Mayor Bronson backtracks on comments defending use of Star of David in protest of mask ordinance

Jewish leaders condemn use of Holocaust symbol, mayor’s comments
A person wears a Star of David on their clothing as they prepare to testify on a proposed...
A person wears a Star of David on their clothing as they prepare to testify on a proposed ordinance that would require masks to be worn in the Municipality of Anchorage during a Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 public hearing in the Loussac Library in Anchorage, Alaska. Several people testified wearing the Stars of David, and equated the public health measure to actions taken during the Holocaust.(Dave Leval/Alaska's News Source)
Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 12:46 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 30, 2021 at 4:25 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After seemingly backing the use of the Star of David by people speaking against public health measures in a proposed city ordinance Wednesday night, Mayor Dave Bronson has walked back those statements.

Over the course of the last two nights, Anchorage residents have packed the Anchorage Assembly Chambers to testify on a proposed ordinance that would require masking indoors and at crowded outdoor events while the city is experiencing high transmission of COVID-19. Many of them opposed to the ordinance showed up wearing makeshift yellow Stars of David, equating the public health mitigation measure to actions taken during the Holocaust, when millions of Jewish people were systematically killed.

Jewish leaders have condemned the use of that symbol during the meeting. Rabbi Yosef Greenberg of the Alaska Jewish Campus said on Thursday the Holocaust has no place in a debate about the novel coronavirus.

“I was personally offended when I saw the news, the picture of yellow stars being used in an assembly meeting as part of the debate,” he said. “It’s OK to have a debate, it’s healthy to have a debate, and I would even say it’s even important to have a debate. ... However, nobody should ever bring into the conversation the Holocaust, as this is a disrespect to the victims — to the Holocaust victims — to the survivors, to the Jewish community and to humanity as a whole.”

During Wednesday night’s public hearing, Bronson seemed to back the use of the Star of David by people in the chambers.

“We’ve referenced the Star of David quite a bit here tonight,” he said. “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.’ And I think us borrowing that from them is actually a credit to them.”

Assembly member Forrest Dunbar, who is Jewish, engaged with a few of the people who testified wearing the Star of David, asking them if the knowledge that most in the Jewish community find it offensive would change how they felt about it. All responded that they didn’t intend to be offensive but continued to equate the proposed mask requirement to actions taken during the Holocaust.

“It’s a pretty star, it’s yellow,” one woman said. “We’re shining.”

“But it’s not,” Dunbar responded. “Right? I mean it’s a very specific shaped star, very specific color and it means a very specific thing to Jewish people.”

On Thursday, Bronson’s office released a statement, walking back what he had said the night before.

“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,” Bronson wrote in the statement. “I should have chosen my words more carefully, and if I offended anyone, I am truly sorry.”

Bronson went on to say that the members of the assembly all love the city of Anchorage, as he does.

“I respect everyone’s right to petition their government, to speak up in favor or opposition to major policies with wide-ranging impacts,” he wrote. “But we must do so with decorum and respect. It is never appropriate to resort to name-calling, intimidation, or hatred, under any circumstances.”

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, a man who was later arrested for trespassing called Assembly Vice Chair Christopher Constant, who is gay, a derogatory term often used in a homophobic way.

The Anti-Defamation League released a statement on Thursday condemning Bronson’s comments, calling the his statement “disturbing and offensive.”

“During these challenging times of rising antisemitism, elected officials continue to deepen the pain through ignorant Holocaust analogies to COVID-19 health guidelines,” the statement reads. “Last night, Anchorage Mayor Bronson defended the misappropriation of the Yellow Star of David to advance a political point of ‘freedom’ and said that the imagery is ‘actually a credit to’ Jews.”

The ADL said that rhetoric has no place in society.

“The yellow Star of David was used to not only stigmatize and humiliate Jews, but also segregate and control them during the Holocaust,” the statement read. “We refuse to allow our elected leaders to engage in the gross misappropriation of the systematic murder of six million Jews.”

The Holocaust should always stand apart as “the greatest tragedy in human history,” Greenberg said, and should never be disrespected by making comparisons between it and a debate over how to prevent COVID-19.

“In such a time when coronavirus is really challenging our humanity, it’s extra important for everyone, especially for the leadership in our community, to show responsibility and to be very careful not to use any extremism, any rhetoric ... in our debate,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg on Thursday called for unity and civil conversation within the community. He likened political division to a disease, like COVID-19.

“There is nothing more dangerous to America, to Alaska, to the world today than the political division especially when it comes to the coronavirus, which is threatening our health and our lives,” Greenberg said.

In his statement, Bronson asked those coming to testify on the proposed mask ordinance to remain civil. He asked those who are opposed to the measure to keep their comments based on the policy, “not personality.”

“Members of the Assembly, you have my full support in asking for calm tonight, and my pledge to work with you to ensure all voices are heard in a way that respects everyone as equals,” Bronson wrote.

The public hearing has been continued into a third day, and will resume at 6 p.m. in the assembly chambers in the Loussac Library.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information and quotes.

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