Never Again? A Brief Case Against the Yellow Star of David

by Dr. David Mandler

The yellow star of David is perhaps the most famous signifier of religious and ethnic intolerance. Resurrected from the Middle Ages and redesigned by the German Nazis in the 1940s, the yellow star functioned as a marker of Jewishness in a society that had totally assimilated and absorbed its Jewish population into the general culture. It was with the help of the yellow star that Jews were visibly set apart from the general population not only in Germany but also in all other countries infested by the spirit of Nazi hatred and its dreadful influence.

So, what is the yellow star of David doing on hundreds of Jews in Budapest today towards the end of 2012?

As a sign of protest against the virulently demented demand by a Jobbik Party member of parliament in Budapest to assess the national security risks posed by “those people of Jewish descent living here, and especially present in the parliament and government” by first putting Jews on a list, many in Budapest decided to put on the yellow star.
While the gesture of pinning the yellow star on one’s shirt is a courageous and upright move of solidarity when done by non-Jews, I cannot shrug off the more disturbing implications of such a move when done by Jews.

Embracing  the yellow star of David by today’s Jews, to me, signifies the following:

1. The perpetuation of the Jew as a victim. So, you want to put us on a list like you did in 1944? Don’t bother to search: here we are! Put us on a list. While this is an admirable initial outburst of protest, it does nothing to dispel the image of the Jew as a victim. In fact, it invites its perpetuation, for it does not present any positive form of resistance and, instead, shows a sense of self-victimization.

2. The projection of the anti-Jewish fantasy. So, this is what a Jew looks like. Dressed exactly like you but with a yellow star, the way you see black and white pictures from the 1940s. Much has happened since the 1940s. Jewish identity has undergone many changes not only in Western Europe, America, Israel but also in Hungary. From the totally assimilated person “of Jewish descent” to use the Jobbik MP’s phrase, to the Chabad Lubavitch chassid: Hungary’s Jewry has it all. Granting to the anti-Semite (or the average uninformed Hungarian spectator) the image of the Jew with the yellow star–without fully explaining what you mean by wearing it–only supplies an image of Jews as weak, victimized and pathetic attention seekers.

3. It reduces or trivializes the unspeakable pain of forcibly wearing the yellow star Hungarian patriots who were Jewish or were deemed as Jews felt in the 1940s. Here! I’m wearing the yellow star. You cannot do with me what you did to us in 1944. This, no doubt, is the intended message. Yet, wearing the yellow star voluntarily is in no way analogous to what it signified in the 1940s. In fact, it is a conscious attempt at resistance, not a painful sign of submission. Thus, this symbolic gesture of protest may inadvertently end up as a means to change retroactively the meaning of the images of Jews wearing the yellow star in the 1940s. And nothing would please the Holocaust deniers more than such a retroactive reevaluation.

4. It smacks of a performance piece that may not convey the deep hurt, pain and anger the Jobbik MP’s words have awakened in many Jews and those sympathizing with Jews. Look at me! I’m wearing the yellow star. And so? Today it’s shocking. Tomorrow, it is the norm. The shock value is gone. The worst possible thing that can come out of this is the unwitting (or willful) judgment of those whose dislike of the Jews is habitual would be for the general population in Hungary to grow desensitized to this particular symbol of intolerance and see it as a viable, living image. Today the Jews wear this yellow star with prideful resistance. What would prevent some from thinking that it is no longer a badge of shame but rather of pride, so that it could no longer be seen as being forced upon Jews sometime in the future–since they have already embraced it voluntarily–as the voices of Jew-hatred translated into more political power?

It is my view that Jews of Budapest ought to find another symbol. The yellow star of David is too charged with negativity and imbued with a projection of Nazi fantasies about Jews to be appropriated as a proud symbol of resistance. It is a poison pill, no matter who administers it. If the yellow star cannot be redesigned  in a radical way, it literally must be burnt in the streets or cut up into pieces in a dramatic move during the next protest. It should never again disfigure the shirts, jackets, or blouses of Jews who know why being Jewish is such a huge gift with enormous responsibilities; who know why being Jewish is awesome; who know why being Jewish in Hungary should be a source of pride and not of shame when considering the collective and individual contributions of Jewish Hungarians to Hungary’s culture, economy, and social institutions in general throughout the centuries.

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