It’s been a good week for the Holocaust. It was in the news all the time. Unfortunately, the media excels in not making connections, which leaves me with the joyful job of bringing together all the recent Holocaust news.
In Iran, the clowns at the Foreign Ministry hosted a conference of Holocaust buffoonery graced with the presence of such luminaries as the white supremacist David Duke. In France, Presidential hopeful Segolene Royal stumbled over the question whether she heard the comparison that a Hizbullah deputy made (or didn’t make, in Arabic or not, that was or wasn’t translated to Royal) between Hizbullah and the French resistance to the Nazis. Royal assured us that any such comparison, which implies some measure of likeness between Nazi Germany and Israel, would be, had it been made, completely “inadmissible, odious, an abomination” (Loubnan Ya Loubnan, December 2006). Finally, before leaving for a visit to Germany, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert gave a speech at the National Holocaust Museum in which he compared Iran to the Nazis and urged Germany to cut its economic ties to Iran.
Let us begin with the third event. This is how Olmert put his case to the Germans: “May I suggest to the German people. . . . You may have an economic interest, you may have a business interest, but you have a deeper and more fundamental moral obligation to yourself, to your history and to your future.” (Israel National News, December 11, 2006) In other words, because of the Holocaust, Germany must support Israel’s assault on Iran.
Five centuries ago, a German monk rose against the Catholic pope, accusing him of mixing matters of conscience with lucre by selling divine pardons to wealthy sinners. Martin Luther was adamant that sin and redemption were matters of the direct relation between the individual and God. Anyone who pretended to mediate this relation, to obtain redemption on someone else’s behalf (and to be paid for it) was a charlatan (Luther actually said “antichrist,” but that is the name of the supreme charlatan). The least one can say about post WWII Germany is that it betrayed Luther. Repentant of their recent Nazi past, Germans agreed to pay billions of dollars to Israel. Israel is a state that didn’t exist during the Nazi holocaust. The Nazis murdered Jews, homosexuals, Roma, socialists. That had nothing to do with the state of Israel, some of whose founders expressed admiration for Nazi ideology and even wanted to fight on Hitler’s side in the War (Lenni Brenner, 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis). Israel was not a victim of Nazism. It was, if anything, an indirect beneficiary. Yet Israel offered Germans redemption: pay us, and we will lift the burden of sin from your shoulders. Pay us, and you will be rehabilitated. And Germans were happy to pay. Having a conscience of one’s own, living with one’s true past and seeking redemption in the desolation of the wrecked self was just too much for many Germans (to be fair, that is easy to understand. The burden of Nazism wasn’t light.) They were happy to pay and they watched silently, uncritically, as Israel took their blood money and used it to build exactly the kind of militarized garrison state that had led them to perdition. It is ironic that the Germans, having accused themselves of being too obedient, too eager to let the Nazi state define morality, would try to cure themselves by giving yet another state, Israel, the right to define morality on their behalf. Yet they did. Thus German politicians and intellectuals outsourced their conscience to Israel and the U.S. Fifty years later they are still unable to criticize the actions of either. Instead of a real conscience, they adopted a sanctimonious servility to all things Israeli. Into this context stepped Ehud Olmert, the new Holocaust Pope, demanding from Germans obedience in exchange for a renewal of the epochal pardon, reminding them, like the sleek indulgence hawker that he is, of their “obligation to themselves.”
Olmert, however, the man received “warmly” by Chancellor Merkel, is a war criminal. Only recently he ordered the slaughter of hundreds of people. According to his own words the slaughter was not a by-product of military action (which would be bad enough) but a deliberate attempt to exert pressure on Lebanese politicians (Gabriel Ash, Dissident Voice, July 2006). Olmert is thus a criminal even by the lax standards of ius in bellum. To be clear, there is absolutely no comparison between what Olmert did in Lebanon and Gaza and what the Nazis did in Auschwitz. There is, however, a pertinent similarity between what Olmert did in Lebanon and Gaza and what the Nazis did in places such as Lidice. If contemporary Germans had any obligation to themselves and to their history, that obligation would be to arrest him and put him on trial the moment he landed in Germany. They certainly did not have an obligation to listen to a blood stained butcher pontificate about morality. Nobody does.
Let us turn now to the Affaire Sego. According to masterful digging of the French Lebanese blogger of Loubnan Ya Loubnan, Segolene Royal was trapped by a little comedy put together either by the members of the Lebanese “Cedar revolution” parties or by insiders of Jacque Chirac’s government or by both. The two groups have a stake in preserving the current French Lebanon policy and its alignment with Washington and Tel-Aviv. The interesting thing to ponder, however, is the lasting usefulness of the Holocaust as a leash against stray European politicians. Royal, smarting up from the bruises, canceled her meeting with Hamas representatives, essentially giving up on her erstwhile commitment to listen to all parties in the Middle East. She issued the expected declaration that any comparison between the Nazis and Israel would have prompted her to leave the room. That effectively means she cannot be in the same room with 90% of people who actually live in the Middle East. The Holocaust, one concludes, is the most effective weapon in the hands of those bent on manufacturing a “clash of civilizations.” If the memorization of Nazism in the West can prevent a French politician from meeting with the democratically elected representative of Palestinians, the Holocaust has become a tool in the arsenal of segregation in the service of global apartheid.
