by Rabbi Moshe Parnes, in Israel National News
It’s very easy to destroy but much harder to rebuild. It’s easy to accuse someone of anti-Semitism but very difficult to defend against such accusations.
Mary Miller, congresswoman elect from Illinois, made an observation about the importance of winning the hearts and minds of youth. She cited Hitler, clearly the most evil person modern mankind has ever had the misfortune of knowing, as her source, and she was right for doing so. It’s important for mankind to learn lessons from our enemies, even from human beasts like Hitler, so that we can understand how powerful the forces that they employed truly are, and use them for good.
The Talmud, the main source of Jewish law, philosophy and ethics, often does. It discusses the source of strength of some of the greatest enemies of the Jewish People, like the ancient Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Romans. The holy Talmud is hardly advocating people to model themselves after those cruel nations. It is, however, stressing the importance of drawing productive lessons from their wicked actions. If we don’t understand their successes, we can’t possibly counter them or use them for good.
Is it wrong, or anti-Semitic, to learn about the awesome influence of the media from the highly successful, and utterly wicked, Josef Goebbels, the editor of Der Sturmer, the newspaper of the Nazi party? Should we close our eyes to Hitler’s charismatic ability to persuade and deceive the masses?
Can we draw no lessons from the captivating Nazi influence on extremists in modern society even long after the collapse of their malevolent regime? I think not.
Although I lost much of my extended family in the Holocaust, grew up in Brooklyn surrounded by concentration camp survivors hearing about their terrors firsthand from those who experienced them, and visited the death camps of Auschwitz, Birkenau and Mauthausen in the early 80’s, long before they became popular tourist destinations, so I could permanently imprint the reality of their horrors on my mind, I think it is foolish and counter-productive for society to learn nothing from the horrors of the recent past.
Politicians like Illinois’ Jewish, but misguided, Governor Pritzker, understand the power of words and how strong in the minds of people a racist label can be. They know that labeling a person as an anti-Semite may very well destroy that person’s career, and that may have been his intention when he condemned her and the entire Illinois GOP party. Pritzker may have gained politically from it but he certainly didn’t help the Jewish fight against true racism.
Racism is a powerful accusation. It’s a charge that is correctly leveled at those who are truly deserving of it. It belongs to the Farrakhans, Dukes and Spencers of the world. It’s something we warn the Wanocks, Ocasio-Cortezes and Mel Gibsons about. It’s not a charge to be levelled hastily without considerable forethought. It’s not automatically pinned on someone who mentions the holocaust or even Hitler, and who clearly meant no harm.
My brethren at ADL and in the Rabbinate should realize that when you use a term too often it becomes meaningless. Worse still, it becomes fodder for real anti-Semites who claim that Jews see racists under every rock in society, and even more pernicious, they use such labels to control others.
Let’s leave the anti-Semitic label for those who truly deserve it and let’s leave the well-intentioned, but perhaps societally naïve, Mary Miller alone. The Jewish People, and those who truly care for us, will only gain by it.
Rabbi Moshe B. Parnes is the Rosh Kollel of the Hollywood Community Kollel in Hollywood, FL, and the Southern Regional Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values.