18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
, 17 Jun. 2012
This review is from: The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (Paperback)
This book has attracted mostly positive reviews and comments here - some of them get it right.
Finkelstein argues that before 1967, the holocaust did not feature as salient fact of American-Jewish life. The Six-Day war that same year changed this: the holocaust became a weapon in an ideological war to legitimise Israel's treatment of its conquered Palestinian population, and American complicity in this. From this, the `holocaust industry' emerged.
What is the holocaust industry? Finkelstein does not offer any systematic definition. He appears to be using this term as shorthand for a collection of ideological tropes and attitudes deployed by American-Jewish interest groups for political purposes. The lack of systematic definition of this term however does not vitiate this book as a serious work of criticism. The reason for this is because the bulk of the book is devoted to documenting the political misuse of the holocaust for cynical political purposes.
The showpiece of the book is the so-called `double shakedown' of Swiss banks and German firms in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the Swiss case, American-Jewish leaders of the World Jewish Congress and other organisations extorted substantial reparations on a false pretext that the country's banks looted the accounts of Jewish survivors and victims. In the German case, the shakedown assumed the form of blackmailing German businesses into making further reparations for their participation in Nazi crimes, despite Germany already having paid substantial compensation to holocaust survivors. What's more, having extracted these monies by threat (e.g. the threat of US sanctions), the real survivors of the holocaust barely received anything. Hence the double shakedown: of Swiss banks and German firms on the one hand, and of holocaust survivors on the other.
In two later editions of this book, Dr. Finkelstein devotes considerable space to expanding and defending his findings. I do not know of any critic that has actually taken issue with the substance of his findings, let alone actually rebut or falsify them.
The broader purposes of the holocaust industry are by now widely accepted: to sanctify the state of Israel and render it immune to criticism, and to taint any criticism of the conduct of the Israeli state with the stigma of anti-Semitism.
One can take issue with individual statements he makes. As Finkelstein's style is polemical, occasionally shrill, he is wont to make the odd sweeping statement. He compares Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to American Jewish treatment of African-Americans, polemical flourishes which are clearly meant to provoke tempers rather than reasoned debate. However, it would be cheap to poke holes in his argument by seizing and faulting individual statements while ignoring his principal contentions, where the substance of his argument is made, and for which he supports with meticulous referencing. As I have already said, the contentions he makes on the chapter of the double shakedown have never, to my knowledge, been addressed by his critics, let alone falsified.
One criticism I have of the book is that the notion of a holocaust `industry' is not well developed, as I have already intimated - is it a conspiracy, a bundle of attitudes, an industry in the literal sense of a conscious manufacturing of myth or what? But again, this weakness does not detract from the central contentions he makes. It is not necessary to prove that there is a centralised conspiracy, only that interest groups use the holocaust in an entirely cynical way in which he describes and documents. For this reason, to compare this book to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as one of Finkelstein's critics did, is utterly contemptible. It is a fact that the Nazi holocaust happened. The Jewish people of occupied Nazi Europe suffered immensely - `colossal suffering' as Finkelstein puts it. But it does not follow from this fact that everything Israel says and does, or that everything Jewish individuals say and do, is automatically vindicated and rendered immune to any criticism whatsoever.
Despite the calumnies laid against him, this is NOT a work of holocaust denial. Numerous members of his family perished in the holocaust. Both of his parents survived the camps. His central findings in relation to the double shakedown of Swiss banks were replicated independently by no less than Raul Hilberg, the doyen of holocaust historians. He does not take issue with serious holocaust scholars like Raul Hilberg and Henry Friedlander (whose works he references in this book). His outrage is against those who exploit the fact of the colossal suffering of the Jewish people during the Second World War for wholly unrelated contemporary political ends.
If the holocaust is to be properly studied, and it historical justice is to be done to its victims, then attempts to hijack it to promote contemporary political and ideological interests must be emphatically rejected. Any reasonable person can agree that to exploit the dead in order to harm the interests of the living deserves contempt. That, fundamentally, is what this book is about.
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