Matthias Küntzel and Colin Meade debate with Gilbert Achcar

Here is Matthias Küntzel and Colin Meade’s critique of Achcar’s book, The Arabs and the Holocaust.

Here is Achcar’s resposne.

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.

Three on Goldman Sachs

“With all due respect to Goldman Sachs, it’s actually run by a complex network of bastards. Or do Goldman Sachs pay me to say that? You’ll never know.”


Zero Books stands by its decision to publish Atzmon

From Harry’s Place

Andy Newman on antisemitism and the left

Writing on Comment Is Free, Andy Newman warns well-meaning people against the antisemites stalking the pro-Palestinian movement.

Gilbert Achcar responds to Matthias Küntzel and Colin Meade

Matthias Küntzel and Colin Meade reviewed Gilbert Achcar’s book, The Arabs and the Holocaust, here.

Gilbert Achcar has now responded as follows:

Follow this link for Achcar’s response in full, in a PDF file



 By Gilbert Achcar

Since I have been courteously invited to respond, I will oblige, but only succinctly as I do not have time for a 20-page reply, which is what it would have taken, had I addressed every single distortion and misrepresentation in what is definitely the most dishonest discussion of my book, The Arabs and the Holocaust, that I have read to this day.

I won’t here discuss the substance of the two authors’ comments as they are so often vile that no person who has read my book or knows my positions could in good faith take their slanders for true, such as when my two critics write: “Achcar criticises Arab antisemitism not because it

Gilbert Achcar

envisages the murder of Jews and renders the Middle East conflict insoluble, but because it impedes the necessary struggle against Israel.” (p. 6). I will here content myself with examining only one example of their method, leaving it to interested readers to refer to the book itself and check all the quotes produced by my two critics—generally out of context, thus distorting my meaning, even when they seem to quote approvingly at the start of their essay.

They write about me:

“When standard academic practices fail him, Achcar resorts to other means, selecting and underlining whatever supports his prejudices and leaving out or dismissing the importance of everything else. A random examination of his use of quotations has brought to light several significant distortions.”

It is their review and this accusation itself that are entirely based on the above-described “other means.” As for standard academic practices, they could not “fail” my two critics since such practices seem to be totally alien to them…

Follow this link for Achcar’s response in full, in a PDF file


Matthias Küntzel and Colin Meade critically review Gilbert Achcar’s ‘The Arabs and the Holocaust’

Matthias Küntzel

In the Straightjacket of Anti-Zionism: A critical review of Gilbert Achcar’s The Arabs and the Holocaust

This review is published exclusively on Engage

Download the PDF of the whole review by following this link: In the Straightjacket of Anti-Zionism

In almost every part of the world, since the end of the Second World War, “Nazi” has been a synonym for “criminal”. Not so, however, in the Arab world, where positive references to Hitler and the destruction of the Jews have been an accepted part of public discourse for decades. For this reason alone – but also in the light of the current upheavals in the region – the topic of Gilbert Achcar’s recent book, The Arabs and the Holocaust, is of great importance.

Gilbert Achcar

In the first part of his book, Achcar tackles the issue of “Arab Reactions to Nazism and Anti-Semitism, 1933-47“. A good half of this part is devoted to an account of the origins of the Islamist movement, described as the “reactionary and/or fundamentalist pan-Islamists”, in the Arab world. Further chapters deal with the attitude of the other political currents in existence in this period: the “Liberal Westernizers“, “Marxists“ and ”Nationalists“.

In the second part the author deals with “Arab Attitudes to the Jews and the Holocaust from 1948 to the Present“. The treatment of these matters is divided into three successive epochs, “The Nasser Years (1948-67)“, “The PLO Years (1967-88)“ and “The Years of Islamic Resistances (1988 to the Present)“.

Colin Meade

“A straightforward and logical structure”, thinks the reader, as he opens the book with eager anticipation. Alas, the experience of actually reading it confirms the verdict of two history professors, Stephen Howe and Jeffrey Herf, that “Achcar is a man at war with what he has written in his own book“ and “a combatant, and even victim, in such a war within his own pages“.

Another way of putting it would be: this is a book in which an author from the political left seeks to protect the dogmas of Western anti-Zionism from the reality of Arab antisemitism….

Download the PDF of the whole review by following this link: In the Straightjacket of Anti-Zionism

Dr. Matthias Küntzel is a political scientist and teaches political science at a technical college in Hamburg , Germany.

Dr. Colin Meade teaches at London Metropolitan University, in the Faculty of Law, Governance and International Relations.

This review is published exclusively on the Engage

Gilbert Achcar is invited to respond to this review on the Engage website.

