Amidst the furore surrounding Donald Trump’s press conference and the salacious allegations containing in the Buzzfeed dossier, some very damaging words uttered yesterday by America’s President-elect have been largely overlooked.
I refer to Mr Trump’s allusion to Nazi Germany in his criticism of the US intelligence agencies. It was almost a throwaway line from the incoming president, but it was received with deep distaste by the global Jewish community.
By likening the publication of a dossier to the crimes committed by Adolf Hitler’s fascists during the 1930s, Mr Trump cheapened the value of the word ‘Nazi’ – something which, as a Jewish community leader, I find abhorrent.
The Board of Deputies regularly has to speak out when people use Nazi epithets and discourse inappropriately, and this was certainly one such occasion.
Mr Trump may have a legitimate complaint that a false news report was put out against him. But, when one considers the horrific acts perpetrated during the Third Reich, this pales into insignificance.
We must not forget that the Nazis started a world war that caused the death of many millions of people. They carried out a deliberate campaign of genocide against the Jews and they murdered one-third of the Jewish people, including a million children, in the most barbaric and inhumane fashion imaginable. They had no system of justice that we would recognise today; the publication of a bogus news report might have been everyday practice under the warped regime of the Gestapo but would hardly rank as one of its major crimes.
So to blithely toss in the word ‘Nazi’ in connection with a mere news report was utterly inappropriate, and frankly ridiculous.
Many have suggested Mr Trump has the backing of the Jewish community. I’m not so sure about that; although Mr Trump has declared himself a big supporter of Israel and criticised the previous US administration’s policies on the Middle East, I believe that American Jewish voters continued to support the Democrats in greater numbers than the Republicans. But nonetheless he has not helped his standing among the Jewish community with the irresponsible comments tweeted yesterday.
There’s always the danger of cheapening historical facts and the longer the passage of time since the Holocaust, the greater the danger that its memory will fade. Of the generation that experienced the Holocaust, that lived and suffered through it, there are now only a diminishing band of survivors. But through the brilliant work of institutions such as the Holocaust Museum in Washington, the flame of remembrance and understanding is kept alive. It must never be extinguished.
If Mr Trump wants to use the word ‘Nazi’ in such a cavalier and thoughtless fashion, neither I nor anyone else in the Jewish community can stop him. I’m not in favour of curbing free speech, unless it can be shown to cause direct harm to others and pose a risk to their safety. Rather than martyring the mindless minority, we should let them speak and expose their views to justified criticism and even ridicule.
But I sincerely hope that Donald Trump thinks long and hard about using the word ‘Nazi’ in future. As the soon-to-be President of the United States, his role is too important to be undermined by such carelessness.
Jonathan Arkush is president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. You can find him on Twitter here.