Insurgent Notes Promotes the Confusion of an Identitarian Marxist About Antisemitism

SUMMARY: “Holocaust Education and Fascist Grooming” is the title of an article that appeared in January 2020 on the website of the electronic magazine Insurgent Notes hosted by American Marxists Loren Goldner and John Garvey. According to Ben Reichman, its author, the way Americans learn the history of the Judeocide1 in school (by reading Elie Wiesel’s Night) actually predisposes them to antisemitism and plays into the hands of the rise of fascism today in the United States. As absurd as these assertions may seem, they must still be refuted since they are spread by comrades who have so far taken theoretical questions seriously.

It is particularly difficult to report on this article because it goes in all directions: while its title seems to indicate a narrow target (the way young Americans learn about the Judeocide at school, and perhaps even in the university—Reichman does not specify it); in reality the author also mentions, in passing, colonization, African-American slavery, Native American genocide, us foreign policy, the Founding Fathers, the bloody repression of workers’ struggles between 1914 and 1937, the Civil Rights Movement, Zionism, Israel, Elie Wiesel, the Anti-Defamation League2, the Black Panthers, discrimination against homosexuals, lesbians, transgendered people, people who do not identify with any defined gender, and disabled people, fascism, Trump….and even a little bit, antisemitism and the Judeocide—to fit the title of his article!!!

His text is therefore a hotchpotch of commonplaces, sometimes Marxist (the dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling class; racism is a weapon of division in the hands of the ruling class, etc.) and sometimes belonging to the left-wing identitarian repertoire: all minorities are victims of oppression and domination, so really the Jews would do better not to present themselves as super-victims any more because, according to the author, this attitude encourages antisemitism and even the rise of fascism.

The informative content of this article, at least for a reader who would like to know the real content of the American school teaching of the Judeocide, is therefore null and void…except for an absurd charge against Night of Elie Wiesel.

Why should we be interested in this text? Because its flaws illustrate how Marxists (here one militant influenced by Anglo-Saxon left identitarianism) still do not manage, in 2020, to treat seriously the question of the fight against antisemitism. The author’s approach leads to an impasse that is not only his own, but also that of many far left or anarchist activists today.

I will begin my critique of his article by referring to the book he targets—Elie Wiesel’s Night—which is said to be the foundation of anti-Judeocide education in the United States. I don’t know if this assertion is correct, but I will start from his considerations of Night.

On left-wing identitarian fashion

Before getting to the heart of the matter, I will add a final clarification, which is trivial for me since I do not reason in terms of identity like him: Reichman specifies that he is Jewish—which in the Anglo-Saxon context has become almost a moral obligation on the Left: one must always specify “where one is speaking from,” and this goes so far as to indicate one’s “gender” and sexual orientation before speaking on any subject. This custom is coming to France, and soon, before being able to express oneself, one will have to specify one’s “race” (”social race,” of course, even if it is actually based on phenotypes), one’s “gender” (or lack of “gender”), one’s religion and what else!

This is why an academic (Stephen Shenfield) wrote a critique of my first two texts on the “Limits of Anti-Zionism,” explaining to his readers that I was a Jew and a Zionist. I had to make it clear to him that I was neither—so he at least removed from his article the mention of my imaginary Jewishness. This anecdote is indicative of a political climate in which one criticizes someone’s position not on the basis of its content but on the basis of the supposed ethnic origin or sexual orientation of the author, which is supposed to determine his or her thinking. The crude “economic” or “sociological” Marxist determinism has been replaced by crude “racial,” ethnic and/or sexual (i.e., “gendered”) determinism among left, far left and even anarchist activists.

Another example: during the two days of debates (”Ideas for freedom”) organised each year by the Alliance for Workers Liberty in London (debates which are pluralist and very democratic), I heard several activists begin their intervention by saying: “I am John or Merry, trans, gay or lesbian.” This attitude is undoubtedly part of a deliberate strategy aimed at trivializing these orientations, fighting against homophobic, transphobic, etc. prejudices; this choice makes it possible to affirm one’s pride in belonging to a discriminated minority, but I do not understand how this gives a particular authority to intervene on a subject, or how a priori it enriches the discussion. If you frequent social networks, or read the far left or anarchist press, you must have already noticed this tendency to put forward one’s particular identity or identities (ethnic, religious, sexual, etc.) as if this particularism or these particularisms were a guarantee of in-depth knowledge of the subject under discussion.

The actual content of Elie Wiesel’s Night

The author announces that his article will deconstruct the official American “historiography” on the Judeocide but does not mention any reference books on the genocide of the Jews and the history of antisemitism—which is rather strange. Although he has written his contribution for an American audience that is familiar with the content of “Holocaust Education” in the public school system, he does not quote any official text, textbook, or course on the genocide of the Jews. He could, for example, have cited the two Anti Defamation League pamphlets on antisemitism aimed at educating American schoolchildren.3 In that case, Ben Reichman’s criticisms would have been much more credible and justified.

