My Word | Leave the Holocaust out of it

From the Times-Standard:

My Word | Leave the Holocaust out of it

By Rabbi Naomi Steinberg and Rabbi Bob Rottenberg |
March 9, 2022

We’ve been shocked by Holocaust imagery used to criticize pandemic public health measures: disgruntled Americans calling medical officials Nazis and wearing yellow stars like those forced on Holocaust victims by their killers. Recently a local Jewish business person was horrified by a blogger displaying a swastika made of hypodermic needles next to their company logo. Robert Kennedy Jr. brought his family shame suggesting that Anne Frank had more freedom than Americans today.  He didn’t mention Anne was among 6 million murdered Jews and millions of others the Nazis deemed sub-human. After an outpouring of criticism, Kennedy issued a terse apology. Similar blunders and apologies are made by numerous Republican politicians and right-wing newscasters. (Remember when the GOP stood for fiscal conservatism, not voter suppression and violence?)

Appropriating Holocaust images and names is an insidious form of Holocaust denial, implying the Nazis practiced governmental overreach, not genocide. Diminishment of the Holocaust horrors, or any persecuted people’s suffering, is an affront to human dignity.  In 2020, the Time-Standard printed a rant comparing lack of haircuts to the terrors inflicted on the Jews in Nazi Germany.

History is replete with tales of human-caused suffering. Across the globe people of color have been dehumanized, enslaved and slaughtered by white colonizers. From 1929 to 1953, Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin murdered more than 20 million USSR citizens by execution, torture and starvation. In the 1970s, nearly a quarter of the Cambodian population perished in genocide perpetrated by fanatical Communists. Recent research suggests that over the past 500 years, the number of Indigenous people killed in what we call the Americas could be as high as 175 million. The list goes on. But no one compares COVID health care workers to slaveholders, conquistadors or notorious communists. Anti-vaxxers so upset about wearing masks or getting life-saving vaccinations don’t compare themselves to oppressed Black or Indigenous people who are far more numerous than Jews. Instead of Anne Frank, would Kennedy invoke Nelson Mandela’s suffering? Why this sick obsession with Jews and Holocaust?

COVID-related Holocaust denial is an expression of latent or explicit anti-Semitism, including prejudice against Jews on religious, racial, ethnic or cultural grounds. Donald Trump’s one-term presidency saw a steep rise in attacks on Jewish Americans. Did Trump condemn those attacks? No. In 2017, he called violent white supremacists in Virginia “very fine people.” During the deadly Jan/ 6 Capitol rampage, Trump called rioters with Confederate flags and Nazi T-shirts “beautiful people.” When our leaders fail to publicly condemn hate, they embolden it.

This rhetoric attempts to normalize attitudes and acts most Americans recognize as bigoted and violent.  People in our community consume this dangerous propaganda.  History teaches that people can be brainwashed into acting and voting against their own interests and values. Social media posts, pernicious pundits, and self-serving celebrities influence gullible Americans like convicted Jan/ 6 criminals now confessing remorse, realizing they were duped.

Six million Jewish Americans comprise 2.5% of the U.S. population. With only fifteen million worldwide, Jews are less than 0.2% of the world population. Jews in the USA are a small, vulnerable population. American Jewish leaders are sounding the alarm and calling for help. As a country dedicated to liberty and freedom for all, we must put a stop to these terrible trends. We must call out those who fan the flames of hatred. Please do your part. If you hear or read bigoted language from friends, neighbors, co-workers or family, tell them it’s dead wrong. And if they want to gripe about COVID health measures, tell them to leave the Holocaust out of it.

Rabbi Naomi Steinberg serves B’nai Ha-Aretz in Redway and along with Rabbi Bob Rottenberg serves Temple Beth El in Eureka. Rabbis Steinberg and Rottenberg participate in the Humboldt Interfaith Fellowship and True North Organizing Network Spiritual Leaders Caucus. Additional signers from True North, Humboldt Interfaith Fellowship and Cal Poly Humboldt Religious Studies: Terry Supahan, The Rev.Daniel London, Deacon Jon Pedicino, Sandi Little, Byrd Lochtie, Rev. Molly Cate, Deacon Kathy Hanson, Rev. Deborah Haffner Hubbard, Leslie Leach, Rev. Nancy Corran, Pr. Dana Gill Port, Dr. Ashley L. Bacchi, The Rev. Anne Pierson, Pastor Bethany Cseh, Patricia Black, Sara Jaye Hart, PhD, Stephanie Corigliano, PhD, and Vincent Biondo, PhD, The Very Rev. Sara L. Potter, The Rev. Cynthia Woods.