Does Eric Yoffie Owe Conservatives an Apology?

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In a story about how the Jewish left is trying to counter the Christian right, The Washington Times claims Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, "compared the religious right to Nazis" in a speech on November 19. I'm not so sure. Here is the offending quotation:

We understand those who believe that the Bible opposes gay marriage, even though we read that text in a very different way. But we cannot understand why any two people who make a lifelong commitment to each other should be denied legal guarantees that protect them and their children and benefit the broader society. 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. Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hellfires of anti-gay bigotry.

I take Yoffie to be saying that Jews are especially sensitive to anti-gay bigotry because they perceive a connection to anti-Semitism, as reflected in the Nazi context. He may also be implying that if Hitler did it, it must be bad–a fallacious argument that is by no means limited to the left. (How often do we hear from defenders of the Second Amendment that "one of the first things" Hitler did upon taking power was to impose gun control?) But Yoffie is explicitly not saying that opponents of gay marriage are Nazis, and I don't think he's being disingenuous. Am I being too generous?

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  1. Well, if he didn’t mean to compare religious conservatives to Nazis, the Hitler reference was pretty gratuitous, no?

    Certainly in context, its hard to his casual name-dropping of Hitler in the middle of an anti-religious conservative screed as anything other than a comparison of the religous right to Nazis, especially when the name-dropping consists of pointing out that they agree with Hitler on how gay people should be treated.

    So, yes, Jacob, you are being too generous.

  2. I took it the same way you did, Jacob, but the good rabbi could or should have been more sensitive to the way the comment would be perceived, rather than what he meant, considering how many Nazi/Hitler/fascist comparisons have been tossed around in the last few years. (Even though the statement is factually true, and is apparently a reflection his feelings on the matter.) An apology and clarification would probably be the diplomatic and polite thing to do, while phrasing it in such a way as to not back away from his support of homosexual rights.

  3. Y’all seem to be forgetting than in 2003, a law was passed requiring that all political speech in America contain a sentence where someone is compared to Nazis or Hitler.

  4. I’m intrigued to learn that the Jewish left is still around. I thought the Jews abandoned the left when the negros proved to be ungrateful for all the civil rights they gave em. And then crawled in bed with the right for all the rockets and helicopters.

    It’s not so much that I’m a bigot, it’s more that I live in a Wonder Bread and Hellmanns world.

  5. Someone point out to me where the logical flaw is if he’s comparing the religious right to Nazis. To wit:

    Hitler didn’t like gays.

    The religious right doesn’t like gays.

    therefore

    The religious right is (on this point) like Hitler.

    QED

  6. There is definitely still a jewish left, in the same way black people still voted republican because of Lincoln for such a darn long time. We do best when we think everybody hates us, which makes us natural Dems. It’s sad, really.

    -sam

  7. Is H&R the Miss Manners of determining PC?
    I hope not.

  8. I’m with Jacob. Though I do think that we could dispense with the Hitler refences in most arguments–it distracts from the actual discussion of the issue at hand.

  9. I agree with Jacob.

    NOfan,

    Though I do think that we could dispense with the Hitler refences in most arguments–it distracts from the actual discussion of the issue at hand.

    I don’t think the Hitler references are necessary, but, when they’re reasonable like this one, the distraction only comes from people interested in turning the discussion away from the real issue.

  10. Yoffie starts off with religious discrimination against homosexuals and ties it in homosexuals being “hounded out of the armed forces.” While it may be problematic, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is not a Biblically-based policy.

    Maybe Yoffie’s real point is that he’s talking out his tucchus.

  11. I wish to take issue with the argument that it is some how a fallacy of association to point out that Hitler supported gun-control.

    Rather it is intended as a cautionary tale: every instance of democide and tyranny I have ever read up on had as an early, cental component an attempt to disarm the target population.

    When somebody expresses a wish to give government officials a monopoly on weapons, I find myslef questioning their motives.

    Some tremulous souls sincerely sincerely take comfort in the idea that someone else now has control of such weapons, but they tend not to be the activists.

    Those who agitate to concentrate weapons in the hands of government officials usually see some benefit in a disarmed population, or find an armed one inconvenient or fearsome to their plans.

    In all thsoe cases, it comes down to a matter of control: the armed ones being able to control the disarmed ones.

    L. Neil Smith is prone to hyperbole, and so is often ridiculed. However his essay “Why Did it Have to be … Guns?” sums it up nicely:

    He may lecture you about the dangerous weirdos out there who shouldn’t have a gun — but what does that have to do with you? Why in the name of John Moses Browning should you be made to suffer for the misdeeds of others? Didn’t you lay aside the infantile notion of group punishment when you left public school — or the military? Isn’t it an essentially European notion, anyway — Prussian, maybe — and certainly not what America was supposed to be all about?

