A US Senatorial candidate from West Virginia recently compared local smoking bans in the mountain state to the Nazi's persecution of Jews. Citing a local rule that required public buildings to display notification designating smoke free areas, John Raese linked the stickers to the yellow stars worn by Jews during the Holocaust.
At a Lincoln Day dinner captured in a YouTube video, Rease told fellow Republicans, “In Monongalia County now, I have to put a huge sticker on my buildings to say this a smoke-free environment ... Remember, Hitler used to put a Star of David on everybody's lapel, remember that?”
Deborah Lauter, Director of the Anti-Defamation League quickly fired back, calling such comments “out of bounds for everyone including elected officials” and stating, “These kind of analogies to Nazi Germany are offensive and inappropriate.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has spoken out previously about the co-opting of symbols of the Holocaust for political agendas, also issued a statement saying Raese's remark showed callousness towards the millions of Jews that the Nazi's murdered.
Despite these objections, Raese, a wealthy businessman in West Virginia, stood by his statement, telling the Charleston Gazette he did not understand how comments like this “get on the Richter scale” and claiming, “I don't see anything that's incorrect in any of the statements that I have made. It is all very factual.”
Dr. Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, disagrees and points out Rease's analogy “compares signs that are meant to protect people's health with the yellow stars designed to dehumanize and degrade millions of Jews by a racist, genocidal regime.”
In time, though, Larry Puccio believes that Raese will realize his mistake and make amends. The West Virginia Democratic Party, which Puccio chairs, issued a statement on Thursday hoping that Raese will have a change of heart. “His refusal to apologize shows no understanding of history and no respect. I feel certain after Mr. Raese has time to think about it he will apologize.”
But so far Raese, who is currently mounting his third bid for a West Virginia Senate seat, has issued no statement suggesting he plans to back down from his initial remarks.