Last week, Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere caused outrage when he uttered the Nazi salutation “sieg heil” in a debate with Mayor Phil Goff.
Tamihere claims his point was that Goff is like Hitler because he purports to dictate what speech is acceptable for Aucklanders to hear. And of course, the principle of free speech means that Tamihere is entitled to employ Nazi terminology in making that point, just as the public is entitled to judge him for it.
It’s ironic that, in the same week that Goff’s Epsom billboard was defaced with the word “Jew”, he was also compared to Hitler, who wasn’t a big fan of Jews and oversaw the murder of six million of them.
Whoops, apologies for mentioning that. As a Labour MP in 2008, Tamihere said he was ” sick and tired of hearing how many Jews got gassed”. Another irony is that Tamihere happily invokes the Nazi regime for political point-scoring, but has a gutsful when the pesky matter of an industrial-scale genocide arises.
Not to be outdone in invoking Godwin’s Law, Waikato local body candidate Andrew Anderson is urging Aotearoa to become a “Nazi nation”. And the billboard of Hutt City Council candidate Shazly Rasheed who, like Goff, does not identify as Jewish, was defaced with “I support Hitler. F… the Jews”.
Council candidate Shazly Rasheed believes she has been targeted because of her skin colour.
Then there’s veteran activist John Minto standing again for the Christchurch mayoralty, who, while saying he’s sad about the Holocaust and doesn’t have a problem with Jews, would like to see them lose their only homeland, about half the size of Canterbury.
He also pens conspiracist screeds about Jews (whoops, I mean Zionists, who just happen to be the vast majority of Jews) orchestrating a plot to manipulate the media and governments by making false accusations of antisemitism.
What on Middle Earth is going on here?
Antisemitism – which takes many forms and comes from many sources, not just white supremacists – is rising and being normalised. But the Holocaust is also being trivialised and weaponised against ideological opponents; we are often admonished that another Holocaust is imminent, leaders are equated with Hitler, and foes are labelled Nazis.
In New Zealand this has manifested in arguments over hate speech, starting with the visit of Molyneux and Southern, and escalating after March 15, with the proponents and opponents of hate speech restrictions calling each other Nazis and invoking the Holocaust to bolster their arguments.
Trivialisation of the Holocaust is one form of the Holocaust abuse or distortion that is increasing. Other forms include denying it happened, calling for another, and inverting it against Jews, so that the Jewish state is falsely portrayed as behaving towards Palestinians as the Nazis did to Jews.
There was nothing like the widespread outrage Tamihere earned, but probably more fear and pain in the Jewish community, when at a Pakuranga mosque in 2017, a visiting cleric from Iran, the leader in genocidal antisemitism, publicly called the Holocaust a “fake phenomenon” and urged Israel’s annihilation (meaning a genocide of another six million Jews). Likewise, when in the same year TVNZ’s Sunday programme fawned over an actual Nazi living in NZ – Waffen-SS soldier Willi Huber.
And last year support for Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy terrorist group committed to Jewish genocide, appeared at a rally in Aotea Square but, unlike the subsequent visit of Molyneux and Southern, there was no public condemnation from Goff.
Around the same time MP Golriz Ghahraman, who often brings up the Holocaust in relation to refugees, hate speech and United States detention centres, stood in the same square and falsely accused Israel of genocide. She forgot to mention that Gaza is ruled by Hamas, another Iranian-backed genocidal terrorist group.
It’s strange times indeed when people who readily politicise and weaponise the Holocaust against their opponents show little interest in and empathy for living Jewish people, whitewash current genocidal threats against us and marginalise the vast majority of us who prize a Jewish homeland as the best defence against another genocide.
Jews don’t own Holocaust memory and language, and cannot control the lessons people take from it, but we are guardians of them in a sense. While the Nazis persecuted the disabled, homosexuals, and Roma among others, and there have been other genocides before and after the Holocaust, it was specific to the Jewish people.
Trivialising and appropriating the Holocaust for political expediency not only dishonours the victims and survivors, the state of our world suggests that it doesn’t help combat antisemitism and prejudice. Overusing Nazi-era language, imagery and parallels risks diluting their significance and emboldening the real threats we face.
So please hold off on the Holocaust hysteria and hypocrisy. Let’s celebrate the fact that “sieg heil”, as abhorrent as it is, was uttered at a lead-up to mayoral elections, in one of the most enduring and stable democracies, where Aucklanders get to decide whether we want the idiot who said it to represent us.
Juliet Moses is the spokeswoman for the New Zealand Jewish Council.