He only mentions one book: Night. This testimony by Elie Wiesel was translated and published in 1960 in the United States; according to Reichman, it has now become an essential reference in the American school system. Concealing the real content of this book, Reichman denounces Wiesel’s later “Zionist” positions, but he does not explain how the testimony presented in Night can justify the war crimes of Tsahal since 1948 and the support of the United States to Israel.4 According to Reichman, young Americans are incited, thanks to Wiesel and the school teaching of the Judeocide, to believe that “Jews were the great, doleful Victims of history, their experience is unassailable, and most importantly, Israel is beyond reproach.”

Reichman does not hesitate to claim that Night can incite young Americans to admire Hitler, this “anti-hero” who seems so “cool” to them; he pretends this book can arouse a fascination for Nazi ideology and white supremacy, and contributes to the rise of fascism in the United States. Finally, to crown his absurd “demonstration,” he takes up Norman Finkelstein’s dubious remarks on the so-called “Holocaust Industry.”

So let’s start with Night and its contents, of which Reichman says almost nothing—and falsifies even by omission. This short autobiographical account by Elie Wiesel tells, in the first person, how a Jewish teenager living in Transsylvania5 suddenly witnesses, following the invasion of Hungary by German troops in March 1944, roundups of Jews supposedly going to work in Galicia. A survivor of the massacre caused by these roundups returns to the village to warn his co-religionists. But everyone thinks he is crazy until the Hungarian cops lock all the Jews in a temporary ghetto, force them to wear the yellow star and seize their belongings. In May 1944, they are deported, then bounced from camp to camp (Auschwitz-Birkenau, Moniwitz-Buna); in January 1945, SS soldiers force them to begin a long death march, as they flee from the advance of the Red Army; finally the surviving prisoners arrive in Buchenwald where the panicked Nazis want to impose another death march on the Jewish prisoners to exterminate them. But the Resistance seizes the camp and the Americans free the prisoners on April 11, 1945.

Night offers us a terrifying testimony about the daily life of a Jewish teenager, his family, and his relatives under the Nazi yoke for a year. Wiesel describes to us the horrors he lived through with his childhood eyes, the progressive dehumanization imposed by the conditions of survival, transportation, “work,” promiscuity in the different camps; the violence of the SS but also often that of Jewish kapos; the disbelief of the Jews in the face of the extent of the Judeocide; the Nazi manipulation techniques; the indifference of the civilian populations to the fate of the Jews in Hungary, Poland or Germany; the way in which the Nazis made prisoners fight each other, even kill each other over a tiny piece of stale bread or a poor soup. Wiesel gives us an implacable indictment of Nazi barbarism, antisemitism and the fascist concentration camp system. He even briefly describes a camp revolt just before the arrival of the Nazis.

However, Reichman has retained only one thing from Night: the author pleads for the impossibility of explaining and understanding the Judeocide!! Reichman denounces religious or mystical interpretations of the Judeocide (and on this point we can agree), but he shows neither empathy nor respect for the teenager Elie Wiesel who lived through all these horrors, and writes this magnificent testimony. Did the Marxists of the 1930s and 1940s (not to mention their current successors) understand Judeocide better than the religious Jews or Zionists of the time? Did they know how to prevent it ? Did they mobilize the working class in all countries against Judeocide ? To ask these questions is to answer them.

Reichman is careful not to draw up the slightest balance sheet of the failures of the workers’ movement and of “historical materialism” whose interpretative virtues he very imprudently extols. Yet these failures explain in part why, in the face of the embarrassed silence of the Marxists6 and their incomprehension of the Judeocide, many desperate Jews turned to religion and/or to Zionism (which would have saved their skins if they had gone to Palestine—a historical detail, no doubt).7 It is also understandable that, in the face of such a vast, new and murderous phenomenon, some Jews thought (and still think today) that the Judeocide could not be understood outside the centuries-old religious references of their ancestors, when the Know-it-all Marxist Doctors are still wading pitifully in 2020?

For Reichman, Night has a harmful effect today because it incites its readers to think that the Jews are the victims who are the most eligible to compassion on this planet and that the victims of all other mass crimes, war crimes and genocides should bow to the “aura” (sic!) raised by the notion of the “uniqueness” of the Judeocide. Reichman joins here the discourse of the Holocaust deniers who say, in harsher terms, what some identitarian Marxists, ultra-leftists and left anti-Zionists distill in a more convoluted way about war crimes and genocides: “I’m fed up with Jews’ whining!” Without realizing it, Reichman also joins the attitude of Jewish notables who, for centuries, within the religious communities they were in charge of, preached to their co-religionists in Europe and North Africa that they had to keep a low profile in order not to “provoke” anti-Semites. We have seen the result.

And so it is not surprising that the author, with this state of mind, not only discredits the true content of Night by attacking Elie Wiesel’s later political positions or his few religiously tinged side remarks, but also praises the para-antisemitic pamphlet which is The Holocaust Industry.

Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry. Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering: a para-antisemitic pamphlet…

Norman G. Finkelstein built his fame by writing pamphlets that have nothing to do with serious historical work on the subjects he deals with. The Holocaust industry starts from his individual position, or more precisely that of his parents—in essence: “Life is priceless, so I don’t want to receive a penny from any state, even the German state.” This radical position (one could say anarchist if Finkelstein belonged to that political current, which is not the case) is perfectly respectable. It was debated in the 1950s in many Israeli kibbutz when Germany finally decided to pay reparations to the relatives of the survivors and to the former deportees themselves.

Finkelstein would like all Jews to adopt the same reasoning as his parents, but lumps together all Jews who accepted compensation. He brings water to the antisemites’ mill: his pamphlet ends up presenting Jews as guys who are only interested in money and have no moral principles…unlike himself. This is why reading The Holocaust Industry has always been highly recommended by Holocaust deniers. This polemic about financial compensations makes no sense.8 If there are crooks among American lawyers, it might be interesting to devote an article to them. But from there to writing a whole book and pretending to build a political argument on such a thin subject, there is a gap. If Finkelstein was really interested in crooked law firms, he should have been dealing with issues far more important than compensations to Jews, issues that affect the very functioning of capitalism. According to his bibliography, he has never been interested in that.

Left identitarian Marxists, who are outraged that Jews agreed to receive money from Germany after the Judeocide, find it perfectly normal and consistent to support those who claim compensation for the descendants of Native Americans who suffered genocide or African-American victims of slavery. They are also the same people who, in the face of any group of people who are victim of floods, hurricanes (Katrina, for example) or earthquakes (natural phenomena, of course, but in which the incompetence and corruption of politicians plays a significant role), support the right of those concerned to seek compensation from the State. Why should the surviving Jews not have received the maximum amount of money from the German state, whether to live in Israel or elsewhere? The same applies to Native Americans, African-Americans, Roma, homosexuals murdered by the Nazis and so on. So why should Jews be the only group not entitled to financial compensation? Sadly, Norman Finkelstein, so highly valued by Reichman, did not stop there in the spread of Judeophobic stereotypes and reactionary positions, as the two appendices to my article will show.

How do we combat antisemitism?

Reichman proposes nothing to combat antisemitism. Only that the Jews keep quiet and let other victims of war crimes and genocide, or their descendants, speak out. Understandably, such an attitude can only lead to political competition between collective memories, vile or absurd statistical comparisons and so on. And, in practice, it makes a common fight against all forms of racism impossible. Reichman is astonished that American schoolchildren hear about Auschwitz-Birkenau and not about the Ludlow massacre of 1914 (26 workers killed by the National Guard); about the “Battles of Blair Mountain” in 1921, in which 10,000 miners and 3,000 cops and armed scabs clashed (the death toll was about 100); or about the “Battle of Overpass” in May 1937, during which General Motors trade unionists were cruelly beaten. Does he seriously believe that the state and employer repression in the United States between 1914 and 1937 can be put on the same level as the deportation, between March 1942 and December 1944, of about 1.1 million Jews and 23,000 Roma and Sinti to Auschwitz-Birkenau, of whom less than 100,000 escaped?

While we may dream that the history of the achievements of the labor movement should be taught in schools, such a dream is totally contradictory to the idea that teaching today serves the interests of the ruling class. Indeed, Reichman himself writes: “The American public education has always been an organ of state capitalism and the employing class, beating the working class down into zombified submission and feeding them a diet of insubstantial, inorganic McHistory.” We can hope that (American or European) public education will one day denounce the harmfulness of all forms of racism (and not just antisemitism), and make children and young people aware of all forms of oppression and discrimination.

Such an approach presupposes that we are able to propose reforms to school curricula, even if, in the American context, this would undoubtedly be more complicated than in France, given the decentralization and the very important role of parents in the United States, as opposed to France. Reichman makes no reference to any specific proposal for a counter-curriculum, not even the slightest outline of what could replace current education regarding antisemitism, racism or the history of the labor movement. Far-left activists can’t just criticize public programs, they must also propose independent training programs that strengthen solidarity among members of all oppressed or exploited minorities. No such initiatives are cited in his article.

Reichman wonders why, for example, American history textbooks do not mention the Black Panthers. He should also ask himself whether it is really possible today, in the school or even militant context, to develop an education acceptable to all minorities, when they are in the midst of a cultural war against each other (a war fostered by right-wing and left-wing identitarians like Ben Reichman). This education should also be comprehensible to the exploited who belong to the ethnic majority of European origin in the States, as well as in Europe. Finally, it should be based on scientific and historical criteria that enjoy the broadest possible consensus. We are a long way from that at the moment.

If, instead of indulging in an absurd and nasty polemic against Night, and genuflecting before the para-antisemitic polemicist Finkelstein, Reichman had taken steps in this direction, or even if he had indicated where to find such useful training tools against all discrimination and oppression, he would have done something useful.

