Salon interviews Finkelstein

Mark Rickling rickling at
Tue Aug 29 21:52:11 PDT 2000

[ . . . ]

[Salon] On a more relevant note, Wiesel defenders argue that thanks to people like him, we understand more about genocides around the world.

[Finkelstein] Thanks to Elie Wiesel we have a distorted and disfigured and frankly meaningless version of the Nazi Holocaust and we only know about those genocides that serve the interest of the U.S. and Israel, and we forget the ones that don't.

[S] Don't you think these personal attacks spoil your main argument?

[F] Obviously, there is no accounting for taste. I think I lay out my argument [in _The Holocaust Industry_] really simply, in three parts. The first concerns the question of why the Holocaust came to the U.S. only after the Six Day War in 1967. If you agree that the Holocaust served as an ideological weapon in the Palestinian conflict, the next question is how. I mean, the Holocaust could also be used for other reasons. For instance, my parents used it to defend certain Palestinian rights. The second part deals with how the Nazi Holocaust is ideologically recast to serve certain political ends. Which is new, because I'm the first one, I think, to have established what I call a "Holocaust framework" -- a distinction between Holocaust scholarship and Holocaust literature. This latter literature, to which Daniel Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners" also belongs, has two dogmas at its core: the uniqueness of the Holocaust and the gentiles' eternal irrational hatred of the Jews.

[S] It's a very small step from "Holocaust framework" to "Holocaust conspiracy."

[F] Why? If you come across a body of literature with no historical merit, the question arises, Qui bono? Who benefits from it? For example, if you look at 19th century literature on race, eugenics and so forth, once you've demonstrated that it has no scientific, historical or artistic value, you realize that it only exists to serve certain political and ideological goals. These are such obvious questions in any other context. It's called the sociology of ideas.

[S] Could the success of Goldhagen's book also be at least partly due to an almost masochistic feeling of guilt in certain parts of Europe?

[F] It could, but it's not probable. And besides, the book was a bestseller in the U.S. too, and America had nothing to do with the Holocaust.

[S] Let me give you a mental game. A large number of individuals claim that the success of Goldhagen's book was due to the simplicity of its thesis: All Germans were anti-Semitic monsters waiting for Hitler to give them the green light to start killing Jews. Now let's argue for the sake of argument that Goldhagen had said exactly the opposite: that the Holocaust was the work of Hitler and his henchmen, and that the whole nation was coerced into going along.

[F] Now the title of his book would have then been "Hitler's Unwilling Executioners." Would the book have achieved the same success? No. Why? Because it was something about the way in which he carved out a simple thesis that made it so compelling. Even though reading the book feels like chewing on tinfoil, its thesis turned out to be ideologically very convenient. It is the same thing Cynthia Ozick said after the 1973 war [when Syria and Egypt attacked Israel]: Why does everybody hate Israel? Simple answer: All the world wants to wipe out the Jews.

[ . . . ]

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list