Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Mike Huckabee Threatens the Jews (Again)

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group representing (as the name implies) many of the most significant Jewish groups in the US,* recently nominated Dianne Lob to be its new chair. Lob was most recently chairwoman of HIAS, a Jewish immigrant rights advocacy group and a mainstay of progressive Jewish politics that has taken a leading role in opposing President Trump's draconian and racist anti-immigrant policies. Sadly, many people came to know HIAS because they were the specific Jewish organization that Pittsburgh shooter was fixated upon in "justification" for his massacre. He hated HIAS for doing what it has done for years -- assist needy refugees in securing a safe and thriving home in America. Hence, in my quick thoughts on Jewish organizations, all I wrote on HIAS was "If you don't like HIAS, you're a monster."

Of course, the world is full of monsters. And one of them is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who, despite not being Jewish, decided he was in a position to dictate to Jews who our institutional representatives should be.

For "their own sake". Subtle.

Huckabee has a habit of expressing his great affinity for the Jews in the form of veiled threats and antisemitic jabs. For example, when he was criticized by the ADL for comparing failing to confront the national debt to the Holocaust (speaking of Holocaust trivialization!), did he apologize? No. He lashed out, darkly warning that "Israel and Jewish people need to make friends, not insult the ones they have." (The ADL, spinelessly, then apologized to Huckabee). He's complained that American Jews just aren't as supportive of Israel as evangelical Christians. He even spread a baseless conspiracy theory that antisemitic grafitti in Chicago was actually the false flag work of left-wing Jewish students seeking to smear Donald Trump -- a grotesque smear on which he doubled-down when challenged.

The arrogance Huckabee is displaying (and I haven't even gotten into the idea that American Jewish organizations should choose their leadership based on fealty to Netanyahu) is both astounding and par for the course. Even if he hadn't repeatedly demonstrated his contempt for the American Jewish majority he still wouldn't be entitled to pick our leaders. American Jews are not his serfs, and we do not run scared from his brand of thuggish intimidation.

Meanwhile, ZOA -- which already has gotten a warning from the COP regarding its inability to play nicely with others -- jumped into the fray to not just oppose Lob's nomination as chairwoman, but to suggest that HIAS should be expelled from the COP outright. When you're outflanking Dani frickin' Dayan from the right....

Huckabee and ZOA deserve each other, but the Jewish community deserves better than either. I hope Lob is welcomed into her new role, and that her ascension begins the important process of healing some very real rifts that have grown between the American Jewish community and an appointed leadership which has taken actual, mainstream progressive Jews for granted for too long.

* Though this can be a bit misleading. Some legacy organizations that once were prominent but today are basically shells remain members, and other important groups of more recent vintage have been denied membership notwithstanding their prominence -- J Street being the obvious example.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Holocaust Trivialization Leads To Holocaust Mockery

A recent news story reports on two Minnesota high school students who released a TikTok video titled "Me and the boys on the way to camp." It was making fun of the Holocaust.

Elsewhere in the country, Republican and conservative leaders have gotten very trigger-happy comparing coronavirus restrictions to the Holocaust. An Idaho state representative insisted that stay-at-home measures were "no different" than Hitler sending Jews to extermination camps. The Colorado House Minority Leader said that Governor Jared Polis' (who is Jewish) efforts reflected a "Gestapo-like mentality".  We all saw the pictures of right-wing protesters in Michigan holding signs saying "Heil Witmer" [sic] with a swastika on them (referring to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer). There are other examples.

These are not the same thing. But they are related. The latter is a form of Holocaust trivialization, where it gets employed in opposition to political moves that fall clearly and obviously short of concentration camps and mass extermination.* The effect of Holocaust trivialization is to make the Holocaust utterly ordinary and mundane; unremarkable save for how it can pack an emotional punch in ordinary and mundane political debates. And once the Holocaust is ordinary and mundane, one can do ordinary, mundane things with. Leverage it in attack ads. Use it as a bit of effective (if perhaps hyperbolic) rhetoric. And, of course, mock it. Ordinary and mundane events in the political sphere are legitimate subjects of parody and mockery. It is the Holocaust's status as something distinct from the ordinary, in a separate class, that justifies keep it insulated from such insults. Take that away, and why shouldn't it get its share of snipes and jabs? There is a direct line from trivializing the Holocaust to mocking it. The kids in Minnesota and the elected officials in the GOP are not doing the same thing -- but there is a familial lineage.

The past few years have seen the GOP talk a very big game about what great friends they are the Jews. They say it every election season, of course, and they always put on such a display of hurt and confusion when that friendship isn't reciprocated. Well, here's part of the reason why. Given the slightest opportunity, they'll cheapen our genocide in service of a destructive, paranoid, and frankly inane political agenda. They won't care in the slightest the damage it does to the Jewish community. Hell, I doubt they even notice it. But we do.

* Here is what I wrote, incidentally, on comparisons of  immigrant detention camps in the U.S. to the Holocaust. I did not and do not like them, though in that case at the very least there is non-frivolous basis for the comparison (though not on the axis of systematic extermination) which made me feel as if litigating the comparison was of subsidiary importance to keeping our eye on opposing the underlying policy. By contrast, there is no remotely plausible basis for comparing stay-at-home protocols aimed at fighting a pandemic to Nazism. It can do nothing but trivialize the Holocaust.