According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “The Rabbinical Assembly, which represents more than 1,600 Conservative and Masorti rabbis around the world, worked with Los Angeles Rabbi David Wolpe to issue a statement” condemning the recent surge in false analogies to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. I couldn’t find the statement anywhere on the Internet, so I asked Rabbi Wolpe if the statement only referred to the health care debate or if it also referred to the broader problem such as when creationists use the same rhetoric to attack people who accept evolution or when anti-Israel activists compare Israel to Nazi Germany. Wolpe answered that the statement referred only to the health care debate, but agreed with me that it was a larger problem. He then sent me the text of the statement:
STATEMENT BY THE RABBINICAL ASSEMBLY ON MISUSE OF NAZI IMAGERY
As rabbis who deal daily with the sick and dying we are aware that these are extraordinarily sensitive issues. Our tradition reminds us that the more urgent the issue the more important it is to choose one’s words with care.
We note with dismay the vehement rhetoric swirling around the health care debate. An alarming number of public figures have embraced this imagery in attempt to demonize the opposition. In recent weeks alone, they include
Rev. Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention called health care reform proposals “what the Nazis did” and invented the “Dr. Josef Mengele Award” to present to health care policy-maker, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) referred to the current health care system as a “holocaust in America.”
The Republican National Committee posted a video on-line showing Adolf Hitler discussing health care proposals.
Each offense was later moderated, but not until a hue and cry arose from opponents and supporters of the sources alike. The willingness of supporters of public policy positions to employ the demonizing rhetoric of Nazism not only does nothing to move conversation forward; rather, it has a chilling effect on people of conscience who find the appropriation of such imagery to be disrespectful of the victims and reinforcing of the politics of personal attack that has damaged public discourse in the United States.
The use of Nazi and other drastic imagery is categorically unacceptable. Not only is such bluster inflammatory, but it impoverishes the discussion.
We plead — indeed we demand — that civility govern these crucial deliberations. “Sages” warned the Rabbis of the Talmud, “take great care with the words you speak.”
When one has a public platform one cannot allow the heat of rhetoric to outrun its reason.
As we discuss issues of life and death let us not ignore the words of Proverbs: “Life and death are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21.)”
Angry words and hateful images will not bring us closer to the healing we all seek.