Connection Between Arizona And Nazi Germany Fair?

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Critics of Arizona's new immigration law compare the new requirements, which allow state police to ask for citizenship documentation from anyone they suspect to be illegal, to conditions in Germany during the rule of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich, in which Jews were required to wear yellow stars to identified them. Guest host Allison Keyes talks about this comparison with Clarissa Martinez from the National Council of La Raza and Ben Cohen from the American Jewish Committee.

ALLISON KEYES, host:

We're going to continue our conversation about Arizona's new law against illegal immigration. Some critics have gone so far as to draw parallels between the controversial law and the rise of Nazi Germany. And that, say many, especially Jewish advocacy groups, is way out of bounds. The Anti-Defamation League says it's not only off the mark, but it demeans the crimes against humanity that were perpetuated by the Nazis, not limited, of course, to the Holocaust.

Joining me now to talk more about the rhetoric surrounding the immigration debate and the law in Arizona is Ben Cohen, the associate director of communications at the American Jewish Committee, a global Jewish advocacy group. He's on the phone from New York. And with me in our Washington studio is Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration and national campaigns for the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy organization. Thanks to you both for coming.

Ms. CLARISSA MARTINEZ (Director of Immigration and National Campaigns, National Council of La Raza): Thank you for having me.

Mr. BEN COHEN (Associate Director of Communications, American Jewish Committee): Good to be here.

KEYES: Ben, let me start with you. Last month, the head of the L.A. Roman Catholic archdiocese, Cardinal Roger Mahony spoke out about the law on his blog. He wrote: American people are fair-minded and respectful. I can't imagine Arizonans now reverting to the German Nazi and Russian communist techniques whereby people are required to turn on one another and turn them into the authorities on any suspicion of documentation. The cardinal didn't make a direct connection to the Holocaust, but what do you think about what he said?

Mr. COHEN: Well, I think the first thing I would say is that the cardinal's spokesman did clarify that comment afterwards, I believe, and did say that no offense was intended. Nonetheless, I think it was an awkward and foolish analogy to make in the first place. And even as I criticize and condemn people for making that analogy, I do understand why they make it. Because I think that both Nazi Germany and, to an extent as well, the Soviet Union, stand out historically as models of just how far government and society can degenerate.

When we think about social horror, we think about Hitler and we think about Stalin. And so there is in some ways an irresistible tendency to draw those comparisons. I think why it's so unhelpful in the case of Arizona is that firstly this is not encouraging citizens to inform on each other in a way that they were required to do under Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union. This is really a matter of state. I think, as well, you can't simply just have a Nazi law. You have to have an entire social structure to go with that.

KEYES: Ben, let me jump in here and bring in Clarissa for a moment. There was a Colorado state representative who wrote about this as well, or talked about it and said the legislation was reminiscent of second-class status of Jews in Germany prior to World War II when they had to have their papers at all times and were subject to routine inspections. I know your organization not only opposes the bill, but you've joined the call for a boycott against Arizona. Is the Nazi issue a distraction to all of that?

Ms. MARTINEZ: Well, it's a couple of things. I think that Arizona is alarming in of that we need to focus on its own merits and because of its own threats. And I agree with Ben. People are understandably alarmed by the threat to our civil rights that the Arizona law is posing. And I think that's why civil rights organizations across the nation have joined with labor and social justice organizations, as many others, to try to stop this event.

But we are also mindful that we cannot compare the shameful turn of events in Arizona with the systematic mass effort of a murderous regime to gas, shoot and exterminate the Jews in all Nazi-occupied territories. I believe that we have to look at Arizona. We must raise our voices and we must do so early and strongly because we have to call injustice where we see it and we have to prevent hate and the demonization of people from taking hate.

But we should not trivialize one of the darkest events in our history. I think we should learn from it and we should be good citizens and make sure that we use and protect our democratic system to prevent what's happening in Arizona. And to Ben's point, it's true, you need a whole regime to collude in what happened in Nazi Germany.

In Arizona, we are seeing members of law enforcement who are raising their voices, saying that this law cannot be enforced without using racial profiling and that they disagree with it.

KEYES: Ben, is there any circumstance under which such a comparison would be acceptable? I mean, there is a lot of fear about this law in Arizona. There was fear of the Jews living under Nazi German rule. Any comparison is just out of the box?

Mr. COHEN: Basically, no. I don't think there is a comparison. I think that when you are making comparisons, you have to compare like with like. And, you know, we've seen since the Second World War, we've seen a number of horrible events take place around the world. And principally I'm talking here about genocides and what happened in Cambodia, what happened in Rwanda. And it's perfectly understandable and perfectly acceptable that when people are discussing Cambodia or Rwanda that they will invoke the Holocaust there because clearly there are some parallels and some shared experiences.

I think what troubled me about what the Colorado representative said the other day, as Clarissa just pointed out, the point about those laws which preceded the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, known as the Nuremberg Laws, was that they explicitly classified people on the basis of race. So you basically had society separated into Aryans, mixed race people who were known as Mischlinge and non-Aryans.

So, people who had previously been equal citizens under the law suddenly found themselves horribly downgraded on the basis of racial origin. And I think that the Nuremberg Laws against the Jews - and remember, these were laws that prevented Jews from having sexual relations or for marrying non-Jews, from sitting on the same park benches, a whole traunch of legislation aimed at downgrading them. That prepared the ground for genocide, for the mass extermination of the Jews.

KEYES: Really quickly, Clarissa, why do you think people are making these connections now?

Ms. MARTINEZ: There is definite fear about what Arizona poses a threat to our civil rights in the country. But we must focus on what Arizona does and fight it accordingly. I think that whenever we see the demonization of a community, holding a whole community suspect, it should be of concern to all of us. And that's why we have worked with the Anti-Defamation League to talk and educate the public about the code words of hate.

KEYES: Do you condemn the language?

Ms. MARTINEZ: I think people should refrain from trivializing the Holocaust. And we should focus on Arizona and try to stop that because in its own merits is the wrong direction for the country.

KEYES: Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration and national campaigns for the National Council of La Raza, joined us in our studios in Washington. And Ben Cohen, associate director of communications at the American Jewish Committee joined us by phone from New York. Thank you much.

Ms. MARTINEZ: Thank you.

Mr. COHEN: Thank you.

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