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Despite advance notice, ADL knocks Democratic group for Nazi comparison

The Jewish Democratic Council of America invoked Nazi imagery in an ad encouraging voters to support Democrats

Halie Soifer, director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, expected that her organization’s new advertisement using footage from Nazi Germany to criticize Republicans would be controversial. A similar video two years ago provoked condemnation from both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, so this time she gave the two organizations advance notice.

Soifer said she spoke with Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, Tuesday and explained that she would be comparing right-wing extremists to Nazis. 

“He basically told me, ‘I wrote the book on this,’” Soifer recounted, referring to his recent book “It Could Happen Here: Why America Is Tipping from Hate to the Unthinkable – And How We Can Stop It.”

“I said, ‘Great, I made an ad on it, don’t condemn it,’” Soifer said in an interview.

But several hours after the Jewish Democratic group released its 30-second advertisement Wednesday, the ADL released a statement on social media calling it “an inappropriate depiction that trivializes the history of the Holocaust.”

“While we share a sense of urgency on voting and agree there are currently unprecedented threats to U.S. democracy, suggesting this is akin to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the imminent savagery of the Nazi regime is wrong,” the organization said. “There are better ways to make the point.”

The ADL criticized the use of “raw historical footage from Nazi Germany in the 1930s and ’40s.” Soifer said, but in fact, the ad “intentionally contains” no footage after 1939, because “the parallel being drawn is between the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and the dangerous threat of MAGA extremism under Trump through the midterms.”Among the images are Nazi soldiers painting Jewish stars on shops, which the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum includes as part of Holocaust, which it dates as starting in 1933.

“Regardless of the decade of the footage used, the implication is clear and it’s inappropriate,” the ADL said in a statement to the Forward Thursday evening. “ADL is alarmed about threats to our democracy and continues to work to elevate our concerns and address these issues, but the suggestion that the election is a choice between Democrats and the Third Reich is wrong.”

The organization declined to comment on Greenblatt’s communication with Soifer. In a text message to the Forward Friday, Abe Foxman, the former longtime director of the ADL, defended JDCA’s use of the comparison to Nazi Germany. “As a Holocaust survivor, I know why it is vital to reflect on the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. It reminds us what politically-motivated hate can lead to — the destruction of democracy and the persecution and genocide of innocent people,” Foxman said. “That’s what took root in Germany in the 1930s and that’s what’s depicted by @USJewishDems.”

The JDCA video also features footage from the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, including the deadly car-ramming and a demonstrator carrying a Nazi flag. It juxtaposes former President Donald Trump with an image of Adolf Hitler, and includes a clip of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia Republican, holding a rifle.

“History may repeat itself unless we act,” the narrator says. It closes with a message reading: “Stop extremism. Vote Democratic.”

In his book, which was published in January, Greenblatt similarly draws a comparison between contemporary politics in the United States and the rise of Nazi Germany. “Violence on a more catastrophic scale could be just around the corner,” the promotional copy warns.

Greenblatt references Genocide Watch, which identified several right-wing trends — including the rise of white supremacist groups and QAnon, the “‘leader cult’” around Trump and the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot — as warning signs that the United States could be headed toward mass political violence.

Greenblatt also refers to “distinct parallels between present-day America and Nazi Germany” while citing the work of Gregory Stanton, the founder of Genocide Watch.

“I don’t think it’s all impossible in this country,” Stanton said of the prospect of a future American government pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing.

“And neither do I,” Greenblatt writes. “Persecution always starts somewhere.”

An ADL spokesperson defended Greenblatt’s book: “There is a vast difference between a sober, 300-page study of the past and how we can learn from it versus exploiting the Holocaust in a 30-second campaign ad solely to score political points.”

The other group Soifer reached out to before the ad was published, the American Jewish Committee — which is now led by former U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat her group had supported — did not weigh in on the advertisement.

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