Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Too much Holocaust?

A fine article by Norm Geras - Too much Holocaust, countering an article by Tony Judt that too much attention is being paid to the Holocaust.
Judt's final difficulty, as it had to be in view of what has gone before, is the relation of the Holocaust to arguments about Israel and the Palestinians. It has several components, some of which have already been foreshadowed in what has gone before. (a) Judt deplores the way the Holocaust is invoked to deflect criticism of Israel by the suggestion that such criticism is a stimulus to anti-Semitism or just is anti-Semitism without further ado. (b) In fact, the reverse is true, he says: it is the taboo on criticism of Israel and a too intense focus on the Holocaust that are stimulants to cynicism and anti-Semitism. (c) Relative to other minority groups in the US and Europe, the Jews are not especially stigmatized, threatened or excluded; they are successful, and prominent in many spheres. (d) The Holocaust may 'lose its universal resonance' if it is too closely attached to the defence of a single country; as things are, if you ask outside the West, ask amongst Africans and Asians, what lessons there are from the Shoah, the responses 'are not very reassuring'.

What is striking about these arguments of Judt's is their unqualified, their completely one-sided, character. It is true that the Jewish tragedy in Europe is sometimes misused to justify or excuse Israeli policies that should not be defended. But to say this without noting that there is also anti-Semitic hostility to Israel, in the Arab world and in the West, some of it perfectly overt and some of it more discreet, is to pretend that anti-Semitism is a smaller problem than it is. To lament such misuses of the Holocaust without mentioning the misuses in the opposite direction that equate Israel with the spirit and the methods of the Nazis is to see with only one eye. The same goes for writing as if the most serious sources of anti-Semitism might be arguments used by defenders of Israel or an over-emphasis on the Shoah. Really? This is a centuries-old hatred, and yet here we find ourselves in a situation where it is defence of the Jewish state and memory of the genocide against the Jews that are the stimulants of anti-Semitism; these, at any rate, are Tony Judt's sources of choice.

1 comment:

  1. When I read Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry, while I appreciated his examples of political use and abuse of Holocaust memory, it was strongly apparent that he also seemed to want to eliminate or minimise contemporary anti-Semitism. For Finkelstein, anti-Semitism was reduced to the activities of a few misguided neo-Nazis in small enclaves which he considered don't have any measurable effect on the mainstream. In Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein even made the claim that anti-Semitism was entirely absent from Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. At that point, I was in a state of disbelief.

    There's a common tendency, when people make a case, to rhetorically minimise any factors which don't corroborate their case. It's a shame that Finkelstein has so badly fallen into this trap. I find some of his examples and arguments concerning the misuse of the Holocaust to be compelling and insightful. But Finkelstein's insight is mixed up with complete blindness towards modern anti-Semitism that I lose trust in wht he says elsewhere. His case against the State of Israel would have been successful if he hadn't included this unfortunate blindness towards modern anti-Semitism. But as it now reads, it seems at least partially one-eyed.

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