ADL labels animal-rights exhibit offensive, abhorrent

"Taking chutzpah to new heights" is how the Anti-Defamation League characterized an exhibit touring the Bay Area that compares the slaughter of animals to the murder of Jews in the Holocaust.

The exhibit in question, called "Holocaust on Your Plate," is sponsored by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It has already been in Berkeley and San Jose and will appear in Sacramento in March. Pictures of how animals are treated in slaughterhouses are shown alongside those of inmates in concentration camps.

"Outrageous, offensive and abhorrent" are a few more adjectives used by the ADL to describe it.

"Just as the Nazis tried to 'dehumanize' Jews by forcing them to live in filthy, crowded conditions, tearing children away from their mothers, and killing them in assembly-line fashion, animals on today's factory farms are stripped of all that is enjoyable and natural to them and treated as nothing more than meat-, egg-, and milk-producing 'machines,'" the animal-rights organization said in a press release.

According to the statement, hens have their beaks burned off to prevent them from pecking at each other in overcrowded conditions, and pigs are castrated without painkillers. That is "the very same mindset that made the Holocaust possible — that we can do anything we want to those we decide are 'different' or 'inferior' — [and] is what allows us to commit atrocities against animals every single day," said Matt Prescott, PETA's youth outreach coordinator in a statement. The PETA Web site includes the information that members of Prescott's family were killed by the Nazis.

PETA uses a quote from the late Jewish writer and vegetarian Isaac Bashevis Singer, that says, "In relation to animals, all people are Nazis; for them it is an eternal Treblinka."

Prescott said in a phone interview Tuesday that the campaign is funded by a Jewish philanthropist who works for a well-known Holocaust educational center, though he said she currently prefers to remain anonymous.

Furthermore, PETA's Web site claims that it sought approval for the campaign from the Jewish community.

When asked which Jewish groups were contacted for their approval, Prescott cited the ADL, but said that it refused.

That's a bit of an understatement, according to the ADL. Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL and himself a child survivor of the Holocaust, said, "Rather than deepen our revulsion against what the Nazis did to the Jews, the project will undermine the struggle to understand the Holocaust and to find ways to make sure such things never happen again."

Leslie Kane, director of the Holocaust Center of Northern California, said that she would be very surprised if PETA had gained any support from Jewish groups.

"This, to me, is reminiscent of the kinds of things going on since the intifada started," said Kane, "with those voices that are vehemently anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. Many of these voices have tried to co-opt the Holocaust and Holocaust imagery as justification for their cause, and they've totally turned the meaning of the Holocaust on its ear."

Prescott denied that PETA was deliberately trying to offend survivors, or anyone for that matter. He agreed that the images in the exhibit were shocking, but said treatment of animals was equally so.

"People turned their backs on the Jews in Europe and 12 million people were murdered in the concentration camps," said Prescott. "Twenty-eight billion animals are breeding and being slaughtered per year. We are trying to teach compassion for animals, and don't want to turn our backs on them."

Neither Jonathan Bernstein, director of the Northern Pacific region of the ADL, nor Kane of the Holocaust Center in San Francisco had received any phone calls from people who were upset by the campaign. Both guessed it was because PETA's effort had received no press coverage.

Bernstein said he discussed with the ADL's national office whether the group should even respond to the campaign, since it might just draw further attention to the exhibit.

"But this is really so outrageous that we decided that somebody needs to say something," he concluded.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."