Posted Thursday, July 16, 1998


Another Washington Museum Scandal

David Irving's ACTION REPORT

THE INEPTLY named U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) has run into further problems.

ACTION REPORT already referred (AR No. 13) to scandals discovered in its finances by outside auditors, who determined that over one million dollars had been misappropriated and assigned on a buddy-buddy basis to "researchers" for research contracts.

Then a new appointee as chief of the museum was fired after it turned out that he was moonlighting, holding down two jobs at the same time, and had not told Cornell University that he was working during his sabbatical.

Revisionists have kept up a constant sniping attack on the museum's Disney-land quality, the lack of hard evidence of mass gassings, the gawdy gadgets, and the psycho-terror methods inflicted on young and impressionable visitors, who are handed the IDs of Holocaust victims and told as they leave whether (guess which) they perished or survived.

Now comes one more evidence that the museum is being run as a refuge for scoundrels. A new body was being created, the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, and John K Roth, of Claremont College, was appointed its director. He seemed a natural choice: his credentials were of the finest. But then it dawned on people that, despite his name, Roth was a practising Presbyterian.

This was a misfortune of birth that had already befallen noted US history professor Christopher Browning, of Pacific Lutheran University, hand-picked to take over the chair of Holocaust studies at Harvard University. He too failed the final hurdle.

Roth's enemies (principally the Zionist Council of America) dug out and faxed to Holocaust Council members a 1988 article he had written in the Los Angeles Times, in which he compared Israel to the Nazis. This was unfortunate. People said that he had "desecrated the memory" of Holocaust victims. Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman, no slouch himself when it comes to defamation, characterised Roth's opponents as "Jewish thought police."

Reading words like that, anti-Semites everywhere were kvelling. The scandal over Roth has generated a real holocaust of indignation amongst his admirers --including many Jews and some of the world's leading historians. The press items reproduced here, with grateful thanks to the newspapers concerned, reflect the depth of feelings aroused.

"It is painful to witness the specter of an honest and fair human being and a gifted teacher and scholar being criticized with distortions and half-truths," wrote one professor in the Los Angeles Times. [SEE BELOW]. The New York Jewish Week found whiffs of "McCarthyism" but also quoted fears that the Museum was being "de-Judaized." Journalists like Jane Eisner of the Philadelphia Inquirer angrily asked the rhetorical question "Who owns the Holocaust?" AR logo

As though that immense human tragedy had become a valuable, bankable asset: but, Perish the Thought.




Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, July 15, 1998

Holocaust Scholar

Re "Scholar Resigns Holocaust Museum Post Amid Dispute," July 6:

I have been a colleague of John Roth's for some 28 years. I am not an expert on the Holocaust, nor do I agree with everything John has written during his career. But I feel strongly that he is being unfairly attacked.

Indeed, I believe I can speak for the vast majority of the Claremont McKenna College community when I say that John is deeply admired and respected here. He is a person of the highest integrity.

He is one of the top teachers at this college--popular with students, innovative in his teaching and rigorous in his demands on students. He is an energetic and helpful colleague. He has been enormously productive as a scholar, and his many books and articles (including those on the Holocaust) are respected.

It is painful to witness the specter of an honest and fair human being and a gifted teacher and scholar being criticized with distortions and half-truths. The Jews who died in the Holocaust have no more loyal friend than Roth.

STEPHEN T. DAVIS Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Claremont McKenna

© 1998. Copyright Los Angeles Times

Philadelphia Inquirer Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 21, 1998

COMMENTARY "A smear campaign shames the lessons of the Holocaust":


By Jane R Eisner, Editor of the Editorial Page

This story is about a controversy ignited by a local activist, fueled by a local congressman, seized upon by the national media, about a subject as big and unfathomable as a dark, thunderous sky:

Who owns the Holocaust?

Was it a uniquely Jewish event? Or a horrifying illustration of man's inhumanity to man? Who's entitled to keep the flame lit?

Bear those questions in mind. It's important not to lose sight of them as I recount what is, essentially, a smear campaign.

At issue is the appointment of John K. Roth of Science Claremont McKenna College as director of the Center Arts & for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Roth has studied the Holocaust for 25 years. He has Sunday written numerous books and articles; participated in dozens of scholarly conferences; developed ways to teach the Holocaust; and worked with the Holocaust museum since its early days. He has been a member of its governing council since 1995.

Ten years ago, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching chose him as the nation's outstanding teacher-scholar for his work on the Holocaust and the American experience.

He also happens not to be Jewish.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, he became fascinated with the Holocaust a generation ago. He was the first non-Jew to teach about it at the University of Haifa in Israel.

So who can own the Holocaust?


