Arizona's tough new law against illegal immigration has prompted furious protests and boycotts but Jewish groups say opponents who compare it with the rise of Nazi Germany are going too far.
"It diminishes the Holocaust," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, an internationally known Holocaust studies center based in Los Angeles.
"Survivors and others are very upset about this," he said Friday. "When you exaggerate, it's very harmful to them when they know that their mothers and fathers were taken to the gas chambers without any recourse to the law. They lost children."
The Arizona law that takes effect in July makes illegal immigration a state as well as a federal crime. It requires police to ask a person about his or her immigration status if there's "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the country illegally.
Critics say it opens the door to racial profiling against Hispanics, although the law bars prosecutions based solely on race.
Last month, Cardinal Roger Mahony, head of the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese, said the law encourages people to turn on each other in Nazi- and Soviet-style repression.
References to fascism also came up on Wednesday as the Los Angeles City Council voted to boycott Arizona businesses.
Councilman Paul Koretz likened the law — and other Arizona laws such as one that curbs high school ethnic studies programs — to the beginnings of Nazi Germany when Jews were singled out for persecution.
"We can't let this advance any further," Koretz said. "It is absolutely dangerous."
The Wiesenthal Center opposes the immigration law.
"We think it stigmatizes immigrants, for example, Latinos," Hier said. "A white American would never have to face such a challenge so it's openly discriminatory in its nature."
However, Hier said it is unjust to compare a law passed by democratically-elected officials to those made in a totalitarian state that gave its victims no recourse to the law.
"Here, to call fellow Americans Nazis is beyond the pale. Not every tremor is the Haiti earthquake," Hier said.
The German laws led to death camps "and America is not coming down that road," he said.
Calls seeking comment from Mahony and Koretz were not immediately returned Friday. Koretz was in a council meeting to hear budget recommendations for closing a huge budget gap.
The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham H. Foxman, wrote earlier this month that comparisons between Arizona's laws and Nazism "delegitimize and trivialize the deaths of six million Jews and millions of others and soldiers who fought to defeat Nazism. They also play into the hands of those who support the Arizona law."
He noted that some opponents of President Barack Obama's policies have compared him to Adolph Hitler.
"It seems to happen with greater regularity in American political debate today than ever before: When anger reaches a fever pitch on a particular issue, out come the inevitable comparisons to the Holocaust," Foxman said in an article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. "It has become a rule of thumb, an all-too convenient catchphrase of the times."
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