If there is any group that should know the uniqueness of Nazi evil and should not want the evil of the Holocaust cheapened for political purposes, it is the Jews. Yet, there is at least a 50-50 chance that if you read or hear a public personality use Nazi imagery to describe conservatives, the person is a Jew. Specifically a Jew on the left.
Of course, non-Jews on the left also compare conservatives to Nazis, and some non-Jews on the right will sometimes compare the Left to Nazis, but there are three important differences.
First, however many or few tea-party banners compare President Obama to Hitler (and such comparisons are as reprehensible as they are self-defeating), conservative public figures — such as politicians and prominent columnists — almost never compare liberals to Nazis, while public figures on the left often compare conservatives to Nazis.
Second, among liberal Jews, the percentage that believes that Americans on the right are just a step or two away from being Nazis seems to be greater than the proportion of liberal non-Jews who believe that.
Third, when Jews on the left call conservative Americans Nazis, they mean that in its literal sense — they really do regard the conservatives they compare to Nazis as racists, comparable to Nazi anti-Semites. On the other hand, when conservatives use the term, it is meant to signify non-democratic or dictatorial policies, regimes, or individuals — e.g., Seinfeld’s “soup Nazi” or Rush Limbaugh’s “feminazis” — and not potential or likely mass murderers.
Why is this? Why do so many Jews see conservative/right-wing Americans as Nazi-like?
The answer lies in the rhetoric of the Left and in Jews’ fears.
Leftist rhetoric routinely depicts opponents of the Left in extreme terms. Opponents of race-based affirmative action are racists. Opponents of same-sex marriage are homophobes. Opponents of illegal immigration are xenophobes and racists and are engaged in Nazism (that is the word that Cardinal Roger Mahoney used to describe Arizona’s anti-illegal-immigration law). And so on.
But there is an additional explanation for why liberal and leftist Jews use “Nazi” and “Holocaust” rhetoric to depict conservatives.
Jews, right or left, have been seared by the Holocaust. And most, if not all, believe a Holocaust could happen again — hardly an idiosyncratic belief given Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s declared aim of annihilating the Jewish state.
Where liberal and conservative Jews differ is where each group thinks the greatest danger to the Jews lies. Jews on the left are certain that the greatest threats to Jews come from the Right. Conservative and centrist Jews believe that dangers to the Jews can come from the Left, from the Right, from Islam, from a renewal of Christian anti-Semitism — indeed from anywhere — but that at this moment the world’s Left is far more an enemy of the Jewish people than the world’s — not to mention America’s — Right.
When liberal Jewish columnist Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote recently that tea-partiers had engaged in a “small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht,” he meant it. Kristallnacht (“Night of the Broken Glass”) is widely considered the opening act of the Holocaust. In November 1938, in the course of two days, tens of thousands of German Jews were arrested and deported to concentration camps, scores of Jews were beaten to death, 267 synagogues were destroyed, and thousands of Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized.
Why would a New York Times columnist use that term when talking about American tea partiers?