Jewish group denounces comparisons of Arizona to Nazi Germany


A leading Jewish human rights organization says that comparing Arizona’s tough new immigration law with Nazi Germany is “inappropriate and irresponsible.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles issued a statement this week expressing its opposition to the Arizona law but denouncing the use of language about the Holocaust, saying there was no need to “demonize opponents, even when they are mistaken, to those whose actions led to history’s most notorious crime.”

“We don’t need on top of everything else invoking imagery that is inappropriate,” the center’s associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, said Thursday in a phone interview from Jerusalem. “This type of language is toxic, is not accurate and makes the whole issue more difficult, not less difficult, to resolve.”

Before the Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to boycott most city travel to Arizona and future contracts with companies there, Councilman Paul Koretz compared the environment in Arizona now to Germany in the 1930s.

“This is very frightening stuff,” he said. “If this was being proposed at the federal level, I would think we’re absolutely at the very beginnings of what went on in Nazi Germany.”

Koretz went on to talk about his aunt dying in the concentration camps.

“And you may think I’m overstating it, but I’m not, because SB 1070 — the immigration law — is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. In addition to the law, which requires police to determine whether people they stop are in the country legally, Koretz cited the ban on ethnic studies programs in Arizona schools.

Koretz wasn’t the first to use such language.

When the boycott issue first came up late last month, Councilwoman Janice Hahn criticized the Arizona law.

“When people are asked to show their papers, it brings back memories of Nazi Germany,” she said.

And in a blog posting condemning the law soon after it was signed, Cardinal Roger Mahony questioned what effect the law would have on local police and communities.

“I can’t imagine Arizonans now reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation,” he wrote.

The law, which has sparked concerns about racial profiling, takes effect July 23.

On Thursday, Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said the law does create serious fears and is a step in the direction of repression similar to that created by regimes in Germany and the former Soviet Union. But he agreed that people talking about the law should be cautious about their choice of words.

“We should all be careful about comparisons to the Holocaust,” Tamberg said. “The Holocaust was and remains a unique and horrible experience to which there is no comparison.”

Koretz said Thursday he was not comparing what is happening to Arizona to the Holocaust, but he reiterated that he could see parallels between what is happening in Arizona to what happened in Germany.

“They are doing things that I think are very reminiscent of the early 1930s, when some of these actions were just starting to rear their ugly head in a very subtle way,” he said. “Something is really going wrong in Arizona, and they need to be called on it.”

Times staff writer Phil Willon contributed to this report.