UPDATE:  Matthias Küntzel and Colin Meade have changed the order of the references in footnotenumber 30

Why call Israel an Apartheid State? – Guest Post by Sharmini Brookes

Sharmini Brookes

 ‘Is Israel the New Apartheid?’ was the topic of debate at the 21st Wednesday Seminar of the Departments of Sociology, Anthropology and Development at the University Of Johannesburg (UJ).  In March of this year the UJ senate of 72 members voted 60-40% to allow their formal institutional arrangement with Israel’s Ben Gurion University to lapse after a debate that referred to Israel as an Apartheid State and justified boycotts on the same grounds as those imposed by anti-Apartheid activists on South Africa.  The vice-chancellor, Professor Ihron Rensburg denies this is a boycott (as individual academics are allowed to continue relationships) but it is a very public censure of an institution and will inhibit full and free dialogue amongst individual academics as those who wish to do so will court the opprobrium of their peers for voluntarily maintaining links with what is now viewed as a pariah state.

‘It is wrong to refer to Israel as an Apartheid State’ said the speaker against the motion, Benjamin Pogrund, author, journalist and campaigner with the Israeli Centre for Dialogue.  He accepted that there were problems of discrimination in housing, education, land ownership and citizenship but that these were the consequence of the 1948 war for the survival of the Jewish State and not of any consciously articulated government policy of racial discrimination and separate development as instituted by Hendrik Verwoerd and his predecessors in South Africa.  Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the creation of the State of Israel, then supported by the UN, did violate the right of self-determination for Palestine and has been the source of continuing conflict ever since.

The speaker for the motion, Naeem Jeenah, Executive Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre and formerly lecturer at Wits University, insisted that it was legitimate to call Israel an Apartheid State based on article 2 of the UN Convention on Apartheid.  However, as Benjamin Pogrund noted, this is an expanded description of situations some of which resemble those experienced under Apartheid and which could equally apply to a number of existing countries where human rights are regularly breached.  What it fails to recognize is the conscious and deliberate policy that made South Africa unique.

In addition, the assumption that the Apartheid regime was brought down by the success of the international boycott campaign is false.  Governments and companies continued their relations with South Africa while paying lip service to anti-apartheid rhetoric and the Sullivan principles until the mass uprisings in the 1980’s by the indigenous black population made continued investment unprofitable.  The final death blow to Apartheid was delivered with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of a communist threat to capitalism.  It was the convergence of black unrest with the death of communism that brought De Klerk to the negotiating table and not the self-regarding boycott campaign.

The attempt of so-called liberals and pro-Palestinian groups to label Israel as Apartheid is a lazy attempt to win support by piggy-backing on this popular international revulsion against Apartheid in the 80’s rather than to consider the more complicated reality of the situation in the Middle East.

It is a tragic and revealing irony that Zionism, presented as the salvation of persecuted Jews throughout the world, but in reality a desperate resort resulting from the failure to progressively transform the societies in which the Jews resided, has not led to security for Jewish Israelis nor has it challenged anti-Semitism.  Nevertheless, whatever the rights and wrongs of the original creation of the Zionist state, Israel and Israelis exist and cannot be wiped off the earth.  That Arabs and Israelis do live and work together in Israel is a fact and it is not inconceivable that a negotiated settlement can be achieved where both can live in peace if only external forces kept their noses out and allowed the locals to work towards their own solution.   Unfortunately, the use of the loaded term ‘Apartheid’ with the Israeli state is not only wrong but tragically serves to isolate progressive Israelis from all contact with enlightened individuals in the rest of the world and hinders any chance of reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis.

Sharmini Brookes  15/09/11      

Battle of Ideas Committee member and convenor

As the antizionist Left praises his conspiracy theory, John Mearsheimer endorses a Nazi-like book : Joseph Weissman

When Mearsheimer and Walt started publishing on the “Israel Lobby” many of us thought that their discourse facilitated a slippage from social science into antisemitic conspiracy theory.  Others found that to be insufficiently careful and they took the argument seriously, even saying that there should be further debate on the issue.  Now, Mearsheimer has decided to legitimize an unambiguously antisemitic book.  He started by stumbling into antisemitism but is now openly embracing it. Mearsheimer, and even Gilad Atzmon will be accepted amongst some sections of academia in a way that bigots against black people, Muslims, or women would never be.  Many scholars are nowadays incapable of recognising antisemitism; some others simply don’t care about it; lots of people who do get it will remain silent. [dh]
This is a guest post by Joseph Weissman:

Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer are two American professors who push the theory that a powerful Israel lobby distorts US foreign policy, taking American presidents down dangerous political paths that they could otherwise avoid.

Robert Fine observed of Walt and Mearsheimer on Engage, in 2006,

While the US does the fighting, dying and paying, they write, Israel is the beneficiary. The Lobby’s influence increases the danger of terrorism, fuels Islamic radicalism, raises the spectre of further wars in Syria and Iran, makes impossible any resolution of Palestinian suffering, undercuts US prestige abroad and its efforts to limit nuclear proliferation, and erodes democracy within the US. All for Israel. What is needed is ‘candid discussion of the Lobby’s influence’, a return to reality and the advancement once more of US interests. […]

Slippage from criticism of American foreign policy to wild eyed conspiracy theory punctuates this whole narrative. The question of why Israel should have these maniacal aims and why the Lobby should echo them is simply not addressed. It would seem that this article has no merit beyond that of translating into one academically authenticated product all the conspiratorial clichés of a demonic power exercising its evil behind the scenes.

