Image: Dean and Founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Marvin Hier arrives at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's 2010 Humanitarian Award Ceremony in Beverly Hills
Danny Moloshok  /  Reuters
Rabbi Marvin Hier says comparisons of Arizona's immigration law to the Holocaust are way off-base.
updated 5/14/2010 5:40:06 PM ET 2010-05-14T21:40:06

Arizona's tough new law against illegal immigration has prompted furious protests and boycotts but Jewish groups say opponents who compare it with the rise of Nazi Germany are going too far.

"It diminishes the Holocaust," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, an internationally known Holocaust studies center based in Los Angeles.

"Survivors and others are very upset about this," he said Friday. "When you exaggerate, it's very harmful to them when they know that their mothers and fathers were taken to the gas chambers without any recourse to the law. They lost children."

The Arizona law that takes effect in July makes illegal immigration a state as well as a federal crime. It requires police to ask a person about his or her immigration status if there's "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the country illegally.

Critics say it opens the door to racial profiling against Hispanics, although the law bars prosecutions based solely on race.

Last month, Cardinal Roger Mahony, head of the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese, said the law encourages people to turn on each other in Nazi- and Soviet-style repression.

Mahony's spokesman, Tod Tamberg, said Friday that the cardinal "never compared Arizona or Arizonans to Nazi Germany."

"What he said was that the fear that this kind of law creates in a community, where people are not sure whether they're going to be made to stop and produce papers, was certainly a characteristic" of the Soviet and Nazi regimes.

"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."

'Absolutely dangerous'
References to fascism also came up on Wednesday as the Los Angeles City Council voted to boycott Arizona businesses.

Councilman Paul Koretz likened the law — and other Arizona laws such as one that curbs high school ethnic studies programs — to the beginnings of Nazi Germany when Jews were singled out for persecution.

"We can't let this advance any further," said Koretz, who said he lost relatives in the Holocaust. "It is absolutely dangerous."

The Wiesenthal Center opposes the immigration law.

"We think it stigmatizes immigrants, for example, Latinos," Hier said. "A white American would never have to face such a challenge so it's openly discriminatory in its nature."

However, Hier said it is unjust to compare a law passed by democratically elected officials to those made in a totalitarian state that gave its victims no recourse to the law.

"Here, to call fellow Americans Nazis is beyond the pale. Not every tremor is the Haiti earthquake," Hier said.

The German laws led to death camps "and America is not coming down that road," he said.

Fever pitch
A call seeking comment from Koretz was not immediately returned Friday. Koretz was in a council meeting to hear budget recommendations for closing a huge budget gap.

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham H. Foxman, wrote earlier this month that comparisons between Arizona's laws and Nazism "delegitimize and trivialize the deaths of 6 million Jews and millions of others and soldiers who fought to defeat Nazism. They also play into the hands of those who support the Arizona law."

He noted that some opponents of President Barack Obama's policies have compared him to Adolph Hitler.

"It seems to happen with greater regularity in American political debate today than ever before: When anger reaches a fever pitch on a particular issue, out come the inevitable comparisons to the Holocaust," Foxman said in an article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. "It has become a rule of thumb, an all-too-convenient catchphrase of the times."

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