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ADL Letter to
Editor's Note: This letter was written in response to an article by Glenn Greenwald published Oct. 1, 2007 on titled, "Nazis" and "Hitler" -- the Right's casual, trivializing political insults.

Anti-Defamation League

Glenn Greenwald

     October 2, 2007

Dear Mr. Greenwald,

You are right to point out that the trivializing of Nazi imagery in politics and in public life through Nazi and Hitler comparisons has become something of an epidemic in our political and popular culture. Holocaust analogies are becoming so common that they have all but lost their meaning, especially to the younger generations. As we have said many times, this trend is disturbing and offensive on a number of levels. Offensive or inappropriate references to the Holocaust must be loudly condemned at every opportunity. Indeed, many of the examples you cite are deeply offensive and equally repugnant, and certainly worthy of condemnation.

However, your suggestion that the Anti-Defamation League has been selective in singling out liberals for condemnation, while remaining silent about the abuse of Holocaust imagery by those on the right, is preposterous. ADL has a long and public record of speaking out against the use of offensive Holocaust imagery from both the left and the right, and we have repeatedly made clear that the use of such imagery is unacceptable in any context and from any quarter. We speak out against the trivialization of the Holocaust whenever and wherever and from whomever it comes, be it Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative.

The ADL record on this issue, which is available to anyone willing to put in a little time doing research, shows that we have consistently spoken out against politicians and pundits of all stripes, not to mention corporations, advertising agencies, sports personalities, media celebrities and others who have made inappropriate analogies to the Holocaust and Nazism. Often, we give people the benefit of the doubt -- assuming that those who are employing Nazi or Hitler imagery do not necessarily realize the impact of their words, or are ignorant about the history of World War II and the Holocaust, which is why we do not always immediately issue press releases or go on the attack. Our goal is first and foremost to educate the offender so that he or she will come to understand why their words cause pain, and not repeat them in the future. Our goal has never been to shame or embarrass people, or to use our criticism on this issue as a tool for political attacks.

Had you bothered to contact us before writing your piece we would have been glad for the opportunity to condemn the use of Holocaust imagery and those who routinely use Nazi references as a political attack tool, including the recent examples you cite. Many of these individuals you use as examples have been on our radar screen, and we would have been prepared to share with you our file on the subject, which is more than two-inches thick.

Our record of speaking out includes familiar political figures on the right (Pat Buchanan, Alan Keyes, Sen. Rick Santorum); on the left (Sen. Dick Durban, Sen. Robert Byrd, Rep. Keith Ellison); media personalities (Joy Behar, Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann, among others) celebrities and sports figures (Harry Belafonte, New York Giants Coach Tom Coughlin, Prince Harry); religious figures (James Dobson, D. James Kennedy); and corporations and organizations (Wal-Mart, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Volkswagen, And the list goes on.

Ironically, ADL has weathered similar accusations before. When we denounced former Senator Rick Santorum, R-PA, for his remarks comparing the Democrats' use of the filibuster to Adolf Hitler, we received hundreds of e-mails from conservatives accusing us of singling out Santorum because we did not like his politics. This claim, while false, took on a life on its own on the Internet, which is why we are writing you today, as your piece unfortunately only helps to perpetuate this myth and seriously misinforms your readers.

Here are just a few of the more recent examples of our speaking out publicly against the inappropriate use of Holocaust/Nazi imagery. All are a matter of public record. Some are available on our Web site; others have been widely reported by the news media:

  • ADL called on Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) to retract his comments likening what happened in the aftermath of the burning of the Reichstag in 1933 the rise of Nazism to 9/11 and the War on Terror (July 2007).
  • The League denounced remarks by radio personality Glenn Beck where he compared efforts to raise awareness about global warming to Hitler's plans to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust, saying his remarks are part of "a troubling epidemic on the airwaves, where comparisons to Hitler and the Holocaust are becoming all-too facile" (May 2007).
  • ADL expressed public disappointment when no one from the New York Giants' management took a public stand to denounce the remarks of Coach Tom Coughlin, when he linked the criticism he received for a losing football season to criticism against Hitler during the war (April 2007).
  • ADL spoke out after Joy Behar, Co-Host of ABC's "The View," likened Donald Rumsfeld to Hitler (December 2006).
  • Online retailer removed novelty t-shirts bearing the message, "My grandparents went to Auschwitz and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" after being notified of concerns by ADL (December 2006).
  • Dr. D. James Kennedy, the late high-profile conservative Christian leader and former Senior Pastor at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, was criticized for his remarks comparing Darwin and Hitler (August 2006).
  • Alan Keyes, the well-known Republican political activist and former presidential candidate, was denounced by ADL for his remarks comparing stem-cell research with the Holocaust (August 2006).
  • ADL wrote to MSNBC's Keith Olbermann to express dismay at his use of the Nazi "Sieg Heil" salute, both on his program and in public appearances -- including the Television Critics Association press tour -- while holding up a mask of Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly (July 2006).
  • ADL spoke out when the Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, former Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, ran a television ad implying that his challenger would have opposed the death penalty for Hitler (October 2005).
  • The League wrote to Randi Rhodes of Air America Radio after receiving complaints about her on-air comparison between the evacuation of victims of hurricane Katrina and the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz during World War II (September 2005).
  • ADL called on Focus on the Family Chairman James C. Dobson to repudiate his remarks comparing embryonic stem-cell research to the medical experiments carried out by Nazi doctors during the Holocaust to and apologize to those offended by his statements (August 2005).
  • Harry Belafonte's remarks on African-Americans, the Bush administration and the Holocaust were condemned by ADL (August 2005).
  • U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) was criticized by ADL for his equating of Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay to Hitler (July 2005).
  • ADL spoke out when U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-NY, compared the Iraq war to the Holocaust (June 2005).
  • Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) compared the Democrats use of the filibuster to oppose judicial nominees to "the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942." He subsequently apologized for his remarks (May 2005).
  • The League criticized a Wal-Mart financed ad campaign in Arizona comparing a local zoning ordinance with Nazi book burnings (May 2005).
  • ADL expressed outrage at the remarks of Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) who suggested that some Republican tactics on judicial nominations were similar to Hitler's use of power in Nazi Germany (March 2005).

As you can see, inappropriate Nazi comparisons have been used by public figures of many political persuasions, and we have spoken out regardless of their party affiliation or political leanings.

Unfortunately, with the advent of Blogs, podcasts and political attack Web sites we have seen disturbing examples of cavalier Nazi and/or Holocaust references on an almost daily basis in the form of political attacks from both the left and the right. Adding to the dissonance are the almost daily remarks made almost casually on the airwaves. Given this rampant use of Nazi and Holocaust imagery -- and the proliferation of Blogs, podcasts, and radio and TV talk shows -- it is impossible to track and respond to every incident; indeed, many of these references dissolve into the ether without being widely noticed or heard. We rely on the public to help us by reporting the abuses. Often, ADL's concerns are aired behind the scenes to the producers, general managers, editors, writers and others with whom we have developed important relationships through the years in our work in combating and speaking out against anti-Semitism, racism, prejudice and bigotry.

As to your bizarre assertion that ADL has held back from criticizing Fox News, and specifically Bill O'Reilly, nothing could be farther from the truth. We have in fact loudly criticized Fox News personalities on various issues for example, when Bill O'Reilly recently told a Jewish caller to "go to Israel," we publicly decried his comments and publicized our letter to O'Reilly on our Web site. We stand ready to challenge him or any other high-profile media figure who attempts in the future to trivialize Hitler and Nazism and the Holocaust.

In closing, we take issue with the very premise of your piece, that "Nazis" and "Hitler" are only the casual, trivializing political insults of "the Right." Our experience on this issue has taught us that, in fact, the misuse of Nazi imagery is a common practice among bloviators on both ends of the political spectrum, and everywhere in between.


Abraham H. Foxman

National Director

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2007 Anti-Defamation League