EXCLUSIVE: Holocaust historian's quote used to slam Beck without permission
Deborah E. Lipstadt, a respected Holocaust scholar, was quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ) letter slamming Glenn Beck for use of Holocaust imagery. She tells Right Turn the quote was used in the ad without her approval.
At the Forward, a decidedly liberal publication, she explains: "In recent weeks the debate about branding one's political opponents 'Nazis' has become quite heated. Most of the attention has focused on Fox News's star performer, Glenn Beck, who has made it a practice to compare his opponents to Nazis." She brands Fox's record as "atrocious," but then she notes that Jewish Funds for Justice "has taken the lead in mounting an anti-Beck/Ailes/Fox campaign over this issue. An avowedly progressive group, JFSJ has been taking aim at Beck for some time over his attacks on the concept of 'social justice.'" She continues:
I don't disagree with the thrust of JFSJ's ad. That said, I do worry that it is a distortion to focus solely on the conservative end of the political spectrum.
During his term in office, President George W. Bush was frequently compared to Hitler. A 2006 New York Times ad from a group called the World Can't Wait, signed by a number of prominent leftists (as well as five Democratic members of Congress), cited a litany of complaints about the Bush administration's policies and concluded: "People look at all this and think of Hitler -- and rightly so." British playwright and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, who signed onto the ad, went to so far as to call the Bush administration "more dangerous than Nazi Germany." (Emphasis added.)
Similarly, references to Israelis as "Nazis" and claims that Israel is committing genocide abound in left-wing discourse. Because of their ubiquity, we have almost become inured to the horror of such comparisons.
One need not minimize the danger of Beck's rhetoric in order to wonder why JFSJ -- which has significant credibility among progressives -- has not mounted an equally passionate critique of misbegotten analogies on the left. Is this about principle, or is it about politics? Is this about anti-Semitism, or about Rupert Murdoch? (Of course, there are also some conservatives who have no trouble spotting anti-Semitic innuendo except when it is appearing on Fox.)
I e-mailed her last night to inquire, in light of all that, why her quote appeared in the ad, in essence giving an endorsement to JFSJ's letter. She responded by e-mail:
I was NOT asked for permission to use my quotes. The quotes were taken from an interview I gave to NPR [David Folkenflik] that was on [NPR's] All Things Considered. I was livid at not having been, at the very least, given a heads up. I happened to be at Shabbat dinner with a member of the JFSJ Board and expressed my anger.
I spoke to Professor Lipstadt by phone this morning. She explained that JFSJ had contacted her about Beck and sent her some clips. When the ad appeared she complained to JFSJ and received a profuse written apology by e-mail.
In her view, Beck's behavior is "despicable." She explains that in political discourse "It is entirely unacceptable to simply call someone a Nazi. It's wrong." She says that Beck's assertion that JFSJ's president Simon Greer's use of the term "common good" is the sort of thing that lead to the Holocaust is historically false and "so distasteful." She says she doesn't think Beck is anti-Semitic, and "I know he's not pro-Nazi." What he is doing, she says, is "playing this" as a way of getting attention and ratings.
And then she adds, "I think the same could be said of JFSJ." She says she opposes inappropriate use of Holocaust imagery "when it is on the left and when it is on the right." Why? Indiscriminate and inappropriate use of Holocaust language and imagery "scratches away" at the unique horror and sacred memory of the Holocaust.
I would suggest that selective outrage about the Holocaust is equally objectionable in that it converts the Holocaust from an historic event of immense suffering and meaning into a tool for partisan battle. The rabbis, unlike Beck, are uniquely responsible for educating the public and their congregants about the legacy of the Holocaust. They have done damage to themselves, the rabbinate and that legacy by joining in the political food fight. Shame on them.
UPDATE(11:57): Professor Lipstadt emails to say that she didn't mean to compare Beck to JFSJ. (The quote in my piece was a direct one.) She adds, "If I indeed said it, it was not what I meant as I hope was clear from the rest of our conversation." Professor Lipstadt explains that the equivalency that she is addressing is the behavior of partisans on the left and the right who are selective in their targets (the very point I have made repeatedly at Right Turn). She emails, "As I said in my piece in the Forward, JFSJ has compromised its credibility by being silent about those on the left and vocal about Beck." I asked if JFSJ was in any different category than those she criticizes. She replied, "No they are NOT in a separate category. The reason so much attention has been focused on them is that they have led the charge on the Fox News issue." I appreciate Professor Lipstadt's further thoughts, which I hope JFSJ and others will take to heart.
| February 3, 2011; 9:08 AM ET
Categories: American Jews
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