Thursday, September 30, 2021

Softcore Holocaust Denial is the Best Form of Allyship, Say Republicans

The eminent Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt introduced a very useful term into our lexicon when she spoke about "softcore Holocaust denial". Regular, or hardcore, Holocaust denial, is exactly what it sounds like: it claims the Holocaust didn't happen, period. Softcore Holocaust denial, by contrast, concedes that something bad happened, but seeks to minimize it. The most typical form of softcore denial is by spurious analogies -- whenever some minor public inconvenience (or even significant injustice that nonetheless falls far short of systematic genocide) is asserted to be "just like the Gestapo" or "the new Nazism", that's softcore Holocaust denial. 

Softcore Holocaust denial a form of denial because it contests and undermines the actual gravity of what happened. It has to, because once actually engages unflinchingly with the Holocaust was it is impossible to compare it to being insulted on Twitter or having your speech canceled at a public university. These things may be wrong,* but they are not the Holocaust, and the only way to allege they are the Holocaust is to willfully deny what the Holocaust actually was. Of course, the whole purpose behind softcore denialism typically is to preserve and appropriate the emotive gravity of the Holocaust and transport it to a different political context which cannot, on its own two feet, generate such weighty affect. The end result is to sap the Holocaust of its moral force, since it is now reduced to, at "worst", the sort of ordinary trials and tribulations that are a regular part of many people's political experience. But since softcore denialists are usually non-Jews, this is a "cost" they are more than willing to accept.

All of this is a run up to events in Anchorage, Alaska, where we had another iteration of 2021's most popular form of softcore denialism: comparing mask mandates and vaccination policies to the Nuremberg laws. As always, Jewish groups are unhappy to see this utterly spurious and outrageous comparison. And also as always, Republican politicians are defending themselves by lecturing Jews that actually they're doing us a solid:
“We’ve referenced the Star of David quite a bit here tonight, but there was a formal message that came out within Jewish culture about that and the message was ‘Never again,’” [Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson\ said. “That’s an ethos. And that’s what that star really means is, ‘We will not forget, this will never happen again, and I think us borrowing that from them is actually a credit to them.”

This is the face of modern antisemitism: gratuitously insulting Jews, then when called on it explaining that the insult actually is the product of the fondest of friendship. It's even worse than "I have Jewish friends" -- the antisemitic act is what supposedly establishes the friendship.

The only analogue I can think of on the left is folks who categorically deny that any form of anti-Israel discourse can be antisemitic and then respond to criticism by declaring that "what's really antisemitic is falsely conflating Israel with the Jewish people," like their denialism is doing us a great favor. The antisemitism is the allyship. It's grotesque. But one sees it more and more often, and it is positively epidemic among conservatives who simply refuse to listen to Jewish voices telling them just how offensive it is to compare COVID restrictions to Nazism.

* Of course, a huge swath of what is regularly compared to the Holocaust are not even wrongs of lesser gravity, but not wrongs at all -- COVID restrictions being a prime example.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Upcoming Mini-Symposium on Antisemitism

Michigan State University is hosting a mini-symposium on antisemitism next Friday. The panelists include David Nirenberg, Eric Ward, Ethan Katz, Cary Nelson, Saba Soomekh, and myself. And while it originally was meant to be an in-person event, it has moved to a remote format, so everyone can pop in!

The first panel (the one I'm on) is at 9 AM central, and the second is at 1 PM central. Hope to see you there!

(To register, click on "Press here for Zoom link", and it will take you to a registration page).

Sunday, September 26, 2021

If Even the Lochner Court....

The West Virginia Attorney General has issued an opinion decrying the legality of vaccine mandates, vaccine passports, or basically anything that would keep West Virginians alive during a pandemic.

At one level, it is a sterling example of the GOP's descent into the death cult: targeting not just state vaccine mandates, but also any decision by private businesses to require vaccines (whether of employees or customers). Any of these, we're told, violates state law, the state constitution, federal law, the federal constitution, and one has to presume natural law and probably the mythical HIPPA as well.

But that's not what I caught my eye. In the midst of the "throw everything at the problem" analysis, there was this attempt to indict Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the 1905 case where the Supreme Court famously upheld Massachusetts' vaccine mandate. On that note, the Attorney General writes:

Decided the same year as the now-repudiated decision in Lochner v. New York (1905), the case seems out of step with our country's present understanding of the Bill of Rights.

What is the cite to Lochner doing there? While it is nice that Lochner remains anti-precedent even on the right, the reason Lochner is a constitutional dirty word is that it marks the apogee of the Supreme Court exercising minute oversight over state health and safety regulations in order to ensure they "comply" with the Court's own political philosophy of "freedom of contract". The Lochner-era Court upholding a state health law in the face of a "liberty" challenge is like a Jim Crow Court deciding that a form of interrogation is too brutal to use on a Black murder defendant: if the argument is too much for them, then there really is no saving it. That Jacobson, even in the Lochner era where the Court was happy to strike down any "liberty" infringement at the barest glance, nevertheless upheld the vaccine mandate, shows how robust that decision is.

What is true that Jacobson predates the line of cases that firmly entrenched a personal liberty interest in matters of "bodily autonomy". You may have heard of these cases -- Roe and Casey are the two most prominent, and dollars to donuts West Virginia is trying its mightiest to see them overturned. But as much as folks might love the "my body my choice" gotcha, those cases do not extend to some general right to infinite medical choice (see Washington v. Glucksburg). The fact is that vaccine mandates -- and certainly the ability of private businesses to choose them if they want -- are well-entrenched in American law. And let's be clear -- the assault we're seeing on them from red states can't cabin itself to COVID. It threatens vaccination regimes for measles and mumps and all the other diseases that we've made great strides in eradicating because we've had (survey says!) a vaccine mandate for schoolchildren for decades now.

Just as the Constitution does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer's Social Statics, it also doesn't enact compulsory enrollment in the GOP's death cult. Or so seems obvious. But, to quote the head of an ex-President: