Arbeit Macht Frei and the mass market for Nazism

December 22nd, 2009 by Mark Gardner

The theft of the Arbeit Macht Frei sign from the entrance to Auschwitz is a reminder that the vast consumer market for Nazism owes far more to the pornography of horror than it does to either military history, or sympathy for Nazism.

Thankfully, the sign, stolen in the early hours of Friday 18th December was speedily recovered by Polish police. This followed a tip off from a neighbour of one of five men, aged between 20 and 39, arrested late on Sunday 20th December. (The sign had, however, been cut into three parts).

When the theft first occurred, there were many who immediately suspected that neo-Nazis must be responsible for this, the worst desecration of all. Surely, who else but a neo-Nazi could sink to such depths of immorality? The assumption of neo-Nazi responsibility raised a dreadful question – had they stolen the sign in order to deny the Holocaust had occurred, or had they stolen it to make precisely the opposite point: and to state that their Jew-hatred was unrepentant and unyielding? Or, as with so many neo-Nazis, were they both denying the Holocaust and basking in its horror.

Nevertheless, after the arrests, Polish police quashed all such speculation. Those arrested apparently have no links to neo-Nazis and according to the deputy head of Krakow police

They are all ordinary thieves with past convictions, some for robbery, others for violence.

So, it would appear that this, the worst desecration of all, was primarily driven not by antisemitism or politics, but by ordinary criminal greed. But how does a criminal gang profit by stealing the Arbeit Macht Frei sign and selling it? Selling it to whom? Who would buy such a sign?

It is a vital question. Superficially at least, the answer to it is well known. Society is fascinated by evil, and Nazi memorabilia is a best seller. This leaves Jews, and many others, feeling deeply uncomfortable, and lay at the heart of the previous controversy to arise over Nazi memorabilia: the case of Marc Garlasco, a leading expert for Human Rights Watch, revealed by pro-Israel activists to be a keen collector of German World War Two memorabilia, and anti-aircraft gunnery medals in particular.

There is absolutely no parallel between Garlasco’s motivation and behaviour and that of the Auschwitz thieves, but they still find themselves inhabiting the same marketplace. Human Rights Watch (HRW) appallingly misrepresented Jewish concerns about Garlasco’s hobby, but perhaps this new controversy will help them to better understand Jewish emotions and interpretations about the entire spectrum of Nazi and German WW2 hobbyists, collectors and fetishists. Indeed, if this whole sorry episode does not convince HRW of what truly causes Jewish concerns about the trivialisation of Nazism, then perhaps nothing will.

Marc Garlasco’s stomach may well turn at the mere prospect of even touching the stolen Auschwitz sign, but he is surely within the same spectrum, albeit it at a very different end. This is demonstrated by his own words

That is so cool! The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!

The reason that leather SS jackets make the “blood go cold” and are so “COOL!” is nothing to do with Nazis making fierce soldiers, or having well-cut uniforms, catchy insignia, and a keen eye for homo-erotic pageantry. (Although all of this adds to the lustre.) Rather, it is because of the Nazi Holocaust of Europe’s Jews.

Of course, the Nazis also murdered millions of non-Jewish civilians: worked them to death, bombed them, shot them, left them to die of exposure and starvation, gassed them even. In marketing terms, however, none of this is Nazism’s unique selling point. None of it matches everything that is encapsulated by Arbeit Macht Frei.

A quick glance at the history section of your local bookshop, or the history documentaries on your satellite television will show that Nazism is a best seller: and this most certainly does not mean that the authors of such books, or the makers of such documentaries are Nazis. Furthermore, it most certainly does not make Nazis of the consumers who actually comprise the marketplace for their books, and documentaries (or even SS leather jackets).

The fact remains, however, that the unique selling point of Nazism, the thing that makes Nazis so much more compelling than Stalinists, Maoists, or anybody else, is their industrialised genocide of European Jewry: as epitomised by Auschwitz-Birkenau; and as for ever symbolised by the Arbeit Macht Frei sign.

It is absolutely correct that the entire world should recoil in revulsion at the theft of the Auschwitz sign. That, however, is a very easy response. A more challenging response, begins with acknowledging that the theft of the sign represents the ultimate endpoint of the vast consumer market for Nazism.

