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Last Updated: Monday, 24 May, 2004, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Israel wrestles with Nazi insults
Women pick through Rafah debris
Comparing Palestinians to Nazi victims got a minister in trouble
Israeli Justice Minister Yosef "Tommy" Lapid stunned Cabinet colleagues on Sunday by saying a picture of an elderly Palestinian woman searching through rubble reminded him of his grandmother.

Mr Lapid is a Holocaust survivor.

His grandmother was not. She died in Auschwitz.

In an interview with Israel Defence Forces radio, Mr Lapid said he was "talking about an old woman crouching on all fours, searching for her medicines in the ruins of her house... she made me think of my grandmother".

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reprimanded Mr Lapid for comparing a Palestinian to a victim of the Nazis, calling the remarks "unacceptable and intolerable".

And Health Minister Danny Naveh of Mr Sharon's right-wing Likud party said Mr Lapid "can argue about demolishing houses... but you can't draw these kinds of analogies".

But while the remark shocked some Israeli politicians, it is actually fairly mild compared to some of the Holocaust-related insults that have been hurled across the Israeli political spectrum in the last decade.

Insults hurled

An Israeli right wing activist holds up a poster showing Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in a Nazi uniform, Oct. 5 1995
Anti-Oslo activists depicted Rabin as a Nazi a month before he was killed
In the months before Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, right-wing demonstrators rallied under banners showing him dressed as a Nazi.

Uri Dromi, former director of the Israeli government press office, called it the worst incident of its kind.

"And it's even worse when you have Holocaust survivors living among us," he told BBC News Online.

The country got a harsh wake-up call when Rabin was shot dead by a right-wing Israeli who opposed the Oslo peace process with the Palestinians.

But after a brief hiatus, political opponents were back to their old ways.

Leaders of the left-wing Labour party accused Binyamin Netanyahu of evoking Nazi slogans when he ran for prime minister in 1999 as "a strong leader for a strong nation".

When former Shas party leader Aryeh Deri was convicted of corruption the same year, he released a video comparing his trial to that of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.

Daily insults

And the insults happen in grassroots politics, too, Mr Dromi said.

Why do people do it? Because they have heard leaders say it
Uri Dromi,
Israel Democracy Institute
At a recent gathering of Israelis and Palestinians, one of his Israeli friends said she had been at a peace rally when a right-wing Israeli told her "It's a pity Hitler didn't finish the job".

"The Palestinians were shocked," Mr Dromi said.

"That's a normal reaction: 'how can a Jew say this?' The ease with which the Nazi Holocaust has been used is alarming," he said.

"The norms of public debate have been eroded over time," said Mr Dromi, who is now based at the Israel Democracy Institute, a think tank.

He warned that it would trivialise the Holocaust "if everybody you don't like is a Nazi".

And he said such comments were counter-productive when Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum made "a huge effort to warn how horrible and unique it was".

Denial

Mr Lapid denied that his comment about his grandmother was intended to compare Israel to Nazi Germany.

Mr Dromi said he doubted the minister had intended to depict Israelis as Nazis.

But he said Holocaust-themed insults are so widespread they have even crept into sports stadiums.

"Everybody hates Maccabi Tel Aviv, and some people call them Nazis," he said.

"I'm not saying what you hear in football grounds is indicative of anything, but why do people do it? Because they have heard leaders say it."


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