At first he talked about “the Jews”.
Then he talked about “the Jewish community”.
Now he talks about “the zionists”.
By chance I received two tweets on this topic in immediate succession. The first was to an article in the Independent, on the importance of remembering the Holocaust. The second was a link to a post about a quite appalling ‘joke’ made by a natural gas company in Estonia, who juxtaposed an image of the gate to Auschwitz with a chirpy recommendation to buy their product.
The executive director of the company had taken this photograph himself, and expressed no remorse for his actions, casually citing the fact that people make jokes about such matters as though to excuse what he had done.
The Independent article, by Melissa Pawson, is a reflective piece on her own experience of visiting Auschwitz, her disappointment and surprise at hearing that a friend knew nothing of the Holocaust, and her feeling that we should remember these events because terrible things have not stopped happening today – she refers to Breivik, Srebrenica and Rwanda as examples.
Although I would not take issue with the article on this account, I think it is also worth remembering that antisemitism in particular, as well as hatred and bigotry in general, have not yet disappeared. The Estonia story reflects this, and so, unfortunately, do some of the comments under Pawson’s piece.
Some assert that the Holocaust is used to justify Israeli aggression. A popular comment accuses the ‘Jewish Lobby’ of trying to stop the Armenian Holocaust being recognized. Someone else observes that: ‘More people know of Hitler’s genocides at Auschwitz than know of the Sharon’s genocides at Sabra.’ There is little challenge to such views on the thread, except of outright Holocaust denial.
I was particularly sorry to see the Porrajmos, or Roma Holocaust, invoked as a kind of weapon in this antisemitic discourse. I think people do need to be aware of the Porrajmos, particularly in the light of growing anti-Roma feeling in Europe, and there is in fact a great deal of cooperation between Jewish and Roma artists and activists helping to commemorate this aspect of the Holocaust.
A guest post by Lewisham Councillor Michael Harris on Bob From Brockley relates how, on Holocaust Memorial Day, John Hamilton of Lewisham People Before Profit heckled a rabbi to include Gaza in a list of genocides he was commemorating. Comparing what is endured by Gazans to the systematic attempt to kill off an entire people is blatantly wrong. And, as Bob From Brockley comments, we can “seriously doubt Hamilton would shout out “Gaza” if the speaker had been an Imam talking about genocides”. It is an appalling thing to have suggested, intolerable on Holocaust memorial day.
And if this was simply inept advocacy for Palestinians, it’s also an indication of how far the prejudiced idea that Jews in general are culpable for the circumstances of Palestinians has infused this good cause with antisemitism.
Holocaust denial, it was thought, was put to rest with the humiliation in court of David Irving.
However, denial is rampant in the Middle East, and across Europe there is a political manipulation of the Holocaust, its trivialisation or obfuscation, and its labelling as just one genocide among many.
In this episode, Wendy Robbins visits Lithuania where 95% of its Jews didn’t end up in concentration camps, but instead were herded – often by their neighbours – into specially-dug pits, and shot. Yet the popular Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius doesn’t even mention it.
As the Baltic states look for an identity in the wake of independence from the communists, the Holocaust is being politically manipulated. The public wearing of swastikas is legal and the few remaining Holocaust survivors are being hounded as “war criminals.”
By Mark Gardner
Recent posts on CST Blog have included sections and summaries from CST’s recently released report, Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2009. (The full pdf can be accessed here. 58 pages, including graphics.) The next section of the report that was due to be shown here, was that covering Abuse of the Holocaust. (These report pages 20-27 can be accessed here.)
By ugly coincidence, however, the Morning Star newspaper has recently featured an exchange of letters that epitomises some of the most challenging and upsetting aspects of Abuse of the Holocaust. The exchange led to the Morning Star’s 18 November edition publishing a letter under the disgusting headline
Israel is happy to exterminate Palestinians
The letter-writer, George Abendstern, insists that he was correct to have previously depicted Israel perpetrating “a final solution”. The evolution – or rather, degeneration – of this exchange of letters is a startling example, in miniature, of historical and moral inversions that all too often pollute anti-Zionist discourse.
