Images of horror a reminder of why language matters
It was the shoes that did it, in the end. The stories were graphic in their own way and horribly confronting but, ultimately, it was the truth of those few hundred or so discarded, mismatched shoes, piled in a heap under a thick piece of plexi-glass that upended me.
Women’s sandals, men’s dress shoes. The child’s shoes once worn by little feet. All of them speaking silently and powerfully of lives felled in a concentration camp, murdered by Nazis.
Actual Nazis, to be clear. Not the imitation parading around various protests in Victoria and other parts, over the past year.
As I write this, I’m still processing a visit this week to Yad Vashem, the Jewish Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. It’s as you’d expect but so much more.
Whoever imagined quietly weeping over abandoned footwear, nearly a century old? I’m of a generation that never dreamed there would come a time when the word Nazi would be thrown around so carelessly. With such ignorance of what it means, what it stands for and what they did. With an astonishing ignorance – not just of the disrespect it shows to the dwindling number of survivors but of the trauma it brings to many.
You’re a Nazi. That’s Nazism.
You’re a Nazi sympathiser. It’s become quite the insult du jour. It’s not just the debacle engulfing the Victorian Liberal leader and rookie MP Moira Deeming that got me thinking about it before I left Australia.
And in truth, it’s not just the word Nazi.
Fascist gets a good run too. In Italy last year during the elections that saw Giorgia Meloni elected Prime Minister it was, frankly, embarrassing to see so many of the Australian media and political class breathlessly throw that word around when even the far left of the Italian media referred to her party as centre-right.
The inevitable questions of how we got here aren’t that complicated.
Laziness, to start with. Intellectual and moral. A sustained and systemic dereliction of our duty to history, to the lessons of the past, to education and to what we know as a society is right. The cancer of revisionism. Up is down, black is white, night is day and everyone who disagrees with me whips out the Nazi slur.
It’s in the failure to challenge things spoken from a place of ideology alone.
Take the Australian Greens this past week declaring Israel is running an apartheid state. I mean, if it wasn’t so serious, you’d think it was satire. God knows, the party itself is a colossal joke.
Disclosure: I’m writing this from a hotel room in Tel Aviv. I’ve spent the past week on a study intensive (with others) with the Australia Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. In my line of work, disclosure is everything.
But in truth, this is timely. I have written about this issue previously, but the gift of timing here was too perfect to ignore.
We have travelled the length and breadth of the country. From the southern borders to the north, spent successive days on the West Bank, in refugee camps, meeting with leaders of the Palestinian opposition parties. We have met with renowned Palestinian human rights activists, grassroots Israeli organisations attempting to end conflict, one community at a time.
One thing I’ve learned this week is how incredibly complex this country is. How, on both sides, there is a hunger for an end to conflict.
How, on both sides, there are many for whom peace would mean unemployment and irrelevance on the world stage, so they won’t entertain it. How underpinning it all is a UN that is deeply complicit and utterly ineffective.
Throwing around the word apartheid so freely and so recklessly? It’s an insult and it’s ignorance writ large.
Language matters. Language is about intent. Oh, the irony that these words are typically thrown about by those who love to constantly remind us words can equate to violence.
Moreover, it’s the latent anti- Semitism underpinning the free and easy use of these words.
In January, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry released its annual report tracking anti-Semitism in Australia. It found anti-Semitic incidents jumped 41 per cent over the past two years. The report chronicles the sorts of events our guide recounted to us this week as we toured Yad Vashem. Orthodox men verbally abused, assaulted, and having their yarmulkes knocked off their heads. Another man punched and kicked because of his Star of David.
Vandalism, harassment, hate speech and graffiti. It’s all in there and it’s Australia we’re talking about. Not some far-flung corner of the world. What’s more, the report tracked sentiment and response in mainstream politics, media and education.
It found that anti-Semitism had either been validated or ignored in all of these sectors.
Perhaps we in Australia have had it too good. How else have we become desensitised to this kind of language? Perhaps because of the ordinary way in which it’s happened.
Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi said it best. “More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”Article link: https://todayspaper.theaustralian.com.au/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=f4078d42-8017-410f-b333-518c7e514115
Article source: The Australian | Gemma Tognini | 10.6.23