This week, whilst discussing Middle Eastern politics, the New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman has made reference to a “powerful pro-Israel lobby”:

This has also left the U.S. government fed up with Israel’s leadership but a hostage to its ineptitude, because the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s.

In reaction, some antizionists commentators are claiming that this phrase has somehow legitimised Walt and Mearsheimer’s opinion.

See Philip WeissGlenn Greenwald and Stephen Walt himself.

Thomas Friedman has a reputation of being sympathetic to Israel in his writings. Therefore, his sentence about the “powerful pro-Israel lobby” strikes me as rather clumsy and awkward, especially when you consider how antizionist conspiracists understand the “lobby”.

One badly thought-out sentence from a journalist, hardly proves a conspiracy theory. Before antizionist-“progressive” types laud Walt and Mearsheimer, they should stop to consider Mearsheimer’s ringing praise of Gilad Atzmon. Atzmon is a man who has already doubted the gas chambers in Auschwitz, says he “doesn’t know” if the Holocaust happened, and blamed Jews for their persecution at the hands of the Nazis.

We read in Gilad Atzmon’s new book The Wandering Who:

“some may be bold enough to argue that ‘Hitler might have been right after all’

Some Jews are rather unhappy with Charles Dickens’ Fagin and Shakespeare’s Shylock, who they regard as ‘anti-Semitic.’

“Thanks to Weininger, I realised how wrong I was – I was not detached from the reality about which I wrote, and I never shall be. I am not looking at the Jews, or at Jewish identity, I am not looking at Israelis. I am actually looking in the mirror. With contempt, I am actually elaborating on the Jew in me.”

[Weininger] adored Aryan masculinity because he probably lacked that quality in any significant amount in his own being. This revelation probably led Weininger to kill himself, just a month after the publication of his book. Very likely, he had managed to understand what his book was all about.”

Here is John Mearsheimer on Atzmon’s new book:

Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it incredibly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their ‘Jewishness.’ Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon’s own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? Should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike.’

Far from welcoming Walt and Mearsheimer uncritically, liberals should be alarmed at John Mearsheimer’s recommendation of Gilad Atzmon’s new book, which sees Jewish identity, essentially through a Nazi lens.

A brave campaign from the Union of Jewish Students

This is a cross post from Jak at Reduard

The Union of Jewish Students have announced a new Israel campaign for the upcoming academic year, one which signals a radical break from past UJS hasbara efforts.

As the JC reports:

Jewish students arriving at universities in the next fortnight will be asked to pledge their support to “two states for two peoples”, hand out Israeli and Palestinian flags, and support “freedom, justice and equality” for all.
There is a belief within UJS that standard advocacy efforts “do not cut it any more” because “students are not stupid”. Students will be encouraged to back the “liberation” of Israelis from Palestinian terror, and Palestinians through the formation of a new state.

To say this has stoked up debate online would be the understatement of the year. A Facebook group is doing the rounds, calling the campaign ‘disgraceful’ and ‘utterly crazy’.

Now, I was on campus for four years at a university widely consider to be a hotbed of extreme anti-Zionism and led a wide variety of Israel campaigns. We did all the standard campaigns that anyone who has been on a UK campus will recognise – we handed out falafel, had speakers from the Israeli Embassy, had film showings, talked about how welcoming Israel was to women/homosexuals/religious minorities etc etc. All were good campaigns, well organised and relatively successful. But what they didn’t do is change the narrative on campus. Hateful  anti-Israel diatribes would still appear in the student rag on a weekly basis, the Palestine society would still shout outside university buildings about the ‘holocaust’ in Gaza, and any ordinary student with any sense whatsoever simply ran a mile in the opposite direction – and understandably so. We are facing a new reality on our campuses – the old arguments about settlements or the security barrier are being replaced by a debate about the mere existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Zionism is a dirty word for many students – associated with oppression rather than liberation. Explaining Israel is no longer enough – what is needed is a dialogue, not just about Israel but about the very ideas behind Israel – Zionism, liberation, and self determination for the Jewish people. UJS is in a sense implementing is a back to basics campaign, focusing on ideas and concepts rather than specific policies.

As for those annoyed that UJS is advocating a Palestinian state, I would say this: it is morally dishonest to advocate self-determination for one group of people and not the other. Jews and Palestinians both need and deserve a homeland. Yes there may be a debate about the future borders or composition of those states, but the idea of self-determination is a universal one. It’s why groups like the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and their ilk will always be hypocritical, bigoted and discriminatory organisations – they vehemently support the self-determination of one nation whilst completely ignoring the rights of others. UJS should be proud of taking such a principled stance on the issue, especially as they must have been aware of the potential backlash it could cause.

The campaign is a brave step for UJS, and it may or may not work. But at least it is attempting something different. The naysayers and critics should step back and honestly ask themselves whether they really think the current strategy is working. Surely all evidence suggests that it is not? Burying heads in the sand and pointing to Golda Meir being a female as an example of Israeli progressiveness frankly no longer cuts it.