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Huckabee hijacks the Holocaust and Foxman’s outfoxed by his friends

Foxman could have done even a tiny bit of fact-checking and discovered what most people in the Israel and American Jewish community know quite well, that Israel and the Jewish people have no stronger advocate than Mike Huckabee.

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Mike Huckabee

[I]f I had to guess, their attack is going to be that I’m anti-Semite, which does not even make any sense. First of all, no one is a bigger defender of Jews and Israel than me. Name them on television.

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Glenn Beck

You know me as a friend and many IDF warriors know me as someone who is consistently strong in the defense of the Jewish people and the state of Israel.

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Roger Ailes

Seems like the competition for Greatest Goy Friend to Israel and the Jewish People is pretty stiff over there at Fox News. But actually those three gentlemen of fair-and-balanced land were playing their get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s just the ticket when Abe Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League get on your case for rhetorical abuse of the Holocaust. There was a little burst of attention last week when Huckabee and Foxman tangled and then quickly kissed and made up. The three incidents together reveal some interesting patterns, though — some very lame watchdogging, first of all.

Last November, Glenn Beck mounted an all-out assault against George Soros on his Fox News show. Foxman found one of Beck’s claims, that Soros was once “a Jewish boy sending Jews to death camps,” to be “completely inappropriate, offensive and over the top,” not to mention “horrific.” Beck responded by going to his files and pulling out a recent letter of apology from none other than Abe Foxman, who had written to Beck that “I know that you are a friend of the Jewish people, and a friend of Israel.” Once prompted, Foxman reiterated the sentiment, adding that “there are certain things [Beck] doesn’t understand, which have led him to make insensitive remarks.” Apparently they’re not that big a deal, though.

One of the things Beck clearly did understand is how to work the classic anti-Semitic stereotypes. Just a month earlier, after Rick Sanchez’s foolish rant about Jon Stewart and the Jewish “bigots” who control the media, Foxman wrote an editorial about the resiliency of those old stereotypes and the need for continued vigilance. He also wrote to CNN, congratulating them for firing Sanchez and urging them to disavow his anti-Semitic views more conspicuously. Beck’s theatrical effort to cast a rich Jewish businessman as an evil puppetmaster pulling the strings of government and the media was far more willful and sustained. Foxman singled out a single claim that as a Holocaust survivor he found intolerable. He had nothing to say about all the anti-Semitic dog whistling. Instead, he made sure everyone knew what a great friend to Israel Beck is. Sanchez is clearly not such a friend. [1]

And then, during the media afterparty for Beck’s “symphony of anti-Semitic dog-whistles,” Fox News boss Roger Ailes had this to say about the executives at NPR: “They are, of course, Nazis.” Knowing that Foxman would be “receiving calls” because of the way he’d shot his mouth off, Ailes sent a letter right away to the ADL chief, who took it as a “sincere and heartfelt” apology. And it seems that Ailes was indeed sincere about how some unnamed NPR execs really were “nasty, inflexible bigots,” and about how he and Fox News were the blameless victims of a couple of liberal rabbis. He may even have genuinely believed that Foxman’s discretion in calling out anti-Semites is “heroic” and that Beck’s claims about Soros were factual because the Fox News “Brainroom” checked and “found them valid.” Ailes’s complaining is definitely heartfelt, but when he gets around to the apology it’s as fleeting and insincere as can be. As I wrote a while ago, the exchange between these two is like a scene from a sitcom marriage, with Foxman as the punctilious wife and Ailes as the boorish husband — a quirky old couple happily talking past each other and hearing exactly what they each want to hear.

