Arizona: Why The Nazi Comparisons

Prominent progressives AND conservatives have called out Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law as un-American.  So why are we still afraid to name just how authoritarian and racist that law is by using the term “Nazi”?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
-From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

In the case of Arizona, perhaps the more appropriate question should be “would calling Arizona’s SB 1070 law by any other name other than “Nazi” make it any less racist or any less authoritarian?” 

It’s time to stop apologizing for calling out racism and for categorizing Arizona’s immigration law as what it truly is about.  Now that Judge Susan Bolton (a conservative judge that was recommended to the bench by Republican Senator Jon Kyl) has struck down major portions of Arizona’s authoritarian police law, new major dynamics have consolidated for both opponents and supporters of Arizona’s runaway law.  On the one hand, opponents of the immigration law have been validated: by the blocking of major provisions of SB 1070, other states have been put on notice; also, opponents of the immigration law have been proven right in the arguments that classify Arizona’s dacronian law as an alarming threat to American liberty itself.  On other side of the debate, by fighting Judge Bolton’s decision, Governor Brewer and her camp are looking more and more like nothing else but right-wing authoritarians that have embraced ideals that are in direct opposition to American values.  Bottom line is that by continuing to peddle such immigration laws, right-wing Arizonan politicians are forcing honest well-intentioned police officers to act as some sort of gestapo agents. 

Before you start to argue otherwise, let’s take a hard look at why it has been hard not to make the gestapo comparisons.  When you hear about the horrible acts that are being committed in the name of “immigration enforcement”, it is hard to not compare what Arizona is doing to Nazi and/or white supremacist ideology.  When you hear about how actual neo-Nazis are literally out hunting down immigrants, it’s hard not to call it “Nazi”.  When you hear about how white supremacist nationalists are behind the legal defense fund in support of SB 1070, it’s hard not to call it “Nazi.”  When you see cases where racial profiling has led to such barbaric acts such as the time when a pregnant woman was forced to give birth cuffed by the wrists and ankles, it’s hard not to use the word “Nazi” … and again, when you find out that SB 1070 was written by and introduced to the Arizona legislature by people that are proud to identify themselves as “Nazis”, it’s hard not to use the word “Nazi”.  Equally unsettling, it’s been at times difficult to understand just how some have argued otherwise.  Perfect example was the furor that was spread in local Southern Californian media outlets when Congresswoman Linda Sanchez pointed out something that is very much the case: how some of the people behind the Arizona law actually ARE white supremacists.  After her comments, it was astounding to see how the right-wing talking points started to shape media coverage of the chain of events: implying that she was a racist for merely calling out and standing up to the true racists!  What an upside-down world we live in, truly.       

Speaking of mainstream media coverage, there was one particularly reporter that went out of his way to promote the argument that using Nazi comparisons in describing Arizona’s SB 1070 was completely inappropriate.  Last May, Robert Jablon of AP interviewed a prominent rabbi, implying that the Nazi comparisons were going too far because they diminished the Holocaust, stating that:

Arizona’s tough new law against illegal immigration has prompted furious protests and boycotts but Jewish groups say opponents who compare it with the rise of Nazi Germany are going too far.

“It diminishes the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, an internationally known Holocaust studies center based in Los Angeles.

“Survivors and others are very upset about this,” he said Friday. “When you exaggerate, it’s very harmful to them when they know that their mothers and fathers were taken to the gas chambers without any recourse to the law. They lost children.”

First off, I completely agree that comparisons between the Holocaust and Arizona’s immigration law would be completely inappropriate.  However, I highly doubt that most people are actually comparing Arizona’s law to the actual Holocaust.  What most people are doing, is comparing Arizona’s law to the threat of racist authoritarian supremacist acts.  It also begs this question: if it talks like a Nazi, acts like a Nazi, and in fact calls itself “Nazi”, are we then safe to assume that it IS “Nazi”?  Reporter Jablon, to his credit, did mention that Rabbi Hier’s homebase, The Wiesenthal Center itself, has actually come out in opposition to Arizona’s immigration law.  Nevertheless, it seems that the reporter went one step further to try to paint the picture as if there was widespread consensus on this matter on the part of Jewish groups; quote:

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham H. Foxman, wrote earlier this month that comparisons between Arizona’s laws and Nazism “delegitimize and trivialize the deaths of 6 million Jews and millions of others and soldiers who fought to defeat Nazism. They also play into the hands of those who support the Arizona law.”

He noted that some opponents of President Barack Obama’s policies have compared him to Adolph Hitler.

“It seems to happen with greater regularity in American political debate today than ever before: When anger reaches a fever pitch on a particular issue, out come the inevitable comparisons to the Holocaust,” Foxman said in an article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “It has become a rule of thumb, an all-too-convenient catchphrase of the times.”

What the reporter failed to mention was that The Anti-Defamation League itself has also come out in staunch opposition to Arizona’s immigration law, going as far as filing an actual legal challenge to it.  Lastly, in the reporter’s AP note there was absolutely no mention whatsoever of how, again, the law was written and introduced by people that are proud to consider themselves supporters of actual neo-Nazis.

To downplay what Arizona’s law truly is about is just as dangerous as to overplay it.  All in all, I’m reminded of the words of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel: “No Human Being is illegal”.  So what’s in a name?  Do you think the Nazi comparisons are spot on?  Or do you think otherwise?