Tag Archives: Anti-Semitism

Godwin’s Lawyer

This op-ed in the Washington Post by Walter Reich, of George Washington University, has to be one of the more baffling things I've read in a while–and I'm in the middle of grading papers.  The argument, in a nutshell, seems to go like this: While some anti-Semites used to deny the reality of the Holocaust, some of them now admit it, only now they use it to describe either (1) what ought to happen to the State of Israel; or (2) what the State of Israel is perpetrating upon the Palestinians.  While perhaps hyperbolic, (2) is not necessarily anti-Semitic, as it is motivated perhaps by genuine concern and frustration over the plight of the Palestinian civilians.  Here's what he says:

Are all those who have accused Israel of being a Nazi state anti-Semites? Hardly. There's genuine anger in the Muslim world, as well as in Europe and elsewhere, about Israel's actions in Gaza. The suffering is terrible. So are the images of devastation Israel left behind. And there are also plenty of people who are angry at Israel because it stands for the reviled United States.

But the reality is that much of the vitriol directed at Israel has indeed been spouted by anti-Semites. Not only have they hurled the Nazi canard at Israel, they've expressed clear anti-Semitism — some of it openly violent or even eliminationist. The pro-Israel but reliable Middle East Media and Research Institute has been documenting anti-Semitism on Palestinian television for years, including calls for the murder of Jews. It reports that, the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, one Egyptian cleric admitted on an Islamist TV channel that the Holocaust had happened — and added that he hoped that one day Muslims would do to the Jews what the Germans had done to them. To demonstrate what he had in mind, according to the institute, he showed footage of heaps of Jewish corpses being bulldozed into pits.

So the real issue is not the Holocaust denial or hyperbolic invocation, it's the violent eliminationist anti-Semitism, which uses the Holocaust, among other things, as an example of what to do.  Yet, while admitting that such comparisons are not anti-Semitic or even wrong, Reich still insists:

In designating an International Holocaust Remembrance Day back in 2005, the U.N. General Assembly acted with noble intentions, even if parts of the world body still aim to delegitimize Israel. Such commemorations help the world understand that the goal of the Holocaust was the annihilation of an entire people — and help them appreciate the vast differences between that event and, for example, the war in Gaza. But even as the Holocaust has been increasingly acknowledged and explained, it also has been increasingly used as a cudgel to beat Jews and the Jewish state. 

If Reich had wanted to make that last point–that the Holocaust is some kind of illegitimate cudgel, to crazy or hyperbolic to be anything but anti-Semitism–then he'd have to make an entirely different argument.  His beef here is with eliminationist anti-Semites, not Godwin's law breakers