An anti-vaccine protester with a swastika drawn on a sign was standing prominently next to New York Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino at a rally on Sunday, the latest incident in which a Republican candidate or elected official has been associated with anti-Semitic comparisons of vaccine mandates to the Holocaust.
The protester was one of around 100 demonstrators who gathered to protest a bill sponsored by New York state Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who is Jewish, that would mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students in New York. The rally was held outside Dinowitz's office in the Bronx. Dinowitz called the display of the symbol "repugnant and offensive."
Astorino claimed later that he didn't see the sign — which was just feet away from where he was speaking."I had no idea until I saw this photo. If I'd seen it I'd have told them to take sign down," Astorino tweeted Sunday night in response to Dinowitz. "No comparison to those atrocities & yes, I've always condemned anti-Semitism. But my offer still stands, Jeff. Have the guts to meet w/ me & learn why so many parents oppose your mandate."
This is not the first example of a Republican official being associated with antisemitic anti-vaccine advocates or even going as far as to compare efforts to provide the public with free, safe, and effective vaccines against COVID-19 to the actions of Nazis in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, who rounded up millions of Jews, Roma, disabled people, LGBTQ people, and political dissidents and systematically murdered them.
In October, Kansas GOP state Rep. Brenda Landwehr called mask mandates "racism against the modern day Jew" during a hearing in the state Legislature on COVID safety measures, saying Jews represent "anyone who disagrees." She said that she had heard the words, "We all need to go down a path" during the hearing and asked, "Where have we heard those words before? Well, recently I heard 'em on a documentary about the Germans and what happened to the Jews."
Kansas Republican leaders finally condemned her comments two weeks later after an outcry about similar comments made by another Kansas Republican.
GOP members of Congress have also made the comparison.
In May, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) said vaccine and mask requirements were "just like" the Holocaust. She later visited to the Holocaust museum and admitted her comparisons were offensive, but has begun to use them again in recent weeks, railing against "vaccine Nazis."
In July, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) called people looking to help get more Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 "Needle Nazis." The Auschwitz Memorial in Poland responded at the time, "Instrumentalization of the tragedy of all people who between 1933-45 suffered, were humiliated, tortured & murdered by the hateful totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany to argue against vaccination that saves human lives is a sad symptom of moral and intellectual decline."
And in August, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) posted and then deleted a tweet that contained an image of an arm tattooed with numbers and compared so-called vaccine passports, requirements that people prove their vaccination status to attend events or enter indoor spaces, to the tattoos Nazis forcibly branded into the arms of prisoners in concentration camps.
The GOP's anti-vaccine rhetoric has led to extreme polarization among those who are and are not getting the vaccine.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in September found that 90% of Democrats had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while just 58% of Republicans were at least partially vaccinated. Nearly one-quarter of Republicans, or 23%, said they'd "definitely not" get the vaccine, while just 4% of Democrats said the same.
Experts say lower vaccination rates are enabling the virus to continue to spread and leaving the world vulnerable to new variants of the virus that may be deadlier or resistant to the vaccines currently available.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.