Shoals of obliging academics and journalists lined up to damn Irving for exercising his right to free speech
Seoul, Friday, November 17, 2000
Finkelstein and the Holocaust
by M R Crompton
LAST week I expressed concern about Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. Reading Norman Finkelstein's incisive study "The Holocaust Industry" deepens that concern.
Finkelstein, a Jewish-American intellectual, sub-titles his book: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. It is prefaced by a quotation from Rabbi Wolf, Hillel Director, Yale University: "It seems to me the Holocaust is being sold -- it is not being taught." The introduction states Finkelstein's main theme: "This book is both an anatomy and an indictment of the Holocaust industry." Unlike the arch-revisionists - Faurisson, Leuchter and Zündel -- he does not argue that the Holocaust never took place: indeed, most of his own family perished in it. Rather, he sets out to rescue its memory from the clutches of the commercializers, ideologists and political exploiters, to preserve the integrity of the historical record. We must learn from the Holocaust by reducing its physical dimension and expanding its moral one: "opening our hearts to the rest of humanity's sufferings": like those of the Afro-Americans, Vietnamese and native Americans.
The Holocaust, he argues, was monstrous, but not unique. Far from being preserved as an accurate historical testimony and a warning, it has become a myth, heightened, sanctified and blown up to advance specific political and class interests. This includes Israel: "one of the world's most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record", which has cast itself as a "victim state", and the Jewish-American community -- which has likewise acquired victim status. They use this, he says, to ward off all criticism, however justified, and in the process become morally and financially corrupt. The falsification and exploitation of the Nazi genocide "has been used to justify criminal policies of the Israeli state and US support for these policies."
Strong stuff, but there is more. Finkelstein attacks the successful campaign of US Jewish organizations, with US government backing, to extract money from Germany, Switzerland and Eastern Europe in the name of needy Holocaust victims. Discussing the Holocaust victims' accounts expropriated by the Nazis, he concludes that compensation payments imposed on Swiss banks, German firms and the two governments under duress were excessive, fraudulent and akin to blackmail. Based on the Volcker Commission report of December 1999, he describes the US record as far worse, since the USA paid out much less for forfeited Jewish accounts -- a point never reported in the local media. He maintains, quoting aggrieved victims, that of this compensation money, little has reached the Holocaust survivors.
Not all of this is new: but the allegations of financial impropriety are breathtaking, and sure to arouse anger among unconditional supporters of the Israeli-Jewish cause. One can imagine what hate-mail Finkelstein must receive.
Until now I, too, had taken on trust the claims that these payments were right and legitimate. But Finkelstein's case is cogent; and in the absence of any published refutation, one must reluctantly assume it to be well founded.
THIS revives another set of concerns: about the response of the world Jewish community to revisionism. I have written before about David Irving, whose skepticism of the Holocaust brought down Jewish ire upon his head. He fought his unsuccessful libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt unaided; she did not testify, but was represented by thirty lawyers and historians paid to scour his writings for two years for anti-Semitic and racist utterances. Such campaigns cost big money. The $6 million-dollar bill was footed by prominent Jews and organizations, such as Steven Spielberg, Edgar Bronfman, the American Jewish Committee, and foundations close to the Israeli government, like B'nai Brith and its Anti-Defamation League.
And well they might, I hear you protest: Jewish people have an interest in discrediting their enemy. That is precisely my point. Irving's detractors, and those who seek his literary destruction, are politically motivated: concerned not so much with historical truth, as Finkelstein is, but with the denigration and financial ruin of anybody who dares to contradict their approved version of events.
And mysteriously, a whole train of acolytes mobilizes in their support. It is not easy to forget the vials of hatred poured on Irving in the press during the London trial. This smacked of the worst European traditions: witch-hunting, heretic-taunting and book-burning, the same dark prejudices that gave rise to anti-Semitism in the first place.
Such gross intolerance has no place in scholarly enquiry: yet shoals of obliging academics and journalists lined up to damn Irving for exercising his right to free speech (and a few in his support). I do not share Irving's views. But I stand up for his right to express them, free of persecution.
The implications are disturbing. World Jewish leaders have clearly -- with a few laudable exceptions -- gone over the top. Traumatized by past persecutions, they have erected a bastion of dogma and a military fortress behind which they shelter their sense of victimhood. And from within that stronghold they launch torrents of fire against anyone who dares to question their cause, accusing him of anti-Semitism and race hatred.
These bullying tactics discredit themselves. They bear the hallmarks of arrogance, complacency and mental corruption. Intelligent Jews and Israelis must be -- and are -- ashamed of this near-totalitarian bandwagon of bigotry and vindictiveness which, as Prof. Kevin MacDonald has shown, has a long history. We must be grateful to insiders like Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky and Peter Novick who have had the courage to expose it, and must lend them our moral support.
The writer worked for many years in the British Diplomatic Service. He is currently a Visiting Professor at Seoul National University. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Ed.
Website comment: Among the groups mentioned in this article: the Anti Defamation League