(SPME Editor’s Note: We apologize to Dr. Clemens and the SPME Faculty Forum readership for having printed the wrong version of this article in our October 18th, 2008 edition. Dr. Clemens is looking for Yale faculty members to work with him to form a chapter of SPME. If you are a Yale faculty member and wish to help put together a chapter at Yale, please contact Dr. Clemens at firstname.lastname@example.org , Thank you. Edward S. Beck, Co-Editor and President Emeritus, SPME)
Dr. Clemens Heni
Coming to the new world I was expecting something really new. Having studied various forms of European and especially German anti-Semitism I was looking for something different. I have studied German scholars who deal with Nazi Germany and the importance of remembering Auschwitz. But are those scholars also dealing with anti-Zionism, which is the new anti-Semitism? In this regard, a former representative of the Israeli embassy in Germany, at a lecture at the University of Bremen in 2002, criticized those who remember the Jews of January 27, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945 by the Red Army, as inconsistent. Why? Because, he said, those same scholars, activists or politicians often deny the right to fight anti-Semitism; they don’t care about the Jews of January 28.
What are the new forms of anti-Semitism after Auschwitz? First, of course, there is Israel-bashing, or anti-Zionism as it is called. But there are even more aspects with great importance for researching and fighting against anti-Semitism. Besides primary anti-Semitism, e.g., the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or the blood libel, or the accusation that Jews are responsible for capitalism and communism, there are, after the Holocaust, new forms of anti-Semitism. “Secondary anti-Semitism,” as it is called, includes such terms as “the bombing Holocaust,” to present Germans as victims of World War II, or the “atomic Holocaust,” which refers to the campaign against American missiles at the end of the 1970s and the existence of nuclear power stations. Then there is “Holocaust of the Americans,” used by American scholar Ward Churchill to refer to the decimation of indigenous peoples. The Shoah cannot be used as a symbol for totally different situations. Not every crime, including mass killing, is a Holocaust!
Even scholars who deal with those crimes are often producers of anti-Zionist resentment. In Germany, for example, local politicians in one of the biggest boroughs of the city of Berlin, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, voted for an exhibit in which pictures of the Israeli anti-terror fence would be shown on the former Berlin Wall of the GDR. This was presumably meant to show the many tourists who pass by that Israel is a dictatorship not unlike the GDR. Remember: the Greens and the left voted for this ugly exposition.
Twenty-five political scientists then pleaded for a new view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by claiming that the former victims (the Jews) have now become perpetrators (the Palestinians are the victims of the victims, etc.). Several of those scholars are not Holocaust deniers like right-wing extremist Horst Mahler. Rather they create and support what both Deborah Lipstadt and I call “soft-core denial.”
What does this have to do with creating a chapter of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) at Yale University? In the short time I have been in the U.S., I was astonished that several things seem similar to Europe. Going to three outstanding bookstores, the “Yale Bookstore” in New Haven, “Book Culture” in Manhattan and “Labyrinth Books,” also in the heart of Yale/New Haven, I have to conclude that Americans and scholars in America, just as much as Europeans, like anti-Jewish “scholars” such as NSDAP-party member Martin Heidegger, Nazi legal advisor Carl Schmitt, anti-Zionist philosophers or historians like Alain Badiou and Tony Judt, and linguist and left-wing radical anti-Zionist Noam Chomsky. In none of the above-mentioned bookstores is there even a category named “anti-Semitism” or “new anti-Semitism.” Of course, you can find very good and important books like “Anti-Semitic Myths: A Historical and Contemporary Anthology,” by Marvin Perry and Frederick M. Schweitzer, or “Why We Watched: Europe, America and the Holocaust,” by Theodore S. Hamerow. But how has one of the display tables been arranged at Labyrinth Books? Just like in Berlin or Londonistan: centrally placed, with the cover in a vertical position (and not horizontal like all the other, by definition less important books) is Walt/Mearscheimer’s “Israel Lobby”! Even more shocking for me was to find, on my first official day as a Post-Doc at Yale, that Mearscheimer was invited to a friendly talk with Yale students at the Yale Political Union. Those students wound up voting against the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel.
New England in general and Yale in particular deserve a chapter of SPME. And, much more important, we need it. Anti-Semitism is widespread on campus; the books I already mentioned prove this. A malicious agitator like Ahmadinejad can speak out without problems at the UN and where are those well-educated scholars protesting against such an event?
Criticism of anti-Semitism has most often to deal with the humanities, whether philosophy, sociology, political science, women’s studies (Judith Butler!), linguistics or the McMillan Center at Yale, which organized an anti-Zionist and rather pro-Arab and pro-Muslim conference some weeks ago. Many supporters of SPME, on the other hand, come from different areas such as public health, psychology, medicine, and so on. Therefore an interdisciplinary approach might be very helpful to fight anti-Semitism on campus. Even more, experiences from other campuses, such as San Francisco State University, Stanford or even Harvard might help create a stronger network of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, that is, scholars who are willing to fight anti-Semitism.
It does not seem realistic to overcome Jew-hatred, even in America. But we should at least try to fight for the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state and against anti-Semitic resentments on American campuses and abroad. To learn from history after Auschwitz means doing everything to prevent something similar to the Holocaust from happening again, as Theodor W. Adorno said. The year 2008 is a year of commemorating the “Kristallnacht” of November 9, 1938. We have to be clear that remembrance of the Shoah and its antecedents also has to include its aftermath, anti-Semitism after and because of Auschwitz, especially if it is framed as “well-behaved” anti-Zionism.
We are living in difficult times. Economic crises, ecological crises, cultural challenges and a huge amount of armed conflicts all over the world are issues of international and domestic politics. Most important, though, is to be aware of the longest hatred ever, Jew-hatred. It changes its face over decades and centuries, but it is still alive. Worse, in the 21st century it has become a man-made threat to Jews and the very existence of the state of Israel. Iran is planning a second Holocaust. To use the term “second Holocaust” is not an inflationary use of the term Holocaust. Rather it is the first time since 1945 that the danger of such a second Holocaust is really obvious.
During World War II Americans and the west watched the Holocaust. To watch a second time, to talk with those who walk in the footsteps of Adolf Hitler and the Germans is unthinkable.
At least strengthening the awareness of anti-Semitism, both in history and at the present time, is an important topic. Therefore creation of a chapter of SPME at Yale is necessary.