Sunday, February 5, 2006
Paul Eisen - setting some things straight
I have read his papers. I don't agree or like everything in them, but that is not essential. They are interesting, they are thought provoking, and they make some points that are important to consider. I think Paul is promoting investigation, promoting a search for truth and for justice, and this is the basis of his work, not some "bone to pick". I know that many have ideas of him based on his associations. I don't think this is fair either, just as I have been associated with people I am not affiliated with, but still communicate with, largely disagreeing, but attempting to remain civil. This is the nature of activism. We are going to agree on some things, disagree on others, and that is normal. I too have very strong aversions to some people in "the campaign", I think some of them do great damage to it, for the sole and singular reason that they do not put the Palestinians first. To me, that is the primary issue. I don't care as much about the rest, because a true supporter of Palestinians cannot be racist, cannot be full of hate, but inspired by a sense of justice and a love of humanity. Call me closed minded, I might be, but to me, that is what the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is all about. That is where I have my arrows pointed, against those who insist upon putting Jews, Americans, Israelis, the Hegemony, Capital, Power, first. I put the Palestinians first, and so does Paul. This is why I support him.
I am publishing here a paper Paul sent out, which clarifies issues many seem to have with him. I think it is a good point for discussion, and hope everyone reads it in the spirit it was written, and in the spirit in which it was placed here: With an OPEN MIND.
Paul, I don't understand what it means when you say Zundel is anti-Jewish, but does not hate Jews. Can you elaborate?
Thank you for your note which contains the first interesting question I've been asked since I put out "The Holocaust Wars". Of course, that means that there is no simple answer!
I'm not sure Ernst Zundel hates anyone much. I haven't met Ernst Zundel but I have read a lot about him and some of his writings and I have been in quite extensive email contact with his wife, Ingrid. Regarding Ernst, neither in his writings nor in the very many descriptions of him I have heard and read can I detect any sign of what might be called hatred for anyone or anything. I wish I could say the same for his opponents.
Ingrid, I know a little better, and I must say that what I do know, I rather like. Again, I can't detect any hatred, but in her case I would say that she may well dislike Jews insofar as she approaches any encounter with them with the expectation of disliking them. Of course for both of them (and indeed the entire revisionist community), part of any dislike they do feel for Jews or Jewishness, may, at least in part, be attributed to the appalling way they have been treated by Jews.
Like most people I have been surrounded all my life with very clear, distinct and almost strident moral statements about such things as "racism", "anti-Semitism" and "National Socialism" (there's no grey areas with these things - they are simply evil) so you can imagine, for someone as curious as me, how interesting it was to get to know Ingrid. Imagine! I was talking to a real live "Nazi"!
Regarding their racism, I suppose she and Ernst would say that different groups who have lived together for a long time will inevitably definitely develop some shared characteristics. For example, I remember one exchange when she claimed that, like so many Germans, she had no sense of humour whatsoever, (actually, she does and it's quite delightful) and, when I protested she asked me whether I had ever met a German stand-up comic. I think she also asked me if I had ever met a Jew who could write a poem to a tree!
Another little exchange I remember with some pleasure was when I was describing to her how, at times I found it quite thrilling to be the centre of attention. She thought that this was very Jewish indeed (I can't disagree), but that for her, being the centre of attention was what she most disliked. She wrote how she had on so many occasions appeared before huge and rapturous audiences and each time, as they applauded, her heart was stone cold. This essential difference between us was she felt, partly due to our respective Jewishness and German-ness. Did I fully agree? Probably not, but it was kind of interesting and there is some truth in it.
I think people like her (and me too) believe that these characteristics are the product of very many subtle and interacting factors. Ingrid would include some biological factors in that too. After all, people who live together, breed together. Although I am not all that interested in the subject, I really can't say that it outrages me or even that I particularly disagree with it.
Both Ernst and Ingrid and indeed very many revisionists and so-called anti-Semites know that I am a Jew who actively claims Jewish identity. Both Ernst and Ingrid are, I think, fond of me and respect my choice of identity even if they might wish I would choose another. So, they don't much like the Jewishness but still quite like the Jew.
The last point on Ernst and Ingrid has become something of a mantra that I have had to recite so many times in the last year or so: Neither Ingrid nor Ernst has ever used violence, nor have they ever called on anyone else to use violence. Neither has ever discriminated against anyone on ethnic or religious grounds, nor have they called on anyone else to do so. Finally, and for me, most importantly, neither has ever suppressed anyone's right to think, speak and write freely or called on anyone else to do so. Can the same be said for their opponents - particularly those anti-Zionist, and often Marxist Jews?
Of course none of the above means that all Jews are funny and self-obsessed or that all Germans are dour and diffident or anything else for that matter...... or does it?
