Critically acclaimed British author Howard Jacobson presented a rhetorical
assault on the logic of anti-Semitism on Monday night, arguing that the Jewish
people will never be forgiven for the Holocaust.
Speaking at the B’nai
B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, Jacobson, the author of the Man Booker
Prize-winning novel The Finkler Question, disentangled the various arguments
used by Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites.
He argued that modern day
Holocaust deniers attempt to straddle two contradictory conclusions – that Jews
are using the Shoah for political and financial gain, even though it did not
happen. By exploiting an event that did not occur, he explained, Jews are “shown
to be deserving of... what they ought to have suffered yesterday.”
wouldn’t think it possible to simultaneously deny and justify, [but] that’s what
Holocaust deniers do,” the 71-year-old author told the audience, only rarely
looking up from his notes throughout the talk. “Very few deniers want the
Holocaust not to have happened. They only argue that [it]
Jacobson said that “we hear a deep longing that the Holocaust
had been executed more ruthlessly. A more perfect Holocaust being one that left
no Jew behind to profit from it.”
He assailed the argument that if the
Jewish people experienced it, they should have emerged from it as a “better
“The Holocaust is invoked to awaken a sympathy that can then be
turned against the people… deemed unworthy of it,” he said. “The Holocaust
becomes a sort of university.
An educational experience. A great learning
opportunity, you might say.”
Jews, he argued, can therefore be blamed for
failing to be “improved morally.” If the Jews cannot pass the “Holocaust test,”
he said, it allows the rest of the world to fail, too.
He addressed the
criticism that Jews claim anti-Semitism too often, supposedly turning otherwise
sympathetic people into anti-Semites themselves.
“We are told to learn
from the boy who cried wolf. Cry it too often and at last no one will come out
to assist. But what if we aren’t crying wolf?” he asked. “Anyway, who came to
our assistance the last time?” Nevertheless, he continued, if reminding the
world about the events simply causes the public to resent Jews more, should they
then remain quiet? “It is vain to suppose we can thereby undo the twisted logic
of being ‘unforgiven’ for the Holocaust,” he said, observing that the root of
Holocaust denial is more psychological than political.
said, it would not “vanish tomorrow if Israel gave to its neighbors every blade
of contested grass, and every wealthy Jew turned himself overnight into a
Jacobson focused on the argument that criticism of Israeli
policy precludes anti- Semitism. “The syllogism goes like this: ‘Not all critics
of Israel are anti-Semites. I am a critic of Israel. Therefore I am not an
anti-Semite,’” he explained.
“In this way has anti-Zionism become an
inviolable space. Question it and you are deemed to have cried anti- Semitism,”
he said. “Since to cry anti-Semitism is a foul, no position from which it is
rational to question anti-Zionism remains allowable.”
Like his books,
Jacobson’s lecture was a mixture of stark, blunt statements and
Peppered in between comments about the Shoah, his humor often
elicited only mild audience reaction.
At one point, after an audience
member asked for more information about the author’s view of Holocaust denial,
Jacobson explained that simply conducting a Google search for “Howard Jacobson
Holocaust” should yield a number of helpful results. The comment was followed by
laughter from some audience members and concern from others.