An attack on Holocaust memory at the Guardian and BBC

As noted by Melanie Phillips, author David Rieff wrote the following in an op-ed for The Guardian, promoting his new book In Praise of Forgetting:

Israel offers a florid illustration of how disastrously collective memory can deform a society.”

Additionally, our colleague Hadar Sela noted today that Rieff expanded on this message during a broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Start the Week’ show.

Here’s the relevant exchange between BBC host Tom Sutcliffe and Rieff:

TS: “OK: what about the classic instance of the duty of remembering the Holocaust? Err…would it be better if we forgot that?”

DR: “Well first of all, with respect, eventually we’re going to do. And second – I’m sorry again to bring in geologic time but it is surely at least worth taking to some extent into account. And the second thing is it seems to me…ah…that memory is different as long as there are people alive, or at least people alive who knew people who were alive. So that yes; as long as there are survivors of the camps – of which there are a few – as long as there are the children of those people – of which there are many – and grandchildren, fine. But in a hundred years? In two hundred years? Yeah, I think it might be time to let it go. And, even in terms of the memory of the Holocaust, it seems to me the memory of the Holocaust as it is deployed in Israel has been nothing but negative.” [emphasis added]

(Here’s an audio of the entire exchange.  The specific question about the Holocaust can be heard at 33:50)

Rieff, the son of American writer Susan Sontag, not only views Israel as a deeply “deformed” society, but evidently sees Holocaust memory not as an instructive lens by which to understand continuing threats to the Jewish state and Jews worldwide, but as something which has been “deployed” by Israel for their own nefarious purposes.

Rieff’s tropes dovetail with those of anti-Israel and antisemitic campaigners who accuse Jews of ‘talking about the Holocaust too much’, or of exploiting Holocaust memory for either financial, political or moral gain.  Such commentators, for instance, sometimes complain that Israel uses the Nazis’ murder of one out of every three Jews on the planet to blackmail the West or to justify atrocities against the Palestinians. 

In fact, regarding this latter accusation, in an extract from his book published at Foreign Policy Magazine, Rieff – citing Tony Judt – clearly seems to concur with those who express concern over the ‘toll’ Holocaust memory exacts on Palestinians:

since 1945 the Shoah has regularly been employed to serve political agendas, the most obvious, as Judt emphasized, being to justify more or less any policy of the State of Israel with regard to its neighbors or to its Arab minority.

However, whilst Arab efforts to annihilate Israel at various times in the state’s history – the War of Independence and the Six Day War, for instance – certainly presented historical parallels with the Shoah, the suggestion that such analogies are “employed” “regularly” (and, of course, insincerely) by Israeli leaders “to justify any [Israeli] policy” is absurd.

Professor Manfred Gerstenfeld addresses those who “belittle the maintaining of collective Holocaust memory” in his book, Abuse of Holocaust Memory:

Another distortion mode that attempts to obliterate Holocaust memory is “Holocaust silencing.” This consists of stating that Jews talk about the Holocaust too often. One more form of trying to obliterate Holocaust memory is claiming that Jews abuse the Holocaust for various purposes…

However, an even more instructive way to frame Rieff’s attack on Israeli ‘use’ of the Holocaust is presented in the opening paragraph of an op-ed by Dave Rich of the CST concerning antisemitism in the Labour Party:

The basic idea behind most modern anti-Semitism is that Jews must be up to something. Whatever Jews say and do can’t be taken at face value: they must have some ulterior motive or hidden agenda that needs to be uncovered.  So when Jewish donors give money to political parties, it can’t simply mean that they support that party’s policies, as any non-Jewish donor would; they must be trying to buy support for Israel. Or when Israel sends rescue teams to countries that have suffered from natural disasters, it can’t simply be to offer humanitarian aid; it must be to steal human organs from the victims of those disasters.

Or, we would add, when Israeli Jews participate in Holocaust remembrance ceremonies or cite the Holocaust in the context of the malevolent designs of some its enemies, they are not merely – according to this view – sincerely honoring victims of the Nazi genocide or expressing a legitimate fear of antisemitic extremism in the region.  Rather, they are engaged in a cynical effort to support the Zionist project.

Jews, it seems, must be up to something.

35 replies »

  1. The mother of Rieff Susan Sontag:
    If America is the culmination of Western white civilization, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilization. This is a painful truth; few of us want to go that far. … The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.
    The worst kind of racism, the worst kind of distorting history by one of the intellectual giants of the left. Try to replace the word “white” with “black”. Taking into account that most Jews living outside Israel are white, the Jews’ disproportional contribution to the Judeo-Christian culture reading Mommy’s rant explains the love affair between the postmodern leftist intelligentsia and the hate of the Jews.
    That Rieff wants us to forget history instead of learning from it is natural, he probably is wishing to eradicate mommy from his own memory but to remain loyal to her despicable racism.

    • “its ideologies and inventions,” such as individual freedom & autonomy and the typewriter. Two things that “mommy dearest” took full advantage of, or, should we say “deployed”?

      When can we forget about David Rieff?

      • Shall we start with one Historical Fact , Mr Rieff , was luclky that his famiy [mother [ could live in the USA , and has not been murrdered in the Holocaust. Does this fact give him a better insight in the matter , No it does not. Yes in Israel there are many Survivors , who did not come to a ready made built country like the survivors who went to the USA, We came here and had a country to build, We grew up here with the knowledge that we will absorb other Jewish refugees , which we Israelies did most of out lives, While deffending ourselves from terror & wars, Mr rieff lived nicely in the USA , and when the Usa has been attacked , American army could fight it`s war against it`s attackers FAR away From Mr Rieff house . ,,,,Yes Mr Rief we are remebering the lessons of the Holocaust , we are learning that we need a Country and our own army to defend ourselves,,, You live where Others deffend you , so you can `forget those lessons` because some American soldier Not you will deffend you ,,,

    • As I said, Sontag is a sickening creature, and not an intellectual ‘giant’ but an intellectual (and of course, moral) midget.
      Putting the pathological and ignorant bigot Marx in the same sentence as Mozart is ample demonstration of her adolescent vacuity on all fronts.

  2. Eerie to have these conversations on the BBC when Iran hosts Holocaust denial conferences and Arabs think it was all a joke. Abbas wrote “only” a million were murdered in Auschwitz and other camps. The ignorance in parts of the UK media is staggering and frightening.
    What does it say in Hamas’s charter ? What does Hezbollah want to do ? Where does Iran aim its missiles ?

    • Marg Bar Iran.
      DEATH to Iran.
      Hang all their ayatollahs and revolutionary gestapo.
      Tehran is smaller than Israel and one bomb….

      Long Live Persia!

  3. Not to mention the fact that Israel has the largest number in the world of Jewish holocaust survivors and refugees from Nazi