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OpinionColumnistsRandi F. Marshall

Vile imagery has no place in vax fight

GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino rallies with anti-vaxxers,

GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino rallies with anti-vaxxers, some holding antisemitic slogans to describe the COVID-19 vaccine, outside the Bronx offices of Assemb. Jeffrey Dinowitz on Sunday. Credit: Office of Assembly member Jeffrey Dinowitz

A weekend protest at a state Assembly member's office isn't new.

But this one was different, from the man wearing a yellow star to the woman holding up signs with phrases like "Nuremberg Code" and "Crimes Against Humanity" and, most disturbingly, images of a swastika.

What could possibly be so monstrous, so reprehensible, to be the target of hate-filled comparisons to the atrocities of the Holocaust, when six million Jews and millions of others were brutally executed?

The COVID-19 vaccine.

The Bronx demonstration was just the latest ugly example. Anti-vaccine and anti-mandate protesters have worn yellow stars at government meetings in Kansas, Missouri, and elsewhere. A Maine state representative compared that state's governor to Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz physician who conducted heinous, often fatal experiments on some Jewish prisoners and sent others directly to the gas chamber.

And early in the pandemic, protesters in Germany used the yellow star to protest COVID-related lockdowns — and the potential of a vaccine. Their signs proclaimed 'Impfen macht frei?" or "Vaccination will set you free?", an appalling version of the phrase that hung above Auschwitz's gates — "Arbeit macht frei," or "Work will set you free."

When a difference of opinion on a topic like vaccination morphs into a dangerous false equivalency with no basis in fact, devoid of morality and stooped in antisemitic tropes, it becomes impossible to reasonably discuss the underlying issue. Where do you go from there?

The Bronx protest targeted Assemb. Jeffrey Dinowitz, for sponsoring a bill that would require kids to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend school. The bill would take effect only after the vaccine for children, now authorized under "emergency use," receives full approval, a step likely still months away. Leading the protest was Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, who has since claimed he didn't know about the displays around him.

Dinowitz is Jewish. And yes, that matters in this story, especially since Dinowitz has faced more antisemitic vitriol since.

In case there's any doubt, let's say it clearly: There is no comparison between COVID-19 vaccine mandates and Nazi Germany's systematic effort to annihilate the Jewish people and others. Any such linkage is a vile antisemitic act that minimizes the horrors of the Holocaust. And while I'd rather not give it more publicity, because that's what demonstrators seek, it requires our response and our outrage.

There is no valid connection from COVID-19 vaccine mandates to the Nuremberg laws, which decreed Jews were no longer German citizens; to the destruction of synagogues and other property during Kristallnacht, which happened 83 years ago this month; to the concentration and death camps; or to Mengele's horrific work. Nor is there an appropriate use of the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear, a badge meant not only to segregate them, but to target them for deportation and death.

A safe, effective vaccine that has been tested and researched, that protects us from a pandemic which has killed more than 760,000 people nationwide, and that is not given to us against our will, is not a Mengele experiment. Encouraging adults and children to get the vaccine is not sending them on a march to a gas chamber. Issuing a necessary mandate is not a Nuremberg code. And no one is systematically separating out people with the intent to kill them.

Eighty years ago, Nazi Germany destroyed millions of lives.

Today, the vaccine is saving millions of lives.

There is no comparison.

Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.

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