This sickening epdisode shows us, once again, that society’s largely inadvertent trivialisation of the Holocaust is immeasurably more dangerous than the outright denial of a few crazed antisemites. It is far harder to challenge social, media and political trivialisation of the Holocaust than it is to simply condemn Holocaust denial lunatics: but it must be done, and those who (wittingly or not) acquiesce in Holocaust trivialisation must be called to account.

Financial Times letter: end Jewish myths and save America from its Jewish lobby

December 14th, 2009 by Mark Gardner

On 4th December, the Guardian published an immediate and complete apology for a letter that had appeared upon its letters page the previous day. CST covered the story, here and here. (The letter, upon close scrutiny, advocated Holocaust Denial. A ‘Google’ search of the author showed that whilst he was not well known, he did have ’previous’ in this regard.)

One week later, on 10th December, the Financial Times published a letter that also required some scrutiny to determine its own troubling meaning. In this instance, its author, Joseph Cari, is – or was – a major player upon the Washington political scene. Indeed, Cari’s letter carried his name and the description, “Past Chairman, Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.” The rest of Cari’s CV is also impressive, and his own website describes him as “frequently appearing in the Financial Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, & Beirut Daily Star”

Nevertheless, Cari’s letter clearly shows that he has  worrying views about Jews, Jewish power, and Israel’s Jewish identity. He is welcome to his opinion, but it is very disconcerting that the Financial Times should see fit to publish him. It now remains to be seen if the FT will match the Guardian’s behaviour by apologising for having published the letter.

Cari’s letter was prompted by FT’s publication of an article by Tony Judt on Shlomo Sand’s book “The Invention of the Jewish People”. Judt’s praise for the book is on the front and back of its dustcover, but it has been criticised elsewhere, including here by CST where we said

…There are many ways, often subtle, in which anti-Israel or anti-Zionist debate can have an anti-Jewish impact. However, a new anti-Zionist book by Tel Aviv Professor of History, Shlomo Sand, remoulds the paradigm: with notions of Jewish peoplehood now under attack in the service of anti-Zionism.

The sense of common lineage, kinship, and peoplehood that Jews around the world share and hold is a fundamental part of their identity…To deny this aspect of Jewish identity – perhaps more accurately to demand that for political reasons it be rejected – is surely to deny or reject something that is essential to our perception of Jewishness itself.

There is of course nothing wrong with genuine historical inquiry about Jews or any other facet of history. But that is neither the core purpose, nor the core impact of Sand’s book. It can be summed up very simply as:

No Real Jews = No Need For a Really Jewish State.

Sand’s book is explicitly about Jews and ideas of Jewishness. Persons commenting upon the book will likely comment about Jews. If they agree with the book, they will likely attack Jews, and Jewish notions of identity, tradition and heritage. They will not employ ambiguous terms such as “Zionist” or “pro-Israel lobby”.

So, the Financial Times, having decided to cover Sand’s book, should have been on guard against exactly the kind of letter that they published from Joseph Cari the following day.   

Below, is the letter in its entirety, with my comments on what each sentence actually means:

Washington supports an ideology based on ethnic purity

…Sir, Tony Judt’s column regarding Israel and its ethnic myth outlines a rational analysis of why Israel should have a one-state solution to the conflict over its right to exist (December 8).

– meaning Israel should surrender its Jewish status and become “one state”.

(One presumes that no other country should similarly cease to exist on the basis that its past is mythologised).    

I find it ironic that the US, a country founded on the principal of religious freedom, financially and militarily supports a movement whose ideology is based on the exact opposite: religious and ethnic purity.

– meaning that the American Dream is the moral opposite of the political notion of Jewish statehood, and/or the religious notion of a Jewish return to Zion.

(One presmues that Cari is here expressing the mythologised notion of the American Dream, rather than that physically experienced within recorded history by Native Americans, Americans of African origin etc).  

Is it not self-evident that this reach for religious and ethnic purity was the exact reason the Jewish population suffered terribly throughout history?

– meaning that the supposed non-assimilation of “the Jewish population” is to blame for antisemitism throughout history, and/or that Jews have suffered from antisemitism throughout history because of exactly the traits that they now display.

(Neither interpretation portrays “the Jewish population” positively. The first blames Jews for antisemitism. The second says Jews are now behaving as  their persecutors have done).

