“We’re going down that same road, what’s happening now, taking more and more of our freedom away,” Christine Hill explained, according to Anchorage Daily News. “And that’s what’s happening. That’s what’s frightening.”
A Jewish council member pushed back, arguing that the yellow Star of David symbol is antisemitic and offensive.
Then the mayor made a shocking defense: “I think us borrowing that from them is actually a credit to them,” Dave Bronson said, referring to Jewish people.
The national blowback and condemnation from local Jewish community leaders against the Republican mayor was swift. Bronson backtracked his words and apologized.
“I understand that we should not trivialize or compare what happened during the Holocaust to a mask mandate and I want to apologize for any perception that my statements support or compare what happened to the Jewish people in Nazi Germany, that was one of the most evil and darkest times in our world’s history,” he said in a statement.
Bronson is the latest public official to tout the Star of David as a symbol of supposed victimhood over public health mandates. In June, Washington state Rep. Jim Walsh (R) wore a yellow Star of David during a live stream, stating that it conveyed how “denying people their rights … can lead to terrible outcomes.” The lawmaker eventually apologized.
Also in June, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) apologized after she repeatedly compared mask mandates to the Star of David. But she evoked the Holocaust again in July, that time calling those leading a vaccine push from the Biden administration “brown shirts,” a term referring to a paramilitary group that helped Adolf Hitler and the Nazis gain power in Germany.
In August, the leader of the Oklahoma Republican Party compared private companies requiring employees to get a coronavirus vaccine to the Nazis forcing Jews to wear the Star of David on their clothes. He later doubled down on his comments, saying that the symbol took away Jewish people’s freedoms, just like the vaccine card.
The Anti-Defamation League warned that the comparisons are dangerous.
“The utilization of this type of Holocaust imagery wrongly compares the antisemitic, racist, misogynist, xenophobic and homophobic Nazi-regime and its genocidal acts to current government measures to contain the pandemic,” the organization wrote in a blog post. “Comparing the two is not only an act of moral outrage, but also represents an attempt to downplay the enormity of the Holocaust.”
Wednesday was the second night of public meetings to discuss a mask mandate that would require face coverings in Anchorage’s indoor public spaces and at large outdoor gatherings. Local health officials support the proposal as Alaska faces its worst covid surge yet. Hospitals across the state are overwhelmed with covid-19 patients. The largest hospital, which is in Anchorage, recently said it is rationing care and prioritizing its resources for those who need it most.
At least 57 percent of eligible Alaskans have received at least one vaccine dose, according to The Washington Post’s vaccine tracker. In the past week, daily reported cases rose more than 35 percent, making it the highest rate in the country, The Post’s covid tracker shows. The daily reported deaths in that same period rose 300 percent.
Despite the raging spread of the highly contagious delta variant, Bronson, stood by his constituents who opposed the covid restrictions. During the first night of the public meeting, Bronson called the ordinance “reckless,” “ill conceived,” “an unconstitutional infringement” and falsely claimed it was “based on inconclusive science,” the Anchorage Daily News reported.
The meeting on Wednesday quickly devolved into tense exchanges and disruptive outbursts. Four people were arrested — two face trespassing charges and two face disorderly conduct charges. One was also charged with misconduct involving a weapon, according to the Daily News.
Many attendees spoke before assembly members while wearing the yellow Star of David. At one point, an attendee held up the star and pointed directly at the Jewish member, Forrest Dunbar.
Earlier during the meeting, Dunbar condemned those wearing the symbol and read a letter from his rabbi, Abram Goodstein, according to the Daily News.
“For myself and most Jews, seeing the yellow Star of David on someone’s chest elicits the same feeling as seeing a swastika on a flag or the SS insignia on a uniform,” Goodstein wrote. “It is a symbol of hate that reminds us Jews of the terror and horror we suffered. … I request that you do not use symbols that diminish the 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.”
Later in the meeting, Bronson addressed the criticisms against those who chose to wear the star.
“We’ve referenced the Star of David quite a bit here tonight, but there was a formal message that came out within Jewish culture about that and the message was, ‘never again.’ That’s an ethos. And that’s what that star really means is, ‘We will not forget, this will never happen again,'" he said. “And I think us borrowing that from them is actually a credit to them.”
Miri Cypers, the ADL’s Pacific Northwest region director, called the mayor’s remarks at the meeting “disturbing and offensive.”
“We refuse to allow our elected leaders to engage in the gross misappropriation of the systematic murder of six million Jews — this rhetoric and behavior have no place in our society,” Cypers said in a statement.
During an assembly meeting on Thursday, Bronson offered another apology for his statements. He also requested that attendees not wear the yellow Stars of David.
“I understand the anger about this proposed mask mandate, and I agree with that anger,” Bronson said, according to the Daily News. “But I asked our citizens to be sensitive and understanding about the impact that the wearing of the yellow Star of David has on many members of our Jewish community. I encourage you to find some other symbols to show your opposition to this ordinance.”