On January 5, the day before the Capitol riot, Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) quoted Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, saying, “Hitler was right about one thing: ‘Whoever has the youth has the future.'” Many Democrats and Republicans condemned her statement and some called for her resignation, but the Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV), which represents more than 1,500 Orthodox Jewish rabbis in American public policy, defended Miller. Miller apologized for her comment and then met with CJV last week.
“I am thankful to have had the opportunity to meet and speak with the Rabbinic Board of the Coalition for Jewish Values and other rabbinic leaders,” Miller said in a statement after the meeting. “While I do regret the words I used to illustrate my message about instilling values in our children, I believe God is using this experience for good.”
“The great discussion from our meeting only proves this. Connecting and learning from the Jewish community becomes more important every day with anti-Semitism on the rise. I am grateful to be a small part of the solution,” Miller added.
At the meeting, Miller expressed regret for her choice of words but explained that she had intended to highlight the importance of guiding young people in the right direction. She listened to members of the Jewish community and answered their questions on topics including the State of Israel and the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement.
At the meeting, Rabbi Moshe Parnes, CJV’s southern regional vice president, acknowledged that it is common in Jewish thought to learn lessons from the community’s enemies.
Yet prominent figures across the political spectrum had rushed to condemn Miller.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement saying it “unequivocally condemns any leader trying to advance a position by claiming Adolf Hitler was ‘right.'”
“Adolf Hitler, the Nazis, and their collaborators murdered almost every member of my family, destroyed my entire community, and ended a centuries-old culture,” Irene Weiss, an Auschwitz survivor, said in the museum’s statement. “I implore our leaders and all Americans not to misuse this history — my history.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-Ill.) called Miller’s remarks “unfathomable and disgusting.” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) called her words “garbage,” while Illinois GOP Chairman Tim Schneider demanded Miller apologize.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said Miller should “resign immediately,” claiming that “it is absolutely repugnant, obscene and unacceptable for any American — let alone a supposed ‘leader’ serving in Congress — to claim Adolf Hitler was right about anything.” Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Marie Newman (D-Ill.) also called for Miller’s resignation.
Responding to the backlash, Miller first explained that her remarks were “a denunciation of evil dictators’ efforts to re-educate young people and similar efforts by left-wing radicals in our country today.” She then issued a statement saying, “I sincerely apologize for any harm my words caused and regret using a reference to one of the most evil dictators in history to illustrate the dangers that outside influences can have on our youth.”
“While some are trying to intentionally twist my words to mean something antithetical to my beliefs, let me be clear: I’m passionately pro-Israel and I will always be a strong advocate and ally of the Jewish community,” Miller added. “I’ve been in discussion with Jewish leaders across the country and am grateful to them for their kindness and forthrightness.”
While some like Schakowsky continued to attack Miller after her apology, CJV defended Miller at the time.
“It’s easy to accuse someone of modeling Hitler, and very difficult to defend against such an accusation,” Parnes, a CJV vice president who lost much of his extended family in the Holocaust, said at the time. “It’s important for humanity to learn lessons from our enemies, even from beasts like Hitler, so that we understand how powerful the forces they employed truly are, and use them for good. The Talmud, the main source of Jewish law, philosophy and ethics, often does.”
In a letter to Miller, CJV rabbis noted that Jews have long learned from their enemies, including the evil Haman of the Book of Esther and the Roman general Titus, who destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago.
“It is clear that Rep. Miller was concerned for the indoctrination of our youth, something we see played out on college campuses all across the country,” Rabbi Ze’ev Smason, CJV’s midwestern regional vice president, said at the time. “We see every reason to take her apology at face value, and look forward to working with her and all of her colleagues in Congress.”
Smason also defended Miller after the meeting in February.
“She was subjected to shameful attacks that, if one views the video of her remarks, unquestionably distorted her intent and perspective,” Smason explained. “Representative Miller is clearly sympathetic to the Jewish community and emphasized that she wants to be responsive to our concerns. So we were happy that we responded to her invitation and gave her the opportunity to further clear the air.”
The Coalition on Jewish Values has condemned anti-Semitism on both the Right and the Left. CJV unequivocally condemned horrific remarks that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) made before she won election to the House of Representatives. The rabbis praised Republicans and Democrats for condemning those remarks, but they faulted Democrats for failing to condemn much more recent anti-Semitic remarks from Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Minn.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Marie Newman (D-Ill.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.). These congresspeople had spread a “blood libel” against Israel, accusing the Jewish State of refusing to vaccinate Palestinians when, in truth, the Palestinians had refused to work with Israel.
Anti-Semitism is a real problem in Congress, but it seems only one side of the aisle allows it to fester. Members on the other side, like Miller, bend over backward to disprove false accusations.
The CJV meeting should finally put the attacks against Miller to rest.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.