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What Is a ‘Holocaust Doubter’?

Norman Finkelstein and Israel Shamir are not deniers; I chose this term instead

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Norman Finkelstein.(Wikipedia)

Several commenters have called me out for describing Norman Finkelstein, in my articles on Israel Shamir, as a “Holocaust doubter.” I’m glad they noticed. The word choice was admittedly controversial but also conscious. I was trying to underscore the connections among people with deeply problematic yet disparate views of the Holocaust who do not go so far as to argue it never occurred, as well as the loose community they are helping form.

I have read, studied, and met Finkelstein. As many have pointed out, he—the child of Holocaust survivors—does not deny that the Holocaust happened, and I did not say he did. Nevertheless, he actively refuses to face it head-on and intentionally perverts the truth into conspiracy theories. Refusing to comment on the the reality of gas chambers or death tolls (one way or another, he says, these arguments aren’t relevant), he rejects the conventional understanding of the Holocaust as a horrific and unparalleled act of genocide that provoked justified shame and revulsion, and instead sees “the Holocaust” as a deliberate propaganda ploy created by Jews to serve a variety of selfish and immoral ends. Given his loathsome argument that “Jewish elites” deliberately “manufactured” a big outrage “industry” about the Holocaust—which in his view is simply one of many 20th-century genocides—in order to extort money and gain influence in the West and to crush all dissent and criticism of Israel, it seems entirely fair to lump Finkelstein in with Shamir and others who prefer to understand the Holocaust primarily as a narrative ploy to extend Jewish influence in the world.

While on tour for his book The Holocaust Industry, Finkelstein said, “I remain faithful to the horrendous suffering of my late parents, yet, the Nazi Holocaust has long ceased to be a source of moral or historical enlightenment. It has become a straight-out extortion racket. A handful of American Jews have effectively hijacked the Nazi Holocaust to blackmail Europe.” This quote alone is just cause to lump Finkelstein into the same category as Israel Shamir, which is that of Holocaust doubter. (I preferred “doubter” to “skeptic” because “skeptic” is generally a positive trait.) Shamir and Finkelstein may in fact have different definitions of the Holocaust, but they are certainly under the same umbrella.

His Jewish Problem [Tablet Magazine]

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Jon says:

To equate Holocaust “doubt” with the charge of Holocaust exploitation defies all logic. You may not like the extreme way in which Finkelstein makes his argument. You might question the validity of his opinion. But arguing in effect that “there is no business like Shoah business” is an entirely separate issue from the reality of the Holocaust. Indeed, one can make the case that by attacking Holocaust exploitation one is actually safeguarding the memory of the victims.

Maistre says:

Agree with Jon. Under the most natural reading, a “Holocaust doubter” is someone who doubts that the Holocaust occured. Yakowicz now explains that what Finkelstein “doubts” is not historicity of the Holocaust but the correct moral lessons that should be drawn from it. That’s a perfectly legitimate opinion of Finkelstein to have. It’s just not what the average reasonable reader would have understood Yakowicz to be saying.

It seems to me that Yakowicz has only undermined his own position. If Finkelstein is in fact a moral monster, it should be possible to expose him as such without misleading one’s readers.

John says:

It’s well known that Finkelstein is a sick, self-hating Jew. Alas, there are way too many of them, especially on the ultra-left.

Nancy says:

Maistre,

If you reread the Yakowicz piece you’ll read that Finkelstein doubts the validity of the Holocaust and thinks it is being exploited and should be forgotten. I do not feel the article is misleading; I think it comprehensible for 5th grade reading level and above.

Gene says:

The term “doubter”, I believe, refers to the fact that Mr. Finkelstein does not see Holocaust as an exceptional and extraordinary event but rather as one of many massacres and tragedies, which mark the history of the humankind. Such view cast real doubts on his academic credentials, or on his professional integrity, or on his qualities as a human being for even a student should know that the magnitude of the carnage cannot be measured by the numbers. What makes holocaust exceptional is that this was the first (and hopefully the last) time in the history when an entire race was destined to disappear from the face of earth in a planned and well thought through program of willful extermination. Since pseudo-historian Finkelstein doubts that this was a case – he is a “doubter”.

Maistre says:

Gene – sadly, history is in fact replete with genocides and attempted genocides (not to mention democides and other forms of mass murder), too numerous even to list. I don’t anyone who makes this observation (if it is in fact Finkelstein’s observation — I wouldn’t know) should be called a “Holocaust doubter” — but perhaps you disagree.

Binyamin in O says:

I agree with Jon and Maistre. Finkelstein is not a “Holocaust doubter,” he is an Israel doubter. And that is what Yaklowixicz and the other Israel prettifiers hate and fear. It is precisely because Finkelstein is an effective critic of Israel that he is so despised. I am of the opinion that the Shoah was one of the worst crimes of human history, maybe the worst. To exploit that fact to establish an apartheid regime where non-Jews are objects of oppression is indeed a perversion of the moral lesson of the Holocaust teaches.

Gene says:

Yes, Maistre, I disagree. Holocaust was the only one genocide in human history which was caried out as a planned extermination of the entire group of people based on their ethnicity. The only one. Since you have a “long list” of other similar genocides – please name me just one more. Tell me the ethnicity of the group being targeted, the prove of intention to exterminate it, the reason for extermination, the methods and the final result. (Was their plan successful? And if not – why? What prevented perpetrators to accomplish it?) If you can name me one such genocide from your “long list” I will admit that I was wrong.

