You can’t compare the two!

Hitler and I have a lot of things in common: we both love to draw, watch military parades, listen to the music of Wagner, we are both authors and we both find Eva Braun attractive. But this comparison – although valid – is not often bandied about because there is no illustrative point being made by it. Nor can I think of one.
Last week, Israeli member of Knesset Ben-Barak compared fellow member of Knesset Ben Gvir to Hitler. He, however, was trying to make a point. He said, “There are a thousand differences and I’m not comparing it to anything… [but] Hitler rose to power democratically.”
Here Barak contradicted himself.
He said he is not comparing Ben-Gvir to Hitler and then he did just that; he just didn’t have the cojones to admit it. Why was he so afraid to do so? Because people confuse the word comparing to equating. But he wasn’t equating. He was comparing their rise to power. He was comparing them for an illustrative purpose.
Ben-Barak tried to warn us that democracy is not perfect and if not safeguarded democracy can lead to bad people with undemocratic tendencies being democratically elected. He was comparing Ben Gvir to Hitler – in Hitler’s nascent stages. He didn’t say they were equally bad.
He made the comparison to warn us that if Ben-Gvir and his party were elected they could dramatically curb the judiciary’s powers and potentially result in the termination of Netanyahu’s ongoing trial on corruption charges. Ben-Gvir has repeatedly been accused of racism against Israel’s Arab population, hung a picture of Jewish mass murderer of Arabs in his living room for 25 years, advocated for violence against Prime Minister Rabin who was eventually assassinated and just last month he pulled a pistol from his pocket screaming for the police to shoot at the Palestinians who were throwing stones at him. Not exactly a nice guy.
Ben-Barak again tried to back-step his comparison and insisted he was not comparing any Israeli political figure to Hitler, “nor will I ever compare anyone in the State of Israel or the world to Hitler…The attempt to portray it as a comparison is not accurate and it is unfortunate that someone is trying to portray it thus,” he tweeted. His refusal to embrace his own comparison is unfortunate. Society has lost the art of conversation; it has lost the nuance of language.
Ben-Gvir is not Hitler. I do not think Ben Gvir would advocate genocide. But I can imagine him doing other immoral things such as loading 4 million Palestinians onto buses, forcefully crossing Egypt’s border in Sinai and pushing them out the bus. Ben-Gvir said if he had the power he would relax firing regulations in the army to unleash the IDF’s firepower on the Palestinians. As if the IDF has not already killed more than 100 Palestinians this past year. While most of the IDF killings was justifiable some were not, such as that of a 14-year-old Palestinian boy. So I don’t think we need to further ‘relax’ IDF open-fire regulations.
One may disagree with a comparison but not by contrasting how the two things are different. All comparisons have major differences. If one wants to object to a comparison one needs to focus on what was compared and show how in fact – those points, on that dimension – are not similar. Or one can object to the purpose of the comparisonClaiming, for example, that while Ben-Gvir is a bad actor he will not be able to implement his plans because you believe he will be stopped by other checks and balances in the Israeli government that weren’t in place in the German government in 1933.
But it is not legitimate in a discussion to simply cross your hands and say you can’t compare things or people because they are not the same, by using the word compare as if it means to equate. According to these parameters, we can only compare things to themselves and then indeed what would be the point doing that?
Comparing is not equating and the sooner people embrace the power of comparison the quicker we can get human discourse back on track. Feel free to compare. Embrace it. Ben-Gvir is not Hitler. Nor do I think he will become a Hitler. But there is what to compare between Hitler and Ben-Gvir. The next time someone grabs their pearls and gasps: are you comparing the two, don’t wimp out and say no. Loudly and proudly say yes, I’m comparingnot equating.
About the Author
Robby Berman is a tour guide and journalist living in Israel for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of Harvard University (Kennedy School of Government, MPA), Baruch College (MBA) and Yeshiva University (BA). He is also the author of the book Min Taq Taq: A Collection of Arabic Idioms and Expressions in the Palestinian Dialect.
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