The fact that the letter writer, George Abendstern, is a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany (and a long standing anti-Zionist activist) merely adds to the suitability of this letters exchange as a point of wider comparison. Afer all, Jews (including Holocaust survivors and Israelis) have consistently played a leading role as theorists and activists in the demonisation of Zionism and Zionists: including Abuse of the Holocaust.
The fact that the headlines given to the letters are chosen by the Morning Star, serves to illustrate how Jewish concerns over Zionism and Israel are then understood and utilised by those around them.
(Note – dates given below are all as they appear in the Morning Star’s on-line edition.)
This little examplar began on 21 October when Professor Theodore Macdonald wrote
…Even before the abominable atrocities of the nazis, it was increasingly obvious that the Jews needed their own state in order to evade persecution. That truth was cynically used by British imperialism.
…Though the Balfour Declaration was unjust, we cannot keep revisiting historical errors. The Israelis need a recognised state. So do the Palestinians. An independent Palestine is an essential precondition for world peace.
(As an aside, it should be noted that despite the above content, the Morning Star called this letter “Jewish state not valid“.)
Abendstern’s response on 4 November, included this
Theodore Macdonald writes (M Star October 22) that “it was increasingly obvious the Jews needed a state of their own.”
Why? The Jews are not a nation – as the Israeli writer Schlomo Sand said in his book The Invention Of The Jewish People.
They are an amalgam of people professing the Jewish faith.
…[Zionist Jews]…are going to Palestine not for economic reasons but because their extremist and racist views drive them to call the land of Palestine their own.
These people – many from Russia and the US – have no regard for the indigenous people of Palestine and may yet turn to the “final solution.” This the world has to prevent.
So, here we have the denial of Jewish nationhood (however you define that term), legitimised by an Israeli Jewish writer; the ommission of the Holocaust and all other antisemitism as a previous or current motive for Jews to emigrate to Israel; and a very deliberate warning that this “may yet turn to the final solution” – all by a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.
Phil Katz, author of Freedom From Tyranny – Against Fascism And The Falsification Of History wrote to voice his concerns. His letter of 8 November was accurately titled
‘Final solution’ is not a term for casual use’
…George Abendstern (M Star November 5) plumbs new depths with his reference to an Israeli “final solution.”
…In [my book] I show what a “final solution” really is, while Mr Abendstern uses the term without a shred of evidence.
…the Prague Declaration Movement…uses historical revisionism, anti-communism and Holocaust denial and specialises in using terms such as “genocide” and “final solution” in a way which deliberately obscures their meaning….to erase the outcomes of Nuremberg by saying that the Soviet Union conducted “final solutions” in the Ukraine and Poland.
…The aim is to gut such specific terms of all meaning so that the real culprits go free and in order to confuse the young and those who want to oppose capitalism.
…We import its terminology and tactics of obfuscation into our pantheon of things to throw against Israel – and presumably other reactionaries – at our peril.
George Abendstern’s partner, Linda Clair, (also Jewish and a long standing anti-Zionist activist) responded in the next day’s paper. This time, the Morning Star didn’t beat about the bush with airy-fairy phrases such as “Final Solution”. Instead, (despite Clair not actually using the term) it saw fit to cut to the heart of the matter and abuse the Holocaust, titling Clair’s letter as
Israeli road could lead to a holocaust
To be semantic, Israel’s road would not lead to The Holocaust – that real Holocaust, after all, is already taken - no, Israel’s road “could” (not would) lead to “a holocaust”.Clair’s letter was along similar lines, but of course without the gut wrench of the holocaust sucker punch. Clair cited two Israelis, Ilan Pappe and Gideon Levy, and then got down to “final solution” business, premised upon her partner’s Jewish refugee identity
…The Israelis have massacred many thousands of Palestinians since 1947 and continue to do so.