Maistre says:

@ Gene: To take only the best-known recent example, the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda was a planned extermination of an entire group based on their ethnicity.

Taimburlaine the Great alone committed several genocides during his lifetime.

For the record, there have been mass murders that might not be classified as genocides but that are morally just as bad or worse. For example, Mao’s deliberate starvation of 40 million chinese. Do those 40 million count less because they were not killed for their ethnicity per se?

Anyway, if you’re curious about man’s history of mass murder, you could just start with the wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocides_in_history#Before_1490. I also recommend David Livingston Smith’s book _The Most Dangerous Animal_. The idea that there has been only one genocide in history strikes me as a highly eccentric.

It appears that mass murders of neighboring tribes was a normal feature of prehistoric life. It is likely that we have inherited part of this tendency in our genes.

Thankfully, man’s appetite for mass murder seems to be in decline. But this is a very recent development.

Maistre says:

It may also be worth mentioning the 1932-33 Ukrainian Holodomor, which claimed the lives of millions of Ukrainians.

Personally, I think it’s fruitless to argue over which mass murders are morally worse than others. Isn’t it enough to say that they all beyond evil and we must do what we can to prevent them?

Gene says:

Maistre, try something better. You are claiming that genocide of Tutsi “was a planned extermination of an entire group based on their ethnicity”. But you “forgot” to prove to me your statement. First of all what was the reason, why Hutu wanted to kill all and not just few of Tutsi? (we, people, do everything for reason, good or bad). In fact, according to UN data, in many instances mass rape took place instead of executions. This contradicts your statement about “planned EXTERMINATION”. Rape is not an “extermination”. Second, according to the official data between 10% to 20% of victims of massacres were Hutu. This fact also contradicts your statement that executions were based exclusively on ethnicity. You also somehow “forgot” to convince me that massacres were well planned and not spontaneous. What happened in Rwanda was a genocide, but a holocaust. I don’t want to analyse your other “examples” since they are (unlike Rwanda) totally out of mark.
You are right – mass murders are mass murders does not matter how you call them. Jews experienced mass murders throughout their history: during crusades, pandemic of “black death” in Europe, at the hands of Khmelnitski cossacks in Ukraine and so on. Hundreds of thousands of them were killed in cold blood in every century. However holocaust stays out of all of these genocides due to its uniqueness. You are obviously a “doubter”.

Eve says:

@Gene

Tell the tale of uniqueness to an Armenian.

Maistre says:

@Gene. I believe that you are trying to find morally relevant distinctions between the Holocaust and other mass murders. (So, for example, in your view, the murder of 800,000 Tutsis isn’t so bad once you realize the many more victims were merely raped and that a bunch of sympathetic Hutus were also killed for good measure. Okay…) I agree that the Holocaust was unique. But it also in many respects all too similar, alas, to the many other mass murders in history. Is the Holocaust the single biggest moral crime in history? That is debatable (debatable, on hopes, in a fashion that doesn’t end in people of good will being called “Holocaust doubters”). Certainly in terms of numbers, there have been even bigger mass murders. Other mass murders were also premeditated (how could you organize a mass murder without premeditation?).

But why even debate it in the first place? Acknowleding the suffering of other groups in no way minimizes the suffering of your own. Indeed, if anything, I would think that we are all morally compelled _not_ to minimize the significance of any act of genocide, democide or mass murder.

Gene says:

I am glad you agree with me (unlike pseudo-historian Finkelstein). There is one more aspect that sets holocaust apart from all other known genocides, the aspect which is in our politically correct environment everybody afraid to touch. It is unlike other genocides, carried out by “uncivilized barbarians” (either Hutu, Ottomans or Genghis-khan) the holocaust was product of German anti-semitism and chauvinism. How come the nation which gave the world Kant, Beethoven and Nietzsche, which was at the time of the holocaust one of the most advanced, both – culturally and economically, countries in the world could fell to such level – the level of “uncivilized barbarians”? This aspect, although seldom mentioned, adds significantly to the uniqueness of the holocaust. Not to notice it or to avoid on part of some “historians” questions their integrity and professionalism.

Larry Silverstein says:

Jews Must Live
by Samuel Roth
Chapter IV

JEW-HATRED AS A NATURAL INSTINCT

Beginning with the Lord God of Israel himself, it was the successive leaders of Israel who one by one foregathered and guided the tragic career of the Jews – tragic to the Jews and no less tragic to the neighbouring nations who have suffered them. But we must have been a pretty horrible people to start with. Our major vice of old, as of today, is parasitism. We are a people of vultures living on the labor and the good nature of the rest of the world.
But, despite our faults, we would never have done so much damage to the world if it had not been for our genius for evil leadership. Granted our parasitism. But Parasitism is a virtue as well as an evil. Certain germ-parasites are essential to the steady flow of blood through the arteries of an organic body. Certain social parasites, by the same dispensation, are important to the functioning of the blood of the body politic. The shame of Israel comes not of our being the bankers and the old clothes-men of the world. It comes, rather, of the stupendous hypocrisy and cruelty imposed on us by our fatal leadership, and by us on the rest of the world.
The whole career of Jewry divides itself for me into three distinctive and significant parts. The first was the period of the patriarchs when the Jews were numerically so inferior to the nations about them that they practically never went out to war against them, but depended, for looting them, on the success of such little games as palming off wives as sisters and buying birthrights.

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What Is a ‘Holocaust Doubter’?

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