CofC’s preface (6 of 10)

“The Jewish problem is one of the greatest problems in the world, and no man, be he writer, politician or diplomatist, can be considered mature until he has striven to face it squarely on its merits.”

—Henry Wickham Steed


The Culture of Critique’s
“From the Culture of Critique
to the Culture of The Holocaust”
in the Preface:

While CofC describes the “culture of critique” dominated by Jewish intellectual and political movements, perhaps insufficient attention was given to the critical elements of the new culture that has replaced the traditional European cultural forms that dominated a century ago.

Central to the new culture is the elevation of Jewish experiences of suffering during World War II, collectively referred to as “the Holocaust”, to the level of the pivotal historico-cultural icon in Western societies. Since the publication of CofC, two books have appeared on the political and cultural functions of the Holocaust in contemporary life—Peter Novick’s The Holocaust in American Life, and Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry. Novick’s book, the more scholarly of the two, notes that the Holocaust has assumed a preeminent status as a symbol of the consequences of ethnic conflict. He argues that the importance of the Holocaust is not a spontaneous phenomenon but stems from highly focused, well-funded efforts of Jewish organizations and individual Jews with access to the major media:

We are not just “the people of the book,” but the people of the Hollywood film and the television miniseries, of the magazine article and the newspaper column, of the comic book and the academic symposium. When a high level of concern with the Holocaust became widespread in American Jewry, it was, given the important role that Jews play in American media and opinion-making elites, not only natural, but virtually inevitable that it would spread throughout the culture at large. (Novick 1999, 12)

The Holocaust was originally promoted to rally support for Israel following the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars: “Jewish organizations [portrayed] Israel’s difficulties as stemming from the world’s having forgotten the Holocaust. The Holocaust framework allowed one to put aside as irrelevant any legitimate ground for criticizing Israel, to avoid even considering the possibility that the rights and wrongs were complex” (Novick 1999, 155).

As the threat to Israel subsided, the Holocaust was promoted as the main source of Jewish identity and in the effort to combat assimilation and intermarriage among Jews. During this period, the Holocaust was also promoted among non-Jews as an antidote to anti-Semitism. In recent years this has involved a large scale educational effort (including mandated courses in the public schools of several states) spearheaded by Jewish organizations and staffed by thousands of Holocaust professionals aimed at conveying the lesson that “tolerance and diversity [are] good; hate [is] bad, the overall rubric [being] ‘man’s inhumanity to man’” (pp. 258-259). The Holocaust has thus become an instrument of Jewish ethnic interests not only as a symbol intended to create moral revulsion at violence directed at minority ethnic groups—prototypically the Jews, but also as an instrument to silence opponents of high levels of multi-ethnic immigration into Western societies. As described in CofC, promoting high levels of multi-ethnic immigration has been a goal of Jewish groups since the late 19th century.

Jewish Holocaust activists insisted on the “incomprehensibility and inexplicability of the Holocaust” (Novick 1999, 178)—an attempt to remove all rational discussion of its causes and to prevent comparisons to numerous other examples of ethnic violence. “Even many observant Jews are often willing to discuss the founding myths of Judaism naturalistically—subject them to rational, scholarly analysis. But they’re unwilling to adopt this mode of thought when it comes to the ‘inexplicable mystery’ of the Holocaust, where rational analysis is seen as inappropriate or sacrilegious” (p. 200). Holocaust activist Elie Wiesel “sees the Holocaust as ‘equal to the revelation at Sinai’ in its religious significance; attempts to ‘desanctify’ or ‘demystify’ the Holocaust are, he says, a subtle form of anti-Semitism” (p. 201).

Because the Holocaust is regarded as a unique, unknowable event, Jewish organizations and Israeli diplomats cooperated to block the U.S. Congress from commemorating the Armenian genocide. “Since Jews recognized the Holocaust’s uniqueness—that it was ‘incomparable,’ beyond any analogy—they had no occasion to compete with others; there could be no contest over the incontestable” (p. 195). Abe Foxman, head of the ADL, noted that the Holocaust is “not simply one example of genocide but a near successful attempt on the life of God’s chosen children and, thus, on God himself” (p. 199)—a comment that illustrates well the intimate connection between Holocaust promotion and the more extreme forms of Jewish ethnocentrism at the highest levels of the organized Jewish community.

