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Are Holocaust Victims Tantamount to Bigots?

Eric Alterman has a remarkable post defending Muslim groups' decision not to attend commemorations of the Holocaust. (Thanks to Cathy Young's column, which also criticizes Alterman on similar grounds, for the pointer.) The post is mostly a rant against Andrew Sullivan's condemnation of the groups, but here's the key part:

Look, unlike[ Andrew Sullivan], I'm a Jew, but I don't expect Arabs to pay tribute to my people's suffering while Jews, in the form of Israel and its supporters -— and in this I include myself — are causing much of theirs. Would Andrew want to go to a service in honor of the suffering of gay bashing bigots? . . . Anyway, I'm sure what I'm saying will be twisted beyond recognition, and so I suppose that makes it stupid to do, but I'm sorry. The Palestinians have also suffered because of the Holocaust. They lost their homeland as the world — in the form of the United Nations — reacted to European crimes by awarding half of Palestine to the Zionists. They call this the "Nakba" or the "Catastrophe." To ask Arabs to participate in a ceremony that does not recognize their own suffering but implicitly endorses the view that caused their catastrophe is morally idiotic — which is why, I guess, I'm not surprised Andrew's doing it.

Now let's briefly analyze this: Alterman is not just saying that Muslim groups are not interested in commemorating the harm done to a group that they're now hostile to. (He is partly saying that, which acknowledges that many Muslims are hostile to Jews, and not just to Israel, but that's not all he's saying.) I should say that such a view would be understandable, though not laudable; it's human nature not to much feel the suffering of others, especially if you have some hostility to them.

Rather, he's analogizing the victims of the Holocaust (those who suffering is honored) to "[Muslim]-bashing bigots." It's not the Israelis who are being honored, it's the slaughtered and nearly slaughtered European Jews. Yet somehow they reverse-inherit the supposed guilt of Israelis and other Jews today. Men, women, children butchered in Auschwitz, even ones who had never had much interest in Palestine and who had no opinions at all to Muslims — quite analogous to "[Muslim]-bashing bigots," yes, indeed.

This strikes me as the classic morality of group guilt. Jews of the 1940s are morally tainted by their supposed sins today; we should hate ethnically Japanese because of Pearl Harbor; Jews killed Christ (assume for a moment that this is historically accurate — the hostility to Jews would remain wrong even then) so Jews today are culpable; many Arabs support suicide bombers, so I shouldn't care about wrongs being done to completely innocent Arab-Americans.

As to who suffered from the Holocaust, it seems to me that the U.N. partition of that part of the world — followed shortly by the 1948 war in which the Arabs tried to destroy Israel, and Israel won and obtained the customary spoils of war — is quite a bit different from the Holocaust. (Among other things, there were Jews living there, who had something of a claim to their own state, too.)

But if you really want to take the "who suffered" perspective, well, many innocent Germans surely suffered a great deal from World War II. Some of them may have various grounds for complaint against the Allies, from the Dresden bombings (I'm not an expert on them, but I know there are plausible claims that they went beyond what should be done even in a total war) to what I understand was a massive and largely unpunished wave of rapes of German women by many Soviet soldiers. So I take it that it would be "morally idiotic" to ask those innocent Germans "to participate in a [Holocaust commemoration] ceremony that does not recognize their own suffering but implicitly endorses the view that caused their catastrophe" (i.e., that many Germans were guilty of heinous crimes)?

I would have thought that good people should generally mark with sadness the mass murder of innocents, and set aside for another day the debate about what other wrongs should be commemorated or righted. Now I realize that people (whether Jews, Arabs, Germans, Americans, Russians, or anyone else), even people who are otherwise good, sometimes don't rise to the occasion this way. Again, if Alterman had simply pointed out that this is human nature, and doesn't merit harsh condemnation, I wouldn't be criticizing him.

But instead, Alterman descends into ascribing ethnic guilt, the very moral fallacy that has helped cause so much mindless slaughter. And on top of that, he ascribes the guilt to the slaughtered innocents of the Holocaust. Shameless, and shameful. In the words of Cathy Young, "Alterman frets that his words will be 'twisted beyond recognition,' but it's hard to see how they can be twisted into something more indecent than they already are."

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Eric Alterman Responds:
  2. Are Holocaust Victims Tantamount to Bigots?
Eric Alterman Responds:

Reason's Hit & Run posts Eric Alterman's response to Cathy Young, regarding her criticisms of his "the suffering of . . . bigots" column, and Cathy Young's rejoinder. I find Cathy Young's statements much more persuasive. As she points out:

After all, the ceremony that the British Muslim Council boycotted was not meant to honor (say) the memory of fallen Israeli soldiers, or even of the Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism; it was commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. It is those victims whom Alterman says Muslims have the moral right to view the way gays would view dead "gay-bashing bigots" (how else does one interpret his analogy?) -- simply because those victims were Jews, just like the Israelis and their supporters.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Eric Alterman Responds:
  2. Are Holocaust Victims Tantamount to Bigots?