A coalition of some 400 rabbis has published an open letter to Fox News Channel owner Rupert Murdoch, calling on the media mogul to discipline Roger Ailes, president of Fox News, and Glenn Beck, the cable channel's incendiary and popular host, for exploiting the Holocaust in their comments.
In particular they were upset over Beck's attacks on liberal magnate George Soros and Jewish leaders.
"We share a belief that the Holocaust, of course, can and should be discussed appropriately in the media," the rabbis write in the letter
, which appears Thursday as an advertisement in The Wall Street Journal -- also owned by Murdoch. "But that is not what we have seen at Fox News."
A spokesman for the group that organized the letter initiative, Jewish Funds for Justice, said the ad cost $100,000. Earlier this month the group organized a letter-writing campaign asking Murdoch to remove Beck from the air. Soros has in the past donated to Jewish Funds for Justice.
In a comment to Reuters
, a Fox News executive dismissed the coalition of rabbis as "a George Soros-backed left-wing political organization that has been trying to engage Glenn Beck primarily for publicity purposes."
Using the Holocaust and the Nazi label against one's opponents seems to have become a staple of political discourse in recent years, and that has discomfited many Jews -- who note that the analogies are wildly out of proportion to the historical facts, and that they dishonor the 6 million Jews exterminated by the Nazi campaign of genocide.
But Fox, and Glenn Beck in particular, have made Holocaust-era language a touchstone in programming.
In their letter, the rabbis note that Beck has made "literally hundreds of on-air references to the Holocaust and Nazis when characterizing people with whom he disagrees"; he compares American leaders he does not like to Nazis; and has said putting the "common good" first leads to "death camps."
But the rabbis said that the letter was sparked by Beck's three-part program in November about billionaire philanthropist Soros, who is Jewish and grew up in Nazi-occupied Hungary and is a favorite target of conservative pundits.
"And George Soros used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off," Beck said on one of the programs. "And George Soros was part of it. He would help confiscate the stuff. It was frightening. Here's a Jewish boy helping send Jews to the death camps."
(Soros has said that he hid with a Christian family to escape the Nazis, and that he was present when his so-called godfather inventoried property confiscated from Jews who had been deported.)
Also last November, after National Public Radio fired Juan Williams (who is also a Fox commentator) for his admission of bias against Muslims, Ailes reacted by telling The Daily Beast
that NPR executives "are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism."
He later apologized to the Anti-Defamation League but not to NPR. Ailes had also defended Beck's frequent use of Nazi references to describe his political opponents and chalked up any opposition to "left-wing rabbis who basically don't think that anybody can ever use the word 'Holocaust' on the air."
The rabbis signing the letter include the heads of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements as well as prominent Orthodox rabbis.
"In the charged political climate in the current civic debate, much is tolerated, and much is ignored or dismissed," their letter says. "But you diminish the memory and meaning of the Holocaust when you use it to discredit any individual or organization you disagree with. That is what Fox News has done in recent weeks, and it is not only 'left-wing rabbis' who think so."
Thursday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an observance established by the United Nations in 2005.