Paul Eisen

Paul Eisen

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

In Clear Sight of Yad Vashem - January 2006

In Clear Sight of Yad Vashem – January 2006

Over the years, our attention has been drawn to the close proximity of the village of Deir Yassin to the Jewish Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem. Jews have been encouraged to visit Deir Yassin, the symbolic starting point of nearly six decades of Palestinian dispossession, and from there to look across to Yad Vashem. Palestinians (if only they could!) have also been asked to visit Yad Vashem - the symbol of Jewish suffering - and to look across the valley toward the birth site of their own tragedy.

Everybody was happy. Jews of conscience were of course pleased to see Jewish suffering again at the centre of the discourse but also happy to extend their narrative of suffering to include Palestinians. Palestinians were perhaps less pleased at having - yet again - to acknowledge Jewish suffering in order to help achieve their own liberation, but they recognized the importance of the publicity that the link between Deir Yassin and Yad Vashem brought to their cause.

Of course, one had to be careful. As is so often the case with these things, there was always a ‘but’. After all, who in their right mind would compare the massacre of a hundred Palestinians at Deir Yassin with the industrial-scale slaughter of six million Jews? And who would dare draw a comparison between the 1948 expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians to the near-successful attempt at physically exterminating every last Jewish man, women and child in Europe?

Both atrocities have seen their fair share of deniers over the years. Many Zionists, either with conscious intent or out of ignorance, have denied Deir Yassin. “There was no massacre at Deir Yassin,” they say; “It was simply a battle - a battle that the Palestinians lost. These things happen in war and anyway, they did the same to us.” Also, “No, the Palestinians were not expelled; they ran away, and anyway, they didn’t love the land as we love the land – just look how neglected it was until we came along to make the desert bloom.”

The Holocaust too has come under assault. Over the last fifty years, revisionist scholars have amassed a formidable body of substantial evidence, which runs in direct opposition to the traditional Holocaust narrative. “Where is the evidence,” they say, “for this alleged gargantuan mass-murder? Where are the documents? Where are the traces and remains? Where are the weapons of murder?” These revisionists all acknowledge of course, that there was a terrible assault on Jews on the part of the National Socialist regime, but disagree as to the scale, motive, and methods cited in the typical narrative, a narrative that most of us choose or are obliged to accept. “What befell the Jews”, they say, “was a brutal ethnic cleansing accompanied by dispossession, pillage and massacre.”

- A brutal ethnic cleansing accompanied by dispossession, pillage and massacre - terms surely familiar to any Palestinian.

But no matter how similar the Jewish and Palestinian histories of suffering may seem, the similarities conceal important differences:

First, by all accounts, and according to any version of the events, what was done to the Jews of Europe took place a long distance from Yad Vashem, while what was done to the Palestinian people took place right there at the village of Deir Yassin and right there throughout the whole of Palestine.

Second, the perpetrators of the atrocity against Jews had nothing to do with Palestine or Palestinians, while perpetrators of the Palestinian tragedy were and are Jews.

Third, the perpetrators of the atrocity against Jews have been roundly condemned over the years and punished for their crimes, and have mostly shown contrition, while the perpetrators of the massacre at Deir Yassin have been honoured for their crimes, continue to take pride in them, and live on in their ideology and in their deeds.

Fourth, what befell the Jews had a beginning, a middle and an end, while the assault on the Palestinians goes on with no end in sight.

And one final difference: If the living evidence for the veracity of the Holocaust narrative is a safe, secure and empowered Jewish people, at home wherever they may be, the living evidence for the veracity of Deir Yassin and the Nakba is a Palestinian people dispossessed and exiled and longing to go home.

February 2006

Paul Eisen is a director of Deir Yassin Remembered

Dear Paul......, Dear David

Dear Paul…, Dear David…,
February 2006

I’ve never met David Bloom but he sounds like a nice guy. Recently, he sent me this question:

Dear Paul: I don't understand what it means when you say Zundel is anti-Jewish, but does not hate Jews. Can you elaborate?


Dear David

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’s 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. Also, close friends of mine have met him and reported back to me.  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’ve been treated by Jews.

Like most people I’ve 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 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 as stone.  This essential difference between us was she felt, partly due to our respective Jewishness and German-ness. Did I fully agree? Not entirely, 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 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’ve 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’m never so sure about anything, other than the value of keeping an open mind and tolerating other opinions.  Others feel differently. They’re sure that they are anti-Zionist and are therefore in solidarity with Palestinians. They’re sure that Ernst Zundel is a dangerous neo-Nazi and must be silenced. They’re sure that Palestinians need to live in a secular, democratic state. Well, I'm not so sure, and I think that it’s 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.

Good luck


February 2006
Paul Eisen is a director of Deir Yassin Remembered