Unfortunately, this article is a real disaster. All the more so as the author seems to believe that Marxism today would be capable of answering all the questions he raises. His profession of faith is reminiscent of Soviet-style Marxism-Leninism, which for decades claimed to possess the scientific method indispensable for carrying out in-depth historical, economic and sociological research to explain all the problems facing humanity in all fields. On this level too, it is time for Marxists, whether they are influenced by identitarian ideologies or not, to wake up and stop indulging in hollow and timeless generalities and to get down to work.

Is intersectionality useful in combating antisemitism?

Reichman claims that all discriminations are linked, and even if he does not pronounce the word intersectionality, he seems to be a proponent of this approach, which is very fashionable in the intellectual petty-bourgeoisie. In itself, the idea that different forms of exploitation, domination and oppression are often linked, even intertwined, is nothing new or original. This hypothesis can be fruitful provided that it is not a disguised manoeuvre for:

  • making us believe that antisemitism is merely a vestige of a distant past (Marxists considerably obscured the understanding of Judeophobia and antisemitism by claiming it was a “medieval” phenomenon);
  • minimizing Nazi persecution and Judeocide by comparing, at any given time, the current situation of European (or American) Muslims to that of Jews in the 1920s and 1930s; the war crimes of the idf to Judeocide; or state repression against the American labour movement to Judeocide (see the example quoted above);
  • concealing the century-old Judeophobic dimension of Islam under the pretext of combating anti-Muslim racism today; and claiming that current antisemitism in the Arab-Muslim world has only European, colonial, Christian or Nazi-fascist sources that are foreign to this cultural area.

These biases are omnipresent in the discourses of the far left but also in the texts of many left-wing scholars, whether they explicitly claim to be postcolonial or not. It is a disastrous utopia to believe that most discriminated individuals can spontaneously feel empathy for other oppressed groups, let alone think that they will spontaneously support a worldview that encompasses all the problems of the exploited. It is strange to have to explain these basic notions to activists who spend their time denouncing the limits of European universalism and the Enlightenment, as is the case with identitarian Marxists—and identitarians tout court.

The advent of the Judeocide in Europe and the creation of the State of Israel have led to a slow, and very uneven, international awareness of the criminal nature of antisemitism. Should we complain about this just as Reichman complains that American schoolchildren are forced to read Night? No, of course not.

Education against antisemitism varies greatly from one European country to another; when it exists, it is done through official, associative and state channels, so obviously not on a “revolutionary,” Marxist or anarchist basis. But it is not by denouncing this education, which is often limited in our eyes but which has the merit of existing, that we will be able to develop at the same time a deep awareness against other forms of racism and other forms of discrimination. It is by deepening the study and critique of each racism, each domination, each oppression that we can then identify common points and enable the dominated to understand what they have in common with other dominated people. In this field, Marxists still have a long way to go.

As far as antisemitism is concerned, this work is generally carried out by moderate or even reactionary Jewish associations, academics who are rarely very left-wing, and in a limited number of countries: mainly the United States, Germany and Israel—France being very much behind despite the presence of a large Jewish community on its territory. It has to be said that in the international colloquia organised against antisemitism over the years, there are very few, if any, Marxist or radical intellectuals.

Since the Second World War, the left and the far left, including their intellectual fellow travellers, have favoured the analysis and denunciation of colonialism, racism against African, North African, Latin American and even Asian minorities, and more recently anti-Muslim racism. They have deserted the analysis of antisemitism and the fight against this scourge.

It’s time to clean up our mess, comrades!

In such a context, rather than attacking Jewish organizations, or this or that official institution, when they fight to ensure that humanity does not forget the lessons of the Judeocide, radicals would do better to fight the Judeophobic and antisemitic stereotypes that pollute their demonstrations, meetings, publications, discussion lists and websites. To quote with approval the polemist Norman Finkelstein, who disseminates antisemitic stereotypes, and at the same time to claim, as Reichman does, that he understands better than others the commonalities between antisemitism, racism and homophobia, for example, is to show that he has no principles.

To denigrate the testimony of a survivor of the Judeocide, under the pretext of a disagreement with the religious and “Zionist” positions taken by its author, is to take over one of the techniques of the Holocaust deniers who have always sought to discredit the witnesses, starting with Elie Wiesel. According to Reichman, Wiesel convinced the Holocaust Museum administration not to mention the repression and murder of communists, homosexuals, Roma and disabled people persecuted by the nazis. There is only one possible explanation for this, he said: “This fanatical insistence on the primacy of Jewish victimhood is not difficult to deconstruct in light of the war crimes visited by the Israeli state upon the Palestinian people, and the implication of the United States in those crimes.”

