[Upstream] Finkelstein and More: An Ongoing Debate
By Lorenz Jäger
FRANKFURT. There will be a gala banquet on Sep. 11 at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and the invited guests will include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu. Elan Steinberg, spokesman for the Jewish World Congress, has announced that the event will celebrate the establishment of the foundation responsible for distributing the $9 billion soon to be collected from Germany and the Swiss banks.
But not all sides view the event with favor. Gabriel Schoenfeld, a publisher of the conservative Jewish intellectual journal Commentary, has called it a "spectacle" and said he finds the very idea of an "atonement banquet" disturbing. He expects nothing but self-adulation, and politicians whose tears for the victims will flow just in time to fill their reelection campaign coffers.
This, however, is virtually the only polemic passage in an article which seriously discusses a subject of heated debate since the publication of Norman G. Finkelstein's book "The Holocaust Industry." Schoenfeld's essay, soon to appear in the September issue of Commentary, is titled "Holocaust Compensation , The Growing Scandal." It paints a more differentiated picture of the role of the Swiss banks, who had been taken to court because of the robbed Nazi gold in their possession. Schoenfeld states that, in addition to the justified claims, there were many claims which proved to be without merit. He believes that a sweeping indictment of Switzerland for its policies during World War II is erroneous.
But Schoenfeld's criticism goes beyond correcting the facts of specific cases. Again rather polemically, he asks whether it is possible that, even as great sums are flowing into Holocaust museums and memorials in virtually every U.S. city and suburb, there are suffering and needy survivors of the politics of extermination somewhere who must wait for their money from the Germans and Swiss? For this justification of need was the rationale put forward solemnly by the victims' organizations, he adds. And he concludes that if the claim is faulty, this casts a bad light on the integrity of the Jewish community; and if it is true, Jewish self-respect is in a sorry state.
There is indeed an actual reason for these questions. According to Steinberg's announcement, the large sums left over after the planned payments to surviving victims are made , "hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps billions" , will be used for "education," meaning more Holocaust museums. Finkelstein had also criticized that endeavor. But the criticism leveled at Finkelstein does not apply to Schoenfeld. He is not an academic outsider, not an anti-Zionist, and not a left-wing dissident.
Nonetheless, he reaches conclusions similar to those of the political scientist from New York. Noteworthy is the insistence of Schoenfeld's tone: people speak in that way only when they see themselves as the "most loyal opposition" and wish to prevent someone to whom they feel close from embarking on the wrong path. Schoenfeld believes that the "Holocaust Industry" (which he, of course, never calls by that name) has traded short-term benefits for long-term security.
He points out that for many years, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland have been among the most reliable supporters of Israel. He asks whether nations which have just been "humiliated" will continue their support in the future , or whether they might not respond differently to Arab desires for the most modern weapons technology? "It is impossible to state this with certainty, but it seems that moral and political capital were thoughtlessly squandered." Schoenfeld continues that it is extremist rhetoric to accuse Jewish organizations of "gangster tactics" , we can only hope that the venomous nature of such accusations will not inhibit rational voices from expressing the necessary criticism. Until now, only a few of these voices have let themselves be heard, he says, concluding that it is high time to reflect anew on the compensation issue.
Schoenfeld's article makes clear that the debate kicked off by Finkelstein does not follow the simple pattern of "Germans here, Jews there." However, in Thursday's edition of Allgemeine Jüdische Wochenzeitung, Salomon Korn calls on the Piper publishing house not to publish "The Holocaust Industry." There was a similar scene when Daniel Goldhagen's study of Hitler's "willing executioners" was due to be published by Holt, headed at the time by Michael Naumann, now the German chancellor's adviser for cultural affairs. Holt was then subjected to enormous pressure; Naumann said later that he had never before experienced anything like it. Aug. 30.
Website comment: Among the groups not listed in this report who are set to benefit: the Anti Defamation League