I am not sure which is more offensive, a Saudi doctor insisting that he wouldn’t be in the same room with women (Arab News, November 22, 2006), or a French politician insisting she won’t stay in a room with a Lebanese who sees himself fighting in the tradition of the French resistance against the Nazis. The comparison is salient because the Holocaust has taken in Europe (and differently, in Israel) the semblance of religious dogma. “Denying the Holocaust” is the only speech-act that is legally proscribed as blasphemy and can land one in jail. And European politicians apparently cannot be in the same room with “infidels,” i.e. people who challenge the belief that there is only one great Holocaust, with Israel its prophet.
And just like the breathtaking hypocrisy of Saudi fundamentalists, who raise hell over a stupid Danish cartoon but co-operate with the U.S. and Israel behind the scenes against Palestinian resistance, the “Holocaust fundamentalists” of Europe talk through both sides of their mouth. No sooner had Segolene Royal asserted she would not listen to the slightest implication of a similarity between Israel and Nazism, Israel’s PM used the podium of the Holocaust Museum to compare Iran to Nazi Germany. Will Royal say she would have left the room if she had heard Olmert make that historical comparison? Israelis and Americans run a cottage industry of comparisons between Nazism and the evil man de jour. Begin compared Yasser Arafat to Hitler. Clinton compared Milosevic to Hitler. Sundry columnists compared Islamic fundamentalism to Nazism. Bush compared Saddam to Hitler. And now Iran is Israel’s latest Nazi incarnation. When was the last time a European Holocaust fundamentalist left the room in reaction to these truly asinine comparisons?
Let me spell out the hypocrisy of the Holocaust hawkers. The West has elevated the crimes of the Nazis into a benchmark of evil. Paradoxically, every subsequent crime, especially when the perpetrator is Israel, can now be excused on the ground that it falls short of the death camps. Conversely, the genocidal tendencies inherent in the systematic obliteration of the basis of civilian life can be ignored by invoking the ritual condemnation of the "false analogy" with Nazism, even as such systematic destruction has been incorporated in the military practice of the West and is operative wherever modern armies must contend with popular resistance. Therefore one could never compare the death of over a million Iraqis as the result of deliberate American policy since 1992 to the holocaust, nor can one compare the decade long collective punishment of the people of Gaza or the destruction of South Lebanon to the pacification methods of the Nazis. Nobody would call Bush a “holocaust denier” for flatly denying the value of a scientific study that estimates the number of his victims to be in the hundreds of thousands. However, the opposite happens when the interests of the West are so disposed. The “lesson” of the holocaust is good enough to justify the NATO bombing of civilian targets in Yugoslavia, the genocidal U.S. occupation of Iraq, Israel's massive bombing of Beirut, a future nuclear war against Iran, etc. The pettiest tyrant who “kills his own people” (and who doesn't?) is suddenly as terrible as Hitler.
The slaughter of European Jews has thus been transformed into a Hollowcaust, a benchmark of evil that is utterly indeterminate, empty at its core, at once trivially applicable to everything and sublimely applicable to nothing. The Hollowcaust acts like a quirky and capricious divinity, rejecting a comparison here, accepting an equally valid or invalid one there. It is a partisan divinity, a god that always blesses 'us' and curses 'them,' even as it simultaneously demands to be worshipped by all humanity and in the name of all humanity. The Hollowcaust thus entices victims to a futile competition in which they must worship it with a steady sacrificial offering of facts, reports, statistics, that would justify their demand to be heard by measuring what happened to them in relation to the fate of the Jews of Europe. But the success of this appeal, like the success of Cain's original 'holocaust,' depends on nothing except the freedom of the divine will -- in this case the mood in Western capitals. History and facts are more or less irrelevant. Like Skinner's pigeons, the supplicants are driven to insanity by the complete disconnect between causes and consequences. Like Cain, they are sometimes driven to fratricide. It is quite understandable that under such circumstances the temptation to deny or belittle the crimes of the Nazis is almost irresistible. The denial of the holocaust is rooted in the desire to pin down the Hollowcaust.
This brings us back to the pathetic holocaust conference that took place in Iran. The most charitable thing that can be said about the organizers of this conference is that they are fools. Allegedly in solidarity with the victims of state terrorism, they come out in defense of state terrorism. Challenging the veracity of the holocaust, Iran’s President’s pet cause, is not a repudiation of Zionism, but as Joseph Massad convincingly argued (Al-Ahram, 2004), a useful justification for Zionism. Moreover, to whitewash Nazism is to defend state terrorism, and that includes Israel. There are anti-imperialists who reject state terror categorically. It is perhaps not surprising however that the government of Iran, itself not averse to torture and murder, would find such high principles too burdensome.
