Now Matthias Küntzel and Colin Meade have responded as follows:
Gilbert Achcar has decided, at least for the time being, not to deal with our central arguments, writing that “I won’t here discuss the substance of the two authors’ comments.“ This is his prerogative and we have no objection to his exercising it.
We are, however, surprised to find him indulging in ad hominem attacks: “Küntzel is the author of an infamous Islamophobic book” and both of us are “pro-Zionist zealots”, who are “much more fanatical in their defence of Israel than the Israeli mainstream itself” and to whom “standard academic practices … seem to be totally alien.”
Our critique of his book is not about Zionism or Israel, but about antisemitism and Holocaust denial in the Arab world – topics of major importance and topicality. By resorting to insults, Achcar confirms what we say in our review: that he considers those who takes these matters seriously to be Zionist propagandists.
The explicit message to the readers of this homepage is: don’t start reading the book review by Küntzel and Meade. The implicit message is: those in Britain who wants to avoid such insults should refrain from taking a serious interest in contemporary Arab antisemitism.
He supplements his attack with a hefty dose of self-praise. Almost half of his text is devoted to an approving article from April 2010, to which he later adds: “My own book was praised by prestigious Holocaust scholars and Israeli scholars (Michael Marrus, Francis Nicosia, Peter Novick, Avi Shlaim, Idith Zertal).“
True enough. But does he think this is some sort of answer to the points we make? Leaving aside the fact that we mention his book’s supporters in our text, it should be noted that the support is reciprocal: Achcar praises or favourably quotes all the above authors in his book.
However, the centrepiece of his response, is the following extract from one of his interviews:
“The [Holocaust] denial in the Arab world today comes mainly from ignorance. However, you have to distinguish it from the Holocaust denial in the West, which is a pathological phenomenon. In the West, these people are mentally ill, complete anti-Semites. In the Arab world, the denial that exists among certain strains of public opinion, who are still in the minority, comes from rage and frustration over the escalation of Israeli violence, along with the increased use of the Holocaust. It began with the invasion of Lebanon in 1982.”
This quote is not taken from his book but from the journal that we mentioned in our (now corrected) footnote.
We quoted this paragraph as follows: “The denial in the Arab world … began with the invasion of Lebanon in 1982.” Achcar calls this a distortion and claims: “It is clear from the context that what I mentioned – and, mind you, this was an interview done over the phone – as beginning in 1982 is Israel’s ,increased use of the Holocaust’.”
Our interpretation of this passage was the obvious one. If Achcar now wishes to make it clear that he believes Arab Holocaust denial began earlier, then that is fine by us; we are not interested in distorting his point of view.
However, the key problem remains the same, regardless of how the passage in question is interpreted or where it originally comes from. This problem is the distinction Achcar attempts to draw in this interview between Holocaust denial in the West, on the one hand, and, on the other, Holocaust denial in the Arab world, which he considers forgivable because it is, in his view, ultimately caused by “rage and frustration over the escalation of Israeli violence” and stems “mainly from ignorance”.
Achcar’s response to our paper does not address, but distracts attention from this key issue and the substantive points we make, namely:
- that antisemitism and Holocaust denial are widespread in the Middle East at both the popular and leadership levels;
- that antisemitism and Holocaust denial cannot be adequately explained as responses to Israeli policies or any other real world political events;
- that antisemitism is not a marginal ideological twitch, but a political worldview that determines behaviour;
- that Achcar’s anti-Zionism makes him unable fully to grasp and draw the consequences of points 1-3.
This discussion has to start yet. We remain willing to engage in it in any appropriate forum, including in direct debate with Achcar himself.