Does the Jewish population not understand the hypocrisy and disconnect to this mythical view of Israel?

– again the repeat of the catch-all phrase “the Jewish population”, here in the context of attacking Jews for refusing to acknowledge the supposed biblical and historical foundation myths of modern Israel.

(It is worth considering what impact this would have on the continuation of the Jewish way of life around the world; and as to whether or not all other nations around the world – including the USA – should also address their own foundation myths.)

The American Jewish lobby retains its power in American foreign policy by perpetuating this myth.

– self explanatory: the American Jewish lobby is very powerful in American foreign policy. This Jewish power is reliant upon the lobby’s ability to keep everybody believing the Jewish myths. 

A one-state solution would totally diminish this power.

Joseph Cari Jr,
New York, NY, US
Past Chairman,
Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars

– Remove Israel’s Jewishness and you solve the problem of American Jewish power.

This is not the first time that Cari has gone down this road. His website carries an article from the Beirut Daily Star, describing a speech he gave at the Lebanese American University in Beirut in March 2009. It includes this:

He also has a theory that the powerful Jewish lobby in the US doesn’t want to see an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The Jewish community in the States wants to perpetuate the conflict because that way they are more powerful,” he says, after pointing out that despite making up only 4 percent of the population, Jews make 60 percent of the donations to US politicians. “They keep the conflict going because they are an institutional power,” he says.

He points to how donations are split between the parties.

“The Jewish community is strategic,” he says. “There is support for both sides to ensure they have a seat at the table.” And he warns that if another conflict in the region did erupt, it would be Obama’s “worst nightmare,” because it would distract him from America’s economic woes. “It would force him to spend time on an issue that he doesn’t have time to spend time on right now.”

So, there we have it then. Jews use their money to perpetuate war and further their power. It is not the first time that we have heard such nonsense: but if it is time to stop the myth-making, then perhaps Mr Cari wouldn’t mind  if we could start with this one first.

Happy Chanukah!

December 11th, 2009 by CST


CST wishes everyone a Happy Chanukah and a safe and peaceful holiday season.

Blogging here will be very light over the next couple of weeks, but normal service will be resumed in January.

Erasing the line – antisemitism and anti-Zionism

December 11th, 2009 by CST

This is a cross-post from Mark Wolfson at the Union of Jewish Students blog

“Your life will be hell!” bellowed Bongani Masuku at a crowded meeting at Wits University in South Africa. The International Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has been leading the drive to malign, vilify and intimidate any South African student or citizen who has the courage to stand up to the misguided boycott craze sweeping the Left.

And yet, despite the South African Human Rights Commission’s findings that “the statements made by Mr. Masuku amount to hate speech”, the University and College Union invited him to the UK. They brought him on to highly flammable campuses, to speak at a conference organised to encourage boycotts, in order to enflame and propel students to action.

In February this year, Masuku and Ronnie Kasrils – a Jewish anti-Zionist – led a march to protest against Operation Cast Lead, choosing not the Israeli embassy, but a Jewish community centre in Johannesburg. Later in that march, Masuku led the burning of an Israeli flag – outside a synagogue. It is inconceivable that this was not directly targeted at the Jewish community. A simple Google search will further reveal the torrent of abuse that Masuku has leveled this past year.

Campuses in the UK are tense, with fringe groups of Left Wing students seeking to divide and impose their monolithic interpretation of events in the Middle East. Weekly, students are forced to confront the incessant demonization of the state of Israel. Jewish students regularly contact UJS about a seemingly overwhelming number of speeches, motions, talks and campaigns that are of grave concern to them.

The Union of Jewish Students is proud of its Zionism, but encourages its membership to maintain their own diverse opinions on the policies of the government of Israel. UJS will, however oppose any speaker who advocates the targeting of a student because of their support for Israel. When threats are targeted against the Jewish community, UJS has a duty to speak up in their defense.

Yet UJS should not be alone in leading the fight against antisemites, who cowardly claim that they are merely criticizing Israel to deflect their true intent. Moreover, even if they do not think they have antisemitic intent, they must acknowledge their responsibility in inspiring followers to commit antisemitic acts.

