Sadly, scarily, and with great disrespect for America (which I am sure they don’t intend), more than a few American Jews – including my own mother and leaders of the Pennsylvania Jewish community, are claiming that Barack Obama is the new Hitler. And while these words are disgraceful, my intent is not to endorse Obama over McCain because of what certain McCain supporters have said or done. This is about a political sickness taking root in the Jewish community, one which threatens the memory of the Holocaust, the integrity of the Jewish people, and the future of this country.
When I first heard my mom make this comparison, I attributed it more to her love of provocation than to any genuine sentiment. But in light of a pro-McCain e-mail that went out to 75,000 Pennsylvania Jews suggesting that a vote for Barack Obama could bring another Holocaust, I realized that there was something deeply wrong. In fact, further checking has shown me that this trope has been circulating around the Republican Jewish Coalition and its supporters, for months.
How can the same people who pride themselves on maintaining the importance of Holocaust memory invoke the real horrors of the past as a political tool? Ironically, mobilizing that kind of fear and memory of past defeat was used by early Nazis to mobilize Germans in support of National Socialism in its early stages.
I appreciate the real terror which these otherwise good people must be experiencing to be driven to this kind of behavior. But do they not see that the comparison itself denigrates all that they value about the strength of this country and the accomplishments attained by Jews precisely because this is not Weimar Germany? America now is not Germany then, and it shows a profound lack of appreciation for American Jewish experience to miss that point.
It also concerns me that no actual repudiation of the e-mail has been forthcoming. The author was fired, but neither those who signed the letter nor the McCain-Palin Campaign have actually said that it was reprehensible. They simply say that “it went a little too far” or that they never actually read the document. Astounding — especially when it comes from people who have, properly in my view, questioned the language and metaphors used by some people supporting Obama.
This election should not be a Vince Lombardi football game in which winning is the only thing. And for Jewish leaders to contribute to that kind of polarization betrays not only their role as leaders, but the kind of intellectual openness of which Jews are so proud.
Take strong positions, this election is too important not to. And I don’t believe that either side can be really certain that their’s is the best path, not in these challenging times. But unless you advocate the assassination of Barack Obama, you dare not compare him to Hitler.
After all, if we could stop a real Hitler from attaining power, would any of us hesitate to kill him first? I hope not, and I can give you six million good reasons why not – 13 million if you allow me to count the non-Jewish victims of the Shoah. They are the same millions of reasons that I call upon to stop us from making that comparison, and make real amends for having ever done so.