    And if there are dangerous weirdos out there, does it make sense to deprive you of the means of protecting yourself from them? Forget about those other people, those dangerous weirdos, this is about you, and it has been, all along.

    Try it yourself: if a politician won’t trust you, why should you trust him? If he’s a man — and you’re not — what does his lack of trust tell you about his real attitude toward women? If “he” happens to be a woman, what makes her so perverse that she’s eager to render her fellow women helpless on the mean and seedy streets her policies helped create? Should you believe her when she says she wants to help you by imposing some infantile group health care program on you at the point of the kind of gun she doesn’t want you to have?

  12. “…one of the first things that he [Hitler] did was ban gay organizations.”

    Really? Hmmm…one of the first things Clinton (Bill) did was try to make gays in the military less controversial.

    Both strategies seem to have worked out pretty effectively, eh?

  13. Jacob –

    I would agree with you, too.

    It is a very sensitive subject for those who still have tatoos on their arms, or whose friends and loved ones do.

  14. I hear Hitler wiped his ass too. So naturally good people don’t do that.

    If there’s any point to comparing someone or some policy to Hitler it should go further than that simply stating that there’s any connection or overlap at all. Regarding gun control, one might question why Hitler did what he did. Was it because he was concerned about street violence or because he saw citizens’ guns as a threat to his power? Choosing the latter does not automatically invalidate all arguments for gun-control, but it does possibly weaken the argument that individual gun owners are a meaningless check against tyranny.

    Regarding homosexuals, it’s hardly news that Hitler didn’t like people who were different in certain ways, to intentionally understate the matter. But whether opposition to gay marriage is necessarily an expression of bigotry is a matter that I think can be better discerned without such a gratuitous name-check. I have no opinion on whether Yoffie owes an apology, but I think he’s done the debate no favor.

  15. If there’s any point to comparing someone or some policy to Hitler it should go further than that simply stating that there’s any connection or overlap at all.

    But that’s just it. The point here is not just that Hitler did it too and thus it must be bad. Hitler wiped his butt, liked classical music, blah blah.

    The point is that Hitler’s anti-semitism was connected to his homophobia, and the modern Christian Right’s homophobia is connected to their anti-semitism. That anti-semitism has gone underground for the time being, what with the recent marriage of convenience between the Christian Right and hardcore Zionists, but don’t doubt that it’s still there.

    It is possible to point out that someone is thinking and acting like Hitler without automatically asserting that their thinking and behavior is as bad as Hitler’s. After all, Hitler’s wasn’t as bad as Hitler’s … until it was. That’s the whole point of the comparison: We don’t want to go down that road.

    All that said, this is rhetoric in the public domain, and the public doesn’t exactly operate on logical principles. He had to know what he was doing.

    If you ask me, if the Christian Right had the power to do so, they would create country that looked uncomfortably like Nazi Germany. After all, they openly advocate for it. I really don’t see why everyone is expected to tiptoe around them.

  16. But whether opposition to gay marriage is necessarily an expression of bigotry is a matter that I think can be better discerned without such a gratuitous name-check.

    Yo, observant one. Yoffie explicitly made clear that he didn’t think that biblical opposition to gay marriage (a mere title) was comparable to Hitler. He said that the denial of even more basic rights than what you happen to call a relationship is comparable to Hitler.

    Maybe you failed the critical reading tests in school.

  17. Am I being too generous?

    I think you are, Jacob. If he’s not making the comparison, then there’s no point to the mention of Nazis at all; it’s a non-sequitur.

  18. andy,

    Okay, so it’s the denial of gay civil unions that he’s comparing to Hitler? You throw rather large stones over what you admit yourself is a merely semantic difference.

    And besides, people contradict themselves from one sentence to another all the time. If someone assures us that he is not saying that blacks are inferior to whites but then goes on to say that blacks are less intelligent than whites, is his initial assurance meaningful? This is a rather common and, when done right (which my meek example does not qualify for), clever rhetorical trick. You should watch out for it rather than insult others’ reading comprehension!

  19. “…one of the first things that he [Hitler] did was ban gay organizations.”

    Hmmm. Lurking on freerepublic.com, I’ve seen allegations that the upper echelon of the Nazi Party was a gay organization. (And life is a cabaret, old chum.)

