In recent weeks the debate about branding one’s political opponents “Nazis” has become quite heated. Most of the attention has focused on Fox News’s star performer Glenn Beck, who has made it a practice to compare his opponents to Nazis.
Alas, Beck is not the only one at Fox making such offensive comparisons.
When Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly vigorously denied that her network featured this kind of rhetoric, Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart struck back with a video offering a string of examples — including one from a guest on Kelly’s own show — demonstrating just how prevalent Nazi comparisons are on the network. And after National Public Radio’s firing of Juan Williams, Fox News chief Roger Ailes famously lashed out at NPR officials: “They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism.” (Ailes later apologized to the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman — who forgave him — but not to NPR itself.)
Fox’s record is atrocious, and the network should be held accountable. But at the same time we need to be consistent in speaking out against such abominable analogies, making sure that we are not doing so selectively or only when we happen to disagree with the politics of those making the comparisons. Otherwise, we undermine our credibility.
Thus far it has been Jewish Funds for Justice that has taken the lead in mounting an anti-Beck/Ailes/Fox campaign over this issue. An avowedly progressive group, JFSJ has been taking aim at Beck for some time over his attacks on the concept of “social justice.” Later Beck returned fire by directing his Nazi analogies at JFSJ’s own president, Simon Greer. After Greer wrote on behalf of something as innocuous as “the common good,” Beck responded that this “leads to death camps. A Jew, of all people, should know that. This is exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany.”
More recently, Beck has descended even further into the gutter. He aired a three-part series on financier George Soros that was suffused with anti-Semitic imagery.
In response to Beck’s escalating rhetoric, JFSJ took out a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal calling on Fox’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, to sanction Beck. The ad (a version of which also appeared in the Forward) was signed by 400 rabbis. It cited the words of a number of Beck’s critics (including passages from an opinion article I had written about Beck’s show).
I don’t disagree with the thrust of JFSJ’s ad. That said, I do worry that it is a distortion to focus solely on the conservative end of the political spectrum.
During his term in office, President George W. Bush was frequently compared to Hitler. A 2006 New York Times ad from a group called the World Can’t Wait, signed by a number of prominent leftists (as well as five Democratic members of Congress), cited a litany of complaints about the Bush administration’s policies and concluded: “People look at all this and think of Hitler — and rightly so.” British playwright and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, who signed onto the ad, went to so far as to call the Bush administration “more dangerous than Nazi Germany.” (Emphasis added.)
Similarly, references to Israelis as “Nazis” and claims that Israel is committing genocide abound in left-wing discourse. Because of their ubiquity, we have almost become inured to the horror of such comparisons.
One need not minimize the danger of Beck’s rhetoric in order to wonder why JFSJ — which has significant credibility among progressives — has not mounted an equally passionate critique of misbegotten analogies on the left. Is this about principle, or is it about politics? Is this about anti-Semitism, or about Rupert Murdoch? (Of course, there are also some conservatives who have no trouble spotting anti-Semitic innuendo except when it is appearing on Fox.)
A non-Jewish colleague at Emory who is from Germany recently described her parents’ reaction when she told them how opponents of health care reform compared President Obama to Hitler. “Don’t they know what the Nazis were and what they did?” her parents, both of whom were young adults during the Third Reich, asked. “Don’t they understand?” My colleague said it left them feeling very sad.
It should do no less — and far more — to us whenever such analogies are used. That should be true irrespective of our political views or those of the offending speaker.
Deborah E. Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. She is the author of the forthcoming “The Eichmann Trial” (Schocken/Nextbook).