Rattling the Cage: Holocaust denial and Jewish liberals

Jews have to understand the difference between enemies and critics, especially Jewish critics.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Along with any number of other Jewish liberals, I have written often, and heatedly, against the exploitation of the Holocaust by official Israel, the Diaspora Jewish establishment and ordinary Jews who identify with them. I get incensed that every official visitor to Israel has to stop first at Yad Vashem - to be softened up and put on the defensive before the give-and-take of diplomacy with Israel can begin. The March of the Living, where Israeli high school students visit concentration camps and then march through the Polish streets with Israeli flags, seems like a pre-army motivational camp more than anything else. It angers me when the professional and amateur politicians of Israel and the Diaspora bring up the Holocaust to justify any Israeli military action against Arabs, when they invoke the Holocaust to silence Israel's critics, when they make political statements in the name of the Jews killed by the Nazis, when they wrap Israel - and, by extension, themselves as Israel's spokesmen - in the martyrdom of the Six Million. So what is it that makes me, or the many Jewish liberals who share this attitude, any different from the people at this week's Holocaust denial conference in Teheran? Exploitation of the Holocaust by Israel and its supporters was one of the major themes there, along, of course, with the claim that the Holocaust never happened, or, if it did, that it wasn't remotely as bad as people think. (The real message of the Holocaust deniers - that the Holocaust was a good thing - was no doubt only mentioned quietly, when the conferees were chatting among themselves, and out of earshot of the collaborators from Natorei Karta.) Are we Jewish liberals who criticize our own for exploiting the Holocaust in the same boat with those Jew-haters and Israel-haters in Teheran - or, at the very least, are we giving them aid and comfort? With Israel's worst enemies using the Holocaust as a weapon against it, shouldn't liberal Jewish critics of Israel finally realize the wisdom of keeping quiet on this subject? I imagine a lot of Jews, probably most Jews, think we should. There is a taboo in the Jewish world against challenging how Jewish leaders and the Jewish mainstream treat the Holocaust, and that taboo went into force long before Ahmadinejad came around. BUT WHAT happened this week in Teheran wasn't new. Those 50 or 60 individuals at that conference are not the first to deny the Holocaust, and Ahmadinejad is not the first Muslim leader to do so, or to use the Holocaust against Israel. Jews have always had enemies and we always will. But Jews have to understand the difference between enemies and critics, especially Jewish critics. Along with, I imagine, every other left-wing Zionist who's ever been appalled at the way Israeli and Diaspora Jewish leaders exploit the Holocaust, I would have been filled with joy if a bolt of lightning had struck that conference in Teheran and killed everybody inside, starting with Ahmadinejad. With the exception of the collaborators from Natorei Karta, those people are modern-day Nazis. They want for the Jews what Hitler wanted. What can I tell you? - Jewish liberals, left-wing Zionists, Jewish critics of Israel are not David Duke. Speaking for myself, when I criticize the enlistment of the Holocaust for Israeli nationalist causes, or to strengthen the Diaspora Jewish establishment, or to place modern-day Jews above criticism, it's because I think this trivializes what happened back then. I think the memory of the Six Million should fill modern-day Jews with humility; the last thing we should be doing is marching and waving flags, cheering ourselves. So there's no meeting point between Jewish liberals like myself and the Holocaust deniers in Teheran. They want the worst for the Jews, and we want the best. They are coming from the opposite direction that we're coming from, and they're going in the opposite direction, too. But I'm afraid that there is something to the charge that when Jews criticize Israel and Diaspora Jewry for exploiting the Holocaust, it can become a weapon in the hands of Holocaust deniers and other Jew-haters. "You see?" they can then say, "even Jews admit it!" This is the strongest argument that can be made against freedom of dissent in any circumstances - that when you use that freedom to level serious moral criticism at your own society, it can be used against your society by your enemies. The unfortunate truth is that freedom of dissent is not free; it comes at a heavy price. And societies willing to pay that price are called democratic, while those unwilling to pay it are called totalitarian. So if I learn that an out-of-context quote from this column ends up on some Holocaust-denial Web site, I will not be happy about it, but it won't get me to start observing the Jewish taboo on this subject. That would be a cowardly reaction. A few dozen mutts at a conference in Teheran shouldn't scare anybody out of writing - or reading - anything.