Sometimes I think the ADL undercuts its mission

I get annoyed, sometimes, with the Anti-Defamation League’s missives against references to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. I get it when they’re ticked that someone has compared health care reform to the concentration camps (the Teabaggers did just that). But is every comparison really invalid?

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement:

We are seeing these offensive and inappropriate Nazi and Holocaust comparisons come to the fore in the public debate once again. We saw it in the health care debate, and now we are seeing it with Arizona. It is disturbing that in speaking out against the bill a number of individuals have taken to using Nazi comparisons, in describing the legislation as being reminiscent of Nazi policies that required Jews and others to carry identity cards, or in comparing the governor and other Arizona officials as being like Hitler.

No matter how odious, bigoted, biased and unconstitutional Arizona’s new law may be, let’s be clear that there is no comparison between the situation facing immigrants, legal or illegal, in Arizona and what happened in the Holocaust….

Here’s the problem for the ADL. If no comparison to the Holocaust is ever valid because the Holocaust was unique in human history (that seems to be their logic), then why keep talking about it, other than to honor the dead? History, it seems to me, is taught so that we can learn lessons from it, and so that the worst of it doesn’t repeat itself. If the Holocaust was such an aberration, and could never ever happen again – two things I vehemently disagree with – then it’s not terribly clear what lessons can be learned from studying it.

I remember reading Hannah Arendt years back. And for me, what made her book so horrifying was how normal men got wrapped up in the Nazi cause and obeyed their orders, no matter how horrific. How evil became normal, and normal people embraced it. The second thing that astounds me about the rise of the Nazis is the gradualism of it. How they didn’t just take over and institute every hideous new law in one fell swoop. They did it slowly, incrementally, each one worse than the previous.

Not everything evil brings back memories of Nazi Germany. Agreed. And by using Nazi examples too often, you cheapen them. Absolutely. But there are moves that government, at the state and federal law, at home and abroad, can make that most certainly should trouble any student of history. The “we’re number 1” crowd is loathe to admit it, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

I worry that by constantly insisting that nothing compares to the Holocaust, it is the ADL that risks cheapening the memory. Because if nothing compares, then we don’t ever have to worry about it happening again. And that surely can’t be the lesson of the Holocaust.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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