By Dan Judelson
November 4, 2010
Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies predicts that the longer an internet discussion continues, then the greater the likelihood of a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis. There are other versions - one at least predating Mike Godwin's formulation - and several variants and corollaries but it is Godwin's which has, over the last 20 years, become familiar.
So what is one to make of a letter from His Excellency Ran Curiel, Israel's Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentary and Head of Mission to the European Union? In reply to an inquiry in July this year from Heidi Hautala MEP, chair of the EU Parliament's Human Rights Committee regarding the status of a Knesset bill proposing new rules governing the conduct of NGO's, Ambassador Curiel more or less warns the MEPs off because of European history:
Embarking on such a wrong path may lead us all to dwell on Europe's own credentials past and present.
Now there are several things to say here, not least that a strict interpretation of Godwin's law might not apply. After all, it was partly formulated to cover absurd reductio ad Hitlerum analogies and Curiel is referring to Europe's actual history. Notwithstanding the accuracy or otherwise, is it a wise thing for an senior ambassador to write? It's perilously close to saying "European criticism of Israel is only based on antisemitism." Is Israeli diplomacy strong if it resorts, in the first instance, to a cack-handed attempt at moral blackmail?
Which brings us back to one of the corollaries of Godwin's law. Guardian journalist Zoe Williams came up with it in 2002, in the context of trying to work out, the next day, who might have won a drunken argument. Whoever mentioned the Nazis first, lost, she wrote. As Nick Cohen put it in Pretty Straight Guys:
It's an egregious, dozy, meaningless, emotive catch-all.
Complaints about the state of Israel's PR offensive are legion. The ambassador's words hardly comfort those who wish for something less than megaphone diplomacy - including H.E. Curiel himself.