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.
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“I think it is dangerous, just plain dangerous. It’s 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 week’s 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 couldn’t watch it.”
“You listen to Newt Gingrich talking about the Palestinians as an ‘invented people’ – it’s out-Aipacking AIPAC, it’s out-Israeling Israel,” she said. .”There’s something about it that’s so discomforting. It’s not healthy. It’s a distortion,” she said.
She also used the word “despicable” to describe settlers who use the term “Nazi” against IDF soldiers. “And it’s so inaccurate. And it’s such an abuse of history. The people who started it know it’s not true, but the kids, the yeshiva kids, and the high school kids – they don’t know it’s 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 Atlanta’s 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 Gutman’s 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. There’s no nuance, there’s no middle ground, it’s 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 everyone’s neurotic, we just recognize it more – but we’ve raised our neuroses to a level that’s not healthy. We should eschew hysteria, but we don’t. Hysteria is never useful."
The New York-born Lipstadt said that President Barack Obama’s “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 here’s someone [the Republicans, CS] who is going to protect them. It’s 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 Lipstadt’s 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 Arendt’s 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 Arendt’s 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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