Some years ago, I was interviewed for a major Australian media outlet on my views on the attitude of Jewish Australians on immigration, refugees and asylum seekers.
I spoke about the important, constructive advocacy roles of Jewish Australians who advocated compassion, generosity and responsibility, and happily endorsed those efforts.
When questioned about the attitude of community organisations, and personally, to comparisons between the policies of the Government and Opposition on migrants with the actions of Nazi Germany, I explained, on and off air, why I found this to be intellectually and morally offensive and unhelpful in both analysis and the formulation of policy solutions.
The only extracts which were broadcast were the parts on my disagreement with the analogy of Australian policy-makers with the Third Reich, which the journalist then claimed was evidence that Jewish Australians had lost some type of historic and/or genetic compassion and were supporters of evil and malevolent policies.
That commentator knew full well my support for multiculturalism, a greater intake of refugees, asylum seekers and other immigrants, and of an immigration policy which is non-discriminatory regarding religion or ethnicity.
But his view was that, unless you endorsed particular terminology you were rationalising, or even an apologist for, something he believed to be unconscionable.
In the past two months, in interfaith dialogues involving Christians, Muslims and Jews, at academic round-tables and in meetings involving human rights advocates on the issue of refugees, asylum seekers and the large-scale movement of millions of people escaping persecution, destruction of societies and devastating social and economic circumstances, I have been involved in thoughtful discussions.
Intelligent and caring individuals, in Australia and Europe, have found no difficulty in discussing the subject on its own terms, without resort to misusing terminology, making false and offensive analogies to Nazism.
Julie Nathan of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, in a short item on the J-Wire news service, submitted that the analogy is “morally repugnant, trivialises the Holocaust, minimises the crime that was the Holocaust and is offensive to all the millions of Europeans who lived and suffered under the Nazis.”
I would add that the analogy leads to supporters of changes to the current policies being asked to abandon nuance and practical considerations and to disregard the genuine concerns of people who feel not just challenged but threatened by any immigration of people who do not arrive in a conventional, systematic manner.
Further, it allows anti-immigrant and anti-refugee activists, who contend the current policy is not protecting our way of life, to portray opponents as not merely shrill but lacking in credibility.
Australians have developed a multicultural society which should be a matter for pride; which promotes inter-religious dialogue, publicly and enthusiastically supports a face of Australia in Eurovision, sporting contests and elsewhere which is anything but monocultural, awards members of ethnic and religious minorities both civic and popular honours and elects to office women and men from many and diverse backgrounds. There are also many of us working to address outstanding areas of inequality and social exclusion.
Australia is, however, home to some people who promote social exclusion, do not believe that we should accept refugees, asylum seekers or, in some cases, any other immigrants, believe that their particular group deserves to be privileged over others, and feel that we will lose valuable aspects of our very way of life unless we protect them vigorously.
There are also overt racists and covert advocates of programs which are racist in their implications and in their intended effect. These include, but are not restricted to, advocates of the anti-Jewish policies which were at the heart of what was most repugnant and evil about Nazis.
By misusing and abusing Holocaust terminology, one risks not only being and sounding morally and intellectually offensive, but giving succour to the very people one purports to stand against.