Morton Klein, a Merion resident, child of survivors and outspoken national president of the Zionist Organization of America, believes it can't be John Roth. He'll tell anyone who'll listen how unsuitable Roth is for this important post.

Unfortunately, Klein's congressman, Jon Fox, was all ears. And so, Fox and his colleague, Michael Forbes (R., N.Y.) -- without talking to Roth or anyone at the museum -- wrote a scathing letter protesting the appointment. Somehow, a copy of it landed on the pages of the Forward, a national Jewish newspaper, before it landed on the desks of museum officials.

Fox says he weighed in because, as an Appropriations Committee member, he had an obligation to question an institution that receives 60 percent of its funding from Congress. In the June 10 letter, he urged the museum to "reconsider its choice."

By last Thursday evening, Fox was more conciliatory. "Questions raised, questions answered, time to move on," he said over the phone. "I have finished all I'm going to do."

Oh, but the damage was done.

With two congressmen on its side, the smear campaign was rolling. Just a few more press releases regurgitating the same misleading information and, quick as a wink, syndicated columnist George F. Will was on board, ranting about Roth.

Another tirade was launched by New York Post columnist John Podhoretz, who admitted he'd never actually been inside the museum, even though he lived and worked near it for many years.


And what do they claim is so noxious in the professor's resume? Two oft-repeated examples:

[+] A commentary piece from 1988. Fox and the ZOA contend that Roth compared Israel and Nazi Germany. Not so. But the column was clumsily written, and Roth has publicly apologized for any misimpressions it may have left.

[+]  A USA Today story from 1988. Fox and the ZOA claim Roth equated poor Americans and Jews in Nazi Germany. No intelligent reading of the eight-paragraph "Newsmakers" item could lead to that conclusion.

They'll cite a Claremont College journal article from 1983. And one from 1980. It's the same pattern: A scholar's writings are picked apart, lifted out of context and, without any regard for a lifetime of work and study, turned into the kind of smear that once was the sole province of politicians.

The scholarly world is supposed to be based on a different paradigm. It's about discussion and dissent, critical thinking and argument. It's not about political litmus tests.


That should be especially true when the subject is the Holocaust and the venue is that museum. It is built on federal land. Most of its workers -- including Roth -- are civil-service appointees.

If it was to be only a Jewish memorial to a Jewish event, it ought not be funded by American taxpayers. But the museum's scope was always universal: to examine this unique, complex tragedy in the context of world history and American values. It is not just a monument to the past; it is a warning and a beacon. That's why the museum speaks out against ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and church-burnings in the South. That's why 70 percent of its 10 million visitors have been non-Jews.

It stands against intolerance.

On Wednesday, the museum council reaffirmed its support of Roth. But that made no difference to those busy disseminating half-truths and innuendo.

It is upon such dangerous ground that fascism is built.

Jane R. Eisner's e-mail address is

©1998 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.


New York Jewish Week, June 12, 1998 / 18 Sivan 5758

Leaders Defend Holocaust Scholar

Cries of McCarthyism erupt against Morton Klein-led attack on John Roth.

By James D. Besser, Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON - Holocaust scholars this week are rallying around the appointment of John K. Roth as the first director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, the newly created scholarly arm of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

And museum officials seem to be lining up behind the embattled scholar.

Roth last week found himself under attack for a 1988 Los Angeles Times op-ed article that his attackers say "desecrates the memory" of Holocaust victims and compares Israel to the Nazis.

But defenders, including some top Jewish leaders and prominent Holocaust scholars, say Roth's article was deliberately misrepresented by critics. Several have labeled the anti-Roth effort a "witch hunt."


Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman, who said he disagreed with Roth's use of a Holocaust analogy, nevertheless characterized some of his opponents as "Jewish thought police."

The anti-Roth crusade is being led by Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein, whose initial press release demanded that the Claremont (Calif.) McKenna College scholar apologize and retract his controversial statements. Last week, Roth - a philosopher who began specializing in the Holocaust in the early '70s - said that he regretted the 1988 article.

"The essay is one that lends itself to interpretations different from what I intended, and I take responsibility for that," he said in an interview. "If there was one piece I could blot out of my extensive publications list forever, this is the one I would pick."

But that didn't entirely mollify Klein, who said the ZOA "accepts his somewhat equivocal apology - but he is apologizing only for what he terms is a misconstrued impression on this particular article and not for his troubling analogies."

Roth indicated this week that he is confused about exactly what Klein wants. "I'm willing to take responsibility for the piece, and I was prepared to apologize for creating an impression that was inconsistent with my views, which I did. I don't know what more he wants, except maybe my head on a platter.'

The controversy began last week when copies of the 10-year-old opinion piece were faxed to reporters and Holocaust Council members.