If knowingly bombing populated areas with white phosphorus does not stem from the same mentality as the gas chambers did I would like to know the difference.
Methods of mass killing have moved on since 1945. The effect is the same.
…Mr Abendstern (M Star November 5) was born in Germany in 1930 and is not unfamiliar with the term “final solution.”
His commitment to justice for the Palestinians and his understanding of zionism mean he knows only too well where the Israeli road could lead if the world stands silently by.
Then, on 18 November, two more letters. One, from Roger Fletcher, accused Phil Katz of
pedantry and sectarianism against a valued Palestine activist
…It is patently obvious and is in fact documented that zionism aims to exterminate the Palestinian people.
Note, Fletcher states “exterminate”. This is no longer about colonialism or imperialism, dispossession and replacement. It has degenerated to being about extermination. It is not that Israel’s actions “could lead to a holocaust”: it is, rather, that “Zionism aims to exterminate the Palestinian people”. (Indeed, this is allegedly“patently obvious” and “in fact documented”.)
George Abendstern now also uses the “H” word: but in a manner that suggests he understands its importance, had deliberately refrained from previously doing so, but has now been provoked beyond all patience
Phil Katz (M Star November 10) writes about all things except the matter in hand – the brutal and genocidal colonisation of Palestine.
…I would urge Mr Katz to turn to his history books.
Long before the nazis coined the phrase “final solution” the zionists at their 1897 Basel conference made no secret of what they had in mind for the Palestinians.
Had they had the means they would by their own admission have finished them off in 1948.
What the zionists are presently undertaking is slow strangulation.
…Finally Mr Katz obviously has a problem with the term “final solution.”
Fine by me – shall we call it a “holocaust” instead?
Abendstern’s letter is bad enough in its own right, but the Morning Star sees fit to degrade the exchange even further, because this is what it chose to entitle as
Israel is happy to exterminate Palestinians
Of course, Abendstern’s letter says nothing about smiling Israeli conscripts happily herding Palestinians into gas chambers. If, however, the Morning Star is unable to empathise with Jewish perspectives on Holocaust abuse, they could consider the catastrophic destruction wrought by the Nazis’ hatred of communism and socialism, including the fact that the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau were initially tested upon 600 Soviet prisoners-of war and 250 sick Poles.
(The originally intended blog post, a summary of the Abuse of the Holocaust section from CST’s Discourse Report will follow in coming days.)
This is a guest post from Jak Codd, Communications and Internal Affairs Officer for Leeds University Union.
Having been a student at Leeds for over three years, I am used to the rough and tumble of the student political environment. However, recent events on campus have shocked even myself. Leeds has always had one of the largest Jewish societies in the country, and coupled with an active Palestinian Solidarity Group, this often results in a robust political environment – especially where the Middle East is concerned.
Leeds Palestinian Solidarity Group has often been accused of having, at best, a dismissive attitude towards the anti-Semitism many students feel exists within the organisation’s midst. In November 2008, Jewish students decided that their student union needed to do more to combat the worrying rise in anti-Semitic incidents on British campuses, which resulted in a referendum motion proposing the adoption of the EUMC’s working definition of anti-Semitism. Rather than accepting that anti-Semitism was a major issue facing Jewish students, Leeds PSG and their so-called ‘progressive’ allies unleashed a ferocious campaign in response – peaking with a banner picturing an Orthodox Jew holding a placard stating ‘End the Holocaust in Gaza’. It was argued that the passing of the definition may shut down the Palestinian society but, as Bernard Harrison succinctly points out, surely anyone that claims that a restriction on anti-Semitism will deprive them of their best arguments is de facto admitting being complicit in anti-Jewish racism? Rather than self-reflect as to why the National Union of Students, the State Department of the USA, and the European Union to name but a few, considers their group to fall under the EUMC Definition, all Leeds PSG could do was pour petrol on the flames of their offensive discourse. This worrying attitude towards anti-Semitism is the context for the disturbing events that have embroiled Leeds PSG in 2010.
