It has become Israel’s n-word – a word that triggers such powerful collective cultural memories, that some Israeli lawmakers have drafted a bill to criminalise the word Nazi when its use is deemed wrong or inappropriate.
The maximum penalty for its misuse? 21,000 Euros. Enough to make anyone mind their language.
Shimon Ohayon’s hard-line “Yisrael Beitenu” party is proposing the bill.
“Freedom of expression is not absolute,” he says. “It is relative, it permits people to express themselves where there is real fear of the authorities or a society which really threatens you. Here there is freedom of expression that has crossed all lines, we need to protect ourselves from this irresponsible freedom of expression which eventually harms people.”
Educational settings such as museums and schools would be exempt from the law. All the same, the debate raises the question as to whether those who believe themselves most hurt by a word should assume the right to proscribe its use by others.
Michal Rozin from the opposition Meretz party strongly opposes the bill.
“This is a stupid law,” she says, “we don’t need it, we are the country that knows the best of all the countries what happened to the Jewish people in the Holocaust. We are remembering every day the Holocaust. We are teaching our students, our pupils in schools about the Holocaust. We don’t need this law, it’s just a way to raise signs that we don’t need to raise them.”
The Holocaust has etched itself on the collective psyche of the Jewish people.
But opponents of this measure say it endangers free speech in a country that’s proud of that tradition.
Dr. Robert Rozett, Director of Yad Vashem Library says, “There’s no question that the issue of misusing the holocaust, the symbols and its vocabulary in public discourses is a serious issue here in Israel and around the world.
‘There’s also no question that it will be preferable if people would not use those symbols because they understood why they shouldn’t use them. Through education, through the example of our leaders, cultural and political and others, people would understand that they should not use these symbols. We think that would be a preferable thing to do.”
The Knesset has given approval for the measure, but it still needs to pass through several committees before becoming law.
A similar effort in 2012 failed because of opposition at the committee stage.
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