Roth wrote the piece in the wake of elections in Israel that saw the rise of the Moledet party, which advocates the deportation of Palestinians on the West Bank. Roth wrote that the rise of Moledet echoed events in Germany in 1938, when official Nazi policy on Jews focused on forced emigration.

"Kristallnacht happened because a political state decided to be rid of people unwanted within its borders," he wrote. "It seems increasingly clear that Israel would prefer to rid itself of Palestinians if it could do so."

Roth's supporters generally concede that the comparison was an unfortunate one - although historically, some say, it was not beyond the pale.

"Holocaust scholars take into account the fact that the Nazi policy prior to 1939 was not mass annihilation but forced immigration," said Michael Berenbaum, a top Holocaust scholar and former research director at the Holocaust Museum who co-authored a book with Roth and strongly supports his appointment.

"John never made the comparison to post-1939 German policy. Morton Klein said he labeled Israel as like the Nazis; that's simply not true. He labeled those who advocated the forced evacuation of the Arabs."

But the Roth flap has also played into broader debates under way at the museum involving charges from conservatives that the institution is being "de-Judaized," and that it is starting to emphasize a universal approach to Holocaust studies that diminishes the event's Jewish character. Roth is not Jewish, which some observers see as a factor in the current controversy.


"There are tremendous pulls at the museum in favor of universalization of the Holocaust," said Rabbi Avi Weiss, the Riverdale activist who has been a critic of the current museum leadership.

"I see his appointment as representing one more step in that direction. I see a universalistic leaning in his writings."

But Berenbaum - who fought to retain the emphasis on the Jewish experience during his tenure at the museum - rejected that argument.

"I yield to no one in my belief that the Jewish core of the Holocaust must be protected, understood and dealt with," he said. "John Roth is one of the men in the world who writes with the greatest sensitivity of this experience."

Berenbaum criticized Klein for launching his first press-release salvo based only on the short op-ed article, not on Roth's vast scholarly work.

"Mort Klein is wrong on substance, and he is introducing a tone of vulgarity to Jewish life, he said. "How can he attack a man who has written 25 books without reading a single one of them? Or a chapter of one of them?"


Klein admitted that he had not read Roth's scholarly work before issuing his first criticism, but said that he has done so since then - and that he has found "troubling" aspects in Roth's scholarly writing. But he declined this week to elaborate.

Klein said that his status as a child of survivors gives him a basis for judging Roth's scholarship.

Some Jewish leaders and a number of Holocaust scholars countered that the anti Roth effort seemed more like a personal vendetta than a debate over the museum's future.

The ADL's Foxman pointed to a growing list of targets for Klein's highly personal attacks, including folk singer Pete Seeger and reporters Thomas Friedman and Mike Wallace.

Foxman emphasized that "there's nothing wrong with Mort Klein raising questions about this person because of what he's written. But that's not what he did - he raised the question having already come to his conclusion, and then started calling [Jewish leaders] around the country looking for support for his position, without any debate, without discussion. That's where it begins to look like McCarthyism. You don't ask, "Are you a communist?" You start with, "You are a communist, aren't you?"


Klein was also accused of misrepresenting the position of a key Holocaust Council member. In his second press release on the subject, Klein cited a statement by Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt in the Forward.

Lipstadt, he wrote, "said that Roth's Los Angeles Times op-ed was "odious."

But this week, the Emory University professor blasted Klein for leaving out the rest of her quote. In fact, she said, she had strongly praised Roth's appointment and objected to the way he was being "tarred and feathered."

"I am appalled, absolutely appalled," she said. "This is the height of intellectual dishonesty, to take a quote that clearly indicated I thought something unfair was being done to John Roth, and to use it to give the impression that I had criticized him."

Lipstadt said that she was uncomfortable with Roth's use of the Nazi analogy, but that "in no way does this offset his scholarship, or the fact that this man is a clear supporter of Israel."

Klein defended his use of Lipstadt's quote.


"I very carefully stated that this is what people are saying in response to the Nazi-Israel analogy in his article," he said. "I wanted to make it clear that it was not only ZOA that was making the case that this was odious, that there were Holocaust scholars who found this odious."

This week, Holocaust Museum officials seemed to be standing by their man.

"Key members of the council are fully supportive of John Roth," said Holocaust Council chairman Miles Lerman. "We have no intention of caving in to anybody. If we're convinced we're on the right side of the issue, we'll stick to it."

Lerman refused to criticize Roth's attackers by name, but he made his anger and frustration plain. "If people want to attack the museum, that's inevitable,' he said. "But when they start using lies, that's completely unacceptable."

He also criticized some of the press coverage of the controversy.

"I'm a little surprised that the press hasn't gone deeper into it, and tried to understand that this is part of an assault implemented by a very small group who is trying to be vindictive in settling scores," he said.

© 1998 New York Jewish Week

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