In January of this year, Leeds PSG ran a series of events to mark a year since Israel’s war in Gaza, which was conveniently timed to coincide with the student union’s week long commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day.
One event, hosted in conjunction with the Leeds city Palestinian solidarity campaign, was a lecture given by Sameh Habeeb. Habeeb is the editor and founder of the dubious newspaper the Palestinian Telegraph, and a cheerleader for the anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon. Habeeb published an article by Atzmon on Holocaust Memorial Day, which stated that “the true interpritation of the Goldstone report is that Israelis are the Nazis of our time”, and that “Israeli… involvement in organ harvesting is well documented and an accepted fact”. Leeds PSG are no strangers to hosting speakers that are near the knuckle, having supported BRICUP’s tour of Bongani Masuku, the South African trade unionist found guilty by the South African Human Rights Commission for hate speech. However, it was their behaviour at another event that show the true colours of Leeds Palestinian Solidarity Group.
Ishmael Khaldi is an Israeli diplomat of Bedouin origin who was invited to speak on campus by the student Jewish society, to address the issue of a boycott of Israel. Instead of engaging and debating with the speaker, Leeds Palestinian Solidarity Group attempted to stop the event going ahead by repeatedly banging on the windows of the lecture theatre and storming the venue. As a result, a female security guard and a representative of University security were both shoved; with one being kicked in the back by a protestor. Most seriously, a Jewish student has recently complained to the University of Leeds that they heard chants of “throw the Jews into the sea” outside the lecture theatre. Of course, the Palestinian society vigorously denies this claim. Leeds PSG’s behavior that night has resulted in the society being banned by the student union from booking rooms for the foreseeable future.
On the back of this, Leeds University Union recently held their annual sabbatical elections. As a result of hard work and excellent campaigns, four Jewish students were elected to sabbatical positions within the student union. These students were of varying political affiliations, their only common connection their religion. Amid the celebrations in the union bar, a student entered and proceeded to wave a Palestinian flag silently. A protest at the recent room booking ban? Or was there something more sinister at play? It could be merely a coincidence that a Palestinian flag was waved as four Jewish students are elected to office, but having experienced the rhetoric and tactics of Leeds PSG and their comrades for four years, I am not so sure.
These single examples could probably be explained away as merely hard-hitting direct action against the Israeli state. But put into context, there is clearly a worrying pattern of behaviour from Leeds PSG that at best is intimidation of Jewish students, but at worst is outright naked anti-Semitism. I know which one I believe.
Why write an article on conspiracy theory? Hopefully, that will become clear as this article unfolds, but, basically, because so many members and supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) movement indulge themselves in a variety of conspiracy theorists.
So, how am I to use the notion of conspiracy theory? It’s easy enough to decide what it isn’t: it isn’t outright fabrications such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, produced by the Tsarist secret police in the late 19th Century in the full knowledge that they were telling lies. It isn’t the tendentious rubbish (even if based vaguely on a truism) produced by someone like Tom Hickey as a superficial justification for an academic boycott of Israel (but more of that later). Rather, it is the decision to assign the cause of some event or events to a person or group of people without resorting to seeking evidence of a link between the event(s) and the people blamed. It follows that there is no process of considering evidence, weighing the likelihood of this evidence actually demonstrating a link between event and people, and it further follows that no process of logical thought is employed anywhere in this sequence (even if something vaguely resembling the process known as “thinking” appears to have taken place).
