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Vice President Mike Pence visits Jerusalem’s Western Wall on January 23, 2018.Ronen Zvulun/AFP/Getty Images
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Mike Pence Never Said That Thing About the Holocaust That Everyone on the Internet Got Outraged About

Did the vice president actually say that Jewish Holocaust victims were ‘resurrected’? Not really.

Yair Rosenberg
January 30, 2018
Ronen Zvulun/AFP/Getty Images
Vice President Mike Pence visits Jerusalem's Western Wall on January 23, 2018.Ronen Zvulun/AFP/Getty Images

Over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence posted a short video on his social media channels to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. The clip contained an excerpt from his recent speech to the Israeli Knesset and was accompanied by what appeared to be a bizarre quotation from it:

A few days ago, Karen & I paid our respects at Yad Vashem to honor the 6 million Jewish martyrs of the Holocaust who 3 years after walking beneath the shadow of death, rose up from the ashes to resurrect themselves to reclaim a Jewish future. #HolocaustRemembranceDay #NeverAgain

— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) January 27, 2018

Unsurprisingly, outrage ensued, particularly from prominent Jewish pundits. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias succinctly put it:

I really thought last year’s thing where they left out the Jews was a Holocaust Remembrance Day low point but Pence has taken this to new places in an amazing way.

— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) January 28, 2018

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe also weighed in:

“Resurrect themselves”? Pence dishonors the memories of the 6 million by coopting them for the political agenda of his evangelical base.

— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) January 28, 2018

As did Crooked Media editor in chief, Brian Beutler:

Mike Pence Jesused all of us Jews without our consent. What a smug, condescending fraud.

— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) January 28, 2018

On its face, this claim that the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust were somehow resurrected in the new state of Israel is undoubtedly deeply offensive. The only problem is, Pence never said it.

Don’t take my word for it. Watch the actual clip in the original tweet:

A few days ago, Karen & I paid our respects at Yad Vashem to honor the 6 million Jewish martyrs of the Holocaust who 3 years after walking beneath the shadow of death, rose up from the ashes to resurrect themselves to reclaim a Jewish future. #HolocaustRemembranceDay #NeverAgain

— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) January 27, 2018

As you can see, what Pence really said was:

Karen and I will take a moment to pay our respects at Yad Vashem to honor the six million Jewish martyrs of the Holocaust. We will marvel at the faith and resilience of your people, who just three years after walking beneath the shadow of death rose up from the ashes to resurrect yourselves, to reclaim a Jewish future and to rebuild the Jewish state.

In other words, Pence never said that the victims of the Holocaust were resurrected in Israel. He said that the Jewish people resurrected themselves after their own near genocide. But thanks to an incompetent transcription from a social media staffer, Pence’s quote from the clip was mangled it into an utterly absurd assertion that he never made.

This sorry affair offers two straightforward lessons. One: Choose your social media staff wisely, especially if you are the Vice President of the United States. Two: Always click the link and watch the clip before commenting on a headline or tweet, especially if it seems too outrageous to be true.

Now, even after Pence’s remark was exposed as a misattribution, some still sought to rescue their outrage by insisting that the Vice President had nonetheless made offensive theological references. Various commenters objected to the use of the vaguely Christian-sounding term “martyrs” to describe the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Others suggested that the word “resurrection” similarly inappropriately applied a Christological lens to the Jewish story. Still others pointed to Pence’s reference to the “three years” before the Jewish people’s resurrection as an explicit parallel to the three days before Jesus’s resurrection.

All of these objections, however, collapse under scrutiny. The full official title of Israel’s own Holocaust Memorial Day is “Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day.” If Pence’s reference to Holocaust “martyrs” is offensive, what does that make Yad Vashem’s? (Their usage accords with the dictionary definition of the term: “A person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.”) Similarly, as Allison Kaplan Sommer wrote in Haaretz, “The word ‘resurrection,’ which has strong Christian connotations in English, is also a legitimate translation of the Hebrew word tekuma, which also can be translated as ‘rebirth,’ ‘recovery’ or ‘revival.’ It is frequently used to describe the establishment of the State of Israel following the Holocaust in the phrase ‘Shoah v’tekuma.’” Essentially, Pence was echoing traditional Jewish and Israeli tropes about the Holocaust.

What about the “three years” line? That too had a Jewish source. As the Times of Israel previously reported, the religious portions of Pence’s Knesset speech borrowed liberally from the work of former U.K. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who met with the Vice President in November. In fact, entire passages were taken from Sacks, almost word-for-word or in paraphrase. For example, in a 2013 speech delivered to AIPAC, Sacks referred to the Biblical patriarch Abraham as someone “who commanded no empire, ordered no army, performed no miracle, delivered no prophecy.” In Israel, Pence echoed this sentiment: “Nearly 4,000 years ago, a man left his home in Ur of the Chaldeans to travel here, to Israel. He ruled no empire, he wore no crown, he commanded no armies, he performed no miracles, delivered no prophecies.”

In that same AIPAC speech, Sacks asked his audience: “How likely is it that after 2,000 years of exile our people should have come back to our land … having stood eyeball to eyeball in Auschwitz a mere three years earlier, eyeball to eyeball with the Angel of Death?” Yet again, Pence was simply channeling his Jewish muse.

But even as liberal Jews may have overreacted to Pence’s largely banal remarks, conservative Jews would be wise to check their schadenfreude. That’s because the entire brouhaha on the Jewish left over Pence’s comments uncannily echoes similar episodes of upset surrounding Barack Obama on the Jewish right. The previous president was also read uncharitably by his critics, whose suspicion of his politics led them to misread menace into some of his pronouncements.

Famously, Obama was accused of effacing the specifically anti-Semitic motivation of the Paris kosher supermarket attack in 2015, after he referred in an interview to “a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.” In reality, Obama had already affirmed the anti-Semitic nature of the incident one month earlier, declaring that: “Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community. They also threaten the values we hold dear—pluralism, diversity, and the freedoms of religion and expression.” But Obama’s critics allowed their distrust of him to color his anodyne off-the-cuff remarks, even after his press secretary reaffirmed that the White House considered the shooting anti-Semitic.

Whether the subject is Pence or Obama, then, these cautionary tales remind us that partisanship is a poor prism through which to interpret political pronouncements regarding Jews.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.