My friend Shamir has proposed the existence of a Jewish ideology or spirit which is voluntarily possessed by all who claim to be Jewish and also, he would say, by many who don't. I think he is saying that Jewishness is not an ethnicity or national grouping like any other, but a community of shared feelings and beliefs - and this goes way beyond the obviously religious. Hitler called Jews "a race of the mind" though I would prefer to wonder if they are not a "race of the spirit". I think Shamir would further propose, and I might agree with them, that if such a spirit exists it is concerned with chosenness and specialness, particularly in the Jewish claim of a special history of suffering, and also, in many ways, in a suspicion and disdain for non-Jews. Of course, one can say that many, perhaps all, communities display such characteristics. This is certainly true, but do these other communities have these characteristics as absolutely central to their identity? Which other group positively worships its own specialness and victimhood in the way that Jews, both religious and secular, seem to do.
There are of course millions of self-identifying Jews who, in their daily lives and throughout their lives, display pretty well none of these characteristics. But that is not to say that they do not exist and also that, under certain circumstances, they will not become more prominent. Is it possible for Ernst Zundel, Ingrid Rimland and myself to like these folk whilst still not liking those characteristics? The answer is that we can and we do.
Perhaps the best example is from my own experience. I come from a family of North London Jews. My family, who are very dear to me, are, on the outside at least, pretty ordinary folk. Like so many of their time and place they are smallish traders, business people, family folk etc., etc. But my family is a bit unusual in that, for some reason, they seem to be particularly tolerant people. In all my childhood I don't think I ever heard a racist, sexist or homophobic word or any such term used in my house. This was not because my parents were leftists, or humanists or any other kind of - 'ists.' No-one ever said that racist or discriminatory language was wrong - they just didn't do it - it was just not the way we looked at the world. I also never heard the words "Goy" or "Yok" or "Shikse" (Actually I can remember once or twice hearing the latter from my mum, but only when she was really upset about something.)
But we were Jews and we lived as Jews, albeit fairly non-ideological ones, and, as such I was brought up with unspoken feelings of difference, specialness and with a pervasive unease about non-Jews. At school I, and I'm sure all my Jewish school-mates, felt somewhat different and perhaps a little superior to our non-Jewish classmates teachers etc. (By the way I have spent quite some time looking at pictures of the 16 year old Lev Bronstein, one day to become Leon Trotsky, and wondering what were his feelings in this regard). So I always ask myself: If I with my upbringing could harbour such notions, what must other Jews be feeling? Of course they will all deny it, these fine anti-Zionist Jews, and they certainly will believe absolutely their own denials, but I simply don't believe them.Were my family nice people? Of course they were - they were (and are) wonderful people. Do I love them? Of course I do. Would Ernst and Ingrid like them? I'm sure they would. So again, Ernst, Ingrid and myself are able to somewhat dislike Jewishness but very much like Jews.
One final point: I'm not absolutely sure about any of the above and I certainly would not insist that anyone agree with me. Whatever I say or write is always characterised by doubt and hesitation. Some have said that this is because I'm afraid of coming clean about my beliefs. But that's not true. It's simply that I am never so sure about anything, other than the value of keeping an open mind and tolerating other opinions. Others feel differently. They are sure that they are anti-Zionist and are therefore in solidarity with Palestinians. They are sure that Ernst Zundel is a dangerous neo-Nazi and must be silenced. They are sure that Palestinians need to live in a secular, democratic state. Well, I'm not so sure, and I think that it is our uncertainty, and our lack of any desire to impose our opinions on others which is at the heart of the differences between on the one hand, Gilad Atzmon, Israel Shamir and myself, and on the other, those who so attack us.
Paul Eisen is a director of Deir Yassin Rememberedpaul@eisen.demon.co.uk
UPDATE: "Dear Mary"
Thank you once again for your spirited defence of me, my opinions and my right to express them in the face of attacks by the likes of Sue Blackwell and Deborah Maccoby.(see: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2006/780/op3.htm and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/JustPeaceUK/message/17465, respectively)
You're right. The article by Sue Blackwell certainly was not, as Deborah claims, "excellent". For some reason Sue seems to define her left wing credentials in general, her solidarity with Palestinians in particular and her all-round right-on "goodness" by her willingness to accede to the wishes of Jewish activists and by bowing endlessly to Jewish power.
Mary, I realize that you are sometimes exasperated by myreluctance to answer such attacks. And the reasons you cite for my attitude are quite right. But there are other reasons too. Firstly, I don't stand up well to combat. I'm no Gilad Atzmon, who, like Samson amongst the Philistines, seems to be single-handedly knocking out the opposition. Unless you can do "a Gilad" well (and I really can't) I think arguing with these people is an utter waste of time. Tony Greenstein, Roland Rance, Charlie Pottins, Deborah Maccoby, Joel Finkel and many others like them will never change simply because they can never change.
