Dr. Rafael Medoff
Dr. Rafael Medoffצילום: INN:RM

Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His latest is America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, published by the Jewish Publication Society & University of Nebraska Press.

Australia is going through a kind of preemptive deNazification. So why can’t Gaza?

Nearly eight decades after the end of World War II, Australia has just outlawed publicly making the Nazi salute or displaying the swastika or the signs of the SS. Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said the laws are necessary to deter Australians from “glorifying” or “celebrating” the “evil ideology” of Nazism.

Neo-Nazi groups in Australia have never attracted many members, and their candidates for office have won only a tiny number of votes. Most Australians want to keep it that way. Placing Nazi gestures outside the margins of civilized society is a small step in that direction.

The salute, known in German as a Hitlergrub (Hitler Greeting), was adopted by the Nazis in the 1920s, along with the accompanying words "Heil Hitler" or “Sieg Heil.” After the Nazis rose to power in 1933, the salute was made compulsory for all government employees in Germany and during the singing of the German national anthem. Failure to give the salute could result in criminal prosecution or worse.

Portugal’s consul-general in Hamburg was beaten up by Nazi thugs for failing to salute a march by Hitler supporters. German Jews were prohibited from giving the salute on the grounds that their use of it would dishonor the gesture.

In post-World War II Germany, the Allies outlawed all Nazi symbols, gestures, and activities as part of a “deNazification” strategy. The goal was to eliminate all traces of Nazism from the political and educational systems, and from popular culture, in order to ensure that Hitler’s followers could never again influence German society.

A similar policy was pursued in Japan. The American occupation authorities rewrote the Japanese Constitution and drastically reformed Japan’s schools. They also implemented what was known as the Shinto Directive, to curb the influence of the Shinto religion because of its militaristic elements. Shinto-linked government officials were removed from office, Shinto priests and shrines were deprived of government funding, and school textbooks reflecting Shinto ideology were revised or eliminated.

In the years following World War II, many other countries—now including Australia—implemented laws to obstruct neo-Nazi activity, even when such legislation ruffled the feathers of some civil libertarians.

neo-Nazis
neo-NazisFlash 90

Thus in addition to Australia (and Germany), the Nazi salute is outlawed in Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. In Sweden, giving the salute is considered a hate crime. In many other European countries, it is prohibited if used to promote Nazism.

Public display of the swastika is banned in twenty-one countries. In some others, there are partial restrictions on the symbol, such as permitting its display only for educational or artistic purposes. Some countries have prevented neo-Nazis from running for office; earlier this year, Greece banned the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party from participating in the upcoming general election. And a number of democratic countries have outlawed various forms of hate speech.

Many Israelis support implementing a “deNazification”-type process in postwar Gaza. Terrorist groups and supporters of terrorism would be banned from any future political process. The curricula in Gaza schools would be completely overhauled to eliminate textbooks that glorify terrorists or teach hatred of Jews and Israel, and teachers would be re-trained accordingly. The news media would be required to engage in genuine journalism, not cheerleading for murderers and rapists.

To be successful, such a process would have to address even those of aspects of Gazan society that might at first glance seem innocuous, such as children’s toys. In Nazi Germany, the authorities sought to entrench the Hitler salute in the national culture by giving all children a three-inch-tall plastic figurine of Hitler with a movable right arm. In Gaza, there is a popular doll of a child holding a rock in his upraised arm, his face covered by a keffiyah. Rooting out the glorification of violent antisemitism needs to start at a young age.

DeNazifying Gaza will be a lengthy and complicated undertaking. Vigilant monitoring will be necessary to guard against backsliding, and even decades from now, additional corrective steps might be needed, just as Australia and other countries are still doing, all these years after World War II. But the alternative is an eventual repeat of October 7.