Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Applying Godwin to Hitler

It's been my suspicion for a while now that nothing, absolutely nothing, not to mention no one, can be referred to uncontroversially as anti-Semitic. As a result, contrary to rumors about everyone who says even the tiniest thing about not liking, say, the falafel in Israel getting accused of anti-Semitism, we as a society - Jews included - vastly understimate the amount of Jew-hatred around. Anything that can be classified however tangentially as a protest against Israel gets a free pass, including white supremacists who go after Muslims as well, but remember to toss in a line about "Israel's policy."

But even those who make no claims of solidarity with the Palestinian cause, who are themselves white as white can be, who identify as neo-Nazis, who identify with actual WWII Nazis, well, they don't count, either. Because surely they're joking around ala Mel Brooks or too stupid to be given the time of day. Because any reference to something called 'anti-Semitism' existing in the post-1945 world is seen as inherently hyperbolic and hysterical. Sure, white supremacists don't especially like Jews, and sure, many articles and blog entries not even about Jews end up with comments sections devoted to the topic of how Jews are the most horrible people to ever live, but none of this is anti-Semitism, per se. Let's not jump to conclusions or anything. What I'm getting at is, instances of that-which-could-not-possibly-be-described-in-other-terms are in fact described in other terms.

Which makes me wonder how we even view pre-1945. How many people, today, would be comfortable agreeing with the following sentence: 'Adolf Hitler was an anti-Semite.'? To how many people would that sentence seem a bit paranoid, a bit blowing things out of proportion, a bit Judeo-centric, because after all, Hitler had other things on his mind as well and can't be put into a box? I'm just asking.

7 comments:

David Schraub said...

Something on your mind?

I ask because I feel like I write this post every two weeks, but normally based on some fresh (and alas, all too common) provocation.

Phoebe said...

Oh, just the photo of the Nazi who is/was married to Sandra Bullock.

Phoebe said...

I mean, the response to that photo. At Gawker, many commenters seemed convinced that one would have to be paranoid or to lack a sense of humor to think this guy is, in fact, a Nazi sympathizer.

PG said...

At Gawker, many commenters seemed convinced that one would have to be paranoid or to lack a sense of humor to think this guy is, in fact, a Nazi sympathizer.

Is there evidence beyond the photo to think he is a Nazi sympathizer? The response seems similar to that when Prince Harry wore some sort of Nazi costume to a fancy dress party: what he did was dumb and insensitive, but it doesn't mean he's pro-Nazi.

Phoebe said...

PG,

I believe elsewhere in the that thread, as well as just about all over the Internet, there's fairly convincing discussion of his white-supremacist sympathies. And that the equivalent is/was not true of Prince Harry.

Freddie said...

Which makes me wonder how we even view pre-1945. How many people, today, would be comfortable agreeing with the following sentence: 'Adolf Hitler was an anti-Semite.'?

As close to 100% as statistically possible. As well you know.

To how many people would that sentence seem a bit paranoid, a bit blowing things out of proportion, a bit Judeo-centric, because after all, Hitler had other things on his mind as well and can't be put into a box?

As close to 0% as statistically possible. As well you know.

I don't know how it is that you write with such probity and restraint in all other areas, and with such willful emotionalism on this issue. If you take it as your ethical duty to work towards the elimination of anti-Semitism, while preserving the right of anyone to hold anti-Semitic or whatever else hateful view they please, as I do, then your first duty is to rationally approach the problem. Pretending that there isn't a powerful and sophisticated public mechanism to expose and denounce anti-Semitism (and thank goodness there is) is not a rational way to get where you want to go.

Now the degree to which that mechanism and its various organizational and individual arms sometimes mistake or willfully conflate principled criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is surely controversial. You and I will never agree on that question. What posts like this suggest is that you don't think that there is such a thing as a legitimate opinion that agrees with you on the necessity and moral insistence of opposing anti-Semitism, while disagreeing with you on the degree to which that righteous action is undermined and damaged by the irresponsible, scattershot application of broad epithets to critics of Israel.

Here I am: I am telling you that I believe in the continued existence of anti-Semitism; our duty to protect the safety and prosperity of the secular state of Israel; the horrid, unconscionable disenfranchisement of the occupied Palestinians; and the lack of integrity and fairness of men like Leon Wiseltier who throw around accusations of anti-Semitism without discretion or care. Perhaps I'm wrong in my understanding of Wieseltier and others like him who are so unrestrained in alleging anti-Semitism. Perhaps I am naive to think that I can support the security of the Israeli state while condemning the immorality of the Palestinian occupation. Could be. But when you elide the (perhaps mistaken) criticism of this kind of aggressive defense of Israeli policy with a denial of the anti-Semitism of Hitler, you undermine the very apparatus of principle discourse.

Phoebe said...

Freddie,

Applying Godwin to Hitler was meant somewhat facetiously - obviously everyone would say Hitler was an anti-Semite. But short of Hitler - now I'm not being facetious - it's hard to get a clear answer.

Let me explain. I do think it's possible to think the situation with the Palestinians is tragic for both parties and that Israel-as-a-Jewish-state is necessary - I too think both of these things. (I take it from your comment you assume I don't? I'm pretty sure I've had posts about my stance on this before...Yes, there are some who call themselves Zionists who wish the Palestinians ill, but I'm not one of them.)

Anyway, the fact that you say that you believe anti-Semitism exists does not tell me two things I'd like to know. 1) Do others think the same?, and 2) If so, how does this set define anti-Semitism? I ask because everyone admits anti-Semitism exists, but when you try to pin people (not named Abe Foxman) down on just what can legitimately be called anti-Semitism, you get very, very little beyond Hitler, Nazis, and white supremacists. Anyone who can in any way be interpreted to care about the Palestinian cause - whatever their primary motives - must be dealt with so delicately, because any labeling screams hysteria. As in, 'oh, just another Jew, so rational on all other matters, going crazy about the Holocaust again.' When, I've found, many calm, rational, non-hysterical Jews will not refer to even obvious cases of anti-Semitism as such, because of a general understanding that the threshold for defining the phenomenon is so high as to exclude, again, all but Hitler and the unquestionably Hitlerian.