Jewish advocacy groups led an avalanche of sharp criticism yesterday against two potential television ads that compare President Bush to Adolf Hitler and were posted on a Web site run by MoveOn.org.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress said the ads were beyond the pale of political discussion. Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, called them “hate-mongering.”
“Certainly myself, as an American and as a Jew, I’m disgusted by the casual use of Hitler by liberal Democrats and groups such as MoveOn.org,” said Mr. Cantor, the House chief deputy majority whip.
“To compare any American president, much less George W. Bush, to Adolf Hitler, cheapens the sacrifice of millions of lives that have been lost by this country over its history and really denigrates the efforts by the American military,” Mr. Cantor said.
The two 30-second ads were submitted as part of a contest MoveOn.org sponsored. The organization invited submissions of spots criticizing Mr. Bush’s record. Two of the submissions compared Mr. Bush to the Nazi dictator of Germany, whose regime killed 6 million Jews during World War II.
One ad used computer effects to morph a picture of Hitler into one of Mr. Bush.
Another ad compared Mr. Bush’s push for war to oust Saddam Hussein in Iraq to Hitler’s push for Nazi domination in Europe and said Hitler’s war crimes are “2003’s foreign policy.”
Jack Rosen, president of the AJC, writing in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, said the comparison is “not only historically specious, it is morally outrageous.”
Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the ADL, said posting the ads “cheapens the level of political discourse in America.”
MoveOn.org’s posted rules for the contest said it would not “post anything that would be inappropriate for television, but other than that, what you put in your ads is up to you.”
Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said the fact that the organization allowed two ads with the Hitler comparison shows that MoveOn.org thought the images were acceptable for television and called on the organization to apologize.
The two Hitler ads are no longer on MoveOn.org’s site since the contest ended at the end of 2003. But the Republican National Committee is making copies available on its own site.
Yesterday, MoveOn.org officials said they don’t believe featuring the ads was an endorsement, and they also said they repudiated the two ads themselves.
Wes Boyd, president of the group’s Voter Fund, said in a statement the ad was one of more than 1,500 submissions that were posted on the Web site www.bushin30seconds.org for the public to view and comment on.
“None of these was our ad, nor did their appearance constitute endorsement or sponsorship by MoveOn.org Voter Fund,” he said. “They will not appear on TV. We do not support the sentiment expressed in the two Hitler submissions.”
But he also said the ads should be contrasted with the 2002 Senate elections and the Republican use of images of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden to attack incumbent Democratic senators.
For example, Republican Saxby Chambliss ran an ad against Sen. Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat who lost three limbs serving in Vietnam, that used bin Laden’s and Saddam’s faces to criticize a Cleland vote on homeland security. The ad was later edited to remove their visages.
Mr. Boyd did promise to create “a more effective filtering system” if MoveOn.org runs any similar contests.
But Republicans and the advocacy groups yesterday said that should have happened the first time around.
“Those responsible for this contest at MoveOn.org should have immediately identified this advertisement as one going far beyond legitimate criticism and rejected it out of hand,” Mr. Foxman said.
The two Hitler ads were not selected to be part of the 15 finalists, which have been sent to a panel of judges including liberal film director Michael Moore, Michael Stipe of the rock band R.E.M. and Democratic consultant Donna Brazile.
The finalists range from humorous to biting attacks on the first three years of the Bush administration.
It’s not the first time MoveOn.org has had to promise to change its procedures after facing public criticism.
MoveOn.org is a combination of a political action committee and two separate political-education funds defined as a 527 and a 501(c)(4) because of the part of the tax code that governs them.
It is illegal for the political action committee and the 527 organization to receive contributions from foreign nationals, but several foreign Web sites were referring potential donors to the MoveOn.org Web site.
After the situation was reported, Mr. Boyd said the organization would no longer accept any foreign contributions.