How organisations like the UCU can associate with convicted hate-speakers is bewildering. How they can sit on the Government Group on Antisemitism is simply inexplicable. We are seeing an increasingly narrow political space for discussion on the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is dangerous: Jews and supporters of Israel’s right to exist have already been hounded out of the UCU; how long will it be before some university campuses become no-go areas for Jewish and pro-Israel students?

The tragedy of this obsession is twofold: firstly, the duty of care no longer applies to these students and academics. Secondly, proponents of Israel boycotts will never be challenged to recognize that their reasoning is flawed, their tactics malicious and their leaders wrong. It seems that the line of anti-Zionism and antisemitism has not been crossed: it has been erased.

Bongani Masuku, hate speech and the University and College Union

December 8th, 2009 by CST

A statement from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council

As British Jewish community organisations, we believe that racism in all its forms must be confronted. We have a history of working together with allies throughout British civil society, to foster an atmosphere of tolerance and respect where racists are unable to succeed.

We are appalled that the University and College Union (UCU) brought Bongani Masuku to Britain. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) recently found that Mr. Masuku’s statements amounted to hate speech against Jews and Israelis. Furthermore, the SAHRC found that he “surely intended to incite violence and hatred”.

UCU hosted Mr Masuku, the International Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, as a participant in a ‘private’ conference on boycotting Israel. During his visit to the UK for this conference, Mr Masuku is also touring the country to promote a boycott of Israel on university campuses.

As the largest Union in Further and Higher Education and a self-proclaimed campaigner against racism, it is irresponsible and grossly offensive of UCU to bring Bongani Masuku to the UK, given his track record.

UCU has chosen to connect its boycott activities to antisemitism by hosting a man who was found to have engaged in hate speech against Jews. It was unacceptable for UCU to ignore Mr Masuku’s well-publicised remarks before choosing to invite him.  The scornful dismissal by UCU of Jewish concerns over the presence of Masuku on British campuses is simply not good enough.

Every year since it was founded, UCU’s Congress has voted to boycott Israeli academics. As well as harming both Israelis and Palestinians and putting up unnecessary barriers to peace, such a boycott effectively discriminates against Jews, both in Israel and in the UK. UCU’s own legal advice says that a boycott of Israeli academics “run[s] a serious risk of infringing discrimination legislation” and “would be unlawful and cannot be implemented”.

Given this, UCU’s decision to organise and fund an Israeli boycott conference is bizarre in the extreme.  A UCU invitation to Mr Masuku, presumably to share his experience and expertise on the boycott is especially troubling as, in addition to the recent SAHRC finding, he has called for the targeting of “any business owned by Israel supporters” in South Africa – a term that includes most Jewish-owned businesses.

UCU’s hosting of Masuku and their refusal to engage with the concerns of the Jewish community follows a pattern: the Union refused to address the resignations of large numbers of Jewish academics from UCU in recent years, and summarily rejected members’ complaints of antisemitism. UCU has allowed its politics on Israel to override the concerns of its Jewish members and students. It appears that UCU simply does not care about the anti-Jewish impact of its activities.

It is now hard to see how UCU can continue to play a constructive role in the Government Group on Antisemitism and Higher Education when its latest actions are likely to encourage antisemitism. The Government should review UCU’s membership of this group as it has failed to oppose antisemitism inside its own structures. UCU cannot credibly be a part of the solution to antisemitism while its activities are encouraging the problem.

From Jews to Muslims

December 8th, 2009 by Dave Rich

Oliver Miles, the former Foreign Office diplomat who objected to there being two Jews on the Iraq War Inquiry panel, has written to the Jewish Chronicle to clarify his views. The letter does not appear to be online, so I will reproduce it in full here (with links added):

In your issue of November 27, you attacked (in three different places) my comments on the Iraq inquiry, describing them as pernicious and insinuating that they are antisemitic.

Unlike The Times, which described them as disgraceful without quoting a single word from them to allow their readers to judge for themselves, you quoted the sentence in which I metnioned that two of the five members of the inquiry team are Jewish.

You might have gone on to quote the following sentences in full: “Such facts are not usually mentioned in the mainstream British and American media, but The Jewish Chronicle and the Israeli media have no such inhibitions, and the Arabic media both in London and in the region are usually not far behind. All five members have outstanding reputations and records, but it is a pity that, if and when the inquiry is accused of a whitewash, such handy ammunition will be available. Membership should not only be balanced; it should be seen to be balanced.”

