The Good, the Bad, and the Anti-Semitic

Published: 1996-01-01

The dreary—I was going to say dread—"anti-Semite" nametag is almost routinely attached to anyone openly doubting or outrightly questioning the tabloid version of the Holocaust story, however justified and well-meaning his intent. Recall, for example, the opprobrium heaped on the Princeton historian Arno Mayer, notwithstanding his Jewish ancestry, for his mild flirtation with revisionist themes in his 1988 work Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?.

Unfortunately for organized Jewry, familiarity not only breeds contempt, but meaninglessness as well; and that shopworn "anti-Semite" nametag, because of its promiscuous use by those seeking to fix the parameters of debate on the Holocaust and a score of other Zionist or Jewish-related issues, has by now reached a saturation point where the very term has ceased to have any real, definitive meaning; having instead been turned into a kind of smear-artist's paintbrush, which organized Jewry—or any any other political operatives, for that matter—can use to tar its critics and opponents in order to discredit them as bigots and hate-mongers.

During a 1988 interview on the CBC Radio Network, Canada's version of National Public Radio, a Jewish lobbyist told a CBC interviewer that he would *not* like to see anti-Holocaust books by Professor Arthur Butz and other revisionist scholars banned outright. Why? Because, said the lobbyist, such books should be consigned to a special section of the public library reserved for works designated as "anti-Semitica," where anybody venturing would be given to understand that he or she would necessarily be exposed to material dredged up by writers motivated by a feeling of gratuitous malice toward Jews. Here, for example, one would find copies of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, Did Six Million Really Die?, and other "classics" of anti-Semitism.

The lobbyist, when you think of it, hit upon a very clever idea. Organized Jewry would not be taxed with promoting censorship; would, on the contrary, in all likelihood be applauded for demonstrating an admirable degree of "tolerance" and maturity, while ensuring that material it deemed inimical to its agenda was boldly and unblushingly stamped as pure, guaranteed, one hundred per cent anti-Semitism. It would be a wholesale rather than a retail smear-job.

It's always been difficult to say precisely what being Jewish means. Even Nahum Goldmann, an influential Jewish statesman, found it impossible to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. Addressing the issue in his autobiography, The Jewish Paradox [Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London: 1978], Goldmann recalls a lecture "during which I offered more than twenty definitions: Judaism is a religion, a people, a nation, a cultural community, etc. None of them was absolutely accurate..." Heavyweight French intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre contributed a bold open-ended concept of his own to the debate—"A Jew is anybody whom other people designate as such."

What's true of the term "Jew" is likewise true for "anti-Semite"; there are many different definitions being kicked around. To llustrate just how rocky this parcel of ideologically-freighted terrain's become, here are a few selected quotes by a couple of marginalized Jewish intellectuals and a liberal Christian activist.

Dr. Alfred Lilienthal, himself Jewish, writing in The New American View [June 1, 1992] came up with what is surely one of the more provocative statements on anti-Semitism; it nearly paraphrases the Sartrean definition of a Jew: "It used to be than an antisemite was anyone who hates Jews, but unfortunately antisemite is anyone whom Jews hate."

Prof. Noam Chomsky, reflecting on the views of his co-religionist, the ADL's then National Director, Nathan Perlmutter, writes [Necessary Illusions, Anansi Press: Concord Ont., 1991, pp. 316-317]:

"The leading official monitor of anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai Brith, interprets anti-Semitism as unwillingness to conform to its requirements with regard to support for Israeli authorities. These conceptions were clearly expounded by ADL National Director Nathan Perlmutter, who wrote that while old-fashioned anti-Semitism has declined, there is a new and more dangerous variety on the part of 'peacemakers of Vietnam vintage, transmuters of swords into plowshares, championing the terrorist P.L.O.,' and those who condemn U.S. policies in Vietnam and Central America while 'sniping at American defense budgets.' He fears that 'nowadays war is getting a bad name and peace too favorable a press' with the rise of this 'real anti-Semitism.'"

