The N-Word's Real Crime

Editorial

Nazi No-No: Demonstrations that use Nazi symbols and imagery would be banned under a proposed Israeli law. Would it be any more effective than New York’s ban of the other N-word?
getty images
Nazi No-No: Demonstrations that use Nazi symbols and imagery would be banned under a proposed Israeli law. Would it be any more effective than New York’s ban of the other N-word?

Published January 22, 2014, issue of January 31, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Did you know that it’s technically against the law to use the word “nigger” in New York City? The City Council voted unanimously — as in 49 to nothing — to encourage New Yorkers not to use the N-word and to learn about its racist provenance. This was back in 2007, but you’d be hardpressed today to find anyone who can point to a tangible result of this ban, except for a hilarious episode on The Daily Show satirizing the whole enterprise.

At least the City Council members passed a resolution that carried no sanctions or penalty, recognizing that they were expressing a civic sentiment, not creating a new class of criminal offense. Not so the Israeli Knesset, which on January 15 gave preliminary approval to a bill that would criminalize the word Nazi or symbols from the Third Reich if they were used in a “wrong or inappropriate way.”

The bill would impose a maximum fine of 100,000 shekels and six months in jail for any violators. (Educational settings and some artistic performances would be exempt.) No word on who gets to decide what is “wrong or inappropriate,” how this ban would be enforced or whether a teenager who equates a bad romantic breakup with the Shoah would be hauled off to prison.

“We want to prevent disrespect of the Holocaust,” said Shimon Ohayon, the bill’s sponsor, from the Yisrael Beitenu party. “We allow too many freedoms, which are taking over in a way that is harming us.”

He’s correct on the first point. Of all the nations and peoples on earth, Israel should be the one to hold the Holocaust in careful context, and Israelis should be the ones to understand how derogatory words and emblems can deeply insult the survivors who live in their midst and the Jewish values on which their state is built.

But respect is not a virtue that can be legislated. It must be taught, modeled, extolled, embedded in a culture.

Holocaust imagery is used and abused by Israelis up and down the social food chain, from snarky teenagers to angry settlers to senior government officials who routinely equate today’s enemy with Hitler and his ilk. A bill similar to Ohayon’s was introduced two years ago, after some ultra-Orthodox Jews wore yellow stars and concentration camp-style dress to protest what they contended was persecution by secular countrymen. Israelis were outraged.

Still, the bill went nowhere.

Israeli lawmakers supporting the latest legislation point to the dozen or so European nations that prohibit the use of Nazi flags and symbols, along with those of other extremist groups. But there’s a crucial underlying difference. By and large, the European statutes ban Nazi imagery only if it is being used to incite hatred or violence.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.