Clackamas County Commissioner Mark Shull is facing backlash after reposting a Facebook meme appearing to equate COVID-19 health and safety mandates to the subjugation faced by members of the Jewish faith during the Holocaust.
Shull's actions come just three weeks after a Clackamas County employee was arrested after reportedly spray-painting a large Nazi swastika on the sidewalk next to a memorial for a Black man who died soon after attempting suicide while incarcerated at the Clackamas County Jail. Additionally, Shull posted the image days following the celebration of Jewish holiday Yom Kippur from Sept. 15 to 16.
The four other elected members of the Clackamas County board issued an official joint statement on Tuesday condemning Shull's actions and offering to provide healing and support resources to members of the Jewish community and others "traumatized" by the statements.
"We want to state clearly to our Clackamas County residents and employees that there is no place for hatred and bigotry on the Board of County Commissioners or in the county," the statement began.
"We recognize the Facebook post dismissed the horror that the Jewish community and so many others experienced during the holocaust and that it was posted just three weeks following a hate-crime on our campus where a Nazi swastika was painted on our sidewalk," commissioners added. "We want to be clear that our county and we as commissioners, condemn antisemitism, racism and bigotry. Mark Shull's post does not reflect the values of Clackamas County or this Board."
Originally uploaded on Sunday according to Shull, the post was quickly noticed by members of Recall Mark Shull, a campaign created shortly after he was elected to the county board in November. In January, the group condemned a collection of posts made by Shull from 2019-21 representing views that Islam and Muslim people are a threat to America.
"The disgusting and offensive use of the Holocaust to advance his political agenda is yet another confirmation of why Mark Shull is unfit to lead this county," said Clackamas County labor activist Ira Erbs, a child of Holocaust survivors and a leader in the Recall Mark Shull campaign. "It is past time for Shull to step down, and if he fails to do so, we intend to ask the voters to replace him."
A member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland saw Shull's repost through the recall campaign shortly after it was uploaded, prompting the organization to release their own statement decrying Shull's actions.
"To claim that mask and vaccine mandates during a pandemic are the same as the policies that evicted European Jews from their homes, stripped them of their livelihoods, forced them into crowded, unsanitary ghettos and ultimately sent them to the death camps is appalling, offensive and an affront to the memory of all who perished during the Holocaust," the Jewish Federation wrote, urging Shull to remove the post and issue an apology for making the comparison.
Members of the federation were invited by county commissioners to speak before the board on Thursday to discuss further collaboration between the county and its Jewish community members in ensuring further acts of antisemitism are not encouraged by Shull's actions.
This is not the first time Shull has compared COVID-19 mandates to the codified subjugation of racial or religious groups. In June, he proposed a resolution that compared showing a COVID-19 vaccine card to segregationist Jim Crow laws, receiving a wave of backlash from fellow commissioners and community members.
Shull, at a board meeting on Tuesday, defended his actions, stating that the situation was "blown out of proportion" and disputed the claim that his repost explicitly compared the events of the Holocaust to specific COVID-19 mandates.
"There's nothing on this meme that references vaccines and the Holocaust or comparison," Shull said. "It only talks about the slippery slope of restrictions on civil liberties."
He said the image was originally shared with him by a county resident who was concerned about losing their job for refusing to be vaccinated and was intended as a commentary about what happens when we don't "speak up to defend our neighbors" if their freedoms are denied.
Commissioner Paul Savas during the meeting disagreed that civil liberties are being stripped from community members as a result of COVID-19 safety mandates.
"As far as civil liberties, I think there's a lot of better examples that don't touch on a very sensitive subject," Savas said.
He continued that the Holocaust was motivated by sentiments of "supremacy" and "hatred for another religion or race," while temporary COVID-19 mandates are intended to stop the worldwide spread of a virus.
Commissioner Martha Schrader echoed Savas' sentiment that the comparison was not only off-base but "deeply, deeply hurtful."
"There's no way to compare this to the Holocaust," Schrader said. "We're not talking about taking away civil liberties...This is a medical issue and the comparison, especially with Yom Kippur, this is a very serious day of atonement and prayer for our Jewish colleagues."
Commissioner Sonya Fischer said she felt "nauseous" and "at a loss" after being made aware of the post and offered a metaphor to contextualize Shull's response to his actions.
"Say we are at the grocery store and we take our grocery cart and we accidentally run over someone's foot and it's bleeding. We don't say, 'Oh, I'm usually a good cart driver, I am excellent at getting my groceries, my intent was to come here to the grocery store and get all my groceries efficiently and effectively,'" Fischer said. "We go, 'Oh my gosh, I am so sorry. I see that you're bleeding. Are you OK? I'm going to go run to get some help.'"
Chair Tootie Smith said the situation has taught her to be a "better leader," adding that it offered an "opportunity" for further education and growth around topics of bigotry.
"I feel that I'm being tested time and time again with my leadership," Smith said. "I have not appreciated these tests repeatedly, however, I think it's teaching me to be a better leader. To be a compassionate leader, listening to all sides."
"I've tried to be fair as I can with my commissioners, even when I vehemently disagree. I think that's hard for a leader. And I have tried to accommodate as much as humanly possible, all your opinions," she added. "But frankly, there's a time that as chair, I have to lead and make a decision."
"I do think this is an opportunity for education, one that I did not see coming. And on this issue, I will embrace that. And I hope you do too as well," she said to the board.
Jewish Federation of Greater Portland members expressed appreciation for the county commission's swift action in condemning Shull's Facebook post, saying "Anti-COVID measures trivializing the Holocaust fuel antisemitic conspiracy theories and tropes and underscores the need for education on antisemitism. A 2020 survey of American adults revealed that nearly half did not know what antisemitism is, and one out of five said they had never heard of the word. This at a time when we are seeing an alarming rise in antisemitic incidents and hate crimes in the U.S. Education about antisemitism is therefore essential."
JFGP offers a workshop that explores what antisemitism is (and what it is not), how it has evolved over time, and how it is being normalized in America. To learn more, contact JFGP at 503-245-6219.
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