GAZA WARHolocaust Comparisons Are Overused – but in the Case of Hamas’s Oct. 7 Attack on Israel, Such Comparisons May Reflect More Than Just the Emotional Response of a Traumatized People

By Avinoam Patt and Liat Steir-Livny

Published 8 December 2023

The horrors of Oct. 7 echo the brutal tactics Nazis used during the Holocaust, including not only murder but cruel humiliation of the victims. The testimonies of Oct. 7 survivors reveal the torture of parents and children, sometimes in front of each other, including rape and sexual violence and mutiliation, mocking and lingering in the murder process as the terrorists relished – and recorded — the atrocities they committed. Hamas also shares the Nazi ideological commitment to the annihilation of the Jews. But Oct. 7 is not the same as the Holocaust.

Many observers have referred to the massacre of Israelis by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, as the deadliest attack against the Jewish people in a single day “since the Holocaust.”

As scholars who have spent decades studying the history of Israel’s relationship with the Holocaust, we have argued that the Holocaust should remain unique and not be compared with other atrocities. We have written against simplistic Holocaust analogies, like comparing mask and vaccine mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic to the Nazi persecution of the Jews, or the practice of labeling political opponents “Nazis.” Both seem to trivialize the memory of what is known as the Shoah, the Hebrew word for “catastrophe.”

But the Oct. 7 massacres perpetrated by Hamas changed our thinking.

Israeli Identity and the Holocaust
Over the past 75 years, the collective memory of the Shoah has assumed a central place in Israeli national identity. The memory of the Holocaust has increasingly become the prism through which Israelis understand both their past and their present relationships with the Arab and Muslim world.

Israelis saw the Holocaust’s threat of annihilation echoed in many situations. In 1967, there was the waiting period before the Six-Day War, when the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.” It was there in the trauma of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the unexpected, simultaneous attacks by Egypt and Syria. When Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, Prime Minister Menachem Begin justified it with the explanation that “there won’t be another Holocaust in history.”

This association has only strengthened in the past 40 years with the 1982 Lebanon wartwo Palestinian uprisings, known as intifadas, and with the present threat posed by a nuclear Iran.

All these events evoke the memory of the Holocaust and are understood within the collective memory of threats of annihilation. This phenomenon represents, for many Israelis, an inability to separate their current situation from the vulnerability of the diaspora Jewish past. And this conflation of past and present continues to play a central role in Israeli politics, foreign policy and public discourse.