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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Degrading Holocaust Meaning

An Editorial in The (NY) Jewish Week

Why is it that so many politicians who should know better resort to Holocaust and Nazi imagery when trying to make a point? The latest flap came when Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, compared the treatment of detainees at the U.S. navel base at Guantanamo to actions by the Nazis and other historic mass murderers.


There are many genuine reasons for concern about Guantanamo, where hundreds of prisoners being held without charges and without even the limited protections afforded prisoners of war. But comparisons to genuinely genocidal regimes are inaccurate and reckless in the extreme.

Sadly, such allusions have become commonplace in today’s bitterly polarized political climate. Politicians of both parties, unwilling to grant their opponents even a measure of legitimacy, throw rhetorical restraint to the winds. And what better way to slam your adversaries than to liken them to the symbols of ultimate evil in our world?

But that just deepens the divisions in our society, and along the way devalues what should stand out as clear moral markers, untainted by politics, of what can happen when extremism and hatred are not challenged. When politicians use such analogies, the Holocaust and the Nazi perpetrators are reduced to just a few more weapons useful to bash political opponents; like the rest of the language of our partisan squabbles, the terms are stripped of their real meaning and become mere epithets.

Equally guilty are the party leaders — and we mean in both major parties — who profess such outrage when their opponents use Holocaust analogies, but do nothing to educate their own members about the inappropriateness of such language.
The Holocaust should be an ever-present moral guidepost for a troubled world. Using it for shock value in the political wars degrades its meaning, dishonors the victims and contributes greatly to our paralyzing political polarization.