On the car radio the other day, I listened to an interesting debate between Dennis Prager (on his show) and someone named Jay Michaelson who writes for the Forward and other liberal organs. Michaelson had lambasted Dr. Ben Carson, Republican candidate for President, for articulating his support for the Second Amendment in this way: “The likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if people had been armed.” Dr. Carson later added: “Basically, what I said is when tyranny occurs traditionally around the world, they try to disarm the people first.”
For these truthful and eminently reasonable statements, Michaelson attacked Dr. Carson for his “rant,” called him “ignorant,” and thoughtfully added that Dr. Carson’s declarations are “profoundly anti-Semitic, immoral and disgusting.” And of course the conservative candidate was then assailed for invoking the Holocaust.
It is difficult to escape the sense that liberals are threatened by the Carson candidacy as it might tend to diminish the support of a voting bloc whose near unanimous voting patterns in the past are again being counted on heavily by the Democrats. Carson’s life story is so compelling – raised in a broken, one-family home in a dangerous part of an inner city, only to be saved by the determination and will of his mother, and who becomes an acclaimed neurosurgeon – that it imperils many liberal shibboleths, especially the ones that demand government intervention in every aspect of life and diminish the role of family and personal responsibility in an individual’s destiny. The liberal fear is palpable, as Dr. Carson’s intellect, integrity and humility (three qualities not often seen in politics, and certainly not in tandem) make him a formidable candidate and challenge their world view. The attack even sounds, to me, a bit racist…
No people invoke the Holocaust more than people who criticize others for invoking the Holocaust. It is as if a group of Jews (usually, liberal journalists) have assumed the responsibility of being guardians of the legacy of the Holocaust and only allow it to be used on their terms. For example, Mr. Prager pointed out that the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, recently invoked the Holocaust in urging European hospitality to the hundreds of thousands of migrants from Syria and comparing them to European Jews who found no haven before the Holocaust. (The differences are staggering, of course. The Syrian exodus seems to be disproportionately young people who have chosen – perhaps wisely – not to fight for their country, they have bypassed several countries on their way to Europe, and (who knows?) might harbor in their midst an untold number of jihadists capable of wreaking havoc on the European continent or in the United States. None of that was applicable to European Jews.)
Asked whether he considered Rabbi Sacks’ statement a similar exploitation of the Holocaust, Michaelson stammered, couldn’t answer, conceded the point and tried to change the topic. In other words, invoking the Holocaust is appropriate when it suits a favored political goal but not when it supports a disfavored political goal. There is more than an element of hypocrisy in that.
But on the substance, can it be plausibly argued that Ben Carson was wrong? The facts are that Jews were disarmed before the Holocaust, that Jews in Europe who wished to fight were severely handicapped by a lack of weapons, and the most frequent request from partisans was not for sympathetic editorials or eulogies in liberal publications – but for weapons, the more the heavier the deadlier, the better. Can anyone reasonably assume that the Nazis would have been able to round up Jews in town after town, city after city, with little resistance, if Jews had been armed? It is so obvious that it beggars the imagination that any reasonable person could challenge it.
Would an armed Jewish community have been able to prevent the Holocaust? Probably not, although it certainly would have changed Hitler’s calculus. That, too, is obvious; if it would have made no difference to him, he would not have made the effort to disarm all Jews. And all Dr. Carson said was Hitler’s ability to accomplish his goals would have been “greatly diminished.” Exactly which part of that is “anti-Semitic, immoral and disgusting”? Indeed, one can cogently argue that, given our history, advocating for gun control that limits the access of Jews to weapons for self-defense is “anti-Semitic” and “immoral;” others can decide whether it is also disgusting.
In essence, Michaelson attempted to underscore his support for gun control by invoking the Holocaust – and Godwin’s Law – beating to the punch anyone who would try to draw lessons from the Holocaust about the elementary right of personal self-defense. That is as exploitative of the Holocaust for personal and political use as anything that has evoked the same criticism.
In the end, the radio conversation veered into a general discussion of gun control because Michaelson was unable to show that Dr. Carson’s contention was “anti-Semitic” (itself a bizarre accusation), “immoral,” or “disgusting.” He was game enough to be interviewed and take the heat, but without apologizing for his vitriol or hyperbole. (He should also retract the contention in his article that the Second Amendment does not protect individual gun ownership. Not only did the drafters perceive such but the Amendment’s long legal history has also vindicated that reading, to the chagrin of liberals. Try to amend the Amendment, if you wish, but don’t read into it what is not there.)
On that note, Michaelson tried to invoke the Israel experience where gun ownership is widespread but much more regulated than in the United States. One need only look at the recent Arab savagery in Israel and the number of Jewish civilians armed with weapons who are first responders at the scene of Arab terror to realize gun ownership is both widespread and useful. (Of course, Israel could really benefit today from “knife control” legislation, as knives kill and maim, and little is done to prevent their proliferation among the Arab population. After all, it’s never the people who are responsible for their actions, it’s the weapon, or the sellers of the weapon…)
Michaelson got a fair hearing and, of course, is entitled to his opinions. Would that he granted the same to others! But Jews should not be so promiscuous in flinging accusations of Jew hatred against people they despise for their conservative politics, or really anyone who is not an actual Jew hater. So, too, not every invocation of the Holocaust merits rebuke or we will not be able to learn anything from or apply any lessons of the Holocaust. That itself – the tendency to deny the relevance of the Holocaust to anything – is itself a form of Holocaust denial. Of course, Holocaust references can be abused, and the Holocaust is sui generis as an historical event, but the Holocaust can also be instructive as to man’s capacity for evil, the dangers of passivity in the face of that evil, the relentless hatred of Jews that persists in many quarters, basic human rights including the right of self-defense (a right that, even today, makes much of the world and many liberal Jews extremely uncomfortable when practiced by Jews) and man’s responsibility towards his fellow man.
Too much time and energy are wasted on trying to prevent the last Holocaust, when our efforts should focus on preventing the next one right now in the planning stages in Iran, among the jihadists and other enemies of Israel.
To criticize Dr. Carson – a lover and keen supporter of Israel and the Jewish people – on these grounds is outrageous and deserves repudiation. He wrote yesterday in the Jerusalem Post: “What I do know however, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is that I never intended for my words to diminish the enormity of the tragedy or in any way to cause any pain for Holocaust survivors or their families.” What his political opponents – and this is what it is all about – are touting as an apology is nothing of the sort but actually just an expression of his elementary decency as a human being.
It is just one of the characteristics that those same political opponents – especially including Jews – would do well to learn from him.