Saturday, March 8, 2008

Norman Finkelstein and the Question He Will Not Answer

O8 March 2008

The Maneater
214 Brady Commons
Columbia, MO 65211

For Publication


Professor Norman Finkelstein is widely recognized as a controversial critic of the “Holocaust Industry,” Israeli policies and actions against the Palestinians, and the cynical exploitation of Jewish suffering for the profit of those who indulge themselves with it. There is no doubt that he is an honorable, courageous man who has been willing to risk his career and most everything else in order to say what he thinks. I believe that what he thinks is of the greatest importance. That’s one side of the story.

The other side, ironically, is that he appears to be fearful of challenging the story that is the cornerstone of all he talks about, the allegation that during WWII the Germans used weapons of mass destruction (“gas chambers”), particularly at Auschwitz, to murder maybe a million innocent, unarmed civilians. It is the Auschwitz gas-chamber tales that morally justify forwarding the idea of the “unique monstrosity” of the Germans. It is those tales that were exploited to morally justify the invasion and conquest of Arab land in Palestine by European Jews, and continues to be used to morally justify the U.S. alliance with Israel against the Palestinians.

As Richard Cohen has it in The Washington Post, “The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake.” If you agree, ask yourself how such a terrible mistake could have been made, and why the Americans participated in the mistake and how, after more than half a century, we remain committed to the mistake. It was, fundamentally, a moral issue. Yet how do we justify it morally? The answer in brief? The Auschwitz gas-chamber allegations.

On 04 February I asked Professor Deborah Lipstadt of Emory U. and author of Denying the Holocaust: the Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, if she could provide “the name of one person, with proof, who had been killed in a gas chamber at Auschwitz.” I did not expect her to respond. So I copied “The Lipstadt Question” to her peers in the history and journalism departments of Emory U, the U of Georgia, and to the campus and off-campus press there. Following Lipstadt’s example, none tried to answer the question.

Professor Finkelstein, the great “taboo breaker,” is caught up in the same struggle, the same taboo, as the Deborah Lipstadts and the academic establishment in general. He cannot bring himself to address revisionist arguments which arguably demonstrate that the German gas-chamber allegation is the first great WMD fraud orchestrated by the U.S. Government and its allies, Iraq being a poor second. Finkelstein recently wrote a moving tribute to Raul Hilberg, the author of The Destruction of the European Jews, who he believes understood the gas-chamber question. To get the other side of the Hilberg gas-chamber beliefs, see Juergen Graf’s The Giant With Feet of Clay. It would be good if Professor Finkelstein would address this book, because it goes to the heart of the Hilberg / gas-chamber / Finkelstein conundrum.

Last year I wrote Professor Finkelstein himself to ask if his very independent mother, herself a survivor of the German camps, had told him that she had seen “gas chambers” with her own eyes. He did not respond. I have since written Professor Finkelstein again, asking if he could provide “the name of one person, with proof, who was killed in a gas chamber at Auschwitz.” He did not reply.

So we have a nice irony here. Finkelstein is an authority on the moral and political corruption of the Holocaust Industry, but can’t seem to get it together to investigate the story that morally justifies the existence of that Industry – the rumor that Germans used homicidal “gas chambers” to kill hundreds of thousands and maybe “millions” of innocent, unarmed civilians during WWII. The rumor that, as Richard Cohen has it, morally justified the “mistake” that is Israel, a mistake that has helped bring about more than half a century of tragedy and murder in and around Israel – largely paid for, and still being paid for, by the U.S. Congress.

I would ask Professor Finkelstein one more time: “One” person, with proof – one out of a “million!” Is that too much to ask? And I would ask those who teach and study journalism at U Missouri: Ask the question.

Just ask it.

Bradley Smith
Desk: 209 682 5327

Note: This letter was copied to academics at U Missouri-Columbia in History, German, and particularly to faculty in the Missouri School of Journalism and to off-campus press. It's about time, I should think, that those who teach at such institutions begin to suggest to their students that they ask The Lipstadt Question, or consider not reporting on any story whatever that pretends to deal with Auschwitz, gas chambers, or the Holocaust generally. It is not the responsibility of Journalism Schools to protect the taboo that protects, in turn, Professor Finkelstein's Holocaust Industry.

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