  20. Stevo Darkly,

    For reasons related to what I said in my previous post, the two are not mutually exclusive. A certain elite group of gay Nazis could have been tolerated while others persecuted. I think I saw a German art flick years ago that depicted such a gay elite that was tolerated up to a point and then mass murdered. I thought it was The Damned, but allmovie.com’s synopsis of it doesn’t say anything about that specifically, but it does include enough depravity that it possibly could be the movie I’m thinking of….

  21. Fyodor,

    It’s not just semantics. Yoffie is basically saying, “you don’t have to call it marriage, but it’s wrong to deny two people who have dedicated themselves to eachother the legal protections that most other couples get.” He’s not saying, “Call it marriage or I’ll get my boy Ariel to pop a nuke in yo azz.”

  22. I basically agree with you, Jacob.

    I think pointing out that one of the first things Hitler did was impose gun control is actually a reasonable thing to do, if it is done explicitly to illustrate the point that dictatorial regimes prefer an unarmed public so that it can be easily coerced. But I really enjoy DaveInBigD’s suggestion: “it woulda been funnier if he’d called them Stalinists. Always attack the right by comparing them to leftist extremism, and vice versa.”

    I think Realish makes some great points:

    “The point is that Hitler’s anti-semitism was connected to his homophobia, and the modern Christian Right’s homophobia is connected to their anti-semitism…If you ask me, if the Christian Right had the power to do so, they would create country that looked uncomfortably like Nazi Germany. After all, they openly advocate for it. I really don’t see why everyone is expected to tiptoe around them.”

    I don’t see why either.

    I think there is some valid basis to his comparison, and I think he making the comparison as a caution rather than accusing the Christian Right of currently being the equivalent of Hitler at his worst. However, I also agree that making a comparison to Hitler is guaranteed to to stir the shit and Yoffie had to have known what would happen when he made those comments. I’m curious to see what will come of it — can we expect him to issue an apology or otherwise back down?

  23. Though I wouldn’t expect the Christian Right to wanna give up their guns — they’ll need them at the tribulation hour. It will be neighbor against neighbor, ya know.

  24. Okay listen up everyone. The one thing Hitler never did was to demonize the opposition by referring to them as Hitler. Therefore, it is okay to do so.

    Have at it.

  25. I agree with your parsing as a logical matter. That being said, it serves to completely forestall rational debate when you violate Godwin’s Law right at the beginning.

    Further, if he was trying to emphasise the point that the Jewish left sympathises with gay-rights groups, (for very understandable reasons, it must be said) he needs to be more explicit on that point. The ambiguity, intended or not, is deadly.

  26. fyodor: You were right; the movie is “The Damned.”

  27. It’s not just semantics. Yoffie is basically saying, “you don’t have to call it marriage.”

    Uh, isn’t semantics the study of what you call things? To say it’s not semantics, it’s just what you call it is about as contradictory as you can get!

    Anyway, even if I slipped and said gay marriage when Yoffie was specifically talking about gay civil unions, that distinction has about zilch to do with the point that I made. And since you seem uninterested in making any substantive point about what I said except to insult me for that slip, I shall let the matter die.

  28. Syd,

    Thanks!

    vabs & Realish,

    If I read you correctly, you two are saying that the Christian Right is motivated by bigotry that spills into anti-semitism just as Hitler was.

    I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying no. But if it’s yes, citing one’s evidence for believing so would be a lot more fair and a lot more convincing than merely throwing Hitler’s name into the mix.

    That said, and maybe vabs was touching on this, citing Hitler may be more effective for his particular purposes than than making a well-referenced rational argument, even I think it’s the latter that I find to be the more noble means of persuasion myself.

  29. fyodor:

    you’re showing class and restraint. are you sure you should be posting here?

  30. Viking Moose:

    try to be more like fyodor

  31. The rabbi’s “we cannot forget” is not innocent.

    And “too generous” is too generous.

  32. “Viking Moose:

    try to be more like fyodor”

    fine. i’ll wear a wig 🙂

    d’oh there was a “(huh??)” after the line “kittie” above. it was an obscure nod to austin powers…

  33. biologist,

    Thank you, but don’t forget, the most effective and vicious put-downs (and comebacks) are made with class and restraint! 🙂 (And as John Lennon was fond of saying, everything is the opposite!!)

    Viking Moose,

    Not many people have complimented me on my hair!! Remarked on it, definitely, but complimented it?? You are truly a Moose of exquisite taste!!

  34. Though I wouldn’t expect the Christian Right to wanna give up their guns — they’ll need them at the tribulation hour. It will be neighbor against neighbor, ya know.