There are innumerable Jewish associations and intellectuals (at least in Europe, I don’t know about the United States) who are not critical of current Israeli state policy, but who establish a link between the different victims of Nazi policy and defend what they call “the uniqueness of the Shoah.” The link of cause and effect that Reichman tries to establish, between the “uniqueness of the Shoah,” the denial of idf’s war crimes and the exclusion of other crimes committed by the Nazis against other groups, has no value.

In 1986 and 1993, Robert Faurisson devoted two articles to Wiesel that were translated into several languages, including English, and are today widely distributed on social networks. Just type “Wiesel, false witness” on a search engine to see how French fascists viciously attack Wiesel and Night. Reichman can easily find on the Net a video that stages a discussion in English between the Holocaust denier Ersnt Zundel and Robert Faurisson. In this 30-minute documentary, Faurisson recounts that he went especially to Oslo on the occasion of Wiesel’s Nobel Prize award to “denounce” him, going so far as to try to reach Wiesel at his hotel to give him his disgusting articles. Wiesel has also been the target of the Anglo-Saxon fascists for years, and it is astonishing that Reichman ignores this fact or pretends to ignore it.

To explain that it is because of the pervasiveness of the Judeocide in present-day American culture and education systems, and because of the absence of working class heroes and martyrs in history curricula, that young European-Americans (those whom Reichman calls “white”) are attracted to fascism is to fail to understand the historical causes of fascism and Nazism: in the 1920s and 1930s the young German and Italian proletarians had a very powerful labor movement, and a plethora of “heroes” and martyrs before the march on Rome in October 1922 or the nomination of Hitler as chancellor in January 1933. This did not prevent the fascists and Nazis from attracting part of the workers and unemployed into their ranks.

Finally, to write an article in January 2020 criticising official education about the Judeocide, without mentioning the antisemitic murders that took place in the United States during the last two years (Pittsburgh in October 2018, Poway in April 2019 and Jersey City in December 2019), is rather bizarre, to say the least, for someone who is violently outraged at the lack of context for “Holocaust Education” in the United States.

Reichman denounces Night, Elie Wiesel and the “victimization and hagiography of the Jews” but is not very prolific about the militant antisemitic organizations, or even paramilitary militias, that have been raging in his country for more than a century. He asserts his confidence in “historiography” but does not mention the role of the Ku Klux Klan in the history of American antisemitism; nor the xenophobic and antisemitic campaigns of groups such as the Know Nothings, the American Party and the American Protective Association that attacked “new” European immigrants; nor the Fascist League and the German American Bund that attempted to spread fascism and Nazism to the Italian and German communities in the States; nor does he mention the successful radio campaigns of Father Coughlin against Jews between 1936 and 1942 and the million members of his organization, the National Union for Social Justice. All this took place a long time before the creation of Israel and the publication of Night. He could also have cited, in the post-war period, the Christian Identity movement, which considers the Jews as descendants of Satan and the Anglo-Saxons as true Israelites; American fascists such as Tom Metzger (founder of the White Aryan Resistance), David Duke and Dennis Mahon, who have close ties with Swedish, German, British and of course French fascists, etc.

Reichman rapidly discusses how American “racial science” and eugenics, the conquest of America and the massacres of Native Americans and racial segregation in the United States fascinated the Nazis. But, for him, current antisemitism (or even the rise of fascism today) has only causes exogenous to the depths of American society: the school teaching of Judeocide (which are determined solely by Zionism and foreign policy) and Wiesel’s Night! He prefers to minimize the very old American (and European) roots of antisemitism and to attribute all the responsibility for it to “Zionism,” Israel and the testimony of a survivor of the Judeocide who did not want to draw Marxist conclusions from his ordeal and that of his relatives.

A little more modesty and a more solid analysis of the long history of antisemitism in the United States would certainly have enabled him to offer us a more useful article for our struggles. But to do that, he should have started by getting rid of his identitarian glasses.

March 3, 2020

APPENDIX 1: Norman Finkelstein feeds the grossest antisemitic propaganda based on absurd statistics!

In a blog of August 21, 2018, Finkelstein takes up an old antisemitic tale: the Jews are richer than the others and have, according to him, “too much power” in Great Britain as elsewhere! With fanciful statistics to back it up, he writes as follows:

Jews have too much power in Britain. The three richest Brits in 2016 wereJewish. Jews comprise only 0.5 percent of the population but fully 20 percent of the 100 richest Brits. Relative both to the general population and to other ethno-religious groups, British Jews are in the aggregate disproportionately wealthy, educated, and professionally successful. These data track closely with the picture elsewhere. Jews comprise only 2 percent of the United States population but fully 30 percent of the 100 richest Americans, while Jews enjoy the highest household income among religious groups. Jews comprise less than 0.2 percent of the world’s population but, of the world’s 200 richest people, fully 20 percent are Jewish.

Antisemites have always used statistics foolishly when they didn’t invent them. In the United States, racists use the same type of statistical “evidence” to “prove” the criminogenic and hereditary nature of African-Americans by pointing to the very high percentage of Black prisoners in prisons, on death row, or citing the high number of blood crimes they have committed…or for which they have been arrested. The French far right is engaged in the same exercise with regard to statistics on crimes and offences committed by people of African, Roma or North African origin in France. Or about how “foreigners” or “French people of foreign origin” use family allowances or unemployment benefits.

