For decades Holocaust deniers have argued that no systematic campaign to murder Jews occurred in Europe during World War II and therefore there is no basis for Israel's founding and continued existence. This pseudoscholarship relies upon statistical chicanery and intentional avoidance of overwhelming evidence. For these reasons it has never achieved legitimacy except in radically anti-Jewish Islamic states like Iran. However, a newer tactic using the Holocaust to assault Israel has managed to gain a foothold in academia and in the arts community. Its proponents acknowledge the occurrence of the Holocaust, but accuse Jews of exploiting the Holocaust as an excuse for alleged Israeli aggression and Jewish racism.
This tactic has emerged recently on two university campuses. At the University of Toronto, a furor erupted over a master's thesis by Jennifer Peto alleging that Holocaust education serves to "obscure Jewish privilege, deny Jewish racism and promote the interests of the Israeli nation-state." Peto charges that "claims of Jewish victimhood are no longer based in a reality of oppression, but continue to be propagated because a victimized Jewish identity" is "beneficial to the organized Jewish community and the Israeli nation-state." Her critics point out that her thesis consists of opinion unsupported by any real evidence and that she ignored volumes of scholarship that contradicted her main points.
Her accusation, however, resonates in a recent film, Defamation, produced by Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir and funded by several Austrian organizations. Ironically, Shamir was slated to be the recipient of an invitation to speak and show his film at Northeastern University during the schools annual Holocaust Awareness event.
Shamir is a representative of a generation of disaffected Israeli filmmakers who view their country and its policies with a jaundiced eye. Under the guise of searching for contemporary anti-Semitism, he sets out to show that contemporary anti-Semitism is largely a myth and purports to expose how Israel uses Holocaust education to prepare its youngsters for the task of brutalizing the Palestinians. Shamir offers a platform to fringe figures who promote the belief that Israel is "the cause of anti-Semitism." One extremist, whom Shamir admiringly equates to a biblical prophet, contends, "Jewish suffering" is used as "pretext or excuse to humiliate, degrade and torture the Palestinians...It is used to crush the skulls of Palestinians." A full review of the movie is available here.
It is worth examining the decision to involve Shamir in the Holocaust Awareness Week at Northeastern University in order to understand how the Holocaust has come to be used as a tool delegitimize the Jewish state. For years, Northeastern has hosted an annual Holocaust Awareness event which includes an invited guest lecturer. Much of the funding for this event came from Jewish donors. During the first few years, distinguished scholars were invited to discuss various aspects of the Holocaust. Over time, the focus shifted to include not only the Holocaust, but other recent genocides. This year, however, the committee responsible for selecting speakers voted to invite Shamir, who had garnered attention at film festivals for his documentary film. The committee that favorably considered Yoav Shamir and his film for their Holocaust Awareness event includes members of the Jewish Studies department and other Jewish faculty along with non-Jewish faculty whose area of study includes genocide.
Defamation raises many vexing questions, although not the ones its director intended. This film, like several other Israeli films of recent vintage, feeds the appetite of many international filmgoers for works that reveal sordid conduct by some Jews and sees Israeli policy as contemptible. The uncritical, positive reception the film has received despite its clearly anti-Jewish undertones (including statements that a "Jew is a crook" who "only cares about money") and its endorsement of shrill accusations against Israel unwittingly refutes its central theme that anti-Semitism no longer exists and that Jews should no longer concern themselves with the Holocaust. In fact, it was these sorts of negative depictions and fabricated accusations against Jews that created the environment for the Holocaust to occur.
This manipulation of the Holocaust is part of a wider shift that is exemplified by the United Nations Human Rights Council, originally founded in response to the Holocaust, but which includes some of the globe's worst human rights abusers. This council selectively focuses its attention on Israel and commits vast resources to condemning Israel for self-defensive acts, even while it obstructs efforts to address continuing human rights violations occurring in other regions of the world, such as the Sudan and Congo. Shamir's film Defamation similarly represents this upside-down morality.
Shamir and others of his ilk are apparently oblivious to the anti-Semitism that is ubiquitous among his neighbors in the Middle East region. Organizations like the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and Palestine Media Watch regularly provide footage of the most vile blood libels and bizarre, medieval accusations leveled against Israel and Jews from the pulpits of mosques, classrooms, Arab media and government institutions.
Responsible academics who have, in the past, attached such importance to raising awareness of the Holocaust need to confront this perversion of Holocaust remembrance.