Editor’s Notes: Our own worst enemies

By David Horovitz January 14, 2005

We, the Jewish nation, are insistently drowning ourselves in a sea of internal hatred, tearing ourselves apart in an orgy of self-flagellation

I read all the way home from the World Jewish Congress’s ‘Plenary Assembly’ in Belgium earlier this week – the whole 11 hours from Brussels to Athens to Tel Aviv.

For part of the journey, I read material penned by the protagonists of the bitter dispute over the finances of the WJC – a thoroughly dispiriting affair whose essential details have already been set out at considerable length in this newspaper and others but whose latest installments include the opening of an informal inquiry by the New York State Attorney-General Eliot Spitzer, the departure of chief internal critic Isi Leibler from his position as senior vice president claiming vindication in his calls for a full and independent audit of WJC finances, and the issuing of a 1,050-page response to Leibler’s charges of impropriety by the WJC’s ‘transition director’ and incoming Secretary-General Stephen Herbits.

I also read The Jerusalem Post and some back issues of various Hebrew dailies I’d brought with me. And I read the British press – the Guardian and the Independent and the Sunday Times.

And the more I read, the more I thought about an assertion that I reported in this column a week ago, the claim by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s spokesman Ra’anan Gissin that we Jews have developed ‘an alarm system’ since the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel, an automatic, built-in warning device that activates when we are about to go into self-destruct mode.

It seems to me that, as with our previous fleeting efforts at Jewish sovereignty, we are again heading full- tilt toward self-destruction. And since I’m far from convinced of the veracity of Gissin’s reassuring theory, perhaps we need to manually sound the alarm.

THE JEWISH nation, as hardly needs pointing out after more than four years of terrorist bombings, rocket fire and widespread international hypocrisy and hatred, is not short of enemies.

And if our own improved ability to thwart the bombers, via the security fence, arrests and targeted strikes, has proved increasingly effective in saving innocent lives, there has been no parallel respite from anti-Semitism.

Indeed, the attacks at synagogues, the incessant cemetery daubings, the relentless stream of articles and vicious cartoons delegitimizing the Jewish right to statehood, et al, now seem to be producing a climate so hostile and skewed as to allow even empathy for fascism and its objectives to be displayed and justified – at least to judge from those British newspapers of last weekend.

Maybe we should shrug off the ongoing little rumpus in Rome surrounding Lazio soccer team captain Paolo Di Canio’s recent Fascist salute to his loyal fans during his team’s 3-1 victory over local rivals Roma. After all, the player remarked of the gesture, ‘it was only to celebrate.’ It was ‘nothing to do with political behavior of any kind,’ insisted Di Canio, who has a tattooed homage to Benito Mussolini on his arm and in his autobiography called the fascist dictator ‘a very principled, ethical individual.’

And maybe it’s no big deal that Il Duce’s daughter, far-right politician Alessandro, swooned delightedly over ‘How nice that Roman salute was. It delighted me so much. I shall write him a thank-you note.’

But what to make of the Guardian’s January 10 feature on Oskar Groning, now in his mid-80s, a former SS man who, at Auschwitz, counted the arriving Jews’ money and separated it into the various currencies?

The newspaper introduced his story as that of ‘The death camp guard who turned on the Holocaust deniers.’ But Groning’s ready, largely dispassionate eyewitness recounting of the facts of the Auschwitz killing machine – ‘I saw the gas chambers. I saw the crematorium. I saw the open fires. I was on the ramp when the selections took place. I would like you to believe that these atrocities happened, because I was there’ – actually struck me as more chilling than much of the despicable, desperate nonsense peddled by the deniers.
For Groning, in the interview, is so reconciled to the role he played in the Nazi killing machine, and evidently so comfortable describing it, as to have achieved the previously unthinkable: He has managed the horrific feat of normalizing the genocide.

So at peace with himself is Groning, indeed, that he has never changed his name nor tried to hide. (Of the 6,500 SS members who worked at Auschwitz and survived the war, the article reveals, just 750 were ever put on trial, and most of them were Poles.)

‘Throughout his life,’ writes his interviewer Laurence Rees, ‘Groning believes he did what he thought was right; it’s just that what was ‘right’ then, he says, turns out not to be ‘right’ today.’

Says Groning himself, apparently quite matter-of- factly, ‘The victor’s always right, and we knew that the things that happened there [at Auschwitz] did not always comply with human rights.’

So that, in 2005, is how an ex-SS guard, gauging public sentiment, can mildly describe the murders of 1.1 million to 1.5 million people, 90 percent of them Jews, at the most notorious killing field in human history, a failure to meet human rights standards that is only really deemed criminal because the Germans happened to lose the war.

IN THIS kind of climate, with our dwindling ranks of defenders and supporters, would it be too much to ask that we ourselves foster a sense of internal unity, conquer what are such relatively marginal divides to at least achieve a common front against new-old enemies? Apparently so.

For we, the Jewish nation, are insistently drowning ourselves in a sea of internal hatred, tearing ourselves apart in an orgy of self-flagellation, Gissin’s ‘alarm system’ claim notwithstanding.

Israel seems bent on ripping out its own soul over Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan, many of its politicians compromised by exaggerated personal ambition and short-term calculation, its people everything from approving to hesitant, and on through bitter and confused, all the way to alienated and desperate.

A substantial proportion of our most potent critics overseas – academics and artists and student leaders and politicians – are Jews, too, often ill-informed, lashing out on the basis of misinformation and misplaced guilt.
And, as sadly demonstrated at the Brussels parley of the WJC, internal conflict is infecting even organizations whose very raison d’etre is to protect the Jews and champion their causes.

The assembly laudably hosted Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the would-be Jewish (born) pope who has probably lost that opportunity now as he nears the cut-off age at 80, and who spoke, wearily and hoarsely, of the rising danger of anti-Semitism worldwide, and the need to counter it, country by country, through dialogue and still more dialogue.

But the WJC’s own focus on countering anti-Semitism was at least partially overshadowed by that sapping internal dispute over its finances – now public fodder, and being chewed with particular relish on the pages of the press in Switzerland, where the WJC helped achieve such success in obtaining restitution from the reluctant banks on behalf of Holocaust-era account holders and their heirs.

Witnessing the debilitating in-fighting to which the ‘parliament of the Diaspora’ had been reduced on Monday was enough to bring one to despair: an organization dedicated to exposing anti-Jewish immoralities (Kurt Waldheim, Swiss banks, et al), and to fostering reconciliation via inter- faith dialogue, itself preoccupied with internal strife.

IN A world where an international court (of ‘justice’ in The Hague) would deny us the elementary right to defend ourselves from terrorist murderers (by means of a security barrier), where the Jewish sovereign entity is singled out by critics as the sole state on the planet of questionable legitimacy, overtly targeted for eventual destruction by a fellow member (Iran) of the UN’s family of nations, and where the mass killings of our people just 60 years ago can now be reduced to a human rights infraction whose egregiousness is a matter of perspective, do we really have to be our own worst enemies?

Can we not hold ourselves to the standards of morality and decency we rightly expect of others? And, when it comes to debating our people’s best way forward, can we not manage to take positions of principle while also remaining tolerant of those, similarly motivated by their sense of where our best interest lies, with whom we are nonetheless at odds?

We’re at the brink, and that alarm system isn’t activating.

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