Language is always changing. Sometimes it’s for the better, as in the case of “netizen,” a term my dear friend Michael Hauben coined only decades ago to describe a person who is a citizen of the Internet. Sometimes it’s for the worse, as evidenced by “ginormous,” a silly word whose purpose, seemingly, is to mitigate the need for those pesky adverb-adjective combinations in sentences referring to size.
And sometimes, it’s fueled by ignorance, as exemplified by the epithet “Zionazi”—one of the most disingenuously crafted monikers in the recent history of communication … and one that’s gaining traction among the anti-Semitic set as a contemporary, more widely accepted update to the standard hatred of Jews.
Hear me out. We’re looking at a label that’s an amalgam of two others: “Zionist” and “Nazi.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the full definition of “Zionism” means “an international movement originally for the establishment of a Jewish national or religious community in Palestine and later for the support of modern Israel.” A Zionist, therefore, is a proponent of such a movement. Meanwhile, the full definition of “Nazi,” as outlined by Merriam-Webster, comprises three meanings: “a member of a German fascist party controlling Germany from 1933 to 1945 under Adolf Hitler”; “one who espouses the beliefs and policies of the German Nazis”; and “one who is likened to a German Nazi : a harshly domineering, dictatorial, or intolerant person.”
At first glance, these terms seem to be mutually exclusive. How can any Zionist be a Nazi—and vice versa, for that matter—when the Nazis advocated the murder of Jews during the Holocaust and were bent on their eradication? There are no ties here, are there?
Ah, but in the mindset of modern anti-Semitism, there are. Calling one who supports the existence of the state of Israel a “Nazi” is the ultimate condemnation—an insult that seeks to instill its target with a sense of irony: the irony that a population that was horribly persecuted to the point of near-extermination during the first part of the last century is now doing the same thing to a different group of people: the Palestinians. It’s a way of legitimizing hatred of Jews by suggesting that their defense of a country of their own is founded on the oppression of others … something that should be anathema to any human being. So combining “Zionist” with “Nazi” is a very shrewd way to put down another individual. It’s not anti-Semitic if it’s referring to a political belief system, is it? Especially one that supposedly espouses the exact same credo that the Nazis embraced?
That’s the problem, though, and it’s a deceptive, specious line of thinking that aims to suggest its adherents aren’t bigots while maintaining a different reality. No matter what one thinks of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, there’s no way to compare them to the atrocities performed by the Nazis, who—clinically and systematically—killed six million Jews, as well as Roma, political prisoners, individuals who were homosexual, and people with mental and physical disabilities. Nazi soldiers dashed Jewish babies’ heads against walls, tortured men, women and children. They methodically starved innumerable people to death in concentration camps set up specifically to murder other human beings. They forcibly performed medical experiments on people that often resulted in death. And they sent Jews into gas chambers set up at these camps, where the victims died in horrible pain before their bodies were disposed of in furnaces.
Tell me that’s in any way similar to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
I don’t support Israel’s policy of settlement-building, and I abhor the violence in the region today—on both sides. To compare, however, people who believe in the right for the state of Israel to exist to those who wanted to destroy the Jewish people is sophistic and only serves to formulate a new mode of anti-Semitism: one that purports to take a political stance yet in essence blames the Jews for their supposed malfeasance in their efforts to create a homeland. They’re not the same thing, no way, nohow, and suggesting otherwise is a fallacy. Ideally, those who perpetuate the “Zionazi” moniker ought to educate themselves on what Nazism really was; there are plenty of sources for such information … including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which houses innumerable documents, artifacts and records of the horrors conducted by these criminals, including an interview I conducted years ago with two Auschwitz survivors, which I never forgot and often use as the basis for my position that very little in the history of humankind can approach the Nazis’ own premeditated, calculated evil. So education can be used to stem the tide of this disturbing, anti-Semitic trend. But will people embrace it?
My hope is that as language transforms throughout the ages, those who use it will become more sensitive to the ideas and histories of people they don’t understand—and adapt to these needs accordingly. We can’t do that when terms such as “Zionazi” exist, but we can dull the sharp edges of verbal attacks with further knowledge and the recognition that for two sides to exist alongside each other, they must both be willing to compromise without resorting to prejudice. And although it’s true that the old adage of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” suggests the impact of negative communication pales in comparison to the effects of physical altercation, those same words can go a long way toward achieving peace if put on the right course. No labels will ever achieve that end through distorted or confused meaning. So let’s originate new ones that aren’t offensive, that create a better, more placid world.
I’m positive we, along with everyone else, can do that. I’m willing to start now, even though I realize it’s a ginormous undertaking. We’re netizens, though, so we can do anything, right?
Even make up words.