The pettiness of Iran’s President are, as expected, manna from heaven to Zion’s willing apologists. The Western media took the occasion to fill many pages with condemnations, exhortations, and scare mongering of epic proportions. To take one illuminating example, Anne Appelbaum warns her readers that all the work done to institutionalize the memory of the holocaust is not enough. “The near-destruction of the European Jews in a very brief span of time by a sophisticated European nation using the best technology available was, it seems, an event that requires constant re-explanation . . .”
The message of Hollowcaust hawkers such as Appelbaum is only amplified by such idiocies as the Iranian conference. O Jews! They are singing in unison, give some more money to the likes of the Simon Wiesenthal center, so they can blabber a little more about the Hollowcaust while they present Rupert Murdoch with a human rights award! (The Forward, February 3, 2003)
But pay close attention to what exactly Appelbaum seeks to “explain.” For in her words one can see clearly the trace of the Hollowcaust’s Faustian bargain, the bargain that gave Jews official recognition for their suffering in return for accepting to become the standard bearers of Western Whiteness. It isn’t the horror suffered by the victims as such, it isn’t murder, it isn’t terror, it isn’t even genocide that Applebaum singles out as the uniqueness of the holocaust. What needs to be explained, according to her, what needs to be constantly re-imagined, is the horror of “a sophisticated European nation using the best technology available” to commit genocide. But it should takes no effort it figure out that this is the last thing that requires an explanation. A sophisticated European nation using advanced technology to kill those it considers not fully human!? Where is the question? Isn’t that a valid synopsis of a full dozen chapters of modern history? Did anyone expect white supremacy to be enforced with sticks and stones? Of course states use the best technology they have when they perpetrated murder against whole populations. Does Appelbaum not know how many billions of dollars are spent every year perfecting the tools of mass murder and inventing new ones? What makes gas chambers so sophisticatedly shocking or shockingly sophisticated among nuclear bombs, mustard gas, napalm, cluster bombs, Agent Orange, machine guns, Caterpillar D-9s, long range bombers and any of the thousand small and large inventions designed by perfectly legitimate enterprises to hasten the passage of the offending population to its unmarked grave?
Sophistication and technology are not what sets the Nazi genocide apart. It is the one thing it has most in common with dozens of other campaigns by Western states against non-white population groups. It is remarkable that Appelbaum wants to erect as primal difference the very element that is least unique to the holocaust, the one element that is most likely to be seized upon by victims of Western imperialism and colonialism as the common ground of their victimization. The stakes cannot be clearer. “Remembering” the holocaust is primarily about excluding other victims. It is about rendering murder incomprehensible when committed on a massive scale by “a sophisticated nation with advanced technologies.” The act of explaining is not concerned with adding insight. In the manner of negative theology, one “explains” the holocaust by preserving its incomprehensibility, so that it constantly remains in need of re-explanation.
Erecting the Hollowcaust as a unique case of “a sophisticated nation with advanced technology” committing genocide is not about affirming the past. It is about denying the present. It is about denying the millions of deaths that are perpetrated year in year out by “sophisticated nations with advanced technologies.” It is also about erecting a totemic barrier between “sophisticated nations with advanced technologies” and the rest of humanity. On the one side are those nations whose acts of mass murder are made to be incomprehensible, and therefore effectively denied -- it does not happen anymore because it would be unthinkable to think that it happens. A genocide committed by a sophisticated nation happened only once. And to suggest that it happened more than once is to betray the memory of the victims. It is blasphemy. The very commemoration and deification of that unique, one-off, historical aberration confirms that it was an unexplainable departure from the “civilized” norms that are defined by it. In Freudian terms, the Hollowcaust is the foundation of modern Western supremacy in the same way that incest is the foundation of the family.
On the other side
(of the wall, if you wish) are the “unsophisticated,” technologically
backwards nations. By implication, mass murder in those nations is
low-tech, but also unremarkable, easily comprehensible, explained quite
“naturally” by their very lack of sophistication. They are the barbarians
and they just tend to kill each others. It follows that to kill them is to
commit no great crime, since violent death is their very modus vivendi.
‘They’ do not respect life as ‘we’ do; they raise their kids to be suicide
bombers, and so forth. In a perfectly circular manner, their irreverent
rejection of the Hollowcaust faith (which is built to exclude them)
confirms their exclusion from the community of the civilized and abandons
them to be killed without repercussions.
Cartoon by Abdallah Derkaoui, originally published here.
And now these pious Hollowcaust hawkers are surprised and shocked that so many barbarians piss on their memorials? Note: they are only getting back the message of their own racism with a “return to sender” scrawled over the envelope.
Gabriel Ash is an activist and writer who writes because the pen is sometimes mightier than the sword and sometimes not. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Gabriel Ash
What is a Liberal?
* Dear Ayatollah
* Settlements: A User’s Guide
* A Victory for Israeli Democracy
* Don’t Get Mad, Get Going!
* Pink Delusions