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New Low for Right-Wing Anti-Choicers -- Exploiting the Holocaust to Push Anti-Abortion Propaganda

For anyone who supports reproductive rights for women, the comparison is wildly offensive beyond any specter of attempted conversion or co-opting of Jewish tragedy.

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“180″ and its accompanying book may be the most brazen attempt to co-opt the Holocaust for other ends, but it’s hardly the first. Even before the Internet codified  Godwin’s Law – the longer a discussion gets, the more likely someone will be compared to Hitler — Nazi Germany has been a favored comparison of just about anyone on the hunt for an undisputed evil. Nor is it just a tactic of the right, though recently it’s seemed happiest to use it as a cudgel against enemies, down to private equity king Steven Schwarzman  comparing Obama’s position on taxes to Hitler invading Poland.

Even Betty Friedan did it: She  notoriously wrote in “The Feminist Mystique” that  ”the women who ‘adjust’ as housewives, who grow up wanting to be ‘just a housewife,’ are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps.” But Kirsten Fermaglich, author of “American Dreams and Nazi Nightmares: Early Holocaust Consciousness and Liberal America, 1957-1965,” told me that though Friedan later repudiated the comparison, in 1963, when Friedan published her book, the Holocaust was “not a sacred cow. Nobody complained about it. Certainly no one complained about it the way you’d think they would.”

Of course, at that point, the Holocaust wasn’t even known as the Holocaust. Scholars differ on how and when it shifted as a matter of public consciousness, but Fermaglich suggested it was linked to the growth of identity politics and pride in ethnic heritage in the 1970s — as well as growing Holocaust denial.

“It’s very hard to separate out one’s personal politics from one’s reaction to the use of the Holocaust,” conceded Hasia Diner, a professor of American Jewish History at NYU and director of the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History. “When it’s being used for something that I agree with, and I respect the speaker, it doesn’t bother me. On the other hand when it’s being invoked for political purposes that I find nefarious and I’m disgusted by the speaker then it seems wrong.” A comparison she found appropriate, for example, was the 1951 petition signed by Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois and others charging the United States with genocide, citing lynchings and wrongful executions. “I don’t think Jews have a monopoly on the word,” she said.

But as for the anti-abortion activists using the Holocaust, Diner said bluntly, “I have nothing but disgust and contempt for them. Not because they use that word. I think everything about them is horrible.”

Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon.

 
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