Last week it was Mike Huckabee’s turn after both he and Michele Bachmann invoked the Holocaust in their comments about the budget deficit (Huckabee was in Pennsylvania addressing an NRA convention). In a statement posted on the ADL web site, Foxman wrote, “It is highly inappropriate to use America’s mounting debt crisis as another occasion to invoke Nazis and the Holocaust, particularly on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day….” In response, the Mike Huckabee News managed to get a very indignant Mike Huckabee on the line and put together a “news” item:

“Foxman’s remarks are not only factually wrong, but they are hurtful to me personally in light of my unequalled friendship with members of the Jewish community, and I ask Foxman to retract his statement as publicly as he issued it, and apologize for his lack of accuracy in issuing it and for the harm done by attacking the very strongest advocates for the Jewish people and Israel.

“Israel and Jewish people need to make friends, not insult the ones they have” said Huckabee.

You can see from that parting shot how the strange alliance between Zionists and evangelicals might really be, “in the immortal words of Leon Wieseltier, ‘a grim comedy of mutual condescension’” (quoting Michele Goldberg). Huckabee stresses that it’s a factual issue, but there’s just one fact on his mind and it has nothing to do with his remarks to the NRA. His peerless support for Foxman’s tribe is the prime fact — Huckabee seems to feel that it’s his license to say whatever he wants about the Holocaust without Mr. Goodie Two-Shoes butting in.

It’s no surprise that Huckabee’s indignant reply didn’t say up for long. Blogger David Shroud quotes the bulk of it [2] and comments that “the ADL — apparently having exhausted its spine quotient for the week — capitulated entirely to Huckabee’s bullying.” Foxman didn’t exactly retract and apologize but he did write a letter that basically says nothing to see here — Huckabee “never intended to make any direct comparison between today’s issues and the Holocaust.”

In the primaries four years ago Huckabee set off the alarm with a remark about “the holocaust of liberalized abortion.” In the press release for that incident, Foxman is quite clear about what drives his criticism. “The Holocaust was a unique tragedy in human history,” he writes, and “analogies [to it] can only trivialize and diminish the horror, and cause further pain to Holocaust survivors and to those alive today who lost friends and loved ones.” The overriding concern, then, is not the sanctity of the Shoah, it’s much narrower. And I guess in order to be non-partisan, he sticks to a superficial reading and avoids much interpretation or analysis — either there’s an obvious analogy or there isn’t one. His deference to friends hems him in some more while it also mocks his non-partisanship. So basically he’s a branch of the PC language police. Whether you’re a politician or a pundit or Seinfeld joking about the “Soup Nazi,” he’ll get you if you offend his people’s sensibilities.

Given all that, it’s interesting what Foxman notices and what he ignores when an Israel-friendly politician is making hay with the Holocaust. After talking to Huckabee and listening to the speech — apparently he didn’t bother to do that before writing the man up — Foxman decided that not only was Huckabee not making any direct comparison, he also “[understood] why the Holocaust must always be remembered as a unique event in human history.” Let’s see how that stacks up against Huckabee’s speech in the video at the top of the post.

And all this time I’m just praying, Dear God, let my daughter understand what can so easily happen when people look the other way. We came to the end of Yad Vashem. There was a guestbook and my daughter stepped up to it and I stepped behind her and I looked over her shoulder, I watched. She took the pen out of my pocket and I I I stood over her shoulder and I watched her write words I’ll never forget.

She first wrote our name and our address down in the little book and then I looked and I watched her as she paused, because there was a place for comments and I wondered if my daughter would say anything in that space and if so what. So I looked and I watched and I saw her take that pen and in her childish 11-year-old scrawl I saw her write these words that I shall not forget as long as I ever live. These are the words she used. “Why didn’t somebody do something?” That’s all she wrote there. “Why didn’t somebody do something?” With that she put the pen back in my pocket, we walked out and she did not say another word for four hours.

My daughter got married last year, she’s now 28 years old. I’ve never had to ask her since that moment whether she got it. You will not find a spunkier little activist than my daughter. And I don’t worry about her, but I sometimes worry about us.

