The Anti-Defamation League reports in an October 15 press release that it has received an apology from the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Liberty Commission, Richard Land, for a September 26 speech to the Christian Coalition in which he described the congressional Democrats’ health care reforms as “exactly what the Nazis did.” In the same speech Land also quipped that he had given “the Dr. Josef Mengele Award” to Ezekiel Emanuel, President Obama’s chief health care adviser (and Rahm’s brother), for his “advocacy of health care rationing.”
In an October 14 letter to ADL national director Abraham Foxman, Land said he had been “using hyperbole for effect and never intended to actually equate anyone in the Obama administration with Dr. Mengele.” He promised to “refrain from making such references in the future,” and added: “I apologize to everyone who found such references hurtful.”
Land was responding to an October 9 letter from Foxman, complaining that the “Nazi comparison is inappropriate, insensitive and unjustified. As a Holocaust survivor, I take particular offense. Such comparisons diminish the history and the memory of the 6 million Jews and 5 million others who died at the hands of the Nazis and insults those who fought bravely against Hitler.”
Foxman had a busy summer on the health-care-is-Nazism front. Among those he scolded was Rush Limbaugh, who, among other things, repeated Glenn Beck’s riff about the Obama health-care logo looking Hitlerian. Another scoldee was syndicated radio talk jockey Bill Press, who had accused opponents of health care reform of using tactics that were “straight out of the Nazi playbook.”
The battle didn’t start this summer, though. Holocaust abuse is a continuing theme among Jewish community advocates. Sometimes, as in the case of Land, it yields results. Other abusers, like Limbaugh, remain unbowed.
One of the most celebrated successes was the 1998 campaign by the Zionist Organization of America to derail the appointment of Holocaust scholar John Roth as chief historian of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial
Museum, primarily because of a 1988 essay in which Roth compared the angry mood in America in the late 1970s, leading up to the election of Ronald Reagan, to the mood in Germany before the rise of the Nazis. Roth didn’t get the job.
Holocaust scholar Rafael Medoff of the Philadelphia-based David Wyman Center wrote a useful piece in 2004, “Those Hitler Analogies: Dumb and Dangerous,” in which he lists a string of offensive comparisons. Among them: talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, speaking of day care centers; conservative strategist Grover Norquist, attacking the estate tax, and Nobel laureate novelist Jose Saramago attacking Israeli anti-terrorism strategies.
Unfortunately, Medoff turns out to be capable of pretty much the same thing himself when it serves—for instance, in a 2003 essay, “Saddam on Trial: Lessons from the Eichmann Case.”
But it’s unfair to single out Medoff. In fact, questionable Holocaust analogies are standard fare in Jewish communal discourse. Just this week, the Los Angeles-based Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors sent out a mass email blast from Israeli blogger Barry Shaw, attacking the Goldstone Report as a case of Nazi-style “inverted justice.”
And why stop there? We could mention Chicago commentator Emanuel Winston, a champion Holocaust analogist who writes a weekly column in the mass-circulation Brooklyn-based weekly, The Jewish Press. Over the years he has called Israel’s Kadima and Labor parties “Judenrat” and urged Nuremberg-type trials for them, compared Ariel Sharon and his Gaza disengagement to “Hitler’s SS), accused the Pentagon of Nazi-style behavior and repeatedly likened President Bush’s Middle East Road Map to the Nazis’ Final Solution.
Apologies for those transgressions were neither sought nor given. There’s probably some systematic measure for determining which inappropriate Holocaust analogies require apologies to the Jewish people, and which ones are just fine. What the standard is, though, isn’t immediately obvious. At least, I hope not.
No apologies were sought, for example, from Menachem Begin and Benjamin Netanyahu for calling Yasser Arafat “Hitler,”. Nor have apologies been sought or given, despite all the grief that resulted, in the case of the endless Saddam Hussein-Hitler analogies of George W. Bush, U.S News and World Report publisher Mortimer Zuckerman and, in a memorable declaration, former Republican senators Ted Stevens and John Warner in a Washington Times op-ed essay.
The last word, then, will be reserved for Republican veteran and CNN pundit Patrick Buchanan, who publicly rebuked Warner and Stevens for their inappropriate Hitler analogy — although, awkwardly enough, Buchanan’s objection was actually to the unfair maligning of Hitler.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).