Analogies Have Consequences

Opinion

By Menachem Z. Rosensaft

Published August 10, 2009, issue of August 21, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In 1995, right-wing Israeli demonstrations opposing any political accommodation with the Palestinians featured posters depicting Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the uniform of a Nazi SS officer. The message was duly received. On November 5, 1995, Yigal Amir, a far-right Israeli law student, assassinated Rabin at a Tel Aviv peace rally.

Members of Israel’s mainstream right-wing political parties, some of whom had spoken at the demonstrations in question, were quick to distance themselves from Rabin’s murderer. This was not what they had intended, they said. They did not see the posters. They could not be held responsible for the insane behavior of a deranged extremist.

We should keep the Rabin assassination in mind as Rush Limbaugh, arguably the most influential ideologue of today’s American conservative movement, compares the Obama administration’s health care reform initiative to Nazism and the president himself to Hitler.

“Obama’s got a health care logo that’s right out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook” and “Obama is asking citizens to rat each other out like Hitler did,” Limbaugh told the millions who faithfully tune in to his radio show. The president “is sending out his brownshirts to head up opposition to genuine American citizens who want no part of what Barack Obama stands for and is trying to stuff down our throats,” Limbaugh continued, and “Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate.”

Limbaugh is not alone in making the Hitler analogy. Demonstrators disrupting town hall meetings on health care reform have brandished images of President Obama with a Hitler-like mustache and signs with “Obama” written under a swastika. Earlier this year, the president of the Republican Women of Anne Arundel County in Maryland wrote on the group’s Web site that “Obama and Hitler have a great deal in common.”

From the outset, the strategy of some Republicans has been to delegitimize Barack Obama by depicting him as somehow dangerous and “un-American.”

First they brayed his middle name, Hussein, and noted that Obama sounds a lot like Osama. Then they called him a Muslim. When that didn’t stick, they accused him of “palling around with terrorists,” and then of being a socialist and a communist, all to no avail.

That was conventional politics, albeit of the gutter variety. By comparing President Obama to Hitler, however, Limbaugh is sending his national audience a subliminal but clear message of a wholly different sort. He may just as well be shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, has condemned the Nazi analogies in the health care debate as “outrageous, offensive and inappropriate.” Americans, he believes, “should be able to disagree on the issues without coloring it with Nazi imagery and comparisons to Hitler.”

Foxman is right, of course, but he does not go nearly far enough in his criticism. The problem is not just one of civility in political discourse. The real issue is that Limbaugh, with the tacit acquiescence of his corporate sponsors and the GOP establishment, is calling for sedition and worse.

If Limbaugh in his radio broadcast had made, in the words of the relevant federal statute, “any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States,” he would have been thrown off the air and would be awaiting trial on felony charges. But his likening of Obama to Hitler is the functional equivalent of calling for an act of violence against the president of the United States.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, a plurality of Americans consider Limbaugh to be “the main person who speaks for the Republican Party today.” John McCain sees Limbaugh as “a voice of a significant portion of our conservative movement in America” who “has a lot of people who listen very carefully to him.” Mitt Romney calls Limbaugh “a very powerful voice among conservatives. And I listen to him.” Rudy Giuliani has said that “to the extent that Rush Limbaugh energizes the base of the Republican Party, he’s a very valuable and important voice.” And Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele has anointed Limbaugh “a national conservative leader.”

McCain, Romney, Giuliani and Steele should now either unambiguously repudiate Limbaugh’s ugly rhetoric or be deemed to condone it. To paraphrase the old labor movement song, we are entitled to know which side they are on.

It is time for Republican leaders to take responsibility for Limbaugh’s words before they have dire if not tragic consequences.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.