Jewish groups sound the alarm as anti-vaccine mandate movement invokes Holocaust 

Jewish groups are on high alert after a spate of recent incidents in which individuals opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates have invoked the Holocaust to argue against vaccinations.  

The most notable example came last weekend when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at an anti-vaccine mandate rally in Washington, D.C. appeared to suggest that unvaccinated Americans have fewer freedoms than Anne Frank.  

After criticizing what he called “technological mechanisms for control” in the U.S., Kennedy said “even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.” 

Kennedy apologized for his comments two days later amid widespread outrage, including from his actress wife Cheryl Hines, who wrote that her husband’s reference to Frank was “reprehensible and insensitive.” 

But Kennedy is hardly alone in making the reference.

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) earlier this month likened Washington D.C.’s COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements to the Holocaust, responded to a tweet outlining the city’s pandemic requirements with a Nazi-era document featuring a swastika. He apologized in a statement one day later, saying he wanted to illustrate that “Bad things happen when governments dehumanize people.”  

In Utah, tech executive Dave Bateman resigned from the company he founded earlier this month after sending an email to other industry leaders and state elected officials claiming that the COVID-19 vaccine is part of a sweeping attempt by “the Jews” to exterminate billions of individuals and create a world of totalitarian rule. 

And across the country, antisemitic flyers have been left at hundreds of homes in recent weeks. The papers, which have been discovered in plastic bags with small pebbles, read “Every single aspect of the COVID agenda is Jewish,” followed by a list of health agency officials and pharmaceutical leaders who are Jewish. 

Such fliers have been found in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Maryland, Texas and Wisconsin, according to the ADL’s tracker of antisemitic incidents. Individuals connected to the Goyim Defense League are allegedly behind the effort. 

The pattern of events has outraged the Jewish community, prompting passionate rebukes and igniting calls for the Senate to confirm President Biden’s nominee for special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, after his pick for the post has stalled in the upper chamber for months. 

The antisemitic language comes as many in the international community will join together in celebrating Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest concentration camp operated during the Holocaust. 

Max Sevillia, the vice president of government relations, advocacy and community engagement at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told The Hill in an interview that the U.S. is observing a “trend of callous disregard for the facts” — pointing to when leaders compare the push for vaccines to the Holocaust — which “creates a narrative that unfortunately has serious consequences.” 

“It’s basically accelerating a callous disregard for the impacted communities, the feelings of the Jewish people, but it also ratchets up tensions and has the consequence, the potential consequence, of leading to demonization and further antisemitism,” he added at a separate part of the interview. 

The ADL, Auschwitz Museum, U.S. Holocaust Museum and Yad Vashem — the World Holocaust Remembrance Center located in Israel — have all strongly condemned recent Holocaust comparisons made in connection to anti-vaccine mandate efforts, slamming such comments as offensive, outrageous and inaccurate. 

The groups have said the exploitation of the Holocaust in debates over COVID-19 mitigation measures is “a sad symptom of moral and intellectual decay,” while asserting that such language “trivializes the horrific atrocities that were perpetrated” and “denigrates the memory of victims and survivors.” 

The string of antisemitic incidents also comes amid this month’s hostage situation at a Texas synagogue, perpetrated by a British national, which the FBI director labeled “an act of terrorism targeting the Jewish community.”  

Biden’s special envoy nominee to to monitor and combat antisemitism has still not received a confirmation hearing in the Senate, despite the rash of incidents.  

Deborah Lipstadt was tapped for the position in July, but nearly six months after her nomination, she is nowhere closer to assuming the post.  

The position, which is based in the State Department, is meant to advance U.S. foreign policy on antisemitism and monitor global antisemitism. 

A December report said Senate Republicans were holding up Lipstadt’s confirmation because of concerns raised regarding her past tweets. In March 2021, Lipstadt said Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wisc.) comments regarding the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol had been “white supremacy/nationalism. Pure and simple” 

Additionally, The New York Times reported earlier this month that some GOP senators were considering asking Lipstadt to publicly apologize to the Wisconsin Republican as a prerequisite for her nomination to proceed. 

Asked about Lipstadt’s slow-moving confirmation, Johnson’s office referred The Hill to comments the senator made earlier this month when he told a reporter that he is not holding up her nomination and has not requested an apology. 

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN last month that there was some concern among members regarding Lipstadt’s past tweets. 

Asked about the confirmation on Wednesday, however, a spokesperson for the senator told The Hill “On the Lipstadt nomination, she is set for the chairman to schedule a hearing,” before referring questions about details of the process to the chairman’s office. The spokesperson said there is nothing holding Lipstadt back from having a hearing. 

Asked about Lipstadt’s confirmation hearing, a spokesperson for Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the committee, told The Hill “The senator continues to work to get Lipstadt confirmed as she is imminently qualified and there’s no shortage of work for her.” 

The Biden administration in November tapped Aaron Keyak to serve as deputy special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, a position that does not require Senate confirmation. He has been serving as acting special envoy as Lipstadt’s nomination stalls in the upper chamber. 

Officials from the ADL and Jewish Democratic Council of America hailed Lipstadt, the founding director of Emory University’s Institute for Jewish Studies, as the right person for the job.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt wrote in an op-ed for The Hill that it is “unconscionable” that Lipstadt’s confirmation has taken so long.

“Antisemitism is growing and metastasizing right now on the Senate’s watch, and every day that we do not have an envoy is a lost day in our country’s efforts to tackle this ancient hatred,” he later added.  

Halie Soifer, the CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, also expressed outrage at Lipstadt’s languished confirmation, telling The Hill in an interview “there is no good reason that she is not already in this position and confirmed.” 

Tags Antisemitism Bob Menendez Coronavirus COVID-19 Jim Risch Joe Biden Ron Johnson vaccine mandates Warren Davidson

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