Anti-Vaxxers are Claiming Centuries of Jewish Suffering to Look like MartyrsRoundup
tags: antisemitism, Vaccination, COVID-19, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Antivaccination
Sarah E. Bond is associate professor of history at the University of Iowa.
In mid-May, Southern supermarket chain Food City announced that employees who chose to get the coronavirus vaccine would be allowed to go maskless while working in the store. A logo on the employees’ nametags would indicate that they were maskless because they had chosen to get the vaccine.
Anti-vaccination activists were swift to decry the announcement. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on May 25 compared the logo to the gold Star of David patches that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. Hers is a hyperbolic analogy familiar to many who espouse the conspiracies of QAnon, which traffics in antisemitic tropes and memes.
Greene was ready for this moment. Days earlier, in an interview on the Christian Broadcasting Network, she had derided House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call for masks in the House as akin to the type of Nazi abuse that assigned “people” to wear a “gold star.” Greene did not specifically name the Jewish people in the interview, which itself may be a telling omission. Although Greene expresses support for Israel, more than half of evangelical support for Israel derives from a belief in its need to exist for Jesus’s final return.
It did not take long for Greene’s glib rhetorical appropriation to find a commercial grift to go with it. Gigi Gaskins, who owns a Nashville millinery called Hatwrks, began to sell gold stars for $5 that read “Not Vaccinated” in the center, just as the word “Jew” has been printed in Nazi-era badges. The irony here, of course, is that those who bought the badges were willingly donning them as points of pride, rather than ethnic markers. (After facing protests and losing suppliers, the hat shop issued an apology.)
This kind of appropriation of the yellow Star of David badge is a gross false equivalence. Anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers would have us believe that the evil of being encouraged to get a vaccine is the same as the project of ethnic labeling and cleansing undertaken by the Third Reich. It appears at first a farcical analogy, but it’s not without its dangers.
And in appropriating deep symbols of Jewish pain, these bad actors undermine not only the gravity, nuance and suffering of the Holocaust, but also of centuries of historical antisemitism, in service to their need to be public martyrs. They cast about for some touchstone for their perceived injustice, landing on the Holocaust as the ultimate exemplar of persecution in the modern era. In so doing, Holocaust-invokers add themselves to a long and sad history of borrowing the pain of others to lend credence to their own.
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