Like the rest of the nation, Utah is working hard to keep the Beehive State safe from COVID-19. Yet, in the face of this enormous challenge, some have abandoned reason in favor of hate-fueled actions.
Protests began early and spread nearly in sync with the pandemic. The right to protest is a fundamental American right. Unfortunately, some used the coronavirus as a convenient catalyst to focus bigotry on Asians and others. Rules regarding the use of face coverings and promotion of vaccines may have created an inconvenient imposition, yet were met with vitriol directed at ethnic and religious groups and also the leaders of the public health response.
One of the most disgraceful and misplaced of the myriad comparisons used to decry the public health measures are Holocaust analogies and Nazi symbols.
Earlier this month, a group of protesters outside the Governor’s Mansion displayed enormous banners with swastikas formed out of the image of syringes — equating vaccination with Nazism.
Comparing the two makes a mockery of the scale and scope of the Holocaust and the systematic murder by the Nazis of 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children and millions of other innocents.
Extremists have invoked new conspiracies by using old tropes to blame Jews for the pandemic or profiting from it. We have also watched with alarm as protesters have affixed a yellow Star of David to their clothing to protest public health requirements. Jews in Nazi-Germany were forced to wear yellow stars visibly on their clothing so they could be identified as Jews in the aftermath of the violent pogrom Kristallnacht on Nov. 9, 1938. Jews who refused to comply were subject to being shot on the spot.
Using a swastika or yellow star as a cheap symbol of protest against the vaccine or mask requirements is odious. The genocide committed by the Nazis resulting in the destruction of two-thirds of European Jewry and one-third of the global Jewish population is not a subject for glib comparisons or politicization. Denying, minimizing or trivializing of the Holocaust is at worst an expression of antisemitism and at best a display of the ignorance of the protester invoking the comparison.
Protecting public health should never be equated to the horrors committed by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust. Encouraging vaccinations does not compare to schemes hastening the mass murder of millions of innocent people. Tying the Holocaust to anti-vaccine and anti-mask protests is as shocking as it is inaccurate and offensive. Policies designed to save lives do not equate with policies devised to mete out death.
Such offensive analogies by opportunists and fringe groups are an act of moral outrage. By brandishing distrust or outright disdain of research and science, they ridicule history.
To be sure, we respect and defend the right to protest. Freedom of expression and the right to assemble are core American values which we cherish. Even so, we condemn the use of antisemitic and other hate-filled slurs or symbols, which are causing deep pain and offense, intentional or not.
We believe Utah must be better than this. We believe we can disagree without hating each other.
We can make Utah an example to the nation.
We have witnessed how anti-mask and anti-vaccination demonstrations have become hotbeds of Holocaust trivialization and antisemitic conspiracy theories across the United States and abroad.
It is a testament to the need for continued and intensified Holocaust education across all ages. And it demands a strong and unequivocal call to action.
We must return to civility, whenever we disagree, through reasoned and thoughtful engagement in our collective desire to end the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Utahns can lead the way.
Gov. Spencer J. Cox is the 18th governor of Utah. Seth Brysk is the Central Pacific regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.