Antisemitism and Holocaust Revisionism

Lecturer: Elly Dlin

On 4 September 1997 three bombs exploded in the crowded Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in Jerusalem killing 4 and injuring 200.  The last lines of the newspaper article that appeared in the next day's JERUSALEM POST, under the title <An Ugly Deja Vu>, were:

As helicopters hovered overhead and stores in the area closed, a young girl stood against a police vehicle, quietly reciting Psalms.  <It's not a pedestrian mall> a young man said passing by her, <it's Auschwitz>.

What exactly is the deja vu that the journalist felt?  Was this act of terror a Holocaust?  Presumably neither the journalist writing the article nor the <young> man that he quotes were actually inmates in Auschwitz while it still functioned as the largest Death Camp in the Third Reich.  A symbolic connection is being felt, an echo of history, a sense of being in a situation that <feels> somehow familiar: as in Ben Yehuda Street so it was in Auschwitz - Jews are once again being murdered for no reason other than they were born Jewish.

But does the Auschwitz reference hold beyond this lone thread?  Can it be posited that these two situations are largely analogous?  

I think it quite obvious that they are not!  The Jerusalem bombing took place in a sovereign and independent State that possesses an army and a police force which can defend it and respond aggressively to threats of all kinds.  YES it is terrorism but NO, it is neither a Auschwitz nor is it mass murder.  Terror is an unfortunate fact of life that exists today in many places in the world: in London, Algeria, Ecuador, Oklahoma City and in the subways of Paris and Tokyo.  It is very difficult indeed to stop a small and determined group of terrorists bent on suicide, and the losses that they inflict are painful and tragic, but they are isolated and individual.  Mass murders of thousands and genocides of even greater magnitude DO continue to take place in today's world but we Jews are no longer the victims.

True, the bombings in Jerusalem were intended to kill Jews solely because they are Jews.  It was a clear act of antisemitism just like the bombing of the Chabad Synagogue in Moscow 2 weeks ago (mid-May 1998) was undoubtedly motivated by antisemitism.  But these are not Holocausts.  MAVET AL KIDDUSH HASHEM (or dying in the sanctification of G-d's name) is a common thread in the long history of the persecution of Jews.  Throughout history there have been Jewish martyrs who have died for their beliefs.  The Holocaust is a prominent and certainly extreme example of this type of persecution but that is not to say that there are not major differences between it and other acts of antisemitism nor can we imply that every antisemitic act is a Holocaust. The very uniqueness of the Holocaust (lecture 1) and its particular and complex relationship with traditional antisemitism (lecture 2) have been raised earlier in this series.


Often this question is clouded by a problem of definitions and by partial or skewed information that may lead to incorrect conclusions.  For example: some 10 years ago or more an arson torched the synagogue in my home town in Canada.  The initial feeling was that a heinous antisemitic act had occurred, an unprecedented assault on the local Jewish community.  That is until the perpetrator was caught.  A mentally unstable drifter, he claimed that G-d expressed to him His Divine dissatisfaction as to the ways in which He was being worshipped.  This man felt a Divine calling to destroy Houses of Worship in order to wake people up and bring them to true religious observance.  The perpetrator admitted to having set fires to Catholics and Protestants churches and that he now had torched one of the Jew's.  Was this antisemitism?  Apparently not.  Rather than singling Jews out for special treatment this nut was  actually expressing a twisted kind of egalitarianism.  For him Jews were no different than anybody else and he was obliged to destroy their Houses of Worship also.

A second example: During the 1982 War in Lebanon a bomb went off in a diamond district in Belgium.  The insurance company fought against the claim for compensation on the basis of a clause in their policy that precluded payment for <acts of War>.  Was that antisemitism?  Maybe.  If the damaged business had been owned by Catholics would the company have responded differently?  Would it have linked the act to violence in Northern Ireland? Or are their a special set of rules solely for Jews?  Is a Jewish-owned business in Europe automatically to be considered a legitimate target for combatants from the Middle East?  And what if the Jewish owner is a Satmar Hassid and a strident opponent of Zionism?   Are all Diaspora Jews automatically to be considered combat  soldiers in the Israeli Army, directly and personally responsible for the invasion of Lebanon?  

Yet on the other hand, was the insurance company really being antisemitic or was it merely exercising sharp business practices - trying to use any loophole to avoid paying out a large premium. Maybe they were making this argument without being aware of the possible antisemitic overtones but simply because it  might help the company to save money.  And if the tactic were to fail then the payment would be made - no hard feelings, nothing personal, just business. 

These situations are frequently ambiguous, in the greyish shades of interpretation.  For instance, antisemites condemn Jews for being clannish and for engaging in unfair business practices that favour their fellow Jews. Well I grew up in a Canadian city that was overwhelmingly Christian and yet our family doctor, lawyer,  and pharmacist were all Jews.  There were plenty of car garages in our neighbourhood but we always serviced our vehicle at a downtown shop that was Jewish-owned  It was considerably less convenient but we felt obliged to give the business <to one of our own>.

Antisemites claim that Jews conspire together and have secret ties with one another.  A gentleman who heard me lecture some years back told of loosing his wallet, cards and money in a city in which he knew no one.  While still at the airport he approached a person that, in his words <looked Jewish> (don't antisemites make the outrageous claim that they can always tell who the Jews are?) and explained the situation to him.  The man, a complete stranger, felt the bond of a fellow-Jew in trouble, gave him money and helped him.  Would the stranger have reacted the same way if he had been approached by an African-American or a Vietnamese Buddhist?  I doubt it. The slogan <WE ARE ONE> was not coined by antisemites but by the mainstream organized Jewish world.

Is it antisemitism when Dr. Robert Lowe of the Southern Baptist Convention says that G-d doesn't hear the prayers of the Jews or alternatively, is it his fundamentalist Christian beliefs?  (Or both?)  Beliefs that have their parallels among fundamentalists of all stripes.  Do all Jews believe that G-d listens in the same way to their prayers as He does to Christians, or to female Reconstructionist Lesbian Rabbis?

Some of the State of Israel's strongest supporters in America are devout Christians who pray for the conversion and disappearance of the Jewish people - more shades of grey.

Yet emphasizing the ambiguous should not cause us to ignore the real antisemites; recognizing shades of grey should not blind us to the black that definitely does exists.  There are fringe groups of wholly committed antisemites in most every country.  They are still few in number but they can do some real damage to property and lives.  Societies today are undoubtedly strong enough to keep them on the fringe and to limit their damage but things can change, there are no ironclad guarantees for the future.  Hitler was the 7th member to join the executive of the Nazi Party; 20 years later the Second World War began.  Now not every small group of 7 crazies causes a series of event that leads to the deaths of tens of millions of people, yet we ignore the potential threat at our peril.


Labels are very important in the war over memory that is being fought by the antisemites.  Their adoption of the term <revisionism> is a bid for legitimacy where none is deserved, just as their use of the term <exterminationists> for everyone else is an attempt to discredit and denigrate those who know the truth of what actually happened in the Holocaust.

The first revisionists were those historians writing in the 1920s who took sharp issue with the War Guilt Clause (article 219 of the Versailles Treaty) that assigned complete and total responsibility to the Germans for the outbreak of the First World War.  There are even some linkages between the 1920s revisionists and this current group of antisemites that are more accurately labeled <Holocaust deniers>. 

What are their themes?  Firstly the Holocaust deniers seek the rehabilitation of the Third Reich and its leaders  By stressing the positive aspects of their policies and downplaying or ignoring the heart of the regime - its antisemitism and its crimes against humanity - they are suggesting that there was much about the Nazis to be admired and emulated. Secondly it is a platform upon which to reshape societies, to attack parliamentary democracy and to reject pluralism, tolerance and diversity. It is a xenophobic attack against minorities in a bid to build a closed and <racially pure> society.  Thirdly, Holocaust deniers are open opponents of more than the specific policies of this or that Israeli government.  They reject the very legitimacy of the State of Israel itself and reveal their antisemitism in the passion of their hatred.  Just as the term <antisemitism> was invented in the latter part of the 19th century to elevate it above simple Jew-hatred and to give it an <objective> and <scientific> basis, so <Holocaust revisionism> is nothing more than the newest channel for  the oldest hatred in the world - antisemitism.


I think the only possible conclusion is a positive one.  For when you ask a Holocaust-denier: if these event did not really happen, how did they come to be believed so universally?  S\he can only answers: because the Jews control the world.  They control the press, the schools, the governments and Hollywood.  Jews manipulated, manufactured and distorted all of the volumes and volumes of evidence that were presented in the Trials of Major War Criminals after the War.  The Holocaust deniers must accept 1 of 2 possible positions.  Either the judges at Nuremberg were all consciously part of the International Jewish Conspiracy to deceive the world of the truth or, even more nefarious and dangerous, the Jewish conspiracy is so powerful and so subtle that it entraps and controls all of these innocents to do its bidding without them even being aware of how they are being manipulated.  And equally hoodwinked are the thousands of teachers who teach about the Holocaust in schools, and the university professors and curriculum specialists who write materials for the dozens of States and school districts that teach the Holocaust to young people.  They are all part of this omnipotent and omniscient lie - the greatest (and one might add, the most successful) hoax of the 20th century..

Someone who believes with a total faith (and in the absence of any real supportive evidence) not only that the Jews STRIVE to control the world but that they INDEED DO manipulate it and everyone and everything in it can only be described as an antisemite.  Therefore all Holocaust deniers are antisemites.


Historians have tremendous difficulties simply trying to understand the past; their record in predicting the future is even less sterling.  Yet in this series for JUICE I think it important to at least give consideration to this question.  

A look at the evidence suggests that the dangers today to Jews are more serious in countries where they have a substantial presence (like France) than where they hardly exist (like Poland), and where the antisemitic tradition is strong (like Russia) rather than were it is relative weak (like North America).

The threat is greater from closed societies were access to information is severely fettered than it is in those places where knowledge is open to all who seek it.  Despots who think in terms of monolithic ideologies tend to seek singular answers to complex issues and to show a predilection to accepting conspiracy theories of hidden enemies and invisible forces. Especially powerful are situations in which hatred of <the others> is used to divert the population from its real problems and to unite and transcend their differences by focusing on the scapegoat.  When the singular answer, conspiracy theory and perceived enemy is all one and is all part of an old historical tradition (antisemitism, the longest hatred) then it may appear to have a degree of credibility to some.   

It should also be noted that the specific danger towards Jews is reduced when there are more prominent and preferred targets to persecute (Turks, Vietnamese, black immigrants) and by the presence of the independent State of Israel which is committed to defending Jewish interests around the world and has taken action far from its own borders to rescue Jews (of a military nature such as at Entebbe, Uganda in 1976 and the airlifts of immigrants from Iran, the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia).  

In a series of presentations that try to understand something of why the Holocaust happened it may be instructive to take a moment and to speculate about a case in which a Holocaust does NOT happen.   Jews in South Africa were never fully accepted in the core groups who held power in that country. Racially-based quotas and population controls regulated not only entry into South Africa from outside of its international borders but were also very present within all levels of societal structures.  Fascism, militarism, anti-foreigners, Christian fundamentalism, and also strains of pure antisemitism were strong in South Africa in the 1930s and 1940s.  Yet a Holocaust does not happen.  Why not?

Part of the explanation is that National Socialism is something else other than fascism and militarism.  Nazism is fundamentally foreign to that regime especially when England is at war with Germany.  Racial antisemitism may have been accepted by a certain group of South Africans but several prominent political leaders spoke out powerfully and decisively against antisemitism (for example, Smuts as Minister of Justice in November 1933). In addition the government took actions that clearly marked off dangerous antisemitic behaviour as unacceptable (the 1934 Aberdeen Greyshirts Trial in Port Elizabeth).  In contradistinction to Hitler's antisemitism, the antisemitism of Malan's Purified National Party was decidedly more rational and instrumental.  In conformity with more important political exigencies, and when it ceased to serve his interests, he was able to drop his antisemitism just as easily as he had picked it up.

An obvious factor is the presence of a much larger population who are the main object of white concerns - in the case of South Africa, blacks.  

In addition, the South African core groups both held traditions that worked against murderous antisemitism: on the one hand English tolerance and democratic traditions and on the other Afrikaans Calvinists who were intimately familiar and positively disposed to the Jewish Bible and who saw themselves as enlightened pioneers struggling to bring redemption to their Promised Land.  They also held an innate pro-Zionism that tempered any anti-Jewish sentiments.

All of this goes a ways in explaining how a Holocaust was avoided and, in its mirror image, how the absence of these mitigating factors contributed to a dangerous potential being actualized in Nazi Germany.





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07 Jul 2008 / 4 Tamuz 5768 0