Politics & Policy

Peta’s Non-Apology Apology

The group still equates animal killings to the Holocaust.

Ingrid Newkirk, the alpha wolf over at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has just issued a classic non-apology “apology” for PETA’s odious “Holocaust on Your Plate” Campaign, which explicitly compared eating meat to participating in the gassing of millions of Jews.

The purported equation between the Holocaust and normal practices of animal husbandry wasn’t presented between the lines by PETA. Nor was it implied subtly in the hope that the viewer would infer a similarity. Rather, comparing Auschwitz to your corner butcher shop was the explicit and unequivocal theme of the entire international pro-vegan campaign.

First there were the photographs. PETA juxtaposed pictures of emaciated concentration-camp inmates in their tight-packed wooden bunks with chickens kept in cages. Worse, in a truly despicable comparison (on several levels), a picture of piled bodies of Jewish Holocaust victims was presented next to a photograph of stacked dead pigs.

The text of the campaign was even worse. In a section entitled “The Final Solution,” PETA made this astonishing assertion:

Like the Jews murdered in concentration camps, animals are terrorized when they are housed in huge filthy warehouses and rounded up for shipment to slaughter. The leather sofa and handbag are the moral equivalent of the lampshades made from the skins of people killed in the death camps.

For two years, PETA presented the Holocaust on Your Plate Campaign throughout the United States and much of the world. In almost every city and country where PETA activists turned up to promote Holocaust on Your Plate, Jewish groups and others angrily protested. But PETA doggedly stuck to its propaganda. Then, unexpectedly, on May 5, Newkirk issued an “apology for a tasteless comparison.”

So, has PETA really recognized the error of asserting a moral equivalence between genocide and stock yards? Not in the least. PETA’s is an apology that doesn’t really say “We are sorry.” In fact, Newkirk takes great pain to justify the entire Holocaust on Your Plate approach:

The “Holocaust on Your Plate” Campaign was designed to desensitize to different forms of systematic degradation and exploitation, and the logic and methods employed in factory farms and slaughterhouses are analogous to those used in concentration camps. We understand both systems to be based on a moral equation indicating that “might makes right” and premised on a concept of other cultures or other species as deficient and thus disposable. Each has it own unique mechanisms and purposes, but both result in immeasurable, unnecessary suffering for those who are innocent and unable to defend themselves.

Since the group clearly still believes in its advocacy, what does PETA admit it did wrong? Resorting to that old standby of the unrepentant who know that public relations problems necessitate the appearance of contrition, Newkirk apologizes merely for the “pain” PETA’s campaign caused to Jews. Newkirk’s is thus a classic non-apology “apology.”

But when you look deeper, it isn’t even that. Newkirk’s pseudo mea culpa emphasizes PETA’s continued support for the book Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust by Charles Patterson, which gave PETA the idea to launch the Holocaust on Your Plate Campaign in the first place. (Treblinka was a notorious Nazi death camp.) And what is that book’s message? You guessed it: As the foreword puts it:

In Eternal Treblinka, not only are we shown the common roots of Nazi genocide and modern society’s enslavement and slaughter of non-human animals in unprecedented detail, but for the first time we are presented with extensive evidence of the profoundly troubling connection between animal exploitation in the United States and Hitler’s Final Solution.

So, it is quite clear that PETA continues to believe that “the leather sofa and handbag are the moral equivalent of the lampshades made from the skins of people killed in the death camps.” The group just wants to be able to claim that because it apologized for Holocaust on Your Plate Campaign, it should no longer have to defend itself about the matter in interviews and during debates.

But be clear: This is merely a public-relations tactic. The leopard has not changed even one of its spots. PETA remains firm in its belief that killing an animal is morally equivalent to killing a human being.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His current book is Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World.


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