The CJC Looks Back at “The Use and Abuse of the Holocaust in Political Discourse Today”

On October 10, the Center for Jewish Civilization held “The Use and Abuse of the Holocaust in Political Discourse Today” with Ambassador David Saperstein. The CJC’s Associate Director, Dr. Anna Sommer, provided introductory remarks, after which Ambassador Saperstein began his instructive lecture about modern invocations of the Holocaust in politics and discourse. At the core of the event was the fraught question of whether or not events should be compared to the Holocaust. Saperstein revisited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s June 24 press release, which rejected “efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary.” Ambassador Saperstein assessed existing surveys, ads, and speeches, and created an interactive environment in which members of the audience could discuss their opinions about the problematic. 

Ambassador Saperstein offered his nuanced view of the subject, noting that while comparing every historical event to the Holocaust would “diminish” its significance and distinct nature, viewing the Holocaust as something too unique to be referenced in political discourse inhibits the world from learning from it. Ultimately, Sapestein asserted that “one of the most valuable lessons” to be learned from the Holocaust is that any genocide or ethnic cleansing must be stopped as soon as “the first identifiable actions…first appear.”

About the Speaker

Ambassador Saperstein was the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom from January 2015 to January 2017. He is currently an adjunct professor with the Walsh School of Foreign Service’s Center for Jewish Civilization and previously was a senior research fellow of the Religious Freedom Research Project at the Berkley Center. An ordained rabbi, he served for several decades as the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism representing the public policy positions of the Reform Jewish Movement, the largest segment of American Jewry, to the government and leading the movement’s efforts to strengthen social justice programming in synagogues across North America.