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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Swastika retains power to shock

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Michael Laws. Photo / APN
Michael Laws. Photo / APN

Jews are among the least visible population groups in New Zealand. Anyone who wants to be anti-Semitic is up against it and will have to go out of their way to find like-minded individuals with whom to share their aberration.

This makes anti-Semitism ideal for the kind of alienated, powerless young men, full of anger and needing an outlet, who were in on the ground when the Nazi party was formed.

Many New Zealanders notice that we have a Jewish community only when, as happens periodically, some demented knuckle-draggers spray swastikas on Jewish headstones. It's an attempt to create a reaction and it works. The sight of a swastika can still shock when it is used to offend, which itself is a terrible testament to the power of Nazi imagery and its vicious legacy.

Perhaps those who attacked graves in the Symonds St cemetery and a house in Grey Lynn were just disaffected kids who couldn't express their anger any other way and "didn't know any better".

Perhaps they think the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a motorcycle club.

There is a prevalent feeling that the war is over, the Holocaust was 70 years ago and anti-Semitism can't be a problem these days. Non-Jewish people can be heard expressing, often with an air of fatigue, the view that Jews should get over their persecution "complex" because it all happened a long time ago and it's not happening now and general amnesia would be the best approach.

But as long as there are people who pay any attention to the sort of demented anti-Jewish thinking which motivated the Nazis, it is not over. Anti-Semitism, even on a small scale, is a dangerous, vicious prejudice and our young people need to be reminded of the lessons of history.

Nowhere has the danger of standing idly by, saying and doing nothing in protest while wrong is being done, been more tragically illustrated than in the case of anti-Semitism.

Those who would like it all to be forgotten also do harm, because they are providing the conditions for anti-Semitism to flourish.

A worrying sidelight in the response to the Symonds St attack was the speed with which posters on Facebook rushed to convict and condemn one of the accused. Facebook's great for kitten videos but it's no substitute for the legal system. While it was salutary and shocking to read the spittle-flecked, anti-Jewish ravings of a local youth on his Facebook page, the website is not the place to assess the rights and wrongs of any case serious enough to end up in court.

It's been a week of great highs and lows. I thought it could hardly get better than James Blunt announcing his retirement from music and Michael Laws announcing his retirement from radio within 48 hours of each other. Then came the sad news that the Blunt retirement had been misreported, and he lives to whine another day.

Laws' departure, however, was confirmed by RadioLive's general manager Jana Rangooni, who said: "Whether you agree or disagree with what he has to say, you can't dispute Michael's legacy as one of the great characters of New Zealand radio."

Well, obviously, you can.

And it seems that Laws is not the only person connected with RadioLive who uses words without understanding what they mean.

Because if he is a great radio character, what words would you need to pay due credit to Colin Scrimgeour, Merv Smith, Kevin Black, Sharon Crosbie, Paul Holmes, Kim Hill, Pam Corkery and all the other great broadcasters who have used radio to communicate, not intimidate.


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- Herald on Sunday

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