Norman Finkelstein had already made such remarks at a conference in the United States about the privileged situation (according to him) of Jews in the United States. In this text he takes it to the next level by mobilizing absurd statistics. He thus joins the “reasoning” about the Jews that the fascists have been holding for decades and today most of the European and American far right.

He is too stupid to understand that these statistics have no basis …because they imply several important biases which distort the figures (provided they are accurate):

  • Considering Jews as a race (what he modestly calls an “ethno-religious group”)… If, as anti-Zionists like Finkelstein repeat, to be a Jew is only to have a religious practice (in another part of his text he considers Jews only as a “religious group,” which is inconsistent with his previous position), and if there is no Jewish people (cf. Shlomo Sand’s ramblings approved by leftists and incults) then these “statistics” have no value, for no one can know who among these Jews is a practicing Jew or not. Moreover, one cannot both say that the Jewish people does not exist and at the same time affirm that it is an “ethnic group” since an ethnic group is a group of people who share the same culture, the same language, the same traditions, the same customs, which are transmitted from generation to generation!
  • Basing oneself on a surname in order to deduce the Jewishness of a person. This approach is absurd since having a “Jewish name” has no meaning in itself. I myself bear a Jewish name (which appears at Yad Vashem, the memorial to the victims of the Judeocide in Jerusalem) even though none of my ancestors was Jewish. Many Jews (by surname, sensibility or culture) are atheists or agnostics and have no connection with the Jewish religion.
  • Establishing a causal link between social success and religious practice. Social success (and especially here the dubious allegation of belonging to the “richest people in the world”) has nothing to do with the religious beliefs (real or supposed) of the (real or supposed) Jews or those of their ancestors. Except if one believes, like the anti-Semites, that Jews form a tightly knit lobby, a a closed caste, a race or an ethnic group organized around a religion that monopolizes the planet’s wealth because of its genetic, cultural, and/or psychological traits. In short, unless one believes in the veracity of Mein Kampf or the Protocol of the Elders of Zion.

Finkelstein already lowered himself quite a bit with his pitiful book The Holocaust Industry (in which he defends the Swiss banks which are supposedly “victims” of greedy Jewish associations and Jews interested only in money). In this pamphlet, he ignored all the essays, testimonies, films, artworks and novels on the Judeocide, all the philosophical and political reflections on its universal scope, and reduced this essential heritage for anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles to mere products of a “Zionist” and Israeli-American propaganda machine. In this article he fell even lower…

APPENDIX 2: Norman Finkelstein supports Hezbollah, a reactionary and antisemitic organisation

Norman Finkelstein travelled to Lebanon to meet with Hezbollah on 20 January 2009. Here’s what he says on his website: “I was of course happy to meet the Hezbollah people because it is a point of view that is rarely heard in the United States. I have no problem saying that I do want to express my solidarity with them, and I’m not going to be a coward or a hypocrite about it. I don’t care about Hezbollah as a political organisation. I don’t know much about their politics, and anyhow it’s irrelevant. I don’t live in Lebanon. This is a choice that the Lebanese have to make: who they want to be their leaders, who they want to represent them. But there is a fundamental principle. People have the right to defend their country against foreign occupiers, and they have the right to defend their country from invaders who are destroying their country.”9

Then drawing a comparison between the “communist” (Stalinist, in fact) resistance during World War II and Hamas he goes on to say: “If I am going to honor the Communists during World War II, even through I probably would not have done very well under their regimes…If I’m going to honor them, I am going to honor the Hizbullah. They show courage, and they show discipline. I respect that. Finkelstein sums up perfectly what most “anti-Zionists” think: they are not interested in the political organizations they support; they don’t take into account the positions these organizations defend. Nor are they interested in the concrete consequences of these positions or in the actions of these organizations. According to these people, everybody has to deal with the problems of his/her own country and everything will be fine. In the name of this principle, would Mr. Finkelstein have supported the American government and the European governments which left Hitler alone precisely because he was chosen by the German people? Of course not!

Many anti-Zionists support Hezbollah or Hamas religiously in the name of one principle: every people must resist an army invading its territory. One wonders what Mr. Finkelstein would have thought of the German soldiers fighting against the American troops who “invaded” and “destroyed” their country in 1944. Would he have supported them in the name of this imprescriptible right? Obviously not! As for the “courage” of the Hezbollah or Hamas fighters, it is undeniable when they face the tanks of the Israeli army, but how can one mechanically separate courage and discipline from the political objective that one pursues and the ideology that one defends? (Let us recall that the Hamas Charter is an antisemitic text which makes “the Jews” responsible for the various world conflicts, communism, materialism, atheism, etc.).10 Moreover, this argument can only lead him onto slippery ground: Does Finkelstein praise and “respect” the “courage” of those who carry out suicide bombings against Israeli civilians?

