About a week ago, ABC canceled one of its most popular shows, “Last Man Standing” starring conservative comedian Tim Allen. This appears to be the belated consequence of a smear campaign directed against Allen in March, after he explained to Jimmy Kimmel why he was nervous talking about his involvement in Trump’s inauguration: “You gotta be real careful [in Hollywood]. You know, you get beat up if you don’t believe what everybody believes. It’s like 30s Germany.” Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, spearheaded the backlash. He asked: “Tim, have you lost your mind?” Apparently Allen’s comment “trivializes the horrors imposed on Jews in Nazi Germany,” and he needs to “leave [his] bubble to apologize to the Jewish people.”
Just two months before Allen’s comments on Jimmy Kimmel, however, we find an interesting report in the Huffington Post: “Goldstein told HuffPost it would be hyperbolic and irresponsible to compare Trump’s actions to the Holocaust’s mass murders. ‘However, it would be equally irresponsible not to point out the similarities between demonizing and isolating groups of people within our country…and the demonization that Jews suffered during World War II.’” So although Goldstein won’t literally compare Trump’s actions to the Holocaust, he enthusiastically compares the experience of some unnamed groups in the U.S. to that of Jews during WWII…when the Holocaust happened. Needless to say, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect was silent when Ashley Judd compared Trump to Hitler.
This is part of a worrying trend of self-appointed representatives of the Jewish people using the memory of Holocaust victims to bash conservatives and advance whatever happens to be the latest platform of the Democratic Party.
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt (who recently made his own U.S./Nazi Germany comparison) was gravely offended by Trump’s statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that “It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.” For those with less refined anti-Semitism sensors than Greenblatt, Trump’s “puzzling and troubling” and “very offensive” sin was to use the phrase “innocent people” instead of “six million Jews.” One cannot help but wonder whether Greenblatt, a former Special Assistant to Barack Obama, is more concerned with honoring the memory of the six million or with scoring political points against a Republican. And if the latter, is it right to use the Holocaust for that purpose?
The conflation of organized Holocaust remembrance/anti-anti-Semitism with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is deep. Last year the ADL submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case of Sweetcakes by Melissa v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries arguing that Christian bakers should be forced to make cakes for gay weddings. After Trump’s victory, the ADL published a lesson plan to help middle and high school teachers lead discussions about the election. The teacher is instructed to share “information” with the students including: “Protesters are upset about Trump’s policies, positions and bigoted rhetoric and some are questioning the legitimacy of Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.” One of the vocabulary words the teacher is supposed to familiarize students with at the beginning of the lesson is “anti-Semitism”—an obvious attempt to encourage discussion of Trump’s alleged anti-Semitism. The Museum of Tolerance (founded by the Simon Wiesenthal Center) claims in its definition of “race” that “Modern science proves that among humans there are no races except the human race”—a view favored by liberals and indeed some scientists. But the idea that “modern science” proves that humans are all one race would have been news Ernst Mayr (whom Stephen Jay Gould once called “the world’s greatest living evolutionary biologist”) who wrote in 2002 that those who deny the existence of human races “are obviously ignorant of modern biology.” It would also be news to the geneticists at 23andMe, the company that can tell you your race or racial admixture from a saliva sample.
No one begrudges the people at the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, the ADL, or the Museum of Tolerance the right to be liberal activists. I do begrudge them the right to speak on my behalf, or, what’s worse, to speak on behalf of Jews who are dead and who cannot say whether they support the Democratic Party. According to Goldstein: “No one knows what Anne Frank would have done today for sure, but if you read her diary, she unmistakably had an activist’s heart and soul.” In reality we can only guess what Anne’s political views would be had she survived, and whether or not she would have been an “activist.” As to the millions of anonymous Jews murdered in the Holocaust, most were orthodox. In the U.S., 57% of orthodox Jews identify as Republicans—so we can make an educated guess that a sizable number of Holocaust victims would not be liberals.
Trump’s election was followed by a spate of bomb threats against Jewish institutions. Liberal journalists blamed Trump for emboldening anti-Semites with his hateful, “dog-whistling” rhetoric. Vox voxplained that, although it’s “impossible, and unfair, to pin all of [the blame] on Donald Trump,…he has contributed” to the rise of anti-Semitism in the mainstream, which led to the threats. What was Trump’s initial response to the bomb threats? He suggested they might be hoaxes to make him look bad. This triggered an avalanche of hysterical commentary and accusations about the president’s indifference to Jews. Greenblatt was “astonished by what the President reportedly said.” Goldstein addressed Trump with his usual formula for outrage: “Mr. President, have you no decency? To cast doubt on the authenticity of anti-Semitic hate crimes in America constitutes anti-Semitism in itself….If the reports [about what you said] are true, you owe the American Jewish community an apology.”
That was early March. On March 23rd, the alleged perpetrator of most of these threats was arrested. He is a 19-year-old Jew from Israel who, according to his mother, has some unspecified neurological problem that is responsible for his behavior. After the arrest of the hoaxer, Greenblatt released a statement saying: “While the details of this crime remain unclear, the impact of this individual’s actions is crystal clear: These were acts of anti-Semitism.” The whole statement contains not a single reference to the fact that the perpetrator was Jewish. Israeli police say that he made threats against many different kinds of targets in different countries with the aim of eliciting a response in the media. He made so many threats against Jewish institutions because he realized that this got a big reaction. What was Goldstein’s response to the arrest? “We are grateful for the arrest of a suspect in a number of bomb threats to Jewish institutions. This year, we have called on the Administration to respond to such threats consistently in real time, which didn’t happen.” Apparently soi-disant experts on when others should apologize don’t always recognize when it’s their own turn.
Charges/insinuations of anti-Semitism or insensitivity to Jews should be made extremely carefully, especially by leaders of influential organizations like the ADL whom the media (wrongly) treat as spokesmen for the Jewish community. If Greenblatt and others continue to lob accusations of anti-Semitism and insensitivity at conservatives as a political weapon, the accusations will lose their bite. Two-and-a-half thousand years ago Aesop taught us why that might be dangerous.
Nathan Cofnas will begin reading for a DPhil in philosophy at the University of Oxford in October. Follow him on Twitter @nathancofnas