Last month, British historian David Irving was arrested in Austria for the crime of denying the Holocaust. When he goes on trial this February, facing up to a decade in prison, he could become a martyr for antisemitic kooks — kooks like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A couple of weeks ago, Ahmadinejad commented that, in Western nations, “if someone were to deny the existence of God… they would not bother him. However, if someone were to deny the myth of the Jews’ massacre, all the Zionist mouthpieces and the governments subservient to the Zionists tear their larynxes and scream against the person as much as they can.”
Last week the grotesque sentiment was seconded by Mohammed Mehdi Akef, head of the influential Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, who said that “the most serious lie is the Jews’ Holocaust, which they have exploited in order to extort global solidarity.”
With Jew haters around the globe reaching for this particular slander, from among the ample palate of hurtful things people have said about Jews over the centuries, we might wonder why. Why this libel? Why now? The answer is simple.
Lately we Jews have displayed a weakness for a style of rhetorical overreach in which the Holocaust is deployed as a stick to threaten those whom some of us find objectionable. It should not startle anyone if Jew haters, seeing what a favorite weapon the Holocaust has become, seek to wrestle it out of our hands by denying it ever happened.
Last month in Houston, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, leader of the 1.5-million-member Reform movement, compared religious conservatives to Nazis for retaining the idea that marriage is a partnership of a man and woman. Yoffie said, “We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations.”
Placing conservative Christians in the same tradition that brought us the Holocaust was a theme already familiar in the statements of prominent Jews. When Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” came out last year, even some usually perspicacious analysts couldn’t resist linking the traditionally Catholic Gibson with Hitler and the Holocaust.
Columnist Charles Krauthammer linked Gibson’s movie to the “blood libel that… led to countless Christian massacres of Jews and prepared Europe for the ultimate massacre — 6 million Jews systematically murdered in six years.”
In The Washington Post, Richard Cohen summarized his own view: “I thought the movie was tawdry, cartoonish, badly acted and antisemitic, maybe not purposely so but in the way portions of the New Testament are — an assignment of blame that culminated in the Holocaust.”
Walter Reich, former director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, found in Gibson’s “Passion” signs of “that kind of anger that became the seedbed in which the antisemitism that flourished in the last century, and the Holocaust it produced, took root.”
The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, said that he is “always hesitant to make comparisons of today’s evils… to that of Adolf Hitler.” But that didn’t stop him from locating “The Passion” in the same vein of hate that led to the Holocaust. “The very reason that Jews have gone through so much is the thinking and viewpoint reflected in the Gibson film,” he explained to the New York Post. “For 1,950 plus years the accusation that the Jews killed Jesus has been the source of antisemitism — inquisitions, expulsions, pogroms and eventually the Holocaust.”
The fact that Gibson’s film led to no manifestation of increased antisemitism anywhere in the world has not, to my knowledge, resulted in any of these commentators retracting their statements.
It’s not only Christians, however, against whom we wield the ax of Hitler’s incomparable genocide. When Israel’s incomparably humane plan to evacuate Gaza of its Jewish residents was carried out, one found Jewish settlers comparing themselves to Holocaust victims — wearing orange Stars of David to recall the yellow star that Jews in the Nazi era were compelled to wear. An Israeli housing minister noted, “Unfortunately, I am no longer surprised when a Jew compares me and other Israeli officials to Nazis.”
At least the Gaza evacuation was a serious event worthy of anguished responses. There was no such quasi-justification for Rabbi Marvin Hier’s invocation of Auschwitz, on CNN, after England’s Prince Harry committed the stupid but trivial offense of showing up at a costume party in Nazi attire. Hier, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, urged that Harry “should visit Auschwitz to show the world that he can be serious, that he understands the great atrocity that occurred there.”
There we have an American filmmaker, Israeli government officials and a foolish young British royal all bludgeoned with Birkenau. The world is aware how jealously the Jewish community guards the Holocaust, both as a memory and as a weapon. That antisemites wish to cause us pain seems an unalterable fact of life. But how they do this, and what form of slander they choose, is something over which we have some influence.
Our enemies seek to torment us by denying history, even though there are countless other ways they could express their hate. That is so in part because of choices we make. For this, we can thank ourselves, our leaders and other Jews who speak for us.
David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and author of “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History” (Doubleday).