May 4th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The limitations of American power

When will John Howard step down?

BANKING: Kiwibank takes off in New Zealand

QLD: Philippines banana imports endanger Australian industry, wildlife

Straws in the Wind: Monocultured multiculturalism / Reporting China

LAW: High Court ducks IVF issue

ALP must put forward alternative program: Doug Cameron

Refugee stance defended (letter)

Banks' deceptive conduct (letter)

Tax holidays for multinationals (letter)

MEDIA: Shoot the messenger

The promise - and pitfalls - of free trade

What Gusmao's election means for East Timor

COMMENT: Holocaust taunts misguided

BOOKS: Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, by Bernard Goldberg

Demons and Democrats: Kim Beazley's view

Books promotion page

Holocaust taunts misguided

by Michael Scammell

News Weekly, May 4, 2002

When did the Holocaust become just another term of cheap abuse in Australia's political lexicon?

Political players accusing each other of being Nazis, fascists or little Hitlers is nothing new, but in recent times the use of this type of such terminology has reached new levels amongst some media commentators and political operators who seem to have no problem in making a link between Howard Government policies and the horrors of Nazism.

Typical of the trend is columnist Philip Adams who in The Australian newspaper recently described the Woomera Detention Centre as a 'concentration camp'.

He even goes so far as to suggest that the provision of identification numbers to inmates as being only one-step up from tattooing numbers on their arms. Which of course is the vital point Adams chooses to ignore - they aren't tattoos and no one has ever suggested that the refugees would or should ever be tattooed.

This is no minor quibble over detail but a question of facts - these days it seems it is just enough for commentators to imply a link for it to be accepted as fair comment by others.

In a similar vein is The Age columnist Hugh Mackay who recently tried to lay a collective guilt-trip on Australians by making a fatuous comparison between Australians who plead ignorance over such issues as the refugees at Woomera and Germans who denied knowledge of the Holocaust at the end of World War II.

He says ignorance is no excuse for the electorate because "never before has a population been better informed".

Invoking the Holocaust spectre has been a bad habit of the reconciliation movement too. The policy of Aboriginal child removal has been described by a number of commentators as a form of "genocide".

It is significant though that the author of the Bringing them Home report, Sir Ronald Wilson, last year suggested the use of such pejorative terminology may actually have been detrimental to the Aboriginal cause.

As he noted, such language may well alienate many in the community as well as provide the Howard Government with an easy political out in dealing with Aboriginal issues.

Mackay and Adams should have watched the French-made documentary The Specialist shown on SBS television recently. The documentary was based around newly discovered footage of the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961.

The Specialist depicted Eichmann as a cold insipid technician, seemingly unmoved by the graphic reconstructing of events in Nazi Germany during his trial and who justified his actions through the now notorious ethical prism of "only following orders".

This was real evil in action, the enacting of a deliberately racist government policy from which literally millions were killed.

Regardless of what you think of the conservative policies of this Howard Government it is ridiculous to suggest that current policies are even vaguely comparable in their intent or actual effect.

Who is hurt

While the Holocaust jibes are clearly aimed at damaging the Howard Government it is worth considering who they most likely really hurt.

While Australian politicians generally have notoriously thick skins when it comes to political invective, one wonders how it affects members of the Jewish community for whom the Holocaust is an actual painful event, not just another piece of rhetoric to be tossed around in debate.

One rarely find members of the Jewish community invoking the Holocaust when engaged in political debate on local issues.

It's that ironic commentators such as Adams and Mackay, who no doubt pride themselves on their sensitivity to community feelings, are so willing to use the Holocaust as just another bit of political pejorative.

Documentaries such as The Specialist show how ridiculous and inaccurate such rhetorical comparisons are. Some events may well deserve comparison with the Holocaust - Pol Pot's Cambodia or the ethnic cleansing that occurred in Rwanda come to mind - but whatever the perceived injustices may be, the current refugee crisis and the misguided past removal of aboriginal children are not the same thing at all.

  • Michael Scammell is a Melbourne writer -

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