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   Open Letter to Jack Rosen, President of the American Jewish Congress

SPEAKING OUT:

Open Letter to Jack Rosen, President of the American Jewish Congress

EDITOR"S NOTE: On March 3, Bush appointed Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, as a US representative to a conference on anti-Semitism in Berlin. Rosen, who has helped raise $100,000 toward the Bush re-election campaign, refused to condemn Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, for his explicit comparison of the Holocaust to progressive social causes. The irony of this bears no further explanation, and makes the following letter sent to Rosen by Baltimore attorney Sheldon Laskin on January 13, 2004 still timely now.

Dear Mr. Rosen:

"Your cynical politicization of the memory of the Holocaust in your wholly unwarranted attack on MoveOn.org has gone too far," writes Baltimore attorney Sheldon Laskin in resigning as president of the Maryland Chapter of the American Jewish Congress. "I can no longer be associated with a Jewish organization whose President thinks nothing of misusing the memory of the Holocaust in support of a Republican National Committee (RNC) misinformation campaign."
I write as a former President of the Maryland Chapter of AJ Congress. This is to tender my resignation as a member of AJ Congress, in protest of your blatant conversion of this organization into a front for the Bush reelection campaign.

I have been concerned for some time about your aggressive campaign to use AJ Congress for partisan political purposes. This is perhaps best exemplified by the recent AJ Congress e-mail newsletter that prominently touted your having raised $100,000 for the Bush reelection campaign. The placement of the piece in an e-mail designed to disseminate AJ Congress news had the effect--and I believe the intent--of appearing to be an AJ Congress endorsement of the President's reelection. There was a time when AJ Congress was far more scrupulous about protecting its §501(c) (3) tax exemption. But you are undoubtedly correct in assuming that the IRS will not be knocking on your door.

I have been thinking of tendering my resignation for some time. I have held off because the immediate past President of the Maryland chapter, and personal friend, Matt Weinstein, implored me to wait. But I can wait no longer. Your cynical politicization of the memory of the Holocaust in your wholly unwarranted attack on MoveOn.org has gone too far. I can no longer be associated with a Jewish organization whose President thinks nothing of misusing the memory of the Holocaust in support of a Republican National Committee (RNC) misinformation campaign.

Here are the facts regarding the MoveOn.org ad campaign. In December, MoveOn.org launched a "Bush in 30 Seconds" TV ad contest. MoveOn invited interested persons to submit proposed 30 second TV ads. Following an online vote of MoveOn supporters, 15 finalists were to be selected for further consideration. Among the criteria for selection was the proposal's suitability for TV. MoveOn would pay to have the ultimate winners run on TV during the election campaign.

In response, over a thousand entrants submitted proposals. Among the proposals were two ads that compared Bush to Hitler. Neither of these proposals was chosen as finalists by the hundreds of MoveOn supporters who voted under the MoveOn selection criteria. As a result, these ads were not determined to be suitable for TV and MoveOn will not be placing either of these ads on TV. Had the RNC not itself posted the ads on its website, they would no longer be appearing anywhere at all.

One can quibble over the aptness of the comparison between Hitler and Bush. It is sufficient to note that millions of people, including myself, believe that Bush's war on Iraq was launched on the basis of a cynical campaign of lies, misinformation and fear-mongering. We firmly believe that the war is an illegal war of aggression against a nation, no matter how odious its leader, that posed no realistic military threat either to the United States or to its neighbors. Even the Sharon government stated that Iraq posed no threat to Israel prior to the war. But reasonable people can differ over the appropriateness of the comparison. MoveOn itself has stated that the ads were in poor taste and regrets that its screening system was not effective in detecting the ads in advance. But in no way did MoveOn sponsor or endorse these or any other, of the ad proposals. You would have MoveOn censor the ad proposals in advance. By allowing a democratic vote of its members, MoveOn demonstrated that democracy in fact works; the ads were rejected. If it is true--which I much doubt--that the purpose of the Iraq war is to build democracy in that country, should we not practice it here?

Not only is your outrage at MoveOn totally misplaced, it is also highly selective. What's sauce for the Democratic goose ought to be sauce for the Republican gander. But I do not remember your saying a word about Republican anti-tax activist Grover Norquist's explicit comparison of the Holocaust with the estate tax.

Here are the facts behind Norquist's outrageous statement. In October 2003, Norquist appeared on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross. During the course of a discussion over the estate tax, Norquist said the following about the fact that the tax affects only the wealthiest "2 percent of Americans":

"I mean, that's the morality of the Holocaust. 'Well, it's only a small percentage,' you know. I mean, it's not you. It's somebody else."
Terry Gross then tried to get Norquist to explain his comparison between the estate tax and the Holocaust. "Excuse me one second. Did you just...compare the estate tax with the Holocaust?"

Norquist then reiterated his original comparison. "No, the morality that says it's okay to do something to a group because they're a small percentage of the population is the morality that says the Holocaust is okay because they didn't target everybody, just a small percentage." A complete audio transcript of the Norquist interview is available here, at NPR's site.

Norquist's statement is far more egregious than anything MoveOn did or failed to do. First, these statements clearly reflect Norquist's personal views; the ads did not reflect MoveOn's views. Second, Norquist explicitly compares the estate tax to the Holocaust. A fair interpretation of the ad proposals is that they were comparing Hitler's militarism to that of Bush. While the comparison may be misplaced, it is not an explicit comparison to the Holocaust itself. Most importantly, Norquist is a person of great influence in the current Administration. As President of Americans for Tax Reform, he has regular entrée to the White House and actively participates in the formulation of Administration policy. See, for example, "Sowing the Seeds of GOP Domination: Conservative Norquist Cultivates Grass Roots Beyond the Beltway," The Washington Post, January 12, 2004, p. A1 (describing recent strategy meeting between Norquist and Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman). MoveOn is simply an advocacy organization with no influence whatsoever over government policy.

In your Wall Street Journal piece of January 5, you decry the danger of trivializing the memory of the Holocaust for political gain. Did not Norquist do precisely that? Does not Norquist's comparison diminish "the reality of what happened, and ... cheapen the memory of a horrific crime?" So where were you when he made the statement? Not only was it aired on NPR, it was reprinted in the January issue of Harper's Magazine, on newsstands in December. I simply cannot believe that this interview has not previously come to your attention. But there has been nothing but silence from AJ Congress about this outrage.

So I can only conclude that your indignation over the political misuse of the Holocaust extends only to liberal advocacy organizations, and not to your fellow Republican ideologues. In the end, this means that you are guilty of the very exploitation of the Holocaust that you decry. Coming from a Jewish President of a Jewish organization, this is obscene.

Please sever all connections between myself and the AJ Congress. I am authorized to speak for my wife, Fran Ludman, as well.


Very truly yours,

Sheldon H. Laskin




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This story was published on March 15, 2004.
  
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