By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
That avowed Neo-Nazi Arthur Jones managed to emerge as the Republican nominee in Illinois’ Third Congressional District race creates a level of legitimacy for his views that must be mobilized against before the upcoming November election.
“Arthur Jones’ unabashedly anti-Semitic views and Holocaust denying rhetoric must be swiftly condemned by leaders across the political spectrum,” said Natalie Callone, assistant director, International Affairs and Communications for the American Jewish Committee Chicago. “Such blatant and abhorrent bigotry does not belong in American civic discourse and serves as a reminder of how much work we have to do to fight hate in America.”
Callone said that Jones and other white supremacists have been trying to get on the ballot for years and only now have been successful. “Being on the ballot, he is garnering votes and while individuals might be voting for him for one reason or another, by giving him their vote they are inherently legitimizing his stand on Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.”
A similar situation exists in California, where Bay Area GOP candidate John Fitzgerald, a Holocaust denier, is campaigning on anti-Semitism, for a U.S. House seat, writes Kenneth Bandler, AJC’s director of media relations, in a recent Jerusalem Post op-ed about validating Holocaust denial.
“Though the California Republican Party supported Fitzgerald when he ran unopposed in the April primary, his brazen anti-Semitism, including robocalls claiming Jews are ‘taking over the world’ and Holocaust denial, led the party leadership to repudiate him. But he is still on the November ballot, and Holocaust denial is at the top of his congressional campaign website,” Bandler writes.
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and the state’s GOP congressional delegation have condemned the candidacy of Jones, but won’t endorse his opponent, Democrat Rep. Dan Lipinski.
AJC is a nonpartisan organization and endorses no candidates. But the organization does speak out on candidates who have crossed a line. “A track record of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial clearly crosses that line,” Callone said.
Jones and his supporters showed up at a recent school board meeting where embattled Palos Township trustee Sharon Brannigan has faced a year of continued public backlash for disparaging remarks she made about Arab and Muslim Americans on Facebook, for which she has since apologized. Jones and his supporters, who showed up in support of Brannigan, were driven out of the boardroom by the monthly gathering of protesters demanding Brannigan’s resignation.
“We think that the need to speak out is critical and to mobilize additional political, civic and public leaders from all spectrums to condemn these individuals and what they stand for,” Callone said. “Not being taken seriously is what led these candidates to get on the ballot in the first place.”
That urgent need is reflected in a survey released by the Claims Conference revealing that the knowledge of Americans about the Holocaust is seriously deficient, if not alarming , according to Bandler.
The survey found that 11% of US adults and 22% of millennials have not heard of or are not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust. 31% of all adults and 41% of millennials believe that only two million or fewer were killed during the Holocaust. Some 45% of all adults and 49% of millennials cannot name a concentration camp or ghetto. Asked specifically about Auschwitz, 66% of millennials and 41% of all adults were not able to identify the infamous death camp.
The survey findings call out for stepped-up efforts in American schools, but most states do not require Holocaust education, Bandler said. Only California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island have mandatory Holocaust and genocide education in public schools.
That none of these Nazi-affiliated candidates are expected to win in November doesn’t mean they don’t pose a real threat, Callone said. “That’s a false sense of security because they are always going to get individuals to vote for them. We can’t allow even that level of legitimacy to move forward.”