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 Posted Wednesday, May 5, 1999

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American Jewish World
the "voice of Minnesota Jewry"

May 7, 1999,


A Reply To Stephen Feinstein, Ph.D.

By Gabriel Schoenfeld (copyright 1999)

THE April 23 issue of the American Jewish World carried a lengthy commentary by Stephen C. Feinstein, Director of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota. It contains a heated attack on me and my work, with terms of personal disparagement like "no-nothing" [sic] and "brainless" tossed around. Needless to say, I found the ad hominem barrage most disturbing, and all the more so coming from a professor. I was also struck by the large number of mischaracterizations and misrepresentations Mr. Feinstein's article advanced. Though I am reluctant to engage in discussion with such a reckless interlocutor, so that readers are not left with a wholly distorted picture of my views, I will attempt to set the record straight with respect to three of the more significant points Mr. Feinstein raises.

First, Mr. Feinstein characterizes my writings about Holocaust scholarship in ways that make them scarcely recognizable, stating, for example, that I adopt "something like a quasi-religious attitude sacramentalizing Jewish victimization and at the same time insuring that no other genocide or human rights issue is compared to the Shoah." I do not see even a twisted reflection of my own arguments in that summary, but even if I did, the position he attributes to me would hardly seem to justify the personal abuse he hurls my way or, for that matter, to provide grist for Holocaust deniers as he alleges.

For readers interested in understanding exactly what I have said about the condition of Holocaust studies in the United States, I recommend they take a look at my articles themselves. They can be found in the June and August 1998 issue of Commentary magazine available at most libraries or online by clicking on "back issues" at Commentary's website. My op-ed in the New York Times appeared this past March 18th, and can be found online at my personal home page.

Second, Mr. Feinstein notes that some of my articles have been posted on Holocaust-denial websites, and he cites two instances. The articles are indeed there, but at these very same websites one can also find writings by such distinguished historians of the Holocaust and Nazism as Raul Hilberg, Deborah Lipstadt, Yaffa Eliach, Werner Cohn, and Fritz Stern. Holocaust deniers may have reasons for posting articles by all these Jewish scholars, but I cannot divine what they are; it hardly suggests to me that these scholars are Holocaust deniers or are in league in any way with extremist cranks.

Finally, Mr. Feinstein alludes to the pamphlet he wrote "for" the Scientologists. There are a number of very troubling aspects about this publication and the circumstances under which it came to be written that Mr. Feinstein neglects to share with readers.

For one thing, Mr. Feinstein asserts that he wrote the pamphlet in the service of "human rights," but he says not a word about how he came in the first place to make the Church of Scientology his cause, an organization that Time magazine has called a "cult of greed and power" and "a ruthless global scam." Whether one agrees with Time's characterization or not, surely there were many other more pressing human-rights concerns that might have engaged his interest in 1996, the year he wrote his pamphlet?

The mystery of Mr. Feinstein's involvement in this strange cause is not hard to solve. As he has admitted to the Forward, he was paid to write the pamphlet by the Scientologists themselves. The Scientologists are known for being both extremely wealthy and extremely generous to those who consent to serve their purposes. Mr. Feinstein has thus far declined to reveal exactly what compensation he received but other such cases involved sums in excess of $10,000.

What is particularly unsettling is that Mr. Feinstein's pamphlet appeared while the Scientologists were in the midst of an aggressive crusade against the German government, which they incessantly likened to Adolph Hitler's Third Reich. As can be seen from the title of Mr. Feinstein's publication, "Art as Propaganda Against Jews and Scientologists in Germany: Echoes of the Past Reverberate in the Present," it fully joins in the spirit of the Scientology propaganda effort. The essay is replete with analogies likening the "victimization" of Scientologists in Germany today to the Nazi war against the Jews.

Mr. Feinstein is being disingenuous when he states that the U.S. State Department has expressed concerns about Germany's treatment of the Scientologists. He fails to inform readers of a crucial fact: the State Department has unequivocally condemned the very same Scientology campaign in which he has taken such an active part.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, for example, has said that "comparisons between what happened under Nazism and what is happening now [to Scientologists] are historically inaccurate and totally distasteful." In 1996, the year Mr. Feinstein's pamphlet came out, the State Department's official spokesman declared that the analogies are "outrageous" and "wildly inaccurate" and that "we in the U.S. Government feel a responsibility to defend the German Government from those charges."

The State Department is hardly alone in this stance. Leaders of major Jewish organizations like Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, have also spoken out. Foxman has called the analogies "an affront to the Jewish community." Ignatz Bubis, the leader of Germany's Jewish community, has characterized the Scientologists' campaign as "a smear against the memory of the victims of national-socialism."

My own view coincides with Foxman and Bubis's. While I do not believe, as Mr. Feinstein incorrectly imputes to me, that all parallels between the Holocaust and other instances of genocide are ipso facto out of bounds, the analogies he has drawn between the Scientologists and Hitler's victims are an insult to the memory of the Jews of Europe who were driven from their homes and murdered in concentration camps. For a professor of Holocaust studies to indulge in such comparisons is bad enough. That it was done for money and in the service of a dangerous cult makes it a far more serious transgression.

Gabriel Schoenfeld is the senior editor of Commentary magazine.
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