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“Hit back hard,” Holocaust scholar says of “Zio-Nazi” slur

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Levels of hatred against Jews in South Africa were taken to a new height in recent weeks when the Media Review Network (MRN) started calling South African Jewish organisations “Zio-Nazis” on Facebook.

A leading Holocaust academic said that the community and fellow South Africans should fight back, with this kind of casual antisemitism being a danger to South Africa’s democracy.

“This hate group with its hate speech endangers both the majority and minorities in our society. Fight it!” renowned Holocaust scholar Professor Yehuda Bauer told the SA Jewish Report after seeing Facebook posts describing the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), and the SA Jewish Report newspaper as “Zio-Nazis”.

Another post by the MRN also described Israel as “the Zio-Nazi entity”. The MRN describes itself as “a Johannesburg-based organisation dedicated to exposing Zionist apartheid and the occupation of Palestine”. Ironically it says it works to “counter racism and hate speech”.

The term “Zio” is a pejorative for “Jew” and was brought into prominence by former Ku Klux Klan “Grand Wizard” David Duke. It’s often deployed by white supremacists.

Meanwhile, on 4 November 2021, a cartoon posted by local Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions group the Afro-Palestine Forum showed an antisemitic caricature of a Jew. The cartoon depicts a Jewish man being given a map of Palestine by the British (the Balfour Declaration). Along with a Magen David on his arm, he is drawn with a big nose, eyes, and teeth, a straggly beard, and the expression of a greedy predator.

In response to this cartoon, Bauer said, “This is straight out of the Stürmer. This kind of Nazi antisemitism endangers South African democracy.”

Regarding the term “Zio-Nazi’” he said, “Zionism here is, as I understand it, equated with Israel as a Jewish state. If the Jews in Israel and their state is ‘Nazi’, then it has to be eradicated. So the term indicates potentially genocidal ideologies. That means it’s clearly antisemitic.”

He thinks the response should be aggressive. “Calling Israel ‘Nazis’ indicates that the person or group who publishes such slander not only favours genocide against the seven million Israeli Jews, but is a danger to our society. It goes back to the most extreme racist apartheid policies of the apartheid regime. It doesn’t really endanger Israeli society, which is strong enough to resist South African racists, but it does endanger our multi-ethnic culture.”

Dr Günther Jikeli, the Erna B. Rosenfeld Associate Professor at the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University, notes that the MRN “positively relates to even more radical news outlets such as the Quds News Network that has disseminated praise for terrorists who kill Israeli civilians. This kind of defamation and this way of conspiratorial thinking is dangerous, and every democratically-minded person should condemn it.

“The MRN links many articles with false and defamatory statements about Israel and organisations that co-operate with Israeli organisations or with the Israeli government as if this was a crime in itself,” he says. “The term ‘Zio-Nazi,’ goes well beyond criticism – it’s an extremely offensive slur. It tries not only to demonise the state of Israel and the idea that there should be a Jewish state, but does so by alleging that Zionism is the same as Nazism, an ideology that had as its core the extermination of Jews. There is no way that a rational argument can be made for this comparison. It is a manifestation of irrational hatred of Jews.”

Author, political scientist, and former research associate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dr Matthias Küntzel, told the SA Jewish Report that, “The hate-speech expression ‘Zio-Nazi’ is extremely antisemitic in several ways. First, everyone who uses it plays down and denies the essence of the Nazi dictatorship. They mock the victims of this dictatorship when they put the Nazi system on a par with democracy in Israel.

“Second, there’s no doubt that this term falls into the category of antisemitism according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, which countless governments and the European Union acknowledged as a benchmark.

“This definition condemns as ‘contemporary examples of antisemitism’, the following statements, among others: ‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ and ‘denying the Jewish people their right of self-determination, for example, by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour,’” he says.

However, “this is exactly what the antisemites, who use the dirty word ‘Zio-Nazi’, want to achieve, they want to put Israel’s policy on the same level as that of the Nazis and deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination.”

Dr Shmuel Lederman, of the Weiss-Livnat Center for Holocaust Research at Haifa University, says, “As far as I’m aware, the term ‘Zio-Nazi’ goes back to the 1980s and was later popularised by David Duke. In recent years, it has become common in some leftist circles. So it’s ironic that a term popularised by a white supremacist is being used by an organisation that [says it] fights against Islamophobia and hatred.

“We need to distinguish between critiques of Zionism, including anti-Zionist views, which are part of a legitimate political debate, and expressions that turn anyone who believes Israel should be a Jewish homeland into a Nazi. In my view, this is hate speech as it creates extreme demonisation of millions of people. The same goes for calling Israel a ‘Zio-Nazi entity’, although in my view demonisation of individuals and organisations is worse than demonisation of a state.”

SAJBD national chairperson Karen Milner says, “The epithet ‘Zio-Nazi’ is an egregious form of Jew-baiting masquerading as moral outrage, and those who resort to it are well aware of the fact. It’s always problematic when obviously false analogies with Nazism are made, not least because it belittles the true extent of Nazi crimes.

“However, pointedly directing such smears at Jews, Nazism’s primary victims, is especially repugnant, and is clearly intended to be as hurtful and insulting as possible,” she says. “Fortunately, this latest flurry of invective from the MRN appears to have got minimal traction.

“It’s actually quite typical for Jew-haters of every stripe to attribute to Jews what they themselves are in reality guilty of,” Milner adds. “This is certainly true of the MRN. Throughout its existence, it has been a strident and unapologetic cheerleader for Hamas, an organisation whose very founding charter calls for the mass killing of Jews everywhere.”

SAZF national chairperson Rowan Polovin says, “It’s abhorrent and deeply hurtful for our Jewish community to have to continue to endure the odious statements from some antisemitic organisations such as the MRN that deliberately and egregiously compare the horrors of the Nazis to Israeli actions, in order to insult and injure living Jewry alongside the memory of the Holocaust. It’s distressing and damaging for Jews to even begin to explain why this comparison is false, malicious, and antisemitic to the core.”

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