December 18, 2018

Open letter: Rabbi Hier, please do not go to the inauguration

January 12, 2017

Rabbi Marvin Hier
President, Founder, and Dean
Simon Wiesenthal Center
Los Angeles, CA

Dear Rabbi Hier,

I write to you out of respect for the work you’ve done in fighting intolerance, bigotry, and specifically anti-Semitism in Los Angeles and in this country.  While you and I have serious political differences in some areas, that does not detract for a minute from my admiration for you, Rabbi Cooper, and your team in making the Museum of Tolerance an important shield against prejudice in this country. 

I have resisted writing to you because I had believed that you have the right to choose whom you bless.  Your decision to offer a benediction at the inauguration of Donald Trump reflects, as you’ve stated, not a political preference, but your own commitment to the peaceful transition of power, a hallmark of democracy in this country.

And yet, what changed my mind was Mr. Trump’s tweet yesterday—and follow-up comment at his “press conference”—suggesting that his treatment at the hands of the press was reminiscent of Nazi Germany.  This was the last straw for me.  And, frankly, it should be for you.  As someone who has dedicated his life to fighting to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, you cannot be associated in any way with this kind of cheap and inaccurate invocation of Nazism.

There were clear warning signs about the danger Mr. Trump posed when he refused to denounce unequivocally the alt-right antisemites supporting his campaign.  And many of us, yourself included, were jolted to attention by his hinting at the prospect of a registry of all Muslims in this country.  And of course, his dismissive or inappropriate comments about women, African Americans, disabled people, and Jews shocked us to the core.

All of this was cause for grave concern.  But now the claim about Nazi Germany.  In the first instance, this remark betrays a complete ignorance of history.  Shortly after assuming the role of Chancellor on January 30, 1933, Hitler began to suspend the normal rules of democracy by granting himself the power to override parliament; boycotts were introduced in April of that year against Jewish businesses and then Jewish civil servants, professors, and university students.  As we know well, his assault on democracy, the rule of law, and the Jewish people bore ahead with ferocity from that point onward.  While there are danger signs about the health of democratic institutions in America today, we are a long way from the oppressive dictatorship of Hitler’s Germany.  To lend your support to someone with such blatant disregard for an historical chapter so central to your life’s work would be, I’m afraid, a very serious error of judgment on your part. 

What is perhaps more galling—though sadly consistent with Mr. Trump’s bullying personality—is that he is not the victim here.  To the extent that there are new authoritarian trends in American society, they do not emanate from the free press or supporters of Hillary Clinton.  They emanate from Donald Trump himself.  He is not the chief victim of fake news, damaging insinuations or disparaging rhetoric.  He and his team are the perpetrators of all of these tactics, and in a way rarely seen in American political culture.  And in a starkly personal way, these tactics add up to the opposite of what stands at the heart of your institution: tolerance. 

In light of Mr. Trump’s most recent degradation, I urge you, Rabbi Hier, to announce that you will not grace his inauguration with your presence.  I fear that if you were to go to offer a benediction, you would lend credence to Mr. Trump’s willful distortion of history and bring injury to the principles and institution on whose behalf you have labored so tirelessly.

Sincerely,

David N. Myers

Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History, UCLA