A result was that American Jews were able to define themselves “as the quintessential victim” (Novick 1999, 194). As an expression of this tendency, Holocaust activist Simon Wiesenthal compiled a calendar showing when, where and by whom Jews were persecuted on every day of the year. Holocaust consciousness was the ultimate expression of a victim mentality. The Holocaust came to symbolize the natural and inevitable terminus of anti-Semitism. “There is no such thing as overreaction to an anti-Semitic incident, no such thing as exaggerating the omnipresent danger. Anyone who scoffed at the idea that there were dangerous portents in American society hadn’t learned ‘the lesson of the Holocaust’” (p. 178).

While Jews are portrayed as the quintessential victim in Holocaust iconography, the vast majority of non-Jews are portrayed as potential or actual anti-Semites. “Righteous Gentiles” are acknowledged, but the criteria are strict. They must have risked their lives, and often the lives of the members of their families as well, to save a Jew. “Righteous Gentiles” must display “self-sacrificing heroism of the highest and rarest order” (Novick 1999, 180). Such people are extremely rare, and any Jew who discusses “Righteous Gentiles” for any other reason comes under heavy criticism. The point is to shore up the fortress mentality of Jews, “promoting a wary suspicion of gentiles” (p. 180). A prominent Jewish feminist exemplifies this attitude: “Every conscious Jew longs to ask her or his non-Jewish friends, ‘would you hide me?’ and suppresses the question for fear of hearing the sounds of silence” (p. 181).

Consciousness of the Holocaust is very high among Jews. A 1998 survey found that “remembrance of the Holocaust” was listed as “extremely important” or “very important” to Jewish identity—far more often than anything else, such as synagogue attendance and travel to Israel. Indeed, Jewish identity is far more important than American identity for many American Jews: “In recent years it has become not just permissible but in some circles laudable for American Jews to assert the primacy of Jewish over American loyalty” (Novick 1999, 34). (See, e.g., the comments by AJCommittee official Stephen Steinlight above.)

However, consciousness of the Holocaust is not confined to Jews but has become institutionalized as an American cultural icon. Besides the many Holocaust memorial museums that dot the country and the mushrooming of mandated courses about the Holocaust in public schools, a growing number of colleges and universities now have endowed chairs in Holocaust Studies. “Considering all the Holocaust institutions of one kind or another in the United States, there are by now thousands of full-time Holocaust professionals dedicated to keeping its memory alive” (Novick 1999, 277).

This effort has been very successful. In a 1990 survey, a substantial majority agreed that the Holocaust “was the worst tragedy in history” (Novick 1999, 232; italics in text). Recently, the main thrust of the Holocaust as cultural icon is the ratification of multiculturalism. Between 80 and 90 percent of those surveyed agreed that the need to protect the rights of minorities, and not “going along with everybody else” were lessons to be drawn from the Holocaust. Respondents agreed in similar proportions that “it is important that people keep hearing about the Holocaust so that it will not happen again.”

The effort has perhaps been even more effective in Germany where “critical discussion of Jews is virtually impossible. Whether conservative or liberal, a contemporary German intellectual who says anything outside a narrowly defined spectrum of codified pieties about Jews, the Holocaust, and its postwar effects on German society runs the risk of professional and social suicide” (Anderson 2001). Discussions of the work of Jewish intellectuals have come to dominate German intellectual life to the almost complete exclusion of non-Jewish Germans. Many of these intellectuals are the subjects of CofC, including Walter Benjamin, Theodore Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Hannah Arendt, Paul Celan, and Sigmund Freud. “Shoah business” “has become a staple of contemporary German cultural and political life. Germans thrive on debates about the Holocaust and their ongoing responsibility to preserve its memory, campaigning to erect a gigantic memorial to the Jewish dead in the historic center of Berlin, or flocking to hear the American scholar Daniel Goldhagen’s crude and unhistorical diatribes against the German national character” (Anderson 2001). Scholars have lost all sense of normal standards of intellectual criticism and have come to identify more or less completely with the Jewish victims of Nazism.