We were birthed by the greatest generation, who gave everything so we would have a better life than they did. And God bless them for it, and they deserve the term “greatest generation.” We cannot afford to be a generation that leaves our children with nothing but a huge debt and the very corrosion of freedoms that our founders and our fathers died and gave us so valiantly. And that’s why I say let there never be a time in this country where some father has to look over his daughter’s shoulder and see her ask this haunting question, “Why didn’t somebody do something?” Because in this room we are the somebodies and we commit we will do something to preserve this great American heritage. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

As I was transcribing I had to wonder if Huckabee was getting paid by the word. I mean, “I watched her… and then I looked and I watched her…. So I looked and I watched and I saw her take that pen and… I saw her write these words….” But of course that’s his preacher patter, which must come naturally enough to him. It strikes me as a rather calculated performance in this case, though, because of things like the theatrical stutter on “I I I stood over her shoulder and I watched her write words I’ll never forget.”

He’s certainly not denying the uniqueness of the Holocaust. Instead, he’s using it to supercharge his daughter’s big question with emotion — daddy, why didn’t somebody do something to stop the most terrible horrible thing that’s ever happened in the whole history of the universe??? And his transfer of pathos from the Holocaust to the national debt hinges on her question. He certainly feels that he’s entitled to put the Jewish tragedy to work serving his own purposes. It’s not for me to say whether Foxman’s constituency would or should be as offended by Huckabee’s agenda-driven appropriation as by a direct analogy (if we don’t do anything, the national debt will be our childrens’ financial holocaust…). To me, both of them are more absurd than offensive.

And Huckabee isn’t satisfied just milking the Holocaust, he has to pile on the “greatest generation,” too. Funny that he’d bring those folks up — weren’t they the ones who financed the interstate highway system and a bunch of world-class public universities and in the process paid top marginal tax rates of between 70% and 90%? I don’t think this is the kind of valiant giving that Huckabee has in mind. But his rhetoric is as substance-free as it is solemn, so there’s no reason to expect anything to add up.

Back in 2007, abortion was the issue Huckabee was hyping when he got Foxman’s attention. [3]

“Sometimes we talk about why we’re importing so many people in our workforce,” the former Arkansas governor said. “It might be for the last 35 years, we have aborted more than a million people who would have been in our workforce had we not had the holocaust of liberalized abortion under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973.”

It really is a shame that all those fetuses weren’t raised up so they could be cleaning our toilets and pick our lettuce, isn’t it? Not that Huckabee made any real effort to understand the material consequences of legalized abortion. That would require some research — for example, the kind that’s led “Freakonomics” economist Steve Levitt to argue that what the post-Row “holocaust of liberalized abortion” really did was to lower the crime rate. [4]

Huckabee was just bullshitting, but I’m not convinced that he was doing it at the expense of Foxman’s Holocaust. I’m inclined to agree with the Priests for Life that the ADL was being awfully proprietary and “holocaust” is a perfectly valid way to refer to the mass slaughter in, for instance, Rwanda. Transferring the term to abortion is the lazy zealot’s way of insisting that fertilized eggs are “people,” a confusion that pro-life hangs on to for all its worth, since otherwise their fantastic faith-based morality has no claim on anyone else.

Heavy-handed rhetorical trickery is a sign of desperation. That’s where all of this leads me in the end. When you have to invoke a holocaust, whether it’s the Holocaust or some other one, to make your point and you’re not talking about the mass extermination of regular out-of-the-womb people, you’ve run out of good ideas. It could be you never had any in the first place.


NOTES

  1. ^ Knocking people because they don’t come down as hard on their friends as they do on their opponents is one of the easiest and most tiresome criticisms out there, and I try not to indulge. In this case, though, because Foxman is speaking for a watchdog organization with high ideals I think it’s fair to expect him to be more evenhanded.
  2. ^ ModernityBlog has a link to the original Huckabee News post in Google’s cache.
  3. ^ Tracing the most popular Holocaust analogies over time might be a fun and enlightening little history project.
  4. ^ Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Levitt is right — it’s not an argument I want to get into. My only point is that he did some homework before he made his claim. One place to start if you want to know more about his theory is these pages where he answers his critics.