The idea of there being a new and "real" anti-Semitism that was passing unnoticed and deserved widespread recognition was alleged in Nathan and Ruth Perlmutter's 1982 book titled, significantly, The Real Anti-Semitism [Arbor House, New York]. In it, the Perlmuters unabashedly confounded pacifism, humanitarianism, and plain old human sympathy for dispossessed Palestinians and other underdogs with the rankest anti-Semitism. You wonder, of course, what the 1996 Perlmutters would make of news stories that aired last November describing a private and secret visit made to the home of Leah Rabin by P.L.O. Chairman Yasser Arafat, long tagged as among the most virulent of anti-Semites by the Perlmutter set, for the purpose of consoling Yitzhak Rabin's widow, following the Israeli prime minister's assassination by Yigal Amir, a diehard Jewish fanatic and opponent of the Middle East peace process.

The late Yitzhak Rabin, as the media never stopped reminding us last fall, had been one of the the heroes of Israel's Six Day War; a war in which, though this brutal fact was rarely, if ever, broadcast by North American television networks, the Israelis were known to have lobbed napalm on Arab armies and Palestinian civilians alike. General Sir John Glubb, a British expert on Arab affairs, in his analyses of the Middle East crisis in 1967, underscored Israel's destructive use of napalming. Which brings us to the most telltale example of bogus "anti-Semitism" of all; illustrating how totally corrupt, void, and downright absurd a political swearword it has become.

The Reverend A.C. Forrest, editor of the liberal United Church Observer, a Canadian journal, writing in his 1972 work The Unholy Land [The Devin-Adair Co., Old Greenwich, Conn., p. 17], observes: "Later I did publish one of the pictures in the United Church Observer, of a little girl recovering from napalm burns. That, I was told, proved I was anti-Semitic. To condemn napalm in Vietnam is alright. To report its use by the Israelis is considered anti-Semitic." In other words, all it took for his Jewish critics and opponents to decree Rev. Forrest an anti-Semite was for him to disclose some unpalatable truths concerning the chemical weaponry employed by the Israeli army during the Six Day War.

There is a broad streak of willfulness and expediency that runs through the issue of what and who is or isn't anti-Semitic. Consider something Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal said, for it contains a valuable clue to understanding the engine behind this process [Justice Not Vengeance, Weidenfeld and Nicolson: London, 1989, p. 231]:

"We [i.e., Jews] have done very little to condemn Jewish collaboration with the Nazis. When, after the war, I demanded that those who had abused their office in ghettos or concentration camps be removed from Jewish committees, I was told that 'this would diminish the guilt of the Nazis.'"

"This would diminish the guilt of the Nazis." It sounds like a decision made by the board of directors at a brokerage firm intent on inflating the value of German guilt and therefore compelled to downplay Jewish responsibility for the crimes habitually ascribed to the Nazis. It suggests a calculating mindset and a moral relativism that may be tailored to suit a given agenda. The result of this approach has been a grotesque distortion of values and perception, and a willingness to format historical truth in order to better serve immediate social and political ends. The example of Peggy Tishman is enlightening.

Peggy Tishman, a former president of New York's Jewish Community Relationship Council, hosted a showing of the documentary film, Liberators at Harlem's Apollo Theatre a few years ago, a film riddled with many factual errors, many of them deliberate and intentional ["The liberation that wasn't," The Globe and Mail, Feb. 6, 1993]. The purpose of the film, among others, had been to improve the souring relations between Jews and Blacks in New York City. However, she defended the historical lie alleging all-black U.S. army units had been among the first to free the Jewish inmates at Dachau and Buchenwald in 1945 on the grounds that it was simply "good for the Holocaust."

Her defence, that purveying these falsehoods was nonetheless "good for the Holocaust," is instructive. The lesson being that if falsehoods may be "good for the Holocaust," then some truths may also be bad for the Holocaust. Hence, deceit may sometimes be a good thing, according to this scale; and honesty a bad thing. Or worse. It may even be anti-Semitic.

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Author(s): The TransCyberian Express
Title: The Good, the Bad, and the Anti-Semitic
Published: 1996-01-01
First posted on CODOH: Sept. 15, 2000, 7 p.m.
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