I knew that I was likely to be attacked for what I wrote, and chose my words carefully. It is sad that one cannot speak the truth on this subject, however carefully one chooses one’s words, without provoking criticism based on the assumption that one speaks from a habit or feeling of hostility to Jews, which in my case is not so.

For you and any of your readers who agree with the chief executive of the Board of Deputies that “to question the credentials of two of the members because of their Jewishness is unacceptable”, I have a simple question. I believe it would have been a mistake to include in the five-person team someone with an Arab or Muslim background, and madness to include two. Do you agree? And if so how do you defend yourself from the accusation of racial prejudice?

By asking this question in the way that he does, Oliver Miles shows that he has completely missed the point of why his original article was so offensive. All any individual can ask is that they be judged on their record as an individual. In this particular case, Lawrence Freedman and Martin Gilbert should both be judged on their formidable records as historians, a discipline that requires skills you might think perfectly matched to their latest assignment: the analysis of masses of documentation, personal testimony and other evidence relating to military and political affairs, to produce conclusions that educate and enlighten. The fact that they are Jewish should not be a factor. If they were both Muslim, the same would be the case.

I completely accept that Oliver Miles was not motivated by hostility towards Jews, a point I made when I first wrote about his article last month. What I do think is that he is postulating  an antisemitic position, and should review the thought processes by which he arrived at it. But it is interesting to see that Miles is at pains to point out how carefully he chose his original words. He could benefit from reading the opinion of his fellow Independent writer, Howard Jacobson, about both his and Richard Ingrams’ articles on this subject:

Words matter. In words, rhetoric betrays its prejudice. No Zionist is other than an active Zionist in Miles and Ingram’s world, just as no Zionist is ever capable of disinterested judgement, because Zionism allows nothing to stand in its way, including Saddam Hussein. “It is a fact.” Quite what Israel had to gain from overthrowing Saddam has never been plain to me – which doesn’t of course prove anything, any more than Richard Ingrams’ “facts” prove anything – but an ardently active Zionist would surely have seen that Iran not Iraq was the enemy and that an America tied up with the one was less likely to be in a position to deal efficiently with the other.

Since I am wary of accepting that anyone is an “ardent” Zionist on the mere say-so of someone who isn’t, I have no reason to believe that the infamous cabal of neocons was acting on behalf of Israel when it pushed for the invasion of Iraq. We can hold them culpable without holding them culpable of that. But Ingrams has one more “undeniable fact” to assert. Not only were the neocons Zionists, many were “more concerned with preserving the security of Israel than of the US”.

So tell me what shred of evidence there is for this “undeniable fact”. It is a grave charge. Putting another country’s security before your own amounts to treason. No evidence is produced to support this accusation because no evidence can be produced. It is a calumny predicated on a self-perpetuating assertion – that Zionists are treasonable in their zeal for Zion, because that’s the nature of Zionist self-interest. It doesn’t take much to discern in that the older calumny, that Jews are the enemy of whichever nation harbours them.

Words matter because hate hangs on their coat tails.

Holocaust denial: Recognised and removed from Guardian

December 4th, 2009 by CST

On 3rd December, the Guardian letters page printed a letter by John Mortl that appeared to allude to Holocaust denial.

CST discussed the letter with the Holocaust Educational Trust, following which HET’s Paul Evans wrote an excellent analysis of it for CST’s blog. This showed that our initial suspicions were entirely correct.

CST forwarded Evans article to the Guardian, where senior staff then took immediate action to remove Mortl’s letter from the Guardian website.

It is of course regrettable that the letter was ever published, and whilst CST blog was not the only website to mount criticism of the Guardian, we are very happy to have worked with both HET and the newspaper to help achieve a quick and constructive outcome.

The Guardian’s website now carries this statement, in place of the offensive letter:

Editor’s statement: We published a letter by John Mortl in the Guardian of Thursday 3 December and on this site relating to the case of John Demjanjuk, who is accused of assisting in the murder of 27,900 people in Poland. Unfortunately, we misread the letter. The underlying meaning, we now realise, implied Holocaust denial. As soon as we realised our mistake, we removed the letter from the site. It should never have been published and we apologise unreservedly that it was.

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