    That said, if given the chance, I would expect the fundies support for firearms ownership to quickly evaporate if it meant getting guns out of the hands of moose-lims, homosexuals, and ” sec-u-lar humanists.” (Like me. I’m Pat Robertson’s worst nightmare: An athiest with a 1911A1 and no qualms against using it, if called for.)

  35. edit: An atheist…

  36. I would expect the fundies support for firearms ownership to quickly evaporate if it meant getting guns out of the hands of moose-lims, homosexuals, and ” sec-u-lar humanists.”

    These aren’t groups that are big in gun ownership in the first place. I disbelieve the idea that fundies are afraid of these folks having guns.

  37. fyoder,

    Actually, I will freely admit I had no evidence at hand for saying that fundamentalist Christians are anti-semitic. All I had were recollections of quotes I’d heard here and there, and my memories of growing up in South Carolina with a passel of relatives who seemed to go through perpetual cycle of of born-again-ness and sinful backsliding.

    Anyhow, it was easy to find a link to this article on anti-Semitism in the Christian right, complete with references, for anyone who might be interested: http://www.sullivan-county.com/id3/right_jews.htm I think it does a good job of documenting the attitude I was thinking of…fundamentalist leaders who say Jewish doctors are the primary abortionists, Jews are “humanists” who control the ungodly media, Jews as Christ-killers, of course. It also discussed the explicitly racist Christian Identity movement. And, it includes coverage of Christians who condemn the sort of obvious anti-Semitism described in the article.

  38. Actually, there is at least a vocal subset of gays for gun ownership. Here is a link to the Pink Pistols site — their motto being “Armed Gays Don’t Get Bashed,” http://www.pinkpistols.org/

    Also, interestingly there is just today an article on SFGate about a lesbian couple who fear they’ll have to give up their handguns if SF’s proposition H passes:
    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/12/05/MNG30G33SM1.DTL

  39. >H passes
    correction: it has passed but it’s unclear if it will be enforced.

  40. Initially I was in 100% agreement with Mr. Sullum.

    Then I read:
    Yoffie starts off with religious discrimination against homosexuals and ties it in homosexuals being “hounded out of the armed forces.” While it may be problematic, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is not a Biblically-based policy.

    and I thought to myself, “Aha! There’s something in that!” It was the government that made the anti-gay military policy, NOT the Christian right.

    Isn’t an assumption of the rabbi’s comparison that Christian right = our government? It’s just another neat little rhetorical trick that subtly implies that a very strong political action group (Christian right) is the EQUIVALENT of a dictatorship (Hitler).

    Someone else said that if the Christian right had their way the country would look more like Nazi Germany. (emphasis mine)

    The IF and WOULD are key, here, I think. The fact is the Christian right does not = the government of the U.S.

  41. linguist:

    Isn’t an assumption of the rabbi’s comparison that Christian right = our government?

    Good point! And it makes another point as well: We in the US are afforded a degree of protection from religion-motivated subjugation by both our separation of church and state, and our constitutionally limited government. This, especially the latter, leads to a degree of political peace. It doesn’t matter so much what group has control of the government when the government is limited.

    Compare our situation with that of Israel where fundamentalist religious sects, that do not share Rabbi Yoffie’s equitable outlook, successfully support laws that discriminate against Israel’s own non-Jewish population. Sharon has even advocated “Jews only” housing laws on government land in response to the political power of the fundies.

    What of any Fundi Christians who would like to bring down a holly reign of terror on Gays here in America? Our Constitution offers protection for Gays, and for all of us.

  42. Viking “Fyodor wanna be” Moose

    Viking Moose,

    I know fyodor. fyodor is a friend of mine. And Viking Moose… NO ONE ELSE could be fyodor!

    http://www.justinotis.com/goof/reason/fy_lauren.JPG

    I rest my case.

    And also Viking Moose, I must ask you; if you’ve only done a screen -name change, it’s cool and I am digging it for sure. However, if have done something with drf, and he’s being held against his will in some economics department, you had better let him out or there’s gonna be consequences and ramifications around here! So VM, which is it?

  43. oh I get it, Rick. It IS the hair. 🙂

    hrumph (slinks back to department. hrumph)

  44. Blabbering left-wing nit wit he is your snake crawling in a wagon rut

  45. “These aren’t groups that are big in gun ownership in the first place.”

    Actually, there is at least a vocal subset of gays for gun ownership

    These are not contradictory statements. I don’t think fundamentalist Christians are in a froth about the Pink Pistols unless they wind up at the same firing range.

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