Shtinker and snitch are the new S words. Or at least they should be.
In case you haven’t heard, on Tuesday, Israel Police announced that their investigations had uncovered “sufficient evidence” to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery. When Netanyahu’s coalition chair and frequent enforcer David Amsalem heard that opposition Yesh Atid party chair Yair Lapid had acted as a witness in the investigations, he railed at Lapid, calling him, “a little shtinker” and “a pathetic snitch.”
Let’s talk for one brief moment about the word “shtinker.” And yes, I’m Playing the Holocaust Card again. Amsalem, a son of Moroccan immigrants, used a German word for someone who literally smells. The word was adopted by Yiddish speakers before, during, and after the Holocaust to connote Jews who collaborated with the Germans by revealing hiding places, calling attention to stolen food, etc.
Not coincidentally, Israelis adopted the term to describe Palestinian collaborators with Israeli security services. And local underworld crooks use this term to refer to those who rat out members of their own crime families.
Lapid noted correctly that, “That’s how criminals talk, not public servants.”
But as a child of Holocaust survivors myself, I would bet that there was more going through the head of the son of Holocaust survivor Yosef “Tommy” Lapid than this modulated reminder of his own and Amsalem’s role as government leaders.
When I discovered that then-president-elect Donald Trump was considering US Ambassador David Friedman for his post, I begged Jews and non-Jews alike to refrain from using the word “kapo,” as David Friedman had done, to depict Jewish supporters of a pro-two-state solution.
I wrote then that “no one — not even the president’s bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman — has the right to judge what others did in those dark days to save children who are now the beloved great-grandparents of legions of offspring. No one has the right to cheapen the memories of beloved parents and unknown grandparents — like my own — who were not kapos, by calling their left-leaning offspring the K word. No one should utter or write a German expletive that forces the hair to stand up on our parents’ tattooed arms, and us to revisit childhoods shaped by their nightmares.”
I asked then that they avoid using the K word as a weapon. And I’m asking now that we avoid using “shtinker” as a weapon for the same reasons. It is particularly offensive when one knowingly uses this word to directly address a child of Holocaust survivors. Believe me, we never asked our parents what they did to survive. To say that calling a 2G a “shtinker” is “triggering” is like saying that there were snowflakes in you-know-where.
But there’s another, more universal reason to expunge the term “snitch” from all our vocabularies as well. At a time when the #MeToo movement has made incredible progress in encouraging women to speak out against abuse and sexual harassment; at a time when Americans are questioning whether beating one’s wives should disqualify one from serving in the White House; and at a time when schools here in Israel and abroad are struggling to remove bullying from the classroom, the playground, and the internet — should we call out those who dare to speak? Should we slam those who testify or name those who perpetrate? Should we preserve corruption, rape culture, and Omerta, or should we protect victims and promote rule of law?
Should we suggest that an MK in Israel, subpoenaed by police to testify under oath in an investigation, should commit perjury rather than be “a little shtinker”?
If a coalition chair tells a party chair, “I was taught when I was a kid, don’t snitch, no one will ever want to sit with you” — as Amsalem did in Israel’s Knesset on Tuesday night — what are we telling a child coping with abusive parents or sexual predators about talking to someone, anyone, about the nightmare that has become his or her life?
We are telling the victims that the cost of ending that nightmare is social isolation. We are telling their peers that it makes no sense to speak out on their behalf.
We are telling women that they will not be likable if they insist on telling on the boss who shoves them toward his desk. We are telling girls that they mustn’t raise their voices when a man is rubbing up against them on the subway. We are telling workers that they must not blow the whistle when public funds allocated to help the sick, the hungry, and the poor are embezzled to line the pockets of greedy public servants.
We are telling all of them that silence is a supreme virtue. We are telling all of them to put up and shut up. What will our nation look like if and when they do?
Note: I was about to submit this this blogpost, when I discovered that Nikolas Cruz gunned downed at least 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Police announced that his Facebook page was rife with violent posts and threatening material. His peers often joked that if there was ever a shooting at their school, Cruz would be the perpetrator. But none of them reported this information to the school, their parents, or police. If only one of them had “snitched” on Cruz.