Nevertheless, with the absurd justifications and tinkered reasoning he puts forward, it is easier to understand why this distinguished “anti-Zionist” who cultivates the right to ignorance reproduces photo montages on his site systematically comparing Nazi barbarity and the barbarity of the idf. He is not interested in the facts, the context or the differences between political situations and programmes; he is conducting an ideological campaign based solely on indignation and anger against the war crimes of one side only.

Such an attitude can only lead the Israelis to unconditionaly support “their” government and prevent solidarity across borders, since, if the Israelis were to follow Finkelstein’s “principle,” they too would have to feel assaulted every time they receive rockets on their homes or Hamas or Islamic Jihad supporters are blown up in the middle of a crowd. More often than not, “anti-Zionism” only provides arguments for the deadly nationalisms that are clashing in the Near and Middle East.

Postscript

After finishing this text, I came across this excellent article (Burgard, A., “L’historien face à l’événement et sa mémoire: Peter Novick et la place de la Shoah aux États-Unis,” Bulletin d’histoire politique, 24 (3, 2016)) from which I extracted the following passage, but which should be read in its entirety:

As Cole points out, “not only do Israel and the United States tell different versions of the same story, but they also tend not to learn the same lessons from it.” This is why, contrary to what Finkelstein tends to do, the omnipresence of the Shoah cannot be understood only through the prism of Zionism and support for Israel, since American representations often differ so widely from Israeli representations. Nor can the Shoah be reduced to an identity pillar (Novick’s ethnic marker) and agenda of the Jewish community, as it is not only part of the ethnic narrative of American Jews, but also of the nationalist narrative for the country as a whole. Often presented by Novick as a symbol of the political will of American Jewish leaders, the USHMM in Washington is a perfect example of this process. It is first and foremost an American museum where, through the Righteous and the GIs, American values are celebrated much more than Jewish martyrdom. It is in this appropriation that lies one of the main specificities of the process of institutionalizing the memory of the Shoah in the United States, a manifestation of a more global movement of trivialization of memory.

This is a much more interesting lead than the thesis of an American-Zionist conspiracy served up by Ben Reichman and Norman Finkelstein!


  1. In English, Reichman uses the term “Holocaust,” but given the polysemy of this term and its religious dimension I prefer to use the word “Judeocide.”↩︎
  2. The Anti-Defamation League (adl) was created in 1913 by Bnai Brith, a Jewish organization founded in 1843 on the principle of “lodges” bringing together Jews from different backgrounds (in reality mainly notables) who wish to fight “for democracy, against intolerance and against antisemitism.” The adl always fully supported the American state (from its participation in the witch-hunt against the communists in the 1940s and 1950s to Trump’s recent decision to move his embassy to Jerusalem). It is violently hostile to left-wing associations, especially those led by African-Americans, “Arabs” or “Muslims” (and the adl expresses its doubts about their ability to become “good Americans”) and of course it tries to present all initiatives of solidarity with Palestine as antisemitic.↩︎
  3. Challenging antisemitism: debunking the myths and responding with facts (2006) and Confronting Antisemitism: myths and facts (2006), both available on line.↩︎
  4. This support was far from being enthusiastic at first, since senior officials of the State Department were opposed to the recognition of the new state and because the Israeli Labor Party played the card of Soviet imperialism until June 1950, when it chose to support the position of us imperialism on Korea. But this, of course, is a minor point, for Bulldozer-type-Marxists like Ben Reichman….Similarly, the Holocaust Museum, whose construction was authorized by Congress in 1980, has only been open since 1993…45 years after the creation of Israel. Over the past 27 years, 10 million American schoolchildren have visited it, which still represents a small percentage of the children and young people educated in the States over the past three decades. But Reichman is not interested in numbers and facts.↩︎
  5. This province of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire was given to Romania in 1920, but half of it, under the pressure from fascist Italy and Germany, was ceded back to Hungary in August 1940.↩︎
  6. When I speak of an “embarrassed silence” I am being kind. Some revolutionary militants continued to denounce the “Jewish capitalists” while some of these same bourgeois burned in the crematoria. In a 1943 article, the rkd, German and French Revolutionary Communists, denounced the “Jewish capitalists who, together with Anglo-American or German capitalists, profited well from the war (as they had profited well from the first)” . Largely of Jewish origin, these courageous militants had absolutely no understanding of what was at stake before their eyes. And they were far from being the only ones, as L’Humanité, the clandestine cp publication, testified: in September 1942 the French Stalinists also denounced “Jewish industrialists and capitalists who escaped the Aryanization decrees” and “who collaborated with the Nazis against France and will have to answer for it tomorrow, like other traitors.”↩︎
  7. Today the far left does not dare to criticise Syrians, Iraqis or Somalis who are fleeing their country. Nor did it criticise the Chileans or Brazilians fleeing military dictatorships in the 1970s. Or the Portuguese who refused to serve in the colonial army in Mozambique, Angola or Guinea-Bissau and fled to France. Yet, as far as the Jews of the 1930s are concerned, there are still Trotskyists (in this case the historian Jean-Jacques Marie) who argue that Polish Jews were right not to listen to the Zionists, relying on soothing quotes from Goebbels about the project of forced exile of the Jews to Madagascar! Cf. Henryk Erlich, “Le sionisme est-il un mouvement libérateur démocratique?↩︎
  8. The problem here is double standards. We may consider that we have better battles to fight than that of reparations, but this is a discussion to be held among people who want to overthrow the capitalist system. Not with Normal Finkelstein who is definitely not one of us.↩︎
  9. See http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=11&ar=1489. As this link does not work anymore I used memri’s transcription and video of the same interview. I usually don’t trust memri because I can’t check their translations from the Arabic or Persian media, but here the words correspond exactly to what I had translated from English to French a few years ago.↩︎
  10. On his website Finkelstein reproduces a statement by a certain mousa abu marzook, member of the Political Bureau of Hamas. Under the title “A reasonable statement” (according to Finkelstein’s words), Marzook states: “Regarding the 1988 Charter, if any state or movement were to be judged solely on its founding documents, revolutionary proclamations, or the ideas of its founders, there would be much criticism to be made on all sides.” That’s what’s called «to kick into touch», which is normal for Hamas. But what is less normal is that anti-Zionists support this kind of pirouette, especially coming from a movement that claims to be inspired by Allah, by Prophet Muhamad, and considers all of Palestine as a holy land. To compare a movement that claims to be based on the Koran (dictated, they say, by God) with American governments that claim to be based on an eighteenth-century constitution, as Abu Marzook does, is almost a…blasphemy!!!

