Hawaii Protests Over COVID-19 Restrictions Afflicted With Antisemitism

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Protesters outside a vaccination clinic in Honolulu, last month.
Protesters outside a vaccination clinic in Honolulu, last month.Credit: Caleb Jones/AP

Hawaii's lieutenant governor has become the target of antisemitism amid protests outside his Honolulu home against new public health measures meant to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Since Hawaii announced a mandate earlier this month that state and county workers would have to show proof of vaccination or face weekly tests, 50 to 100 unmasked vaccine opponents have gathered almost nightly outside the downtown Honolulu condominium building where Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is Jewish, lives with his wife and two children, ages 14 and 10.

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Some yell into bullhorns and shine strobe lights into apartment units, Green said. Flyers with his photo and the words “Jew” and “fraud” have been plastered around the neighborhood.

Green has been tearing them down and turning them over to the state attorney general’s office.

He says he understands the right to protest, but not why demonstrators subject bystanders to such rage.

“They should protest me at my place of work, where I’m the lieutenant governor,” Green said. “But it’s different than flashing a strobe light into a 90-year-old woman’s apartment or a strobe light into a family’s apartment, where they have two kids under age four.”

Last week, Green, who works as an emergency room doctor on Hawaii’s Big Island, said that a minority of unvaccinated people are pushing the state toward another lockdown.

“It’s a small minority that is otherwise condemning society to a lockdown and potentially large-scale death,” Green added. “No one wants to close down businesses, no one wants to put in curfews, no one wants to curtail regular life or schools — but we have to keep people alive.”

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Green said that the island state was considering requiring people entering restaurants, gyms, and other indoor venues to provide proof of vaccination.

Across the United States, anti-vaccine and anti-mask demonstrations are taking scary and violent turns, and educators, medical professionals, and public figures have been stunned at the level at which they have been vilified for even stating their opinion. And they have been terrified over how far protesters will go in confronting leaders outside their homes and in their workplaces.

School board members, county commissioners, doctors and local leaders across the United States are regularly confronted at meetings and in public with angry taunts that compare them to the Taliban, Nazis, Marxists, and the leaders of Japanese internment camps.

The pandemic rage has coincided with a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, a growing movement to require vaccines, and a new round of mask requirements, most notably in schools where exhausted families had hoped the worst days of the virus were over. Now, the country is averaging nearly 1,000 coronavirus deaths a day.

In Kansas, commissioners in Douglas County in the Lawrence area were confronted with an angry, mostly unmasked crowd Wednesday before they mandated indoor public masks for 2- to-12-year-olds who are too young to be vaccinated. During four hours of public comment, opponents invoked the Holocaust, the Taliban, and Japanese internment camps.

As the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, Portillo was outraged at the comparisons.

“It is really insulting to families all over who lost loved ones in genocides,” she said.

In the United States, such comparisons are frequently made by figures on the political right.

In early July, less than a month after issuing a public apology for repeatedly comparing coronavirus protections to the Holocaust, Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene accused the Biden administration of using vaccination as “a political tool used to control people,” tweeting that Americans “don’t need your medical brown shirts showing up at their door ordering vaccinations.”

Several days later, Greene’s colleague, GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert, compared U.S. federal COVID-19 vaccination efforts to Nazism, tweeting that Joe Biden “has deployed his Needle Nazis” to her Colorado district.

Boebert has also previously used the term “brown shirts” to refer to the enforcement of public health measures by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who is Jewish.

Earlier this month, Oklahoma GOP chairman John Bennett posted a video online in which he also compared vaccine requirements in businesses and public spaces to the Nazis’ use of yellow stars to identify Jews, sparking widespread condemnation, including from high-profile Republicans.

“So we have Josef Mengele and Joseph Goebbels being reincarnated here in the state of Maine. I’ll let you figure out who is in what role, but I’ll just say probably the Mengele … You probably have two by the same last name, of one is the governor. The other one is also a Mills, just to connect the dots,” the Bangor Daily News reported Sampson as saying.

Mills's sister is the current head of MaineHealth, the state’s largest health care provider.

Antisemitic narratives connected to the pandemic are not limited to the United States. According to a study released this summer by the European Commission, the global health crisis ushered in “a new wave of antisemitic conspiracy theories and hate in Europe,” with hundreds of social media accounts and channels “spreading antisemitic messages related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In May, German federal antisemitism commissioner Felix Klein called for a national ban on yellow stars at protests in response to the widespread use of the symbol of Jewish persecution at anti-lockdown protests across the country.

Munich banned the use of yellow stars, which the Nazis compelled Jews to wear during the Holocaust, last June after Jewish groups complained. These stars often bore the slogans “not vaccinated” or “vaccination will set you free,” a play on the ironic slogan displayed in several Nazi concentration camps, such as Auschwitz.

JTA contributed to this report.

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