President Bush’s assertion last week that Iraq’s use of Western hostages as “human shields” had no parallel during the Third Reich has offended Jews across the political spectrum.
The fur began to fly after Bush, speaking at a political rally in Massachusetts last Thursday, blasted Saddam Hussein’s decision to place hostages at Iraqi military installations and other strategic sites.
“I don’t believe Adolf Hitler ever participated in anything of that nature,” he said.
The president later defended his statement: “I was told that Hitler did not stake people out against potential military targets,” he said. He also claimed that Hitler, unlike Hussein, respected “the legitimacy of the embassies.”
In Los Angeles, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called Bush’s statements “an outrage.” Hitler’s acts were, in fact, “much worse” than the atrocities perpetrated by Hussein, he said.
Cooper pointed out that Hitler indeed placed concentration camp workers at strategically located munitions factories. Those human targets were killed when Allied forces bombed Nazi weapons plants, he said.
‘NO PARALLEL TO WHAT HITLER DID’
In New York, Albert Vorspan, senior vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, agreed.
While “Bush is to be commended for effectively leading the world against the brutal aggression of Saddam Hussein,” the president’s “rhetorical comparison arguing that the Iraqi despot is even worse than Adolf Hitler is overblown and offensive,” he said in a statement.
“To compare him with the monster who organized the Holocaust” is “insensitive hyperbole that is unhelpful to the truth,” Vorspan said.
Even Alfred Lilienthal, a noted Jewish anti-Zionist, criticized the president’s remarks, saying, “There is no parallel to what Hitler did.”
But Lilienthal, who often criticizes parallels made between Nazi atrocities and those perpetrated by Arabs today, said that “demonizing Saddam Hussein will not lead us to a constructive end to this crisis.”
Both the president and Secretary of State James Baker have made other comparisons between Hussein and Hitler.
Bush has repeatedly compared Iraq’s Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, which led to the outbreak of World War II.
The Nazi Death’s Head regiments came in behind the regular armed forces of Germany “and systematically wiped out a lot of Polish people, lined up kids and shot them,” Bush said last week. “And the same things are going on in Kuwait today.”
At a congressional hearing in October, Baker entertained the possibility of holding war crimes trials, just as were held following World War II in Nuremberg, to address allegations that Hussein has committed atrocities against the Kuwaitis since the Iraqi occupation began.
In this matter, Cooper called the comparison legitimate. He expressed hope the United States would also sue U.S. firms that have supplied Iraq with chemical or biological weapons components.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.