NEW YORK When US Rep. Travis Childers announced several months ago that he was headed to Israel, the trip was billed as an opportunity to boost economic development. But by the time the Mississippi Democrat arrived earlier this month, the trip suddenly became a flash point in one local corner of the nations increasingly bitter health care debate.
Alan Lange, the founder of the Mississippi political and legal website Yall Politics, didnt like that Childers was spending part of the congressional recess out of town instead of at home talking to constituents about health care reform.
So on Aug. 9 he posted a video to YouTube slamming the congressman.
With Hava Nagila playing in the background, the video highlighted Childers recent comment that he would like to talk to constituents about health care if theyre civil.
The words Go make some new friends then appeared on the screen, followed by a photo of an Orthodox Jew in Israel as the narrator said, Tell em we said hi.
Next came the words And grab a souvenir yarmulke and a picture of a yarmulke emblazoned with Obama 08.
The video ended with the words, Come on back home, Travis.
A few days later Lange took down the video, explaining that several Jewish friends had told him that it contained imagery that was on the line and could be taken the wrong way without the political context.
I messed up, Lange said in an Aug. 12 statement posted to his blog.
I apologize to those who might have taken offense to it.
LANGE stands out for saying hes sorry.
As bloggers, radio hosts and protesters ratchet up their rhetoric in the fight against health care reform, many are unapologetically utilizing inflammatory rhetoric and imagery often in ways that could be expected to raise alarms in some corners of the Jewish community.
PROTESTERS and radio talking heads have been comparing the Obama administration to Nazis. A Democratic congressman had a swastika drawn on the sign in front of his office. Bloggers are exploiting images of Anne Frank, tagging her with the Obama health care plans symbol instead of a yellow star.
Historically, whenever there are turbulent times, its always bad for the Jews, said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance, and the current environment is unstable with a lot of turbulence.
Referring to Langes video, Hier said, When theres turbulence, people make sinister remarks, question every motive.
The breakdown of civility is normally a danger for minority groups, period, said Michael Berenbaum, a professor of Jewish studies at American Jewish University in Los Angeles and the project director during the creation of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Its a particular danger for Jews because the climate in which we thrive is one where there is security, he said, noting that the worst period of anti-Semitism in the US was in the post-Great Depression 1930s, where there was no economic security.
Berenbaum, though, said the fact that the Wall Street financial crisis last fall and the ensuing Bernard Madoff scandal did not result in a wave of anti-Semitism is likely a positive sign for the Jewish community.
All the ingredients for a monumental uptick were there and it didnt materialize, he said.
Berenbaum speculated, however, that with an African-American president and a new Latino Supreme Court justice, other minority groups could instead draw the ire of some disgruntled Americans.
DEBORAH Lipstadt, a modern Jewish and Holocaust studies professor at Emory University , also said she did not see any specific reason for the Jewish community to be concerned.
Civil discord is never good for society and Jews are part of society, Lipstadt said. But Im not willing to go there yet.
Bill Nigut, Southeast Region director for the ADL in Atlanta, said the first casualty of the ratcheting up of the health care debate has been a respectful democratic process.
He voiced disgust at the entrance of Nazi symbols and rhetoric, including the painting of a swastika on a sign in front of the office of US Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.)
Its dangerous for all Americans if we cant have civilized debates, Nigut said.
You cant invoke one of the most heinous criminals in the world when debating the health care system.
The months prior to the health care debate has seen an uptick in activity from militant and extremists groups, which is always a concern for Jews and other minority groups, Nigut said.
Lipstadt, who won a libel suit brought against her in a British court by revisionist historian David Irving, said she was appalled by the use of Nazi analogies in the debate, calling it dangerous and a form of Holocaust denial because its a denial of what Nazism is.
She added that she did not think those employing the false analogies were anti-Semites, but just had no shame and would say anything to make their point.
Berenbaum said Nazi analogies are utilized so frequently because the Holocaust is the negative absolute in contemporary discourse it is something everyone can agree was evil.
But he said even Jews overuse Holocaust comparisons when they compare Yasir Arafat or the president of Iran to Hitler.
Berenbaum also had particular scorn for those comparing the Obama health care plan to Nazi policies.
He noted that the right to be informed of and consent to ones medical treatment grew out of the Nuremberg trials because thats the antithesis of what the Nazis did.
The idea that youre entitled to meet with your physician is the embodiment of Nuremberg ethics, he said.
Anyone who uses the Nazi analogy, he said, has no idea what Nazi medicine was about.