The advantage for the believer of a conspiracy theory is that it saves them having to think, reason and seek facts and other forms of evidence to support their previously arrived at conclusion, as just argued. Any efforts made to introduce logic and reason by those of the rest of us who prefer evidence to assumption and argument to assertion tend to be met with statements along the lines of “well, that’s what ‘they’ want you to believe”. As the Observer reviewer of David Aaronovitch’s book “Voodoo History” put it, “you might not want to be trapped in a lift with the Duke of Edinburgh, but that doesn’t mean he murdered his daughter-in-law.” Regrettably, no amount of cast-iron evidence (sufficient, note, to convince even the most paranoid of intelligence officers) that Prince Philip was a thousand miles away at the time of Princess Diana’s death and, anyway, hasn’t talked to anyone in intelligence circles or even anyone who might have the slightest contact with such circles in several decades, will convince anyone who believes otherwise and will merely elicit the response already noted above about what “they” want you to believe.
Conspiracy theories are comforting, for all the reasons already given. They are a blanket, keeping the cold light of rationality away from the believer. This matters little (other than to those immediately affected, such as family, friends, etc) when the conspiracy concerns whether or not Princess Diana was “targeted” by the (or a) secret service. It matters a little (though at this distance in time not that much) more when there is still speculation, 46 years and several investigations later, as to whether Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone, mentally unstable, assassin (or was there a second, or a third, shooter on the “grassy knoll” – Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists know exactly what this is all about), or whether Oswald was wound up and set off by…who? The CIA? The Mafia? The KGB?
However, it is far more worrying, and potentially dangerous, when conspiracy theory reaches out to embrace as the villains whole groups of easily identifiable people, such as the Jews, the Moslems, the Blacks, homosexuals, gypsies…
And this is what we are facing here on Engage and in similar forums, in the real world, when conspiracy theory as to the cause of all “our” ills is made concrete with the threats to boycott Israeli universities and Israeli goods, and with threats (and actual occurrences) of attacks on Jews world-wide for the alleged sins of Israel. This becomes ever clearer every time those who are members of the BDS movement and others of their ilk post here. No matter how often and how strongly they are asked for evidence to support their claims (assertions, in actuality) that Gaza is like the Warsaw Ghetto, that genocide is being committed on the West Bank, they merely repeat these assertions (possibly in different words, but it is still repetition) as though this was evidence. They may introduce new topics and assertions, as though this is evidence (perhaps they believe it is) or possibly to distract us. Eventually, they go away, for the time being (unless I’m maligning the moderators, who get tired of reading such repetitive material and decide not to reproduce it).
Occasionally, it dawns on one or other of these people what is being requested of them. One such person (let’s call them “Z”), some months back, actually asked me where they might find the evidence I kept demanding of them. I pointed out to them (quite gently, I thought) that as it was “Z” who was trying to get us to change our minds, they were the one who was under an obligation to find it for themself: I certainly wasn’t going to, especially as I was and am dubious that such evidence actually exists. I may be being too hard on “Z”: “Z” did appear, at least some of the time, to want to understand the arguments, not just assert a contrary view and maybe there was a misunderstanding as to what was being asked of them, not just about evidence, but also about the rules of debate.
However, “Z” appears to be an exception. Consider, for example, Tom Hickey, UCU member, (still) elected to its Council and prime exemplar of conspiracy theory. When “debating” the question of a boycott of Israeli universities in the pages of the online version of the British Medical Journal, 27 July, 2007, he wrote (in response to a self-posed question, why boycott Israeli and only Israeli universities): “And we are speaking of a culture, both in Israel and in the long history of the Jewish diaspora, in which education and scholarship are held in high regard. That is why an academic boycott might have a desirable political effect in Israel, an effect that might not be expected elsewhere.” This is where the basis of a vague truism referred to in the first paragraph comes in: it is true that Jews, generally, venerate formal education. But so do vast swathes of the rest of humanity: not many parents declare, hand on heart, that they wish their and everyone else’s children to be ignorant, or at least no better educated than themselves and others like them.
