[CLASSIC, August 2002] — The strength of Western law has always been its insistence on definition. When we want to minimize an offense, say murder or burglary, we define it as clearly as possible. We want judge and jury to know exactly what the charge means, not only to convict the guilty but, also, just as important, to protect the innocent.
Clear definitions put a burden of proof on the accuser, and properly so. If you falsely accuse a man of murder or burglary, not only is he apt to be acquitted — you may pay a heavy penalty yourself. As a result, few of us are afraid of being charged with murders and burglaries we didn’t commit.
By contrast, the Soviet legal system left prosecutors with a wide discretion in identifying “anti-Soviet” activities. Almost anything irritating to the Soviet state could qualify. An impossible burden of proof lay on the accused; guilt was presumed; acquittals were virtually nonexistent. To be indicted was already to be convicted. Since the charge was undefined, it was unfalsifiable; there was no such thing as a false accusation. As a result, the Russian population lived in fear.
The word “anti-Semitic” functions like the word “anti-Soviet.” Being undefined, it’s unfalsifiable. Loose charges of “anti-Semitism” are common, but nobody suffers any penalty for making them, since what is unfalsifiable can never be shown to be false.
Loose charges of “anti-Semitism”are common, but nobody suffers any penalty for making them, since what is unfalsifiable can never be shown to be false.
I once read an article in a Jewish magazine that called the first Star Wars movie “anti-Semitic.” I was amazed, but I couldn’t prove the contrary. Who could? And of course people in public life — and often in private life — fear incurring the label, however guiltless they may be.
If you want to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty, you define crimes precisely. If, however, you merely want to maximize the number of convictions, increase the power of the accusers, and create an atmosphere of dread, you define crimes as loosely as possible.
We now have an incentive system that might have been designed to promote loose charges of “anti-Semitism.” Silly as all this is from a rational point of view, the label of “anti-Semitism” is deeply feared. It does signify one thing: Jewish.
When I became a conservative as a college freshman, in 1965, nearly all Jews were liberals and Jewish intellectuals associated conservatism with “anti-Semitism.” Bill Buckley was often depicted as a fascist or crypto Nazi; given the smears he endured, it’s understandable that he should go to great lengths to appear pro- Jewish, even if he somewhat overdid it by abetting smears of his fellow conservatives.
The situation changed somewhat when many Jewish intellectuals, upset by liberal criticism of Israel, became what were called “neoconservatives.” This term implied no deep adherence to conservative principles, but only the adoption of a few ad hoc principles useful to Zionism, with no basic departure from New Deal liberalism insofar as it was useful to Zionism. “Neoconservatism” was really a sort of “kosher” conservatism.
A few incidents from my years at National Review may illustrate the point.
In the mid 1980s, the neoconservative Earth Mother Midge Decter, wife of Norman Podhoretz, accused Russell Kirk of “anti- Semitism.” Kirk’s offense? He had made a mild quip that some neoconservatives appeared to believe that the capital of Western civilization was Tel Aviv. Never mind that he had a point. Kirk had been a founding father of modern conservatism and a National Review columnist for many years, yet the magazine not only failed to rally to his defense against this smear — it didn’t even report the incident! Decter’s attack was the biggest news of the season in the conservative movement, but Buckley was afraid to mention it. So was most of the conservative press.
At about the same time, Israeli troops shot up a Catholic Church on the West Bank during Mass — a horrible sacrilege that sent worshipers fleeing for their lives and provoked an angry protest from the Vatican. (The congregation had planned a march after Mass to protest the beating of a Palestinian priest by Israeli soldiers.) I mentioned the incident to Buckley, a fellow Catholic, at an editorial meeting and gave him a news clipping describing the event in detail; as I expected, the magazine ignored this too. Even the violent persecution of Catholics by Jews was unmentionable — in a “conservative” magazine owned and run by a Catholic.
When the Pollard spy case broke, the magazine called for the death penalty for Pollard — but excused Israel for sponsoring him, on grounds that it’s normal for friendly nations to spy on each other! And so it went.
Even the violent persecution of Catholics by Jews was unmentionable — in a “conservative” magazine owned and run by a Catholic.
I could have understood a favorable attitude toward Israel, having been pro Israel for many years myself; but surely even this alliance must have occasional drawbacks. From time to time it’s necessary to criticize even friends. If we criticized our own government every week, why not Israel once in a while?
But the magazine consistently refused to find the slightest fault with Israel, and since I left in 1993 it has gotten much worse. Today it has become assertively slavish, to a comical degree.
By 1993 I’d had enough. I wrote a column correcting some of the things Bill had written about me, in which I mentioned his evident fear; I wrote that he was “jumpy about Jews.” This was a pretty mild description of his terror, but the column got me fired, just as I expected. Since then it has become a neoconservative legend that I was fired for “anti-Semitism,” but the truth is that it was far more personal than that. Bill knew me too well to make such a charge. I was fired for making him look bad. He considered making others look bad his prerogative.