    Besides, it is not the armed branch of the Hamas (the Ezzdine al Qassam Brigades, created in 1991) that will contradict us. Indeed, it considers that its objective is to «contribute to the effort to liberate Palestine and restore the rights of the Palestinian people by drawing inspiration from the sacred Islamic teachings of the Holy Koran, the Sunna (traditions) of the Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and the traditions of the Muslim leaders and scholars known for their piety and devotion».↩︎

Comments

4 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. In my critique of Yves Coleman, I did not “explain to [my] readers that he is a Jew and a Zionist.” In the final paragraph that I deleted I did assume mistakenly that he was Jewish, but I never called him a Zionist. I did say (with supporting examples) that he views Israel through rose-tinted spectacles and that he does not seem to know much about Zionism. I think he can reasonably be called an apologist for Zionism insofar as he defends Zionism and Israel from criticisms that are in fact well founded. In doing so he uses arguments that are often used by Zionists, so if Finkelstein is a “para-antisemite” he is a “para-Zionist” (though it would perhaps be better to avoid the “para” prefix).

    Coleman lives in France, which has a political culture different from that of the United States. So perhaps he should not be in such a hurry to dismiss as “absurd” judgments about American society made by people with personal experience of that society.

    Reichman was complaining about the harm done to young minds when taught to view the Judeocide mainly or wholly in terms of the obscurantist philosophy of Elie Wiesel. Coleman focuses solely on the book “Night.” I haven’t read the book, so I would like to ask those who have whether it is just a descriptive memoir or whether it also peddles Wiesel’s obscurantist philosophy. Another relevant question is to what extent ‘Holocaust education’ as a whole in the US is influenced by Wiesel’s philosophical ideas.

    • Stephen Cheng,

      Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’ is his memoir of being a concentration camp prisoner under the Nazis. I don’t think Wiesel waxed all that philosophical in ‘Night’–it certainly includes vivid portrayals of his time within the camp system, though.

  2. Stephen Shefield confirms what I wrote: the fact that more and more people on the Left link the racial/sexual/national/ethnic identity of one person to what he writes or says. I criticize antizionism (which does not mean I defend Israel or israeli nationalism or zionism, contrary to what Stephen Shefield writes) so it’s very probable that I am a Jew. I dare write about the US but I should keep my mouth shut because I am living in France. What a better example of the dead-end of identity politics and the negative consequences of these theories !!! PS: One anecdote to illustrate this dead end, on the level of basic human relations. When I was working at the airport until 8 PM, I used to invite passengers who did have money to pay for a hotel room and who were obliged to sleep on the floor of the airport until the next morning to come and spend the night in my house. I remember a Pakistani couple insisting heavily to understand why I was doing that. They thought I was a Christian. When I told them I was an atheist they said it was impossible and kept asking until they came to my flat for a good night’s rest. This was in the early 1980s and the world was already poisoned by identitarianism from below… Now we have academic identitarianism. I doubt it’s a progress…

  3. My comment about France and the US was not about identity but about experience. My perception of the US has changed over the years of living here. But perhaps your view is also shaped by experience, in which case I apologize.

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