Like the proverbial boiling of the frog, it always starts with an imperceptible change in temperature. And every change thereafter is just as imperceptible. If you worry it’s the thin edge of some mephistophilian wedge, you’re an alarmist. You’re awfulizing. What we’re doing bears no relation to what you’re fretting about.
Nothing in the Nuremberg Laws said anything about justifying mass exterminations. And probably nothing was further from the minds of those who drafted them. Then. But then came the war. And a year and a half later the Wannsee Conference, at which the chief drafter of the Nuremberg Laws was in attendance. How did it come to this? he’s reported to have asked. Well, it started with an imperceptible change in temperature.
If I say that Israel’s new Nation State law is the precursor to its own set of Nuremberg Laws – which, come the next Intifada, will set in motion the mass extermination of Palestinians – I’d be awfulizing. It could never come to that. Unlike the Germans, we Jews are a civilized people.
It’s hard to say just how much of what’s happening among my co-religionists is a reflection of the slide towards fascism that’s going on in Europe and America, and how much is sui generis. Either way, if we take the historical determinist line, there’s no stopping it. It just has to play itself out. Any voices raised in warning – and there were such voices in Germany as the juggernaut got rolling – will be drowned out by the howl of the tempest. So why bother?
There are all kinds of high sentence after the fact. “First they came for the trade unionists …” Or, “Those who forget the lessons of history …” Or, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” What we don’t have is a history of such high sentence putting the kibosh on the fact before the fact.
But people do speak out. And bad things don’t always happen. And when they don’t, how would we know what would have happened had they not spoken out? We can’t know. So we have to speak out. Martin Luther King never saw the promised land. But Nelson Mandela got a glimpse of it.
I’ve read Israel’s new Nation State law. Apparently what we Jews learned from Auschwitz wasn’t “Never again!” It was “Never again us!”
Maybe that’s all that can be learned. Two days ago it was the Amalekites, yesterday it was the Jews, today it’s the Palestinians. Tomorrow who knows? Maybe the Jews again. If it’s nature red in tooth and claw, then any speaking out can only be partisan. If it’s partisan it’s not high sentence. And if it’s not high sentence, why bother?
That’s one of the questions I try not to keep me up at night.