Safi places himself in the service of a deeply disturbing modern tradition in which the conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis has been hijacked by the proponents of poisoned analogies and terms that should have been left alone. It’s a tradition in which Israel’s defense forces are reflexively depicted by foaming-at-the-mouth ideologues as carrying out holocaust, genocide, massacre. If someone could come up with more potent, more loaded words and images, they would have been adopted too.
In doing this, the people using them have emptied them of meaning. What does it actually mean if the Israelis are doing exactly what the Nazis did? (Concentration camps, gas chambers, mobile firing squads, crematoria and on and on and on.) It’s a question that, if you accept the premises on which it’s posed, takes you to dark places.
By the foolish action of adopting a famous archive photo illustrating the German industry of death - an actual, non-metaphorical manifestation of documented genocide on a monumental scale - to advance a controversial political viewpoint, Prof. Omid Safi has done a great disservice. He adopts the voice of those who choose “not to respond in hatred and venom,” but what has he done if not that? The losers are his university, the people who provide him with a blog platform, his students, and the cause of pluralism and tolerance.