As the Grandson of Holocaust Victims, I Never Thought I Would Be Called a ‘Semi-Fascist’

I am the grandson of people murdered at the Treblinka extermination camp because they were Jews. My parents lived for years under Nazi occupation. They barely survived the murderous policies of European fascism just two generations ago.

When World War II ended, my parents chose to leave Europe and move to the United States. They saw the United States as a place of opportunity, free from the vicious policies and prejudices that had destroyed large sections of their families and caused them endless misery.

They would have been shocked that their son would come to be called a “semi-fascist” by a President of the United States. And yet, that’s what just happened.

I consider myself an observant Jew. My wife and I keep a kosher home, observe the Sabbath, and try as best we can to follow the tenets of our Jewish tradition. Thus, we have come to favor fairly conservative policies.

Over many years, following the advice of my parents, I have tried to promote decency and fairness in our society. As a teenager, I marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during his campaign for fair housing in Chicago. I worked with the Anti-Defamation League when the American Nazi Party sought to harass Holocaust survivors in my hometown of Skokie, Illinois. For decades I have promoted Holocaust remembrance and education. I regularly lecture to law students on the importance of ethical behavior. Recently, I wrote a book about the struggle of French Jewry for legal equality during the French Revolution.

Politically, I have always characterized myself as an independent. In different presidential elections in my lifetime, I have voted for Democrats and Republicans based on the major issues of the day and the character of the candidates. Even today, in this polarized time, I am a registered independent.

But in recent years, I have watched with growing dismay as our nation’s politics have become increasingly divisive and venomous. It has been a particular source of pain to see that the most fundamental Western values ​​have been regularly denigrated and set aside. The vulgarity of our culture – of our movies, our music, our literature, our ways – has been deeply troubling. Perhaps most distressing has been the growing intolerance in our society and especially in our educational institutions.

As an observant Jew, as a grandson of Holocaust victims, and as an educated citizen of the Western world, I have watched with amazement as our institutions and principles deteriorate. I found myself longing for a return to the qualities that drew my parents to the United States as they sought to leave behind the world they had encountered in fascist-controlled Europe and allowed me to have a most blessed life in this nation. It is in this context that I felt compelled to vote for the Republican candidate in the last two presidential elections. To borrow a phrase, I wanted to see America great again.

Today, because of this perspective, I am now labelled, along with millions of like-minded others, as a “semi-fascist”. My martyred grandparents would have been appalled, especially because this label was applied to me, not by some fringe group of lunatics, but by the President of the United States.

As it is my right as an American citizen, I disagree with many policies of the political left. I do not wish to see indoctrination in our schools. I consider the legalization of harmful drugs a dangerous policy. Undermining the family, the most important cornerstone of Western civilization and my Jewish tradition, is, in my view, destructive. Constantly highlighting the differences between our citizens can only tear at the fabric of our nation. Racial equity strikes me as just the imposition of quotas using another term.

Many on the left are so sure they hold high morals that instead of explaining their positions, they simply slander those who hold opinions different from their own. Now they have received a blessing from President Biden, who, by labeling his opponents with the harshest epithets, has vilified those who disagree with him and arguably justified violent reactions against them.

There are many who oppose the policies of the so-called MAGA Republicans and will therefore strongly disagree with my position. It is, of course, their right as free Americans. However, this does not eliminate their obligation to dialogue and to do so with respect. Denigrating supporters of opposing viewpoints solves nothing.

As the Talmud reminds us, a dialectical process—the exchange of ideas—is the best way to achieve understanding. It’s also a great way to promote the Jewish concept of “shalom bayit” – peace in the home. We should all pray that, starting with the President, we can engage in constructive conversations without resorting to name-calling and vilification and thus restore some semblance of peace to our national home.

• Gérard Leval is a partner in the Washington office of a national law firm. He is the author of “Lobbying for Equality: Jacques Godard and the Struggle for Jewish Civil Rights During the French Revolution,” published earlier this year by HUC Press.