WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rush Limbaugh’s remarks comparing Democrats to Nazis drew swift condemnation from many corners of the Jewish community — and also sparked a fight between Jewish Democrats and Republicans over which side isn’t doing enough to stop the use of such analogies.
Several non-partisan Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, slammed Limbaugh’s comments. Some Democrats also pointed a finger at the only Jewish Republican in Congress, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, insisting that he condemn Limbaugh’s remarks.
In response, some Jewish GOPers criticized Limbaugh but attempted to turn the tables, noting that while Limbaugh was just a talk show host, a Democratic lawmaker had generally avoided criticism over his use of a Nazi-related comparison.
The controversy underscores the degree to which Jewish organizations continue to lose ground in their fight to keep partisans on all sides from demonizing their political opponents as Nazis.
The latest flap erupted last week with Limbaugh’s remarks on his nationally syndicated radio show. He was upset that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had noted that some of those protesting the Obama health care plan at town meetings across the country had carried signs bearing swastikas.
Limbaugh responded that the similarities between the Obama health care logo and the Nazi logo were “overwhelming,” then launched into a lengthy comparison of “the Democrat Party of today and the Nazi Party in Germany.”
“Well, the Nazis were against big business,” Limbaugh said. “They hated big business and, of course, we all know that they were opposed to Jewish capitalism. They were insanely, irrationally against pollution. They were for two years of mandatory voluntary service to Germany. They had a whole bunch of make-work projects to keep people working, one of which was the Autobahn.”
Jewish groups criticized the remarks, saying they not only were insensitive to Holocaust victims but also undermined American democracy.
The comments “are grossly offensive and intolerable,” the AJCongress said in its statement. “They reflect a nasty and hyperbolic tendency in our political culture, one which makes reasoned discourse impossible, confuses disagreement with evil, and which makes it impossible to distinguish evil from ordinary politics. It is not acceptable from either the right or the left, both of which have in recent memory used such analyses.”
The ADL and Simon Wiesenthal Center hammered home similar messages, though the latter stopped short of criticizing Limbaugh directly by name.
Democrats seemed almost as interested in shining a spotlight on Cantor as on Limbaugh, demanding that the Virginia Republican denounce the comments. They noted that just days earlier, Cantor had insisted that Limbaugh had a place in the GOP when he said, “My sense is that we need the Sarah Palins, Dick Cheneys, Rush Limbaughs, the Colin Powells. We need all of them.”
Cantor, who was traveling in Israel last week, had not commented as of midday Monday. Multiple JTA requests to his office seeking comment were not returned.
The National Jewish Democratic Council took aim at Cantor.
In a statement, President David Harris said Cantor “is wrong; we do not need anyone who abuses the memory of the Holocaust in our political discourse, period. It is incumbent upon Cantor and the Republican Party to condemn Limbaugh and these utterly contemptible tactics.”
Several prominent Republican Jews did slam the Limbaugh analogy, but also stressed that Limbaugh was a radio talk show host and not an officeholder. For example, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matt Brooks, called Limbaugh’s comments “outrageous” and “not appropriate,” but said more attention and condemnation should be directed at a Nazi-related comment made by a Democratic lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Brian Baird of Washington.
The congressman said he’d be holding “telephone town halls” instead of in-person meetings with constituents because he feared “an ambush.”
“What we’re seeing right now is close to brown-shirt tactics,” Baird reportedly said. "I mean that very seriously."
“Rush Limbaugh is a talk radio host,” Brooks said. “To try to hold him to the same level of accountability” as an elected official like Baird “is ludicrous.”
Fred Zeidman, a top Jewish Republican activist and chairman of the council that oversees the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said that “Rush is in the entertainment business, and so much of what he does” is meant to be “provocative.”
Still, Zeidman added, “any comparison to Nazism is offensive to the survivors and the victims, and I wish he wouldn’t do it.”
Harris agreed that Baird’s language was wrong, but asserted that such comparisons come more often from the right.
“We think all Holocaust comparisons used in politics are wrong and unfortunate on both sides of the aisle,” the NJDC leader said. “We’ve been careful to say over the years that nobody should be engaging in Hitler comparisons, Nazi comparisons.”