London, Wednesday, July 19, 2000
Holocaust Industry, By Norman G. Finkelstein:
Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, is
published by Verso on 20 July.
£16 ISBN 1 85984 773
His people cast aside
THE HOLOCAUST INDUSTRY
by Anthony Julius
NORMAN Finkelstein has a simple thesis. The Nazi Holocaust has been hijacked by special interests; the memory of those who died is being exploited for wicked ends.
"American Jewish elites" have set up the "Holocaust industry" to defend a predatory, oppressive Israel, and to blackmail German and Swiss institutions into paying compensation in respect of a largely fictitious body of "survivors". The billions thus extorted are then passed not to genuine survivors but to greedy Jewish bureaucrats who squander the money on suspect projects. They get rich at the expense of gullible, vulnerable Gentiles who fear bad publicity and are intimidated by accusations of anti-Semitism. The members of these Jewish elites care for nobody or nothing but themselves. Their avowed concern for Holocaust memory, Finkelstein remarks, is as contrived as their avowed concern for Israel's fate.
Parallel to the activity of these fraudsters, and sustaining them, is the activity of writers and academics who have converted the Nazi Holocaust, which was one crime among others, into "the Holocaust", a unique crime. A specious victimhood is thereby conferred on the Jews, even though they comprise the most successful ethnic group in the United States.
These fraudsters need to be unmasked, and Finkelstein believes that he is the man to do it. In 150 short pages he sets out to expose their machinations. If his indictment is a true one, it should prompt prosecutions, sackings, protest. The book shouts scandal. It is a polemic, communicated at maximum volume.
The son of a survivor, Finkelstein repeatedly cites his mother as sanction for his own opinions. "In this book," he writes, "I attempt to represent my parents' legacy." His rhetorical stance is that of the Jewish prophet condemning the shortcomings of his own people. The question is: is he right?
The book is, I think, a failure. It is a rant. Its arguments are overstated and simplistic. Finkelstein divides the world into nursery categories of the wholly good and the wholly evil. The vulgarity of his tone is matched only by the banality of his analysis. Finkelstein repeatedly displays an incapacity to recognise complexity of motive, reason or achievement. The people who campaigned against the Swiss banks for compensation, for example, cannot be written off as mere "hucksters". And the question that Finkelstein dismisses as "plainly unanswerable", namely, what constitutes fair compensation for Jewish (or other) slave labourers, is critical to any proper consideration of the claims campaigns.
He dismisses anti-Semitism. In his view it barely exists and when it does, the Jews are blamed as the cause (and Jewish racism itself is "not far below the surface"). He mocks Edgar Bronfman for maintaining that it is not Jews but anti-Semites who cause anti-Semitism. And yet, Bronfman is right. What is anti-Semitism but the unjustifiable hatred of Jews as a people? What is more, even if Finkelstein is right that anti-Semitism is in abeyance (and I am inclined to think that it is), this is in part attributable to the efforts of the very organisations -- such as the American Jewish Committee -- which he disparages.
Finkelstein ties himself up into knots on the question of what constitutes a Holocaust victim. He maintains that many claims by alleged survivors are fraudulent, either inflated or made up by people untouched by persecution. They were not victims. Nor were the Waffen SS buried at Bitburg cemetery. Finkelstein dismisses as "demented" President Reagan's assertion to the contrary, that they were "victims of the Nazis just as surely as the victims of the concentration camps". At the same time, however, he approvingly quotes his mother, whose credo was: "we are all Holocaust victims". This is in itself absurd; it is also inconsistent with what Finkelstein himself writes elsewhere.
Not all revisionist (that is, Holocaust denial) literature is totally useless, Finkelstein asserts. And he cites the historian [Professor] Gordon Craig's commendation of David Irving's work as an example. But this misses the point. Craig was praising (however over-generously) precisely that aspect of Irving's writing which cannot be characterised as "revisionist". This is typical of Finkelstein's method. He will rely on a quotation if it suits him, but will not take the trouble to investigate the facts behind it.
If you only read one book on the Holocaust, this is not the one. On the other hand, if you want to commit the rest of your life to a study of the Holocaust, there are better books than Finkelstein's to occupy you until the end of your days. It is best understood next to Peter Novick's The Holocaust and Modern Memory (London, 2000); whatever slight merit Finkelstein's arguments have derives, when diluted and qualified, from Novick.
Anthony Julius (picture, right)
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London, Wednesday, July 19, 2000