitly or explicitly, that there is only one logical, even moral, course of action: the complete elimination of the Nazi-designates and anyone deemed to be affiliated with them.

Thus is the current discourse awash with unabashed calls for genocide and ethnic cleansing, issued from a distressingly broad array of sources, and egged on by the idea that, in the words of a columnist in Israel’s most widely-read newspaper, “Hamas and the Gazans are one and the same.”

Indeed, the constant invocation of the Holocaust seems to have done little to sensitize those calling for Gaza’s destruction to its lessons. In addition to the demands for vengeful mass killings and the abundant references to Palestinians as “animals,” Nazi-like imagery has also been making the rounds among hasbarists on social media; in one drawing that could have come straight out of Der Stürmer, an IDF boot is pictured about to step on a cockroach with the head of a Hamas fighter.

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