(December 28, 2020 / JNS) The acrimony between never-Trumpers and pro-Trumpers has generated some fiery accusations from both sides. As a Jew who admires what President Donald Trump has done in the interest of the United States to promote peace in the Middle East and to bring security to Israel, but who is appalled by his extravagant narcissism and capriciousness, I tolerate what many regard as extreme abuse hurled in print at Trump and his supporters. Hardened by years of courtroom battles, and the charges and counter-charges made during hotly contested litigation, I calmly read aggressively expressed opinions with which I disagree. Proof is that I even continue to subscribe to The Washington Post.
But the Post published on Dec. 23 a reprehensible and revolting opinion piece that exceeds even my high tolerance level. It is called “Denying the Holocaust Threatens Democracy. So Does Denying the Election Results” by Deborah Lipstadt and Norman Eisen.
Both are names well-known to American Jewry. Lipstadt is a professor of Holocaust studies who first made a reputation more than 20 years ago when she was sued in England by a notorious Holocaust denier. After an internationally publicized trial in which, to her credit, she stood fast and presented evidence proving that he had distorted history, Lipstadt was vindicated in a 349-page decision by the British judge.
Eisen is a Harvard-trained lawyer whose expertise includes legal ethics. His mother is an Auschwitz survivor. He was a law-school classmate of former President Barack Obama, who appointed him in 2011 to be U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Eisen proudly arranged a kosher kitchen in the ambassadorial residence in Prague and is a member of an Orthodox synagogue in downtown Washington.
Touting their Jewish credentials and Holocaust expertise and experience, Lipstadt and Eisen opine that contesting the results of the presidential election parallels Holocaust denial. They graciously acknowledge that Trump is not Adolf Hitler, but claim that the comparison is correct because both Hitler and Trump “adopted the propaganda technique of the big lie” and “serve antidemocratic political ends.”
“Democracy denial,” they declare, is equivalent to Holocaust denial.
To say that this cheapens the memory of the 6 million who were exterminated in the Holocaust is a gross understatement. Comparing the Nazis’ genocide to some criticized contemporary conduct is a sophisticated form of Holocaust denial. Milder comparisons than the Lipstadt-Eisen analogy have met universal condemnation. Even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) had to provide an implausible gloss for an extreme statement she made in June 2019 comparing American detention camps at the Mexican border to concentration camps. I would be surprised if Lipstadt and Eisen disagreed with the criticism of a Jewish Community Relations Council that Ocasio-Cortez’s statement “diminishes the evil intent of the Nazis to eradicate the Jewish people.”
Does contesting a presidential election in a democratic society by resorting to the courts, to elected legislators, to the media and to the public amount to a crime against humanity on the scale of the Holocaust? As one who fled from Poland (as a 3-year-old carried by my parents) and who lost three grandparents in the Holocaust, I would not have believed that any rational human being—much less a collaboration of two distinguished Jews, one of whom has exploited her study of the Holocaust to gain international renown—could stoop so low. By publishing this rant with a blatant political bias, two otherwise renowned American Jews have engaged in shameful Holocaust denial.
Nathan Lewin is a criminal defense attorney with a Supreme Court practice who has taught at Georgetown, Harvard, University of Chicago, George Washington and Columbia law schools.
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