The very latest on the Holocaust allusion beat
10/06/2009 - 13:33
James Besser

Cool: last week Jewish lawmakers, pundits and partisan activists got into an involved discussion about the rules of the English language and how they apply to anything having to do with the term “holocaust,” or “Holocaust.”  Note the caps.  Who knew they were such an erudite bunch?

The issue, of course, involves remarks by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who got  the splash he was probably hoping for when he said, referring to GOP opposition to Democratic health care reform plans, that  “the Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick.”

That produced the predictable uproar, and Grayson jumped into the Holocaust minefield when, in response, he added  this: “I would like to apologize to the dead and their families that we haven’t voted sooner to end this holocaust in America.”

Some Jewish Democrats were particularly irked by that remark because they had been excoriating conservative opponents to the health care reform effort who have likened the Democratic plans to Nazi euthanasia and eugenics schemes. Who would have predicted the infamous Dr. Mengele would enter into the debate over health insurance?

But did Grayson mean “holocaust” or “Holocaust?”   That’s the question the Politico asked on Thursday as some Republicans demanded an apology to the entire Jewish community.

From the context, it’s hard to tell if Grayson was referring to the Jewish Holocaust or a generic holocaust.  He didn’t say “another Holocaust,” but using it it a debate like this suggests he did mean it that way – or else he was extraordinarily insensitive to the sensitivities of the Jewish community, which is surprising, since Grayson is Jewish and, even more to the point,  Bronx raised.

In some ways the controversy reminds me of the furor in Washington ten years ago when a mayoral aide was forced to resign for using the word “niggardly,” even though it has no relation in origin or usage to the offensive “N” word. (He was later rehired after officials consulted someone educated in the use of  a dictionary).

Now, JTA reports that in one of those obligatory exchanges with the ADL over such matters, Grayson has expressed the proper repentance.

“I am Jewish and have relatives who died in the Holocaust,” he said. “In no way did I mean to minimize the Holocaust.  I regret the choice of words, and I will not repeat it.  I am a staunch supporter of Israel and on numerous occasions, I have said that Iran must be restrained to avoid another Holocaust.”

There, that settles the matter of Holocaust allusions. Until tomorrow, when some politician or activist will trot out handy comparisons, and the whole cycle will begin anew.

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