Author Jacobson unravels ‘logic’ behind Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism

British author Howard Jacobson says Holocaust deniers "simultaneously deny and justify".

October 9, 2013 04:41
3 minute read.
British author Howard Jacobson speaks at the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem.

British author Howard Jacobson 370. (photo credit: Courtesy B’nai B’rith World Center)


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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.

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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.”

“You 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] didn’t.”

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 people.”

“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.

Therefore, he 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 pauper.”

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 satire.

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.

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