Keith Ellison, the Reichstag fire, and the Jews

Rep. Keith Ellison (D. Minn.)You may remember the controversial remark recently made by Keith Ellison, our first Muslim congressperson:

“It’s almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that. After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country [Hitler] in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted. The fact is that I’m not saying [Sept. 11] was a [U.S.] plan, or anything like that because, you know, that’s how they put you in the nut-ball box — dismiss you.” — Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Writing in Ha’aretz, Shmuel Rosner is mystified and bothered by the fact that Jewish organizations in particular are upset by Ellison’s remark (“Why did only Jews go after the Muslim congressman“):

Ellison wasn’t saying anything offensive specifically to Jews, but rather used a hideous comparison to describe the policies of the Bush administration. On some level, the fact that it was mainly Jewish organizations and Jewish leaders going after the Congressman after what he said is even more troubling than the speech itself.

Rosner suggests two possible explanations:

Explanation number 1: The Jewish community is more attuned to misspeak by a Muslim Congressman. The affair is yet another example of the rocky relations between Jews and Muslims. That’s the wrong conclusion.

Explanation number 2: The Jewish community is the gate-keeper for everything related to Nazi Germany. Again, this is even more troubling than Ellison’s words.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a statement saying: “Nazi Germany committed unprecedented crimes against Europe’s Jews and others. Invoking the Holocaust to make a point about the United States is unfounded, minimizes the evil of Nazism, and is an offense to its victims.” But Ellison wasn’t mentioning the holocaust specifically; he was talking about the burning of the Reichstag, and the imprisonment of political rivals (communists).

But neither of these is correct, and I’m surprised that Rosner missed explanation number 3:

The Reichstag fire was probably set by Marinus van der Lubbe, an admitted communist sympathizer (who was not at that time a member of the Communist Party), who was executed for the crime. Although Hitler tried to show that the fire was set as part of a wider plot involving the Communist Party, this is very doubtful. However, Hitler used this ‘plot’ as a pretext to issue a decree suspending most civil liberties in Germany.

It has been suggested that van der Lubbe was helped by Nazi agents provocateurs, or even that the Nazis set the fire themselves, although there is no definite proof. However — and this is the important point — this is very widely believed.

So most people will assume that Ellison is implying that the Bush Administration not only made use of 9/11, but were complicit in it, despite the creative ambiguity of the last sentence in the quotation.

This is a pretty outrageous statement, but what does it have to do with Jews?

Unfortunately, far too much. When I Google “Jews 9/11” I get 1.6 million hits; some of them debunk the conspiracy theories, but many (a large majority of the first few pages) assert that 9/11 was an inside job, variously involving the Bush Administration, Israel, the Mossad, the Elders of Zion, etc. Such theories are widespread throughout the world and the US. Jewish concern about 9/11 conspiracy theories is quite understandable.

So although we don’t know what Keith Ellison was thinking when he made his statement, we know that it lent support to some of the darkest corners of hatred out there (if you don’t believe me, go ahead and Google ‘Jews 9/11’).

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