And Mary, I know you don't always like the company I keep, so I approach these next remarks with some trepidation. You know the story of the scorpion and the frog crossing the river to Paradise. The scorpion wants to cross the river to Paradise and tries to persuade a frog to take him on its back. At first the frog hesitates. "You are a scorpion" says the frog, "If I carry you on my back, you will sting me and kill me.""Of course I won't sting you." answers the scorpion, "If I were to sting you, you would drown and cause me to drown as well, so what would be the good of that?" Finally the frog agrees. Halfway across the river, surprise, surprise, the scorpion stings the frog. As both frog and scorpion sink beneath the waves, the frog, in its death throes, looks up to the scorpion and to heaven and asks,"Why? Why?" The scorpion, also dying, replies, "You ask why? The answer is simple; I stung you because I'm a scorpion."
This old tale was recounted to me in a moment of exasperation by Ingrid when we were discussing what her opponents like to call "race" (Actually "identity" would probably be a better description.) For Ingrid, just as a scorpion will never change, so Tony Greenstein, Roland Rance, Charlie Pottins, Deborah Maccoby, Joel Finkel and many, many more will never change simply because they cannot change. Dare I say it? In some ways - complicated, human, subtle ways - a Jew will always act like a Jew. Or perhaps, more obviously and less controversially, a deeply ideological Jewish activist will always act like a deeply-ideological Jewish activist.
I note, that when Ingrid first suggested this, I was a bit put out. I asked, "Are you saying that a Jew is a kind of human, like a scorpion is a kind of insect?"She answered, "Come on. Did I say that Gentiles are like frogs? Fables are shortcuts to facets of human nature."
And later, when I asked, "Are you saying that I can never rid myself of my compulsive and destructive tendencies?" she answered, "No, I am not saying "Paul" is like that, and you know I am not saying that. I am not saying Shamir is like that. And I am not saying Israel Shahak or Uri Avnery or any number of responsible human beings that we know under the label "Jew" are like that. But I am saying and you yourself have alluded to that, that there is an abundance of what you call a corrosive tendency in "Jewishness" that hurts and destroys when there is no need for it."
Now, a lot of people are now going to start jumping up and down yelling "Racist!" and "Nazi!" But, as so often with this kind of thing, whilst neither I (nor Ingrid) would agree literally that a Jew will always act in a certain way, figuratively and allegorically, there's a lot in that tale. (One of the troubles with our opponents is that they have no imagination whatsoever and therefore, no sense of humour. In fact, I'm coming to think that the secret weapon in the Jewish Marxist arsenal is the ability, quite simply, to bore us all to death.)
Another reason that I don't join some of these internet battles is that for me, to do so is to bow to unjust power. Sue calls me a Holocaust denier. But Holocaust denier is just an abusive term for a Holocaust Revisionist - the slur being that Holocaust revisionists have somehow lost touch with all reality and deny that anything unpleasant at all happened to Jews at the hands of the National Socialists and that Auschwitz was just an early-forties holiday camp.
To me, a Holocaust revisionist (denier, if they like) is an entirely honourable thing to be. So why should I rush to deny that I am one? By no means do I agree with everything Ernst Zundel believes, but his flamboyant activism makes me both laugh out loud at his antics while standing in silent awe at his courage. Similarly with Professor Robert Faurisson, whose courage and quest for exactitude puts the likes of Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein to complete and utter shame. Revisionists seem to me to be, along with the Palestinian people, amongst the bravest people on the planet.But let's set the record straight about my own "Holocaust denial".
I wasn't at Auschwitz so I don't know for sure exactly what did or did not happen there. But I have had a fair look at the evidence and it looks to me that the revisionists are more right than they are wrong. Now, I'm not 100% sure, so technically I suppose I'm not a denier, but what the hell?One last reason why I don't respond to such attacks is that to do so would be to obscure their message and I don't want to do that. I want the world to hear these people loud and clear and for that, they need no help from me.
In a widely circulated Arab publication Sue told the entire Islamic world to bow down to the Holocaust. I judge this to be not the smartest move from someone who professes to be in tune with the suffering of Palestinians. No-one is asking Sue to change her views but, in my opinion, silence would have been a more thoughtful option.
And Deborah is equally misguided. She says I am attempting to spread Holocaust denial within the Palestinian solidarity movement. I can only tell her, "Deborah, you're too late. I don't need to do a thing. The game is up, the cat's out the bag, the Emperor is stark naked and, in the words of that great Jewish master of mimicry, Robert Zimmerman, (a.k.a. Bob Dylan) 'The whole wide world is watching.' "
Take care Mary,
Paul Eisen is a director of Deir Yassin Remembered