Comparing Atrocities Is A Moral Imperative, Even If You Don't Like It

Comparing atrocities is absolutely valid and necessary in order to gain any sense of perspective on any problem, and abdicating your responsibility to do so is a form of moral cowardice. There are material differences between executing 2/3 of an entire population with the aim of exterminating all of that population, vs. doing other bad things that aren't that. Say it with me: Not every bad thing is the Holocaust. You can call something bad without calling it the Holocaust.

In light of the fact that Israel has never attempted to exterminate the Palestinian people, and has certainly never killed 2/3 of the entire Palestinian population, its crimes do not hold a candle to those of Nazi Germany or even to America, which killed most of the pre-existing population of the territory it now controls. However, it is and must be valid to point out the similarities in ways of thinking that could make Israel comparable to Nazi Germany in the future – including the genocidal ambitions of many on Israel's right. And it must be said that Israel is still bad. Just as despite the fact that the USSR's crimes are not comparable to those of Nazi Germany, the USSR was still bad.

This isn't an abstract issue of theoretical debate. There are people literally saying things like, “Jewish partisans were just as bad as Serbian Nazi collaborators, or perhaps worse, since Serbian Nazi collaborators were at least patriots fighting the Soviets.” Or saying, “Israel turned around and did the exact same thing Nazi Germany did to them.” Jewish partisans are being accused of being war criminals by countries that are simultaneously rehabilitating the reputations of those who enthusiastically helped round the Jews up, while Holocaust survivors who die in Jerusalem are being mercilessly and viciously attacked by so-called “anti-Zionists” on Twitter, with precious few people coming to the defense of Jews and with a great many parvenu leftist Jews coming to the defense of the anti-Semites.

To compare the USSR or Israel to the Nazis is a form of Holocaust revisionism, as it seeks to obfuscate the gravity of Hitler's crimes and gaslight the people who escaped from them and ended up doing bad things. The first is a type of comparison that is common on the right, while the second is a type of comparison that has long been widely accepted on the left. Attempting to address this subtle antisemitism and subtle Holocaust revisionism on the left leads to the sort of dogpiling and widely-accepted Kiwifarms-level trolling that ultimately drove me off of Mastodon.

This makes the future of the left seem rather bleak, and yet I'm too class-conscious to be anything else. Unfortunately, the left has yet to care about Jews, based in large part on its own history that it refuses to confront. Under the Bolsheviks you could be Jewish only if you subordinated your Jewishness to working-class politics – Jews had no rights as a class, and anyone who said otherwise was a nationalist and a reactionary. The leftist and secularist Bund was dissolved for this exact reason, and viciously attacked by Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and others.

Then all of a sudden, only a few decades later, the Soviets started supporting literal religious nationalist reactionaries elsewhere in the world because they were “anti-imperialist”, often favoring nationalist reactionary movements over their left-wing opponents. But even with the Soviets' excuse for antisemitism out the window, Jews still weren't allowed to have any identity as a group, because for Jews in the USSR to have such an identity would undermine the USSR's own imperialist politics and wars.

Today, the idea that Jews are not allowed to argue for rights collectively has survived into the New Left, as argued in this brilliant article on Jewish liberation and decolonization. Just go and read that if you're still confused. It may be too late to salvage this current cycle of antisemitism, or maybe it isn't – I'd like to believe it isn't – but this cycle has to end. The liberation of all oppressed people depends on this cycle ending.