Renowned Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt says that American and Israeli politicians who invoke the Holocaust for contemporary political purposes are engaging in Holocaust abuse, which is similar to soft-core denial of the Holocaust.
I think it is dangerous, just plain dangerous. Its a distortion of what Israel is all about, what Zionism is all about, said Lipstadt, who has just published a retrospective book The Eichmann Trial on the 1961 Jerusalem trial of the infamous Nazi criminal.
When you take these terrible moments in our history, and you use it for contemporary purposes, in order to fulfill your political objectives, you mangle history, you trample on it, she said.
In a hard-hitting interview with Haaretz, Lipstadt also lashed out at the "over-the-top pandering" of Republican presidential candidates, describing their fawning support for Israel as "embarrassing" and "unhealthy." Of last weeks appearance of the top Republican candidates at a Washington forum organized by the Republican Jewish Committee, she said: It was unbelievable. It made me cringe. I couldnt watch it.
You listen to Newt Gingrich talking about the Palestinians as an invented people – its out-Aipacking AIPAC, its out-Israeling Israel, she said. .Theres something about it thats so discomforting. Its not healthy. Its a distortion, she said.
She also used the word despicable to describe settlers who use the term Nazi against IDF soldiers. And its so inaccurate. And its such an abuse of history. The people who started it know its not true, but the kids, the yeshiva kids, and the high school kids – they dont know its not true. And so when real Nazism comes around - no one will recognize it.
Lipstadt, who is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Atlantas Emory University, became a hero of American Jewry after she singlehandedly inflicted a devastating blow on Holocaust-denial in the West in her famous London courtroom victory in 2000 over master-denier David Irving, who had sued Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, for libel. The London Times said of Lipstadt's victory: "History has had its day in court and scored a crushing victory."
Lipstadt described US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutmans controversial comments about the causal connection between the Arab-Israeli conflict and Muslim anti-Semitism as stupid, adding that he sounded as if he was rationalizing anti-Semitism. But, she said, the reaction to his statements had also been over the top."
Lipstadt decried the hysteria and neuroses of many Jews and Israelis who compare the current situation in Europe and in the Middle East to the Holocaust era. People go nuts here, they go nuts. Theres no nuance, theres no middle ground, its taking any shade of grey and stomping on it. There are no voices of calm, there are no voices of reason, not in this country, not in Israel. "
This is the kind of thing that scares me, she said. Jews have always been neurotic – I mean everyones neurotic, we just recognize it more – but weve raised our neuroses to a level thats not healthy. We should eschew hysteria, but we dont. Hysteria is never useful."
The New York-born Lipstadt said that President Barack Obamas flatfooted handling of Israel at the beginning of his term gave an opening to Republicans in America and to Republicans in Israel. She said that more and more Jews are scared and heres someone [the Republicans, CS] who is going to protect them. Its so over-the-top irrational.
Lipstadt rebuffed suggestions that what she describes as the unhealthy neuroses of the Jews in 2011 is a direct outgrowth of the legacy of the Eichmann trial. The Eichmann trial was a pivotal moment in the history of Israel, in the history of Zionism. It personalized the Shoah, and it was the beginning of change in the Israeli attitude toward Shoah survivors.
One of the more controversial chapters in Lipstadts new book deals with Hannah Arendt, whose own book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil was immensely popular in the West in the years following the trial but was roundly condemned by Jews and Israelis. Though Lipstadt demolishes Arendts main theses that Eichmann was but a bureaucratic cog in the Nazi machine and denounces here criticism of the Judenrats in Nazi-occupied Europe - she does find some positive points in Arendts coverage of the trial, including her observation that for the first time since the year 70, when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, Jews were able to sit in judgment on crimes committed against their own people."
Arendt, says Lipstadt, was mean and cruel, but she captured something very essential about the trial.
Read the full transcript of the interview here.
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