Mike Huckabee for President 2012: What His Holocaust Gaffe Reveals

The former governor thinks he can get away with comparing higher taxes to the Holocaust because of his "unequalled friendship" with Israel. But is he really an ally of the Jewish community?

Mike Huckabee. Credit: Alex Brandon / AP Photo

After all he’s done for Israel, Mike Huckabee does not appreciate being criticized for comparing American debt to the Holocaust. Thus on Tuesday, when the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman chastised him for doing just that, he responded with anger and a hint of menace, saying, “Israel and Jewish people need to make friends, not insult the ones they have.” Such words are unlikely to convince many Jews that Huckabee is their ally. The statement should serve as a reminder that the aggressive Zionism of the Christian right does not translate into sensitivity toward broader Jewish concerns.

The contretemps started Saturday, when both Huckabee and Michele Bachmann gave speeches likening the United States’ fiscal future to the Nazi genocide. Speaking at a conservative forum in New Hampshire, Bachmann recalled learning about the Holocaust as a child and wondering whether her mother did anything to stop it. “There is no analogy to that horrific action,” she said, before making an analogy to that horrific action: “We are seeing eclipsed in front of our eyes a similar death and a similar taking away. It is this disenfranchisement that I think we have to answer to.”

That same day in Pittsburgh, Huckabee gave a speech to the National Rifle Association. He spoke of how, at Israel’s Holocaust museum, he looked over his 11-year-old daughter’s shoulder as she wrote in the guest book, “Why didn’t somebody do something?” Then he said, “We cannot afford to be a generation that leaves our children with nothing but a huge debt and the very erosion of the freedoms that our founders and our fathers died and gave us so valiantly. And that’s why I say, ‘Let there never be a time in this country where some father has to look over his daughter’s shoulder and see her ask this haunting question: Why didn’t somebody do something?’”

Naturally, the ADL, which spends a great deal of time fighting those who would minimize or deny the full scope of the Holocaust, wasn’t happy. “It is highly inappropriate to use America’s mounting debt crisis as another occasion to invoke Nazis and the Holocaust, particularly on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time dedicated to memorializing, not trivializing, the 6 million Jews and millions of others who perished at the hands of the Nazis,” said Foxman.

Huckabee usually gets away with this sort of thing because he is pro-Israel, if by pro-Israel one means unequivocally supporting Israeli irredentism.

This utterly predictable rebuke appeared to enrage Huckabee. “Governor Mike Huckabee said today, that the demand of ADL Director Abraham Foxman to apologize for his comments regarding the Holocaust were uninformed and misguided and called upon Foxman to apologize to him and retract his totally inappropriate and reckless attack issued recently,” said Huckabee’s team in an oddly ungrammatical statement on his HuckPac website.

The rebuttal went on to detail Huckabee’s support for Israel, as if that mooted any other offensive thing he might say. “Foxman’s remarks are not only factually wrong, but they are hurtful to me personally in light of my unequalled friendship with members of the Jewish community, and I ask Foxman to retract his statement as publicly as he issued it, and apologize for his lack of accuracy in issuing it and for the harm done by attacking the very strongest advocates for the Jewish people and Israel,” said Huckabee.

Plenty of Jews would blanch at the idea of Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister who says he wants to “take this nation back for Christ,” as one of their strongest advocates. The NRA speech wasn’t the first time he’s made analogies between Nazism and liberal policies—in the past, he’s spoken of the “holocaust of liberalized abortion.” And he seems to find Jews themselves exotic and almost bizarre. Speaking to Politico in February, he described having dinner with a group of Jews in New York this way: “I felt like I was sitting between Barbra Streisand and Woody Allen—it was really interesting; it was surreal.”

Huckabee usually gets away with this sort of thing because he is pro-Israel, if by pro-Israel one means unequivocally supporting Israeli irredentism. Unlike the majority of American Jews, he opposes a two-state solution, and in February he said Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem should be resettled in “a territory that [is] in the hands of Muslims, in the hands of Arabs,” which might make him the first modern American presidential aspirant to openly champion ethnic cleansing.

Huckabee’s ultra-Zionism is common among conservative evangelicals, many of whom hew to a theology, premillennial dispensationalism, in which the return of the Jews to Israel plays a crucial role in bringing on the rapture and the second coming of Christ. Huckabee even leads group tours of evangelicals to Israel for about $4,500 a person; naturally, one of the stops is Megiddo, or, in Greek, Armageddon.

It’s true, as Huckabee says, that conservative Jews welcome evangelical support for Israel, even though the premillennial dispensationalist scenario ends with a catastrophic world war in the Middle East and the consignment of Jews to eternal hellfire. After all, both sides have the same short-term geopolitical ends—a Middle East dominated by a Greater Israel. The alliance is, in the immortal words of Leon Wieseltier, “a grim comedy of mutual condescension.” What it is not is a friendship. And it certainly doesn’t give anyone license to insinuate that higher marginal tax rates and tighter gun control are sort of like the Shoah.

Michelle Goldberg is a journalist based in New York. She is the author of The New York Times bestseller Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism and The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World, winner of the 2008 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award and the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize. Goldberg's work has appeared in Glamour, Rolling Stone, The Nation, New York magazine, The Guardian and The New Republic. Her third book, about the world-traveling adventuress, actress and yoga evangelist Indra Devi, will be published by Knopf in 2012.