But what is notable here is that Israel and Jews are conflated as though they are one (which is, in itself, an antisemitic attitude), and no other regimes which might conceivably upset Hickey and his fellow believers care anything like as much (if at all) about education as Israelis and Jews (so much for the Chinese, Saudis, Syrians, Sudanese, Zimbabweans, et al): arguably, a racist view. And why should he care about Israel and Jews? Well, he and his fellow boycotters are frequently equating Gaza with the Warsaw Ghetto; claiming Israel is committing genocide on the West Bank and/or in Gaza; is starving the Gazan Palestinians to death; stole Palestine from its previous inhabitants – all with nothing that would pass for evidence in the hallowed halls of the academe of which he and many like him are members, and only passes muster as a real argument in the fevered minds of the members of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, the Socialist Workers Party, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, JBIG and all the other components of the BDS movement. And all of them, of course, dismiss, or more likely just ignore (“well, that’s they want you to believe, isn’t it?”) all evidence to the contrary. Evidence such as the Palestinian refugee population increasing seven-fold in 60 years (some “genocide”), that the standard of living of the population of Gaza is no lower now than when the Israelis occupied it, or that no-one has found any evidence for mass graves on the West Bank.
And this is a resort to a conspiracy theory on a massive scale: Israel must be punished for what is happening in Gaza and on the West Bank. Further, no reference must be made to the ideologies of Hamas and Hezbollah; no examination of the actual history of the area the Romans, after the last revolt of the Jews against their rule, renamed “Palestina”; no consideration of the opposition of Palestinians to legitimate settlement by Jews in the Turkish-ruled Palestine; no thought as to the unprovoked violence showed by Palestinians towards Jews in the Palestine of the British Mandate; no study of the repeated rejection by Palestinians and their Arab backers of the United Nations, and later, plans for two states. None of this, because this would demand thought, reflection, logic, open argument: all the hallmarks of rationality and the intellectual process.
Rather, the whole BDS movement prefers to keep the blanket of conspiracy theory around itself and talk, in effect, only to each other: after all, the bright light of rational discourse can only hurt the eyes of the true believer.
So what are we to do in the face of this massive example of anti-intellectualism? In the immortal words of Winston Churchill during World War 2, “keep buggering on”. Not to do so is to surrender the pass to the barbarians. Anyway, it’s not them we’re talking to: it’s those seeking evidence and arguments to confront their own local conspiracy theorists and those not yet convinced either way, but open to evidence, argument and rationality. Whatever we do, we mustn’t let conspiracy theory and irrationality rule the debate or allow those who prefer not to think to get away with not thinking, and by so doing, think that they have “won”.
And by the way, if anything I have said makes anyone who posts comments (or whose bon mots get reported) here feels that I’m talking to them, well, if the cap fits, wear it (but hardly with pride!).
About a year ago, we heard from Brian Henry that:
“Next time your kids look up ‘Zionism’ in an encyclopedia, they may read that Israel is a racist state based on an ideology akin to Nazism. This article, recycling the old lie that Zionism is racism, appears in the new Encyclopedia of Race and Racism published by Macmillan Reference U.S.A.”
The author was Noel Ignatiev, of whom Ben Cohen wrote on Z-Word blog:
“What strikes me is that Ignatiev, like Shamir, is a provocateur and a propagandist who relentlessly pushes themes shared by far left and far right alike. He makes statements like this one: “Osama bin Laden was no more than telling the truth when he said that the Muslim world is facing an alliance of Zionists and Crusaders.” And this one, from the same article: “Is one permitted to say above the level of a whisper that U.S. policy toward Israel has something to do with Jewish influence in the US?””
“Nearly a year later, Gale has instituted an absurd compromise whereby Ignatiev’s unedited entry sits alongside a far superior contribution by an Israeli academic, Uriel Abulof. Those familiar with Zionist history will doubtless find areas of disagreement with Abulof, but the point is that his article is thoughtful and well-researched. His bibliography includes Ze’ev Sternhell and Arthur Hertzberg, whereas Ignatiev relies on the likes of fringe writers such as Lenni Brenner and Moshe Menuhin, author of The Decadence of Judaism in Our Time. By juxtaposing Abulof with Ignatiev, Gale has devalued Abulof’s contribution and wiped out the very clear line which separates scholarship from propaganda.”