- - Monday, July 27, 2015

Mike Huckabee, Republican candidate for president, gave an interview Saturday to Breitbart News in which he blasted President Obama’s recent deal with Iran:

“This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history. It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven. This is the most idiotic thing, this Iran deal. It should be rejected by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and by the American people. I read the whole deal. We gave away the whole store. It’s got to be stopped.”

Some are calling for Mr. Huckabee to apologize to the Jewish community for what critics — including Rep. Deborah Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democrat and head of the Democratic National Committee — call a “cavalier analogy” to Nazi death camps.

Schultz said Mr. Huckabee’s language “smears the memory of Holocaust victims.”

Mr. Huckabee speaks in metaphors and analogies. These often get him in trouble when people accuse him of overstating or exaggerating the point he is making by the use of such colorful language.

In the case of this weekend’s interview, one has to ask whether such a comparison is really an overstatement or a cavalier use of the Auschwitz metaphor.

First, is it accurate to liken the desires of Iran with the “Final Solution” of the Nazi state during World War II? In the case of Germany’s actions against the Jewish people, we have the record of the history books laid out for examination — and the artifacts of the genocide: trains, death camps, and yes, ovens.

In the case of Iran, we’re talking about potentiality, not history. If given the military and nuclear capabilities, would Iran act in a friendly way toward the nation of Israel? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describes the deal in terms of being a threat to Israel’s survival. The oratory and the terrorist-sponsoring budget of their leaders indicate they would move against Israel and seek its end — the death of the nation and the death of its people. 

In other words, the genocide of the Jews.

That was Mr. Huckabee’s point. Now you can disagree with him on whether or not Iran can be trusted to be friendly with Israel. But if you agree that they cannot, then his comparison of Iran to Nazi Germany is not rhetorical bombast — at least not on the specific point of their shared animus against Jews.

OK, but what about Mr. Huckabee’s using that image of “the ovens” — a reference to the ovens that cremated the millions of victims of Nazi genocide against the Jews?

Is this cavalier language? I would say it would be, if the words rolled off the tongue of someone who had given little personal reflection or emotional investment in the Holocaust.

But that is not the case with Mr. Huckabee. He has been to Israel nearly 50 times since 1973 — the first trip as a 17-year-old, only months before the Yom Kippur War.

In Jerusalem, he has led thousands of tourists through Yad Vashem, the official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. When she was only 12, he took his daughter Sarah through Yad Vashem, wondering if she would be able to process what she saw. Mr. Huckabee looked over her shoulder when she signed the guest book. She wrote, “Why didn’t somebody do something?” This anecdote supports a major theme of Mr. Huckabee’s vision of public service, to “do something” in the face of evil which threatens others.

What about Mr. Huckabee’s reference to “ovens” — like those at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camps? Again, it would be difficult to charge Mr. Huckabee with using the image cavalierly because he has such personal involvement with these places. He has been to Auschwitz three times, twice in the last year alone. As he led one hundred people through Auschwitz last fall, he often got choked up as he described what we were seeing.

I say “we” because I was alongside him that day. The man was deeply moved by what he saw, and wanted all of us to have the same life-changing experience.

“I want Auschwitz to be one of those places that come back into your heart and spirit…” — Mike Huckabee at Auschwitz, November 2014

Is it possible to make cavalier comparisons to Adolf Hitler and Auschwitz? Yes, of course. Did Mr. Huckabee do so last weekend? No, I don’t believe he did.

Disclaimer: I am the author of an authorized biography of Mike Huckabee, to be released this fall. My journey to Auschwitz with the governor formed part of the research for the book.

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