Israel considers banning its own ‘N’ word

The increasing propensity of people to call those with whom they disagree “a Nazi” has cheapened the word by trivializing the Holocaust. Israel may be about to do something about it at the cost of some civil liberties.

The Israeli Parliament gave initial approval this week to a bill making it a crime to call someone a Nazi or to use Holocaust-related symbols inappropriately, the New York Times reports.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘My goodness, my grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and perhaps their grandparents survived together with mine!’ ” Rabbi Dov Lipman, a member of Parliament wrote. “Freedom of speech is important, but in my opinion, every country has to establish certain value-based limits.”

“Of course, I don’t support using these words, and also the symbols of the Nazis, and using the Holocaust to persuade and to try to use it in every conversation,” Amir Fuchs, a civil liberties lawyer and a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, said. “But you measure the freedom of speech in a democratic country in the freedom to say these disturbing and annoying things, not in what is nice and pleasant to hear.”

Writing in Haaretz, writer Roni Barr says the fact the word has become trivialized is a good thing:

Whether the ministerial committee members like it or not, spoken Hebrew has neutralized the fright bomb of the Nazi enemy after three generations, and this ought to be viewed as a positive development.

As the citizens’ sense of security in their state has grown and as we’ve distanced ourselves further from the threat of a second Holocaust, Hebrew speakers have gained courage. Gradually and ever so cautiously, they have chosen to remove the stinger from the word, to disarm the killer of his weapon, to take control – to at last emerge from the slot that is reserved for the victim.

We haven’t cheapened the term; we’ve defeated it. We’ve managed to dissolve the lump in the throat, and to arrive most proudly at a situation in which a person can tease his friend for being extra persnickety about something by saying, “Boy, you’re such a Nazi!”

I see this as a kind of social catharsis. The ministerial committee would rather preserve the trauma.