Jewish writer condemned as a "traitor"
OUTRAGED: Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League says Finkelstein's book, charging U.S. Jews have used the Holocaust to gain victim status, is "blasphemy."
THE son of concentration-camp survivors has enraged America's Jewish establishment by accusing its top leaders of exploiting the Holocaust to pocket millions.
In an explosive new book, "The Holocaust Industry," Hunter College Professor Norman Finkelstein lambastes Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, the World Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League.
Finkelstein, a Brooklyn native, claims these institutions are members of a big-money "Holocaust Industry" that is using stories of Nazi atrocities to gain political support for Israel and fill their bank accounts.
His views have caused Finkelstein to be denounced as a "self-hating Jew" who parrots conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic canards.
Reaction to the book has been largely hostile in the United States. The New York Times said it's no better than "The Protocols of Elders of Zion," the bogus work that has fueled decades of anti-Semitism.
Despite the criticism, Finkelstein, 47, is getting a lot of attention from Jewish leaders. They understand he can't easily be dismissed as a typical Holocaust denier because he's the Jewish son of two concentration-camp survivors - his mother, Maryla, was imprisoned in Maidanek and his father, Zacharias, was in Auschwitz.
"This book is a personal intervention because the Holocaust Industry has disfigured, deformed and corrupted the memory of Jewish people's suffering during World War II," Finkelstein says.
"The Holocaust Industry has reduced the memory of the Jewish peoples suffering to that of a Monte Carlo casino."
Finkelstein makes an unpopular argument: that the memory of the Holocaust has become an "ideological weapon" through which "one of the world's most formidable military powers [Israel], has cast itself as a 'victim' state, and the most successful ethnic group in the United States has likewise acquired victim status."
FINKELSTEIN says the view of Holocaust changed since the late 1960s, when Israel became a U.S. ally. He claims that people like Wiesel propelled the story of the Holocaust from just another ugly episode of World War II - in which Chinese, Poles, Russians, Japanese and even Germans were slaughtered en masse - into a unique, unparalleled genocide.
Such groups as the Anti-Defamation League insist the Nazi treatment of the Jews was unprecedented, even though Catholics, Gypsies and Communists were killed in concentration camps, he notes.
"Considerable dividends accrue from this specious victimhood," he writes. "In particular, immunity from criticism, however justified."
This immunity has been used to deflect criticism from Israel's activities since the 1960s, Finkelstein argues. More recently, he says, it has been used as "a chip in a high-stakes power game" to help wring $7 billion in reparations from Swiss bankers who seized the accounts of Nazi victims, and from the German government for the wartime use of slave labor.
Finkelstein claims this effort has fanned the flames of anti-Semitism among Europeans who see the reparations as a cash grab by wealthy American Jews. And, he claims, the bulk of this money will not even go to Nazi victims, but to institutions like the WJC.
He says, in effect, "the Holocaust Industry has become an outright extortion racket."
The book has enraged Jewish leaders.
"I am a survivor, and I find his book a blasphemy, an insult," said Abraham Foxman of the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "He's the self-appointed defender of survivors! Who asked him?"
Finkelstein's sharpest barbs are aimed at Wiesel, the well-regarded Holocaust activist.
The CUNY professor calls Wiesel a "silly figure" who is enriching himself on the memory of the Shoah - the Hebrew word for the Holocaust - by taking $25,000-per-speech in lecture fees.
Finkelstein also blasts former New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato for charging $305 per hour to help broker the settlement with the Swiss, and criticizes Rabbi Marvin Heir of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for allegedly taking a $520,000-per-year total salary for himself, his wife and son.
A Wiesel spokeswoman said the Nobel laureate was too disgusted to read the book, adding that he considered it "slanderous and not worth comment."
Other Jewish leaders have also weighed in.
"Norman Finkelstein is a Jewish traitor and a self-hating Jew," said David Weiss, spokesman for the radical Jewish Defense Organization.
"This book is bullshit," added Elan Steinberg of the World Jewish Council.
STEINBERG is a another Finkelstein target. The Hunter professor says the WJC has, in effect, robbed the real Holocaust survivors of their rightful reparations by pocketing the settlement money it demanded for Jews from Switzerland and Germany.
"These organizations kept claiming it was all being done for needy Holocaust victims," Finkelstein said. "But, once you've obtained the money, having wrapped yourself sanctimoniously in the mantle of these victims, you can't then use the moneys for your own causes."
In the book, Finkelstein quotes WJC leader Edgar Bronfman Sr., who allegedly told a magazine his group is holding "roughly $7 billion" from Swiss and German settlements.
The group says Finkelstein is wrong.
"The idea that the WJC treasury was holding $7 billion from restitution is absurd and false," Steinberg says. "The money from the settlement has yet to be distributed, and that will be in the hands of a judge."
Much of Finkelstein's book deals with undisputed facts but, critics say, his interpretation is wrong.
"Basically, he is somebody who recasts a lot of classical anti-Semitic theories and views the Holocaust through his own lens," says Ken Stern of the American Jewish Committee.
"He doesn't deny the murder of the Jews. He just sees it as a vehicle through which this Jewish conspiracy operates."
The fracas is not the first controversy for Finkelstein, who once clashed with Jewish groups over Israel's human-rights record. He says he doesn't care.
"I'm concerned about the scholarly judgment of my book," he said. "And on an emotional and personal level, I'm most concerned about the reaction of the actual victims of Nazi persecution."
Website comment: Among the groups mentioned in this article: the Anti Defamation League