A Matter of Opinion

Public-opinion surveys have repeatedly shown that Americans are remarkably ignorant of their own history, let alone anyone else's.

So maybe that's why our politicians feel they can get away with the most egregious historical analogies when discussing the issues of the day.

Given the unfortunate fact that many Americans may well be laboring under the misapprehension that the Gettysburg Address had something to do with World War II, why wouldn't members of the U.S. Senate throw around references to the Holocaust as if it were an incident that occurred during the War of 1812?

It's been a banner year for dumb quotes from senators, and given the fact that inane remarks have never been in short supply, that is no mean feat.

Earlier this year, West Virginia's former Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan and current Democratic Party elder statesman Robert Byrd compared the since failed Republican effort to squelch filibusters of judicial nominations to acts of Nazi repression.

That worked so well for Byrd that Pennsylvania's own Rick Santorum, who is the Republican Senate Conference chair, returned the favor and said the same thing about the Democrats' filibustering.

To his credit, Santorum soon apologized for his nonsensical statement. Byrd, on the other hand, did not.

The latest purveyor of a Holocaust analogy is Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate's deputy minority leader.

In the course of an impassioned speech about alleged abuses of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay by U.S. personnel, Durbin claimed that this treatment was reminiscent of actions by "the Nazis, the Soviets in their gulag, or some made regime – Pol Pot or others – that had no regard for human beings."

Not Exactly Genocide
This came on the heels of another remark by the head of the Amnesty International human-rights group that also compared Guantánamo to the gulag.

Durbin has tried to back away from these remarks, though, he has stopped short of a complete retraction and, quite properly, he has been chided by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League for not doing so.

All this shows how partisan politics – the real motive behind the huffing and puffing about Guantánamo – can lead even otherwise sensible people to loose their grip on common sense.

As for Guantánamo and the brutalizing of prisoners there, any breach of individual rights ought to concern us.

But the problem with much of the debate on this issue isn't whether or not the soldiers and other personnel charged with interrogating terrorists and those captured in the field fighting on behalf of terrorist regimes may have been too rough at times.

Let's remember a simple fact: Not one person has been killed at Guantánamo, while Hitler and his henchmen murdered 6 million Jews and millions of non-Jews during the Holocaust. Stalin killed tens of millions.

Being forced to listen to rap music or suffer extreme heat in a cell or even being chained to a chair for an extended period of time (the allegations Durbin referred to) may or may not be legal, but it is also not genocide. The people who want to commit genocide are the guys being held at Guantánamo, not the American servicemen and women trying to protect us from them.

But claiming that Americans are committing the equivalent of genocide is, at least in the view of some people, good politics.

The backlash against the war in Iraq has spurned a lot of spurious arguments but the mock impeachment hearings held by Congressional Democrats last week in the Capitol basement, seemed to bring out the nuts that always lurk at the margins of the body politic.

It was probably a given that a session devoted to labeling the conflict as a plot would, sooner or a later, include the accusation that it was a Jewish plot. And so it was little surprise that among those summoned to serenade various members of the House of Representatives was Ray McGovern, a former intelligence analyst who was allowed to use this partisan forum to make exactly that point.

According to McGovern, the war in Iraq was fought for Israel, and was used by the "neocons" – the buzzword conspiracy theorists use instead of "Jews" – to carry out the will of the Jewish state. He claims President Bush, only recently seen embracing Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, was under the svengali-like thrall of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Forum for Extremism
McGovern claims this thesis is being silenced.

"Israel is not allowed to be brought up in polite conversation," said McGovern. "The last time I did this, the previous director of Central Intelligence called me anti-Semitic."

For this piece of invective, Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), who took in the event and helpfully prompted McGovern's remarks about Israel, merely thanked him for his "candid answer."

Meanwhile, according to news reports, this disgraceful event was being viewed by an overflow crowd on television at national Democratic headquarters in Washington where other crackpots, though not anyone necessarily associated with the party, handed out leaflets that claimed Israeli involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Such people do not represent mainstream Democratic voters, let alone the American public. But it is the sort of thing that is heard more and more among extremists groups, such as those funded by billionaire George Soros, who are seeking more influence in the party. This is not just about the dumbing down of American politics, but an attempt to legitimize extremism.

While we probably shouldn't expect people like Moran or the other organizers of the House "hearing" to behave like adults, we ought to hold serious people like Durbin to higher standards.

But if everything – from history to the imperative to fight and win the war on Islamic terrorism and history – can be thrown out the window in order to pursue a partisan grudge against Bush, then we ought not to be surprised that anti-Israel invective follows closely behind.

Interestingly, a survey recently conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz for the nonpartisan Israel Project, claimed that increasingly partisan Democrat elites are viewing Israel with distaste partly because Bush has been widely identified as a supporter of the country.

If true, this is a development that Jewish Democrats ought to view with alarm.

After all, if we are prepared to believe that Guantánamo is the equivalent of Auschwitz or the gulag, then it is no stretch of the imagination to think of Israel as the evil genius behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks or everything you don't like about American foreign policy.

Just as Republicans need to restrain extremists on the right, it's imperative that Democrats, who, after all, must be considered the odds-on favorites to recapture the White House in 2008, do the same to the apparently growing ranks of anti-Israel extremists on their left wing.

Jonathan S. Tobin can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]




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