A few months ago, some out-of-towners showed up at the La Cañada post office, bearing posters depicting President Obama as Hitler. My criticism was immediate and heartfelt. (Around Town: “Even offensive idiocy is protected,” Feb. 13).
Many of you concurred, which is proof positive that La Cañadans value thoughtful discussion and disapprove of polemicists. It doesn’t matter if the polemicist is on the right or the left. When self-styled activists compare our leaders, whether Democrat or Republican, to the most evil, genocidal mass murderer in human history, it is a bad thing.
In the early days of technology, when flame wars were the lingua franca of the Internet, a lawyer named Mike Godwin coined the famous formula that became known as Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”
The point was this: If you have to invoke the Nazis to prove your argument, your argument has failed. Worse still, you have minimized the Holocaust.
In the past two weeks, we’ve heard a lot of arguments, pro and con, concerning the Arizona immigration bill. On one hand, a rancher is killed while cartel violence spreads north. On the other, it’s no fun to be racially profiled and, because this is California, we all know undocumented immigrants who are upstanding, hardworking members of society, including many who work here in La Cañada Flintridge.
Our fellow La Cañadan, Dennis Prager, has published an op ed in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal condemning the comparison (“When Jews on the Left See Americans on the Right as Nazis,” L.A. Jewish Journal, May 4). Prager says, “But the consequence is that more and more people will come to think of the Night of Broken Glass in 1938 as no worse than a Tea Party rally and deportations of Jews to Auschwitz as no worse than deporting an illegal immigrant back to his home in Mexico.”
And then, Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater, the spiritual leader of the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, gave a sermon that took the opposite position. The sermon has created quite a stir, not just in Pasadena, but here in La Cañada Flintridge. Some people agree with the rabbi, and others disagree. The sermon has been published and republished online and in print media. The analogy is this: Law enforcement will now become border patrol officers; police have the right to pull over anyone who “looks” illegal, which will lead to serious racial profiling; people will be asked to produce their papers, their documents, reminding us Jews what that was like in Germany, and we were citizens of the country.
In the Jewish faith, rabbis are not priests. We are free to dialogue and disagree; in that spirit, I will throw my hat in the ring with Dennis Prager. To do otherwise would be inconsistent with the position I took with respect to the post office polemicists who compared President Obama to Hitler. It would also be disloyal to the memories of my aunts and uncles who were murdered in the Holocaust. It would trivialize their mistreatment.
The Arizona law may be right or it may be wrong, but it is not Nazism. It does not invoke the atrocities of the Third Reich. Deportation, however unfair, is not the same as genocide.
We must not forget.
Get in touch ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. E-mail her at hoo.com">firstname.lastname@example.org.