Posted by Jonathan Kirsch
If there were a Congressional Medal of Honor for historians, I would bestow it upon Deborah Lipstadt. What other historian, living or dead, has stood up in open court and defended the truth of her scholarship, as Lipstadt did when she was sued for libel by Holocaust-denier David Irving? Lipstadt, in a real sense, was forced to put the truth of Holocaust scholarship on trial — and she won.
Now Lipstadt, whose book on the Eichmann trial I reviewed here earlier this year, has spoken truth to power in a frank interview with Israeli journalist Chemi Shalev in Haaretz. She denounced the rhetorical excesses of certain American politicians — including Newt Gingrich — who exploit the Holocaust and the conflicts of the modern Middle East to pander to Jewish voters in America.
“When you take these terrible moments in our history, and you use it for contemporary purposes, in order to fulfill your political objectives, you mangle history, you trample on it,” she told Shalev. “It’s a distortion of what Israel is all about, what Zionism is all about.”
She singled out Newt Gingrich’s notorious denial of Palestinian peoplehood as an example: “You listen to Newt Gingrich talking about the Palestinians as an ‘invented people’ – it’s out-AIPACing AIPAC, it’s out-Israeling Israel,” said Lipstadt. ”It’s not healthy.”
Lipstadt was just as harsh in criticizing radical settlers in Israel who characterize the soldiers of the IDF as “Nazis.” “t’s such an abuse of history,” said Lipstadt. “The people who started it know it’s not true, but the kids, the yeshiva kids, and the high school kids — they don’t know it’s not true. And so when real Nazism comes around — no one will recognize it.”
After many years of reading and writing about history, I came to realize that scholars are not afraid of a fight; indeed, there is nothing quite as nasty as a squabble between rival historians over some abstruse point in a journal article or monograph. The spectacle of Holocaust historians ganging up on Daniel Jonah Goldhagen over “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” — or Raul Hilberg’s snipes at Lucy Dawidowicz — are both good examples. But most of their tummeling is confined to the academy.
To her credit, Lipstadt is one historian who knows from first-hand experience that it is the moral duty of the scholar to come out and fight for what she knows to be true.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal and can be reached at email@example.com. His next book is “The Exterminating Angel,” a biography of an early figure in the Jewish armed resistance to Nazi Germany.
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December 15, 2011 | 9:34 am
Posted by Jonathan Kirsch
Today I pulled down a copy of John Keegan’s “Six Armies in Normandy” from my bookshelf and opened it to the title page, all in tribute to the late George Whitman, whose obituary appears in the New York Times.
I bought the book at the famous Left Bank bookstore in Paris that Whitman operated since 1951 and where he died at the age of 98 in an apartment over the store. On the title page is a rubber stamp: “SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY. — Kilometer Zero Paris.”
Bringing home a souvenir from Shakespeare and Company is a fine old literary tradition. American tourists in the 1920s favored James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” and Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” was a bestseller in the 1930s. Both of these books were banned back in America, but they could bought off the shelf at Shakespeare and Company, which was then owned and operated by its original founder, Sylvia Beach.
Sometimes a visit to Shakespeare and Company was an opportunity for an even more exotic purchase. On one occasion, I found and bought a two-volume paperback edition of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece, “The Gulag Archipelago,” as published in Russian by the YMCA Press in Paris. The story is told that Solzhenitsyn, still prevented from publishing his work in his homeland in the 1970s, consented to the publication of his new book outside the U.S.S.R. to secure a copyright in the West. Such acts of culture war were reputedly funded by the CIA, but they bestowed upon us a literary treasure and an important historical document.
Actually, I read two obituaries today. The New York Times noted the passing of George Whitman, and the Los Angeles Times paid tribute to Marvin Saul, founder of Junior’s Deli at Pico and Westwood in West Los Angeles. Each man figured importantly in the cultural life of the place where he lived, and each one sated the appetites of his customers in different but equally primal ways. I know for a fact that a great many working writers in Los Angeles sustained their efforts on Marvin’s chicken soup, pastrami sandwiches, and seven-layer cake over the years because I was one of them.
I salute them both.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. His next book is “The Exterminating Angel,” a biography of a Jewish resistance fighter set in Paris in the 1930s. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
December 13, 2011 | 9:41 am
Posted by Jonathan Kirsch
The headlines are reporting another sighting of the rude beast that is slouching toward Bethlehem, to borrow yet again the often-borrowed words of Yeats.
When Ehud Barak, foreign minister of Israel, issued a public denouncement of “a string of violent attacks by criminal groups of extremists,” he was referring to the radical settlers who attacked an IDF base in the West Bank, occupied an abandoned army post on the border with Jordan, and injured an IDF commander by throwing a brick at him.
These outrages against the IDF will not be surprising to readers of Gershom Gorenberg’s provocative but important new book, “The Unmaking of Israel,” which I reviewed here not long ago. Indeed, the latest incidents validate his warning about the danger that the settler movement poses to the survival of Israel’s democracy and perhaps even to Israel itself.
Gorenberg points out that any peace agreement based on a withdrawal to the security fence that is now in place, which he calls “the unrealistic minimum” for making peace with the Palestinian Arabs, would require at least 65,000 settlers to leave the West Bank. “Any more realistic map of Israel’s borders with a Palestinian state would mean a larger evocation,” he writes. Based on Israel’s experience during the withdrawal from Gaza under Ariel Sharon, however, at least some of the West Bank settlers — and perhaps a great many of them — will refuse to go.
“The army would have to confront a young generation of settlers determined not to repeat the ‘shame’ of Gaza,” writes Gorenberg. And he wonders out loud whether the IDF, whose ranks now include a great many more officers and soldiers who were trained in yeshivot “aligned with the theological right,” will carry out an order to dismantle the outposts and remove their occupants.
“As men whose belief in the inviolable sanctity of the Whole Land of Israel climb the ladder of command,” writes Gorenberg, “possibilities loom that are worse than refusal: outright mutiny, even decisions by senior officers to deploy their units to prevent withdrawal.”
The irony of the recent attacks by Jewish settlers on Jewish soldiers is profound. After all, the most problematic settlements are the ones that require the protection of the IDF for their very existence. But Gorenberg reveals an even deeper irony. If he is right, the soldiers who came under attack included men whose sympathies lay with the attackers.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.