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« Morphosis | Main | Dean: Bush as Nixon »

Yoffie and the Holocaust

In his recent peroration to the biennial Reform convention in Houston, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, spiritual guiding light mentioned the Holocaust twice. Once to condemn fellow Jews, the other time to condemn believing Christians. Unfortunately, he got it wrong both times.

Here are the two quotes:

We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations. And today, we cannot feel anything but rage when we hear about gay men and women, some on the front lines, being hounded out of our armed services.


The settler leaders and their Rabbis fomented civil rebellion, urged soldiers to disobey orders, and profaned the Holocaust by making despicable comparisons between Nazi expulsions and actions of the Israeli government. The pain of the evicted could not, in any way, excuse or justify such outrages.

So in one case, vicarious pain on behalf of those willfully violating the law is sufficient to invoke Hitler, while in the other case, being forced to turn your house over to rapacious jackals is just another day at the office. It brings to mind Mel Brooks's definitions of comedy and tragedy: Tragedy is when I slip on a banana peel; Comedy is when you fall down an open manhole and die.

But the double standard really has to play second fiddle to politicized historical revisionism of the worst sort. In fact, Yoffie has invoked the Holocaust where it's grossly inappropriate, and twisted the words of his opponents (or at least focused on the exceptions) to shut off a debate he thinks he's won.

I have no sympathy for rabbis who were encouraging mutiny; any society, and especially one under constant threat of extinction, can only hold together if people put up with decisions they don't like. And in the end, that's pretty much what everyone did. There was a fair amount of civil disobedience, but surely old Leftie Yoffie can remember his own student protest days. Going limp and getting carried off to the wagon by the Establishment Lackeys is hardly an "outrage" by his standards.

Yoffie's sin here his one of the definite article: "the settler leaders and their Rabbis..." I remember about 20 years ago, when someone asked Wynton Marsalis about jazz's relative obscurity, and he remarked that it was because "the Jews" controlled the media. A cousin of mine pointed out that while "Jews" might indicate bad taste, "the Jews," in implicating us all, indicated bad manners.

The same sleight of tongue is at work here. Almost all the references I heard to the Holocaust compared Gaza to Europe - Judenrein to Judenrein - and lamented the fact that this time Jews themselves were acting as the moving company. I remember pointing out myself the fact that any decent, civilized neighbors would settle for sovereignty without expulsion. And truth be told, it's hardly an original observation that a great deal of Arab propaganda over the last few years has looked more and more like Der Sturmer. All of which adds up to perhaps less than a historical repetition but a great deal more than a rhyme. Rabbi Yoffie's outrage seems to be somewhat misdirected.

And here we come to his other Holocaust observation, the one that really does debase the currency. Paul Johnson, in Modern Times, describes the anti-Semitism of a British "thinker" particularly influential in pre-War Germany:

[Houston Stewart] Chamberlain, whom Hitler was to visit on his deathbed to kiss his hands in 1927, argued that God flourished in the German and the Devil in the Jewish race, the polarities of Good and Evil. The Teutons had inherited Greek aristocratic ideals and Roman love of justice and added their own heorism and fortitude. Thus it was their role to fight and destroy the only other race, the Jews, which had an equal purity and will to power. So the Jew was not a figure of low comedy but a mortal, implacable enemy: the Germans should wrest all the power of modern technology and industry from the Jews, in order to destroy them totally.

Leave aside the evident absurdity of comparing this mindset with the evangelical attitude towards homosexuals. (Again, I remind you that a couple of dozen Kansans in search of adventure hardly counts as a world-historic movement.) By invoking the comparison with Hitler, and all its Holocaust overtures, Yoffie is effectivel,y demoting Jews to Just Another Group that Hitler Didn't Like, You Know, Like Gays.

In fact, there was from the beginning something special about Hitler's attitudes towards Jews. Gays may have been subhuman, but they didn't pose the threat of world domination. Neither did Gypsies. And when modern-day evangelicals suggest that maybe they don't want to redefine the basic social unit, and don't want to be subsidizing health insurance for long-term committed partners, either, that's not the same thing as clamoring to take the Zyklon-B canisters out of mothballs.

Most evangelicals I know are of the hate-the-sin-but-love-the-sinner attitude on the issue, in any case, and in 21st Century America, even that's too much for most people. Contrast that with 1920s Germany, where the Germans were pre-occupied with the "Jewish Problem" to a far greater degree even than the French were worried about the German Problem.

Yoffie can get away with this sort of double-talk, of course, because the ADL and other groups have spent the last 60 years arguing that Jews aren't special and that anti-Semitism as Chinese laundry jokes gone bad. It's led to everyone with a grievance invoking the Holocaust as what happens when you let things get out of hand. No, the Armenian genocide by the Turks, or the Hutus and the Tutsis are what happens when things get out of hand. There's no ideology or world-ending world view at work there, just generations of hatred and maybe a little fertile farmland.

But the Jews occupied a special place in the Holocaust, however inconvenient that may be for the Reform movement's Chief Social Activist, and trying to substitute gays for Jews and James Dobson for Adolf Hitler is a repugnant act of self-betrayal.

On a par with failing to recognize real anti-Semitism when it shows up and burns synagogues.


If Rabbi Yoffie wants to do some historical analogizing(which is quite alright with anyone who yearly remembers the passover as a real event for the present) then maybe we should compare todays utterly secularized american jews who in the safety of america voted against Israel security in the last election just as their grandparents in the leftist enclaves of new york forsook the war against Germany until the soviet union had been attacked. A great reminder that when we do not love G-d above all-- we make some very damning choices.

being from America, I see far more of the Jewish faith voting for the democratic policies which belies any hope of restoring my beliefs that they care what happens in Israel, since democrats have never cared about Israel. To me, Israel's survival should be foremost in their hearts, do I err in judgment?

Thanks Joshua, for your article on Rebbe Yoffie. I was struck by your comment the ADL has for the last 60 years promulgated the view point that the Jews are just another ethnic/cultural group. It must be hard for them because the facts are always getting in the way. I could point out about 1/2 doz. in your article alone, e.g. Why can Palestinians be allowed to live in Israel and be citizens while Palestine must be Judenrein. This Bible verse is as true today as it was 3400 years ago:
De:7:6: For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.

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