The inappropriate use of Holocaust and Nazi imagery to attack political opponents is rampant both on the left and the right and both among Jews and non-Jews. In fact, it seems far more prevalent on the left, many of whose most vocal ideologues invoke it against all manner of enemy ranging from George W. Bush, to Israel, to me (“Zionazi”). Rabbi Michael Lerner and his supporters refer to Kristallnacht when attacking those who criticize them. Rabbi Arthur Woskow decries the possibility of a nuclear Holocaust. Keith Olbermann repeatedly invokes Nazi imagery. Move On, an organization funded by George Soros, produced a video showing pictures of Hitler and Nazi rallies and claiming that Hitler’s war crimes have become President Bush’s foreign policy. Norman Finkelstein, whose articles are published and praised by Michael Lerner, repeatedly compares the Israeli army to the Gestapo. Gilad Atzmon apologizes for making such a comparison, arguing that the Israeli army is far worse than the Gestapo.
There are also several prominent Israeli professors who regularly compare Israel and Nazi Germany. And just a week or so before this Wall Street Journal ad appeared, a prominent Jewish liberal congressman, Steve Cohen, compared Republican arguments against Obama healthcare to the “big lies” told by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
One would think that a group of rabbis, many on the hard left, would express concern about their co-religionists and ideological soul mates misusing the Holocaust. “But nooooooo!,” as John Belushi used to say. These rabbis, 400 strong, took out a $100,000 ad in the Wall Street Journal, limiting their vitriol to two right wing figures who have misused Holocaust imagery: Glenn Beck and Roger Ailes. Not surprisingly, the list of rabbis includes both Michael Lerner, whose dubious rabbinical credentials have been questioned for years, and Arthur Woskow, a strident demonizer of Israel. Both of these rabbis are guilty of the very offense they accuse Beck and Ailes of committing. I would bet there are also other rabbis on the list whose sermons and political screeds include inappropriate Holocaust references and support for Move On.
Why then did so many decent rabbis sign an ad that includes indecent rabbis and that fails to deal with the far more serious problem of Jewish demonizers of Israel who repeatedly compare the Jewish state to Nazi Germany? Related to that question is another one: Who shelled out the $100,000 that it costs to run a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal? Certainly it wasn’t the rabbis themselves, many of whom earn yearly salaries less that the cost of the ad. The third question is how many of these rabbis would sign an ad condemning the inappropriate use of Holocaust imagery by hard left delegitimators of Israel such as Lerner, Woskow, Finkelstein and Atzmon?
The primary mission of rabbis, after all, is to repair the Jewish world first—to criticize first those fellow Jews who trivialize the suffering of the Jewish people. Why then did these rabbis ignore Jewish sinners and limit their criticism to two non-Jews?
It is no answer to argue, as I’m sure the rabbis will, that Beck and Ailes are important media figures, far more influential than Jews like Lerner, Woskow, Finkelstein, Atzmon and Cohen. First, that is a dubious proposition, especially when it comes to young people on college campuses throughout the world today. Jews who misuse their ethnic credibility to delegitimize Israel in the eyes of future leaders are, tragically, quite influential on college campuses. Second, rabbis simply cannot ignore Jewish sinners who misuse their Jewishness to justify their invocation of Nazi images as battering rams against the Jewish state.
Analogies are often appropriate in public discourse. We use the terms McCarthyism and Witch Hunt without criticism (I myself wrote a book about the Bill Clinton scandal entitled Sexual McCarthyism), but Holocaust metaphors should be used sparingly and never, ever with regard to Israel. Any such comparison is obscene, ahistorical, anti-Semitic and despicable.
It is time to declare a general moratorium on the use of Nazi and Holocaust images both by the left and the right and by Jews and non-Jews alike. Even the Wall Street Journal ad itself went too far when it explicitly stated that its political attack on Beck and Ailes was being issued “on the occasion of the United Nations Holocaust Remembrance Day.”
So here is my challenge: Let those who funded the anti-Beck-Ailes ad, fund another ad that condemns those on the left, especially Jews, who use Nazi and Holocaust images to demonize Israel. Names should be named, and statements should be quoted, just as they were in the Wall Street Journal ad. Let’s see how many of these rabbis for “justice,” actually support justice and not just use their rabbinical degrees (those who actually have them) to serve narrow political and ideological ends. The ad should then publish the names of each rabbi who signed the anti-Beck-Ailes ad but refused to sign the ad condemning Jews on the left who misuse comparable imagery. Now that would be an interesting ad, but don’t hold your breath.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University.