The Jefferson County Republican Party demonstrated a serious lack of respect for their Jewish constituents and the historical relevance of the Holocaust in a highly insensitive Facebook post last week.
Granted, it should come as no surprise to anyone acquainted with the outspoken right-wing repository of memes and quick-takes that is their Facebook page. Posts extolling the virtues of support for “School Resource Officers in public schools to enforce extraordinary discipline matters,” posts amplifying insane “plandemic” theories, posts with racist satirical imagery, posts that feature religious-based transphobia, and a recurring motif of voter ID memes where the general theme is to compare the constitutional right to vote to … lots of things that aren’t Constitutional rights. Because there’s at least one thing we can count on the GOP for: a complete lack of nuance in their hyperbole.
And nowhere is that better illustrated than this April 18 Facebook post. The text in the post is benign enough in its support for a proposed law aiming to “prohibit discrimination based on the refusal to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine:” “Do you believe people should be able to decide for themselves if they want to receive the COVID vaccine? Well then you might wonder why HB 1191 is in limbo when it would prohibit discrimination for COVID-19 status. Thank you Reps Ransom and Van Beber for having the courage to bring this bill forward!“
The summary of the legislation, sponsored by state Representatives Kim Ransom (R-Littleton) and Tonya Van Beber (R-Eaton), states:
“The bill prohibits an employer, including a licensed health facility, from taking adverse action against an employee or an applicant for employment based on the employee’s or applicant’s COVID-19 immunization status. The bill allows an aggrieved employee or applicant for employment to file a civil action for injunctive, affirmative, and equitable relief and, if the employer or health facility acted with malice or wanton or willful misconduct or has repeatedly violated the law, the court may also award punitive damages and attorney fees and costs.
“Additionally, the bill specifies that the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory, that the state cannot require any individual to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine, and that government agencies and private businesses, including health insurers, cannot discriminate against clients, patrons, or customers based on their COVID-19 vaccination status. A person aggrieved by a violation of these prohibitions may file a civil action for injunctive and other appropriate relief and may be awarded punitive damages and attorney fees and costs for wanton, willful, or repeated violations.”
Ransom, you might remember is a co-sponsor a recent anti-choice bill, the “Protect Human Life at Conception Act,” introduced this past February. Van Beber was recently part of the failed filibuster by House Republicans trying to derail bill 21-1108 that prohibits discrimination against people based on their gender identity expression. Clearly, their command of science is lacking.
Sure, the idea that a hospital should be banned from requiring staff who work with sick people to be vaccinated is absurd enough. But it’s also a predictably “Republican” stance these days, and on its own, not necessarily something that gets the attention of a column focused on anti-Semitism.
However, it was the imagery that the Jefferson County Republican Party chose to run with the post that once again, reveals the GOP to have nary a clue as to how to approach a controversial topic with anything remotely resembling a sense of respect, empathy, or general understanding of even basic historical relevance.
This “Show me your papers!” meme is problematic on its own as it’s become ubiquitous enough to water down the original context of the photo. And context matters.
The photo itself is from the digitized collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The subjects of the photo are identified as “German police or soldiers”—sporting swastika insignias on their helmets—who are examining the identification papers of a Jew in the streets of Krakow, Poland.
It’s likely that this picture was taken inside or at the gate to the Krakow Ghetto, where Jews were forced to relocate upon German occupation during WWII. From there, Jews were sent via rail to extermination and concentration camps like Auschwitz and Płaszów. The date listed on the photo is 1940. It’s extremely likely that the Jewish man standing in this photo died in one of the camps—either via starvation or disease—or in a gas chamber.
The flippant and tone-deaf choice to run with this photo as an anti-vaccine propaganda tool demonstrates an utter disregard for what it represents— the marginalization and then systematic genocide of 6,000,000 Jews.
“The use of Holocaust and Nazi analogies by those opposed to COVID-19 public health regulations is offensive, inaccurate and just plain tiresome,” said Scott Levin, Regional Director of the ADL Mountain States Region, when I asked them for a comment. “Resorting to these types of analogies diminishes the memory of millions killed by the Nazis, as well as society’s ability to effectively address the actual substance of the problems and concerns raised. We need a different way to have this debate.”
(I also reached out multiple times to the Jefferson County Republican Party for comment. They have yet to respond.)
This kind of rhetoric is a contributing factor as to why anti-Semitism continues to be such a problem on the right. Groups like the Jefferson County Republican Party normalize the trivialization of the Holocaust when they resort to petty quips and thoughtless memes, and the end result, as we’ve seen, is tragic.
Eitan Hersh, Associate Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, and Laura Royden, Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, published a study on April 9 that took a scientific look at anti-Semitism in the United States. The data only supported what we’ve been saying for years: “the epicenter of antisemitic attitudes is young adults on the far right.” (Richard Holzer, anyone?)
No, it’s not exclusively a problem there, but it’s far worse there than on the left, and it’s growing. Hersh and Royden approached their work scientifically and methodically, and the data is plain as day. But this statement is what really stands out: “Prior studies have theorized higher antisemitic attitudes in young adults may result from factors such as declining salience of the Holocaust… .”
There it is. Each throwaway, lazy and ignorant analogy the Jefferson County Republican Party makes further dilutes the historical import of the Holocaust and mocks its reverberation throughout the generation of Survivors, their children, and their children’s children today. Regardless of the politics they espouse, when positioned this way, it’s poison in the well for everyone—especially their own Jewish constituency. And it needs to stop now.