For example, Holocaust poet Paul Celan has become a central cultural figure, superceding all other 20th-century poets. His works are now beyond rational criticism, to the point that they have become enveloped in a sort of stultifying mysticism: “Frankly, I find troubling the sacred, untouchable aura that surrounds Celan’s name in Germany; troubling also the way in which his name functions like a trump card in intellectual discussions, closing off debate and excluding other subjects” (Anderson 2001). Jewish writers like Kafka are seen as intellectual giants who are above criticism; discussions of Kafka’s work focus on his Jewish identity and are imbued by consciousness of the Holocaust despite the fact that he died in 1924. Even minor Jewish writers are elevated to the highest levels of the literary canon while Germans like Thomas Mann are discussed mainly because they held views on Jews that have become unacceptable in polite society. In the U.S., German scholars are constrained to teach only the works of Germans of Jewish background, their courses dwelling on persecution, and genocide.

Indeed, it is not too far fetched to suppose that German culture as the culture of Germans has disappeared entirely, replaced by the culture of the Holocaust. The Holocaust has not only become a quasi-religion capable of eradicating the remnants of German culture, Jews have become sanctified as a people. As Amos Elon noted in describing the German response to a new Jewish museum in Berlin, “With so much hyperbole, so many undoubtedly sincere expressions of guilt and regret, and of admiration for all things Jewish, one could not help feeling that fifty years after the Holocaust, the new republic was, in effect, beatifying the German Jews” (Elon 2001).

Like Novick, Finkelstein (2000) takes a functionalist view of “the Holocaust Industry,” arguing that it serves as a vehicle for obtaining money for Jewish organizations from European governments and corporations, and for justifying the policies of Israel and U.S. support for Israeli policy (p. 8). Finkelstein also argues that embracing the Holocaust allows the wealthiest and most powerful group in the U.S. to claim victim status. The ideology of the Holocaust states that it is unique and inexplicable—as also noted by Novick. But Finkelstein also emphasizes how the Holocaust Industry promotes the idea that anti-Jewish attitudes and behavior stem completely from irrational loathing by non-Jews and have nothing to do with conflicts of interest. For example, Elie Wiesel: “For two thousand years we were always threatened. For what? For no reason” (in Finkelstein 2000, 53). (By contrast, the basic premise of my book, Separation and Its Discontents [MacDonald 1998a] is precisely that anti-Jewish attitudes and behavior throughout history are firmly rooted in conflicts of interest). Finkelstein quotes Boas Evron, an Israeli writer, approvingly: “Holocaust awareness” is “an official, propagandistic indoctrination, a churning out of slogans and a false view of the world, the real aim of which is not at all an understanding of the past, but a manipulation of the present” (p. 41).

Finkelstein notes the role of the media in supporting the Holocaust Industry, quoting Elie Wiesel, “When I want to feel better, I turn to the Israeli items in the New York Times” (p. 8). The New York Times, which is owned by the Sulzberger family (see below), “serves as the main promotional vehicle of the Holocaust Industry. It is primarily responsible for advancing the careers of Jerzy Kosinski, Daniel Goldhagen, and Elie Wiesel. For frequency of coverage, the Holocaust places a close second to the daily weather report. Typically, The New York Times Index 1999 listed fully 273 entries for the Holocaust. By comparison, the whole of Africa rated 32 entries” (Finkelstein 2001). Besides a receptive media, the Holocaust Industry takes advantage of its power over the U.S. government to apply pressure to foreign governments, particularly the governments of Eastern Europe (pp. 133ff).

In a poignant allusion to the pervasive double standard of contemporary Jewish ethical attitudes (and reflecting a similar ethical double standard that pervades Jewish religious writing throughout history), Finkelstein describes a January 2000 Holocaust education conference attended by representatives of 50 countries, including Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel. The conference declared that the international community had a “solemn responsibility” to oppose genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, and xenophobia. A reporter afterward asked Barak about the Palestinian refugees. “On principle, Barak replied, he was against even one refugee coming to Israel: ‘We cannot accept moral, legal, or other responsibility for refugees’” (p. 137).

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Published in: on September 30, 2012 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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