It’s been brewing for a while, but things have finally gone too far. Abraham H. Foxman, National Director and public voice of the Anti Defamation League (ADL), released a melodramatic statement last week condemning the new Nicki Minaj video, for the song “Only.”
Nicki Minaj’s new video disturbingly evokes Third Reich propaganda and constitutes a new low for pop culture’s exploitation of Nazi symbolism. The irony should be lost on no one that this video debuted on the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass” pogrom that signaled the beginning of the Final Solution and the Holocaust.
It is troubling that no one among Minaj’s group of producers, publicists and managers raised a red flag about the use of such imagery before ushering the video into public release.
This video is insensitive to Holocaust survivors and a trivialization of the history of that era. The abuse of Nazi imagery is deeply disturbing and offensive to Jews and all those who can recall the sacrifices Americans and many others had to make as a result of Hitler’s Nazi juggernaut.
Really? Minaj’s song about how hot she is and whom she has and hasn’t slept with is the latest incarnation of the Nazi juggernaut? It’s a five-minute-long cartoon. This is kind of embarrassing for the ADL.
It’s not as if they don’t have real problems to worry about. In the giving spirit of the free exchange of ideas, I shall offer some suggestions: 1) the European ultra-right wing or 2) the recent resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the U.S. You’re welcome, ADL; please get on that.
I’m not going to defend Minaj’s video; the concept clearly uses visuals that do refer to Nazi imagery. But I’m not sure to what thematic end, and neither is anyone complaining about it. Still, I’m comfortable declaring that it’s not toward the end of the Final Solution; it’s a safe bet that Minaj is not a crypto neo-Nazi. Working with known girlfriend assaulter Chris Brown is a much more important ideological transgression by Minaj, in her capacity as a popular celebrity.
Minaj eventually apologized and the director of the video, Jeff Osborne, released a statement that was expository, if not apologetic. We did, however, get this bon mot from TMZ:
Nicki Minaj has already taken over the world of hip-hop and based on her new music video … she might have her sights set on taking over Poland next.
The ADL is Not a Serious Organization
There’s a specific moment when I definitively soured on the ADL; it’s an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air from September 2007, which I’ve never forgotten. Terry Gross interviewed Stephen Walt, a co-author (with John Mearsheimer) of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, a study criticizing the influence of groups exerting pressure on the U.S. government to blindly support the government of Israel, regardless of whether that support is ultimately in the U.S.’s best interest. Walt cites groups such as the ADL, AIPAC and other neo-conservative organizations. It is worth noting here that Walt and Mearsheimer’s argument is intellectually indisputable.
This is how Walt explained to Gross the character of the institutions that his book critiques:
The Israel lobby as we define it is a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively work to shape American foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. The lobby is defined by its political agenda, not by ethnicity or religion. It includes both Jewish Americans and non-Jews. It is certainly not a cabal or a conspiracy or anything like that; it’s simply a set of groups that make up a large interest group.
After Walt, Gross interviewed Foxman on this same topic. It is, frankly, an impressive display of rhetoric by Foxman, who spends the whole conversation confusing the distinction between “the Israel lobby” and “the Jewish community,” a distinction Walt made clear to the point of belaboring. With this strategy, Foxman transformed Walt and Mearsheimer’s utterly legitimate criticism of AIPAC’s and Neo-Cons’ specific political agenda into anti-Semitic trope-laden attacks on Jews-qua-Jews. Which attacks, of course, Walt and Mearsheimer simply never perpetrated.
It’s a breathtakingly dishonest performance by Foxman, who, while trying to have it both ways, ironically accuses Walt and Mearsheimer of trying to have it both ways:
They cannot have it both ways. They wrote a book about an Israel lobby. It is a sinister depiction of how the American Jewish community operates in support of Israel’s interest.
He goes on to say that the other authors are invoking the dangerous historical canard that Jews are disloyal to their home countries, loyal only to other Jews, and takes it over the top:
Not to be over-dramatic, but when Hitler began his anti-Semitic campaigns, he did not begin with Aryan supremacy. Hitler charged the Jews with being not-loyal Germans, putting their own interests above the interests of the German people, selling out Germany’s interests, bringing Germany to its knees, and therefore they don’t deserve to live, etcetera, etcetera. When Stalin began his anti-Semitic campaign, it was that the Jews were not loyal Soviets, they did not have the interests of the Soviet Union, of communism; they had an interest of Zionism. This is what this plugs into.
If Foxman is incapable of expressing an opinion in public without riding roughshod over Godwin’s Law and then circling back around to trample it again, then isn’t it time we all stop listening to what he has to say? Godwin’s Law, for the unfamiliar, basically states that if any argument or debate goes on long enough, eventually someone will compare someone else to Hitler or the Nazis.
A useful, well-established corollary to Godwin’s Law is that once someone compares someone else to Hitler, the argument is over and the Hitler-comparer is considered to have lost the debate. When everyone is Hitler to Foxman, he has always already lost the debate; so let’s stop debating with him. If Nicki Minaj is repeating Kristallnacht and Walt and Mearsheimer are acting like Hitler (and Stalin!), Godwin’s Law notwithstanding, do we really want to be part of this stupid conversation anyway?
Unfortunately, Foxman and the ADL do sometimes win their arguments—or, at least get real-world results, if not strictly win, philosophically. This past summer, they successfully persuaded the management of The Metropolitan Opera to cancel all radio broadcasts and, more significantly, the world-wide live HD video transmission of the company’s production of John Adams and Alice Goodman’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer. The opera tells the true story of the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship the Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists, who ultimately shot and killed one passenger, the Jewish American Leon Klinghoffer.
The opera, it should be needless to say, is not anti-Semitic, contrary to the childish and ignorant—yet vociferous and durational—complaints of protesters organized by the ADL and other similar groups. The Met’s General Manager Peter Gelb was forced to meet several times with Foxman, who wanted the run canceled. The compromise they struck was to present the opera at The Met, but not to broadcast it to the wider world, where the themes, they said, might be used to fan the flames of rising European anti-Semitism.
Perhaps if the ADL spent less time panicking over how exactly just like Hitler Nicki Minaj is, they’d have more time to spend fighting European anti-Semitism. Instead, they fought to censor an opera in the name of that European anti-Semitism that doesn’t quite have their attention.