Recently, Richard Cohen took Grover Norquist to task in Out of Their Anti-Tax Minds for comparing the estate tax to Hitler’s Holocuast against the Jews. See my earlier post, Grover Norquist: Estate Tax a Holocaust for the Rich for further background and the original Norquist interview.
I’ve been waiting with bated breath for a response, any response from the Jewish defense organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee or the Jewish press (Jewish Telegraphic Agency). The response…silence. How can that be? After all, aren’t Jewish defense organizations supposed to speak out regarding Jewish interests? Isn’t a comment like Norquist’s worthy of rebuke?
Before going further, I should acknowledge that a few Jewish journalists have reported on this story, most notably James Besser in Jewish Week. Also, the Anti-Defamation League DID release a January 12th statement criticizing abuse of the Holocaust by presidential candidates. But their statement pointedly made no mention of Norquist.
To understand why we’ve heard such deafening silence, you have to look at the politics of the situation. Abe Foxman (ADL) and David Harris (AJC) recognize that Norquist is the chief architect of Bush’s domestic policy agenda. They understand that in this White House loyalty is rewarded and critical thinking is not. It doesn’t take much to turn you from a trusted advisor to an ostracized outsider in BushWorld. Foxman and Harris have done a quick political calculation and determined that taking on this issue could jeapordize their future access to the White House.
Even more disturbing, the statements by Jewish organizations attacking Moveon.org all appeared on the same day as the Republican National Committee released its own statement. It would appear that the White House coordinated the Republican response with that of the ADL and AJC. Surprise, surprise!
I understand how important access to the seats of power is for such organizations, which after all legitimately desire a seat at the table in order to represent Jewish views on the major issues of the day. But at what price? In order to have Bush’s ear must we compromise to such an extent that when an idiot comment like this is made we remain silent? I say that these Jewish leaders are making a pact with the devil. Their silence is shameful and not worthy of the august positions they hold in the Jewish community. They are doing themselves, their organizations and American Jewry wrong.
For this to really sink in, all we need do is compare their reponse to Norquist with their response to Moveon.org (an online liberal advocacy group) and its ill-conceived online competition for an anti-Bush ad campaign. Two of the contestants prepared ad images that likened Bush to Hitler. Jewish groups were all over this one. And rightly so. To be fair, Moveon.org responded appropriately by pulling the ads from their site and apologizing.
But why were the Jewish grouips all over Moveon.org but silent when it came to Norquist? Certainly a rhetorical question whose answer we already know.
Jack Rosen, national president of the American Jewish Congress, a once-progressive organization I used to hold in great esteem, also joined in the wolf pack howl of righteous indignation over the Moveon.org flap. But Jack’s case is a little different. He’s a Bush Ranger, someone who raises at least $100,000 for the Bush re-election campaign. Such overt partisanship does not sit well with some AJC leaders.
Sheldon Laskin, past president of the Maryland AJC chapter, read my earlier Norquist post and wrote to me to say that he resigned his AJC membership to protest both Rosen’s partisan political fundraising and his failure to speak about Norquist. You may read Laskin’s resignation letter here.
The Jewish Forward’s E.J. Kessler asked Rosen to respond to the criticism regarding his outrage over Moveon.org and silence over Norquist: “It’s kind of silly to compare those two.” So much for even-handedness and non-partisanship. So much for courage and bravery in the face of this outrageous misuse of the Holocaust in order to make partisan political advantage.
If you belong to any of these organizations, ask your leadership why they’re silent. Tell them what you think. That’s the only way anything will change.