Saturday, May 18, 2024

Michigan House Democrats condemn harmful Holocaust comparisons

March 28, 2023
State Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield) speaks on behalf of the passage of House Resolution 68 to condemn antisemetic rhetoric on Thursday, March 23, 2023 at the state Capitol in Lansing. Photo courtesy of Michigan House Democrats.
State Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield) speaks on behalf of the passage of House Resolution 68 to condemn antisemetic rhetoric on Thursday, March 23, 2023 at the state Capitol in Lansing. Photo courtesy of Michigan House Democrats.

Reps. Samantha Steckloff (D-Farmington Hills) and Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield), introduced a resolution on March 23 in the Michigan House to condemn the comparisons made between the gun violence prevention laws which were introduced to the State Legislature and violence that occurred in the Holocaust. 

This resolution's passage follows the tweets made by the state Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo through the Party's Twitter account which outwardly compared the restricting of firearms to the restricting of rights to Jewish people in the Holocaust. 

“#History has shown us that the first thing a government does when it wants total control over its people is to disarm them,” the MIGOP tweet read. 

Karamo’s tweet talked about the history of enslaved Black Americans, disarming Native Americans, putting Japanese Americans into internment camps and sterilizing disabled and mentally handicapped American citizens, comparing these acts of hate to possible restrictions on the second amendment. 

These tweets received backlash on a national scale, yet Karamo held a press conference where she defended her comparison, doubling down instead of apologizing.

“There is absolutely nothing in recorded history like the systematic murder of 6 million Jewish people by Nazis during the Holocaust,” Steckloff said in her speech on the House floor. “It is utterly obscene to compare our efforts to defend women’s rights to control their own bodies and protect children from gun violence to death camps. Our public discourse has reached a new low. None of us, regardless of party, should stand for it.”

The resolution was prepared by House leadership. Leadership then came to Rep. Steckloff and Rep. Arbit to sponsor.

Arbit, who is the founder and former chair of the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus, said watching Michigan Republicans use “a cheap political point” in opposition to gun violence reform was “unconscionable,” making the need for the resolution more than appropriate. 

When the Michigan House got a call from the FBI a month ago discussing an individual in Michigan with a house full of weapons looking to harm Jewish Michiganders, Arbit said it was just one occurrence of the rising antisemitism and rising extremism in the state.

“The Republican Party is not only not an ally in the fight against antisemitism, it's actually helping stoke it with this and other forms of rhetoric that they use,” Arbit said. “Frankly, what I believe is that if the Michigan Republican Party spent half the time fighting gun violence, as they do posting hateful, antisemitic memes on Twitter, fighting non existent election fraud, maybe fewer Michigan mothers would see their children in body bags.” 

With this, Arbit introduced a house bill which will amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include discrimination against ethnicity. Arbit said the legislature should stop calling it a rise when this has been a problem for years, instead calling it “reality.” 

Arbit said it should not be complicated for Republicans to learn to stop making harmful comparisons, comparing it to kindergarteners learning to not punch each other in the face. Arbit called out State Representative Neil Friske (R-Charlevoix) who Arbit said comes from a “family of Nazis” and compared gun reform to Kristallnacht, or the beginning of the Holocaust, as part of the not only doubling down, but “quintupling down” on the harmful comparisons the MIGOP is making.

“I think it's time the Michigan Republican Party decided that they are not a party of extremism,” Arbit said. “They're not a party of hate and right now…that is foundational to who they are. They're a party of white nationalism, a party of white supremacy, a party of extremism, a party of hatred, and a party, frankly, of political violence. That is everything that I came to office to fight against.”

Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said that he condemned these acts in the “most visceral terms” as the only Jewish senator in the state.

"To compare [the legislation] to Nazis, who targeted people based on their culture, ethnicity and religion is shameful,” Moss said. “[That] isn't even a strong enough word for it.” 

Karamo doubling down on her message, Moss said, demonstrates “she shouldn’t be treated seriously in our political discourse."

Moss said he is unsure if he should be disgusted or relieved that the Republican party is showing who they are, having an MIGOP chair that advocates for the “fringe extreme.” 

Moss said a Senate resolution has not been discussed to condemn these comments, but the Senate has passed resolutions in the past that Moss has sponsored including marking Holocaust Remembrance Day and passing resolutions to condemn antisemitism.

Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League of Michigan Carolyn Normandin said she works on releases of annual reports of antisemitic incidents.

In 2022, Normandin said, the rates of these incidents were at historically high levels with 111 incidents in Michigan in terms of vandalism including one of the incidents being an assault, ranking Michigan as the ninth worst state for antisemitism.

Normandin also worked on a white power propaganda report, depicting that Michigan is the fourth worst state when it comes to the spread of propaganda.

Normandin called the meme from the MIGOP “disgusting and vile.” She appreciated the legislature for acting to address the issue, and working to get to a point where political parties can disagree without “inappropriate” comparisons to the Holocaust that minimize the death of millions.

“I think we've seen the Holocaust analogies and the Hitlertarian analogies rising in the last several years,” Normandin said. “It's sort of become common and normalized and we cannot let it become normalized, especially with elected officials and candidates. They must use their platforms to communicate responsibly and not contribute to the trivialization of the Holocaust."

Normandin said that the rise in these analogies have also been attributed to the COVID-19 restrictions such as wearing a mask or getting the vaccine. The defamation aspect of these tweets come from the idea of “false equivalency,” where those using the comparisons simply do not like political actions whether that be from Democrats or Republicans. 

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