Since then I’ve often noticed how eager and desperate mainstream conservatives are to avoid Jewish wrath. Again, they don’t just speak favorably of Israel; they refuse to acknowledge any cost to American interests in the U.S.-Israel alliance. They treat the two countries’ interests as identical; when they scold either government, it’s always — always — the U.S. Government for failing to support our “reliable ally.” They are in headlong flight from reality. They have none of the realism of James Burnham, whose writings and style of thought would be wholly unwelcome in today’s conservative movement.
They are frightened. You can sense this in their bluster, in the vicarious jingoism with which they address Israel. Their fear produces a peculiar intellectual thinness that pervades all their thinking on foreign policy. Gone is the critical intelligence that used to set the tone for such earlier conservative writers as Burnham, Kendall, Kirk, Whittaker Chambers, Frank Meyer, Thomas Molnar, and the other distinguished names that used to grace the masthead of National Review. Individualists have been replaced by apparatchiks. Zionism has infiltrated conservatism in much the same way Communism once infiltrated liberalism.
I notice that Bill Buckley’s latest book is a novel about the Nuremberg trials. Over the past few years Bill has made a habit of commemorating the Holocaust with remarkable frequency. He has dropped references to Auschwitz into countless of his syndicated columns and interviews, as if compelled to banish the slightest suspicion that he has any doubts about the Holocaust or that he doesn’t feel deeply about it. The Holocaust seems to have joined, or supplanted, the Gulag Archipelago in his historical memory.
Since I vividly remember the days when Bill regarded the Jews and Israel not with hostility, but with a healthy and playful irony — the same attitude he brought to politics in general — I find all this solemnity pretty cloying.
Here I should lay my own cards on the table. I am not, heaven forbid, a “Holocaust denier.” I lack the scholarly competence to be one. I don’t read German, so I can’t assess the documentary evidence; I don’t know chemistry, so I can’t discuss Zyklon-B; I don’t understand the logistics of exterminating millions of people in small spaces. Besides, “Holocaust denial” is illegal in many countries I may want to visit someday. For me, that’s proof enough. One Israeli writer has expressed his amazement at the idea of criminalizing opinions about historical fact, and I find it puzzling too; but the state has spoken.
Of course those who affirm the Holocaust need know nothing about the German language, chemistry, and other pertinent subjects; they need only repeat what they have been told by the authorities.
In every controversy, most people care much less for what the truth is than for which side it’s safer and more respectable to take. They shy away from taking a position that is likely to get them into trouble.
Just as only people on the Axis side were accused of war crimes after World War II, only people critical of Jewish interests are accused of thought-crimes in today’s mainstream press.
So, life being as short as it is, I shy away from this controversy. Of course I’m also incompetent to judge whether the Holocaust did happen; so I’ve become what might be called a “Holocaust stipulator.” Like a lawyer who doesn’t want to get bogged down debating a secondary point, I stipulate that the standard account of the Holocaust is true. What is undisputed — the massive violation of human rights in Hitler’s Germany — is bad enough.
What interests me is the growth of what Norman Finkelstein has called “the Holocaust Industry.” True or not, the Holocaust story has been put to many uses, some of them mischievous. It is currently being used to extort reparations and to blacken reputations, for example. Daniel Goldhagen is soon to publish a book blaming the Holocaust on the central teachings of the Catholic Church. This is only the most ambitious project of a school of thought, largely but not exclusively Jewish, that sees Christianity as the source of all “anti-Semitism.”
So if you want to avoid being called “anti-Semitic,” the safest course is to renounce Christianity. Whether this is a safe course for your immortal soul is a question Goldhagen doesn’t address. The important thing is to avoid Jewish censure. Obviously this sort of thinking presupposes Christian fear of the Jews. Jews themselves are not unaware of Jewish power; some of them have rather exaggerated confidence in it.
But the chief use of the Holocaust story is to undergird the legitimacy of the state of Israel. According to this view, the Holocaust proves that Jewish existence is always in danger, unless the Jews have their own state in their own homeland. The Holocaust stands as the historical objectification of all the world’s gentiles’ eternal “anti- Semitism.”
Jewish life is an endless emergency, requiring endless emergency measures and justifying everything done in the name of “defense.” Jews and Israel can’t be judged by normal standards, at least until Israel is absolutely safe — if even then. Their circumstances are forever abnormal.
But the daily news reports suggest that Israel may not really be the safest place for Jews. Theodore Herzl’s original dream was of a Jewish state where Jews could at last live the normal lives they were denied in the Diaspora. Yet today it’s Diaspora Jews who live relatively normal lives, at least in the West, while they must worry about the very survival of Israel. And far from being the independent state Herzl hoped for, Israel depends heavily on the support not only of Diaspora Jews but of foreign gentiles, especially Americans.
Israel insists that its “right to exist” is nothing more than the right of every nation on earth to be left in peace. This right is allegedly threatened by fanatical Arabs who want to “drive the Jews into the sea,” as witness the recent wave of Palestinian terror. But in truth, Israel’s claimed “right to exist” is much more than it seems at first sight. It means a right to rule as Jews, enjoying rights denied to native Palestinians.
We are told incessantly that Israel is a “democracy,” and therefore the natural ally of the United States, whose “democratic values” it shares. This is a very dubious claim. To Americans, democracy means majority rule, but with equal rights for minorities. In Israel and the occupied territories, equal rights for the minority are simply out of the question.
Majority rule itself has taken a peculiar form in Israel. The original Arab majority was driven out of their homes and their native land, and kept out. Meanwhile, a Jewish “majority” was artificially imported.
Not only the first immigrants from Eastern Europe, but every Jew on earth was granted a “right of return” — that is, “return” to a “homeland” most have never lived in, and in which none of their ancestors has ever lived.
A Jew from Brooklyn (whose grandfather came from Poland) can fly to Israel and immediately claim rights denied to an Arab whose people have always lived in Palestine. In recent years Israel has been augmenting its Jewish majority by vigorously encouraging Jewish immigration, especially from Russia. Ariel Sharon has told a group of American senators that Israel needs a million more Jewish immigrants.
In recent negotiations, Israel has flatly rejected demands for a “right of return” for Palestinians exiled since 1948. It frankly gave as its reason that this would mean “the end of the Jewish state,” since an Arab majority would surely vote down Jewish ethnic privileges. If Israel remained democratic, it wouldn’t long remain Jewish.
Zionism has infiltrated conservatism in much the same way Communism once infiltrated liberalism.
This confirms the contention of hard-line Revisionist Zionists from Vladimir Jabotinsky to Meir Kahane that in the long run, Israel must be either Jewish or democratic; it can’t be both. And in order to remain Jewish, it must reject the equal rights for its minorities that Jews everywhere demand where they are a minority. Israel must be the only “democracy” whose existence depends on inequality.
Put otherwise, Zionism is a denial of the “self-evident truths” of the Declaration of Independence. To acknowledge those truths, and to put them into practice, would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Again, honest and rigorous Zionists have always seen and said this.
American gentiles, bemused by the propaganda claim that a beleaguered little democracy is fighting for its very right to exist, are vaguely baffled, unable to comprehend what is before their eyes. They still haven’t figured out that Israeli “democracy” is essentially and radically different from — even repugnant to — what they understand as democracy.
With the verbal sleight-of-hand at which they are masters, the Israelis always appeal to the Holocaust. Maybe they have nuclear weapons, but their existence is threatened — once more! — by rock-throwing Arab boys. The Arabs are the new Nazis, repeating and perpetuating the eternal peril of the Jews. Israel is determined to prevent another Holocaust and must crush the Arab threat by any means necessary, including harsh measures.
Israel without the Holocaust is hard to imagine. But let’s try to imagine it.
Suppose the Holocaust had never occurred, had never been alleged, had never been called “the Holocaust.” Imagine that no great persecution had provided the Jewish state with a special excuse for oppressive emergency measures. In other words, imagine that Israel were forced to justify itself like any other state.
In that case, Israel’s treatment of its Arab minorities would appear to the world in a very different light. Its denial of equal or even basic rights to those minorities would lack the excuse of a past or prospective “Holocaust.” Civilized people would expect it to treat those it ruled with impartial justice — like civilized states.
Special privileges for Jews would appear as outrageous discrimination, no different from insulting legal discrimination against Jews. The sense — and excuse — of perpetual crisis would be absent. Israel might be forced or pressured, possibly against its will, to be “normal.”
If it chose to be democratic, its Jews would have to take their chance of being outnumbered, just like majorities in other democracies. Nobody would suppose that losing elections would mean their annihilation.
In short, the Holocaust has become a device for exempting Jews from normal human obligations. It has authorized them to bully and blackmail, to extort and oppress. This is all quite irrational, because even if six million Jews were murdered during World War II, the survivors are not entitled to commit the slightest injustice. If your father was stabbed in the street, that’s a pity, but it’s not an excuse for picking someone else’s pocket.
In a peculiar way, the Holocaust story has promoted not only pity, but actual fear of the Jews. It has removed them from the universe of normal moral discourse. It has made them victims with nukes. It has made them even more dangerous than their enemies have always charged. It has given the world an Israel ruled by Ariel Sharon.
Benjamin Netanyahu has written that Israel is “an integral part of the West.” I think it would be truer to say that Israel has become a deformed limb of the West.
This is second and last part of an article published in the August 2002 issue of Sobran’s: The Real News of the Month. It is taken from a speech given by Joe Sobran at an Institute for Historical Review conference held in Los Angeles on June 21–23, 2002. Read part one here.
Copyright © 2015 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.This will be included in a new collection of Sobran columns titled Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society (fgfBooks, 2015). It was published by Griffin Internet Syndicate on January 23, 2003.
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