Picture of Matt Shea, representative for Washington's 4th Legislative District/Wikipedia photo by Thestevo

Matt Shea, Godwin’s Law, and playing the “Jewish card”

By Neal Schindler

Recently, a news story in the Spokesman-Review caught my eye. Here’s an excerpt:

At a rally outside Planned Parenthood in north Spokane on Saturday morning, state Rep. Matt Shea called the group “an evil organization” committing acts on par with Nazi Germany. “I am glad, to see finally, they have been exposed for what they are,” Shea said of Planned Parenthood. “There is no difference between Planned Parenthood, and what Dr. Josef Mengele did in Germany in the 1940s.”

On Facebook, I replied: “Actually, Rep. Shea, the [N]azis killed various members of my family. Planned Parenthood has been kind enough to leave my family alone.” I also noted: “This comment is especially amazing because one of Matt Shea’s campaign signs was once graffitied with a swastika and he attributed it to his connection to the [M]essianic Jewish community. Even if [M]essianic Judaism isn’t Judaism, this is an amazing doublethink moment.” As it happens, the Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion group doing the “exposing,” may end up having a lot more explaining to do than Planned Parenthood.

For many years, I considered it manipulative to “play the Jewish card” — that is, to bring one’s Jewishness into a political conversation to heighten the emotionality of the discussion, make it personal, and strengthen one’s point. I think this was primarily because I didn’t identify as closely with Judaism as I do today, not because it’s necessarily problematic to invoke the Jewish people’s long history of being persecuted. Our collective experience as survivors of genocide has influenced our psyches, so it’s relevant in many discussions of how we view the world.

At the same time, of course, Judaism is far from a monolithic identity; the Holocaust and many previous attempts to destroy us mean very different things to different Jews. These days, I find myself mentioning my Jewishness and my family history much more than I used to. Rep. Shea’s comment certainly compelled me to do so.

I understand intellectually that opponents of abortion see it as mass murder. I have nothing to say that will persuade them otherwise. But Planned Parenthood is not rounding up women and forcing them to terminate pregnancies. People used to talk about Godwin’s Law at least half-jokingly, but these days comparisons to Nazism in political dialogue are frighteningly common. When any sense of perspective and proportion is lost, it is natural for a country to become as politically polarized as the U.S. currently is.

The Inlander recently reported that Rep. Shea has also said: “Islam is not a religion, it is a theo-political construct.” I suppose it’s good to know that the Jewish experience isn’t the only piece of religio-cultural history with which Rep. Shea takes creative liberties. What’s less comforting is that he represents actual constituents who live very close to me.

In general, FāVS isn’t the right place for me to air grievances against any particular politician. However, when a political figure invokes something that has affected my family so directly and profoundly, I think it’s fair to say he started it. For now, I’ll content myself with saying: Attack Planned Parenthood if you must, Rep. Shea, but please leave the Nazis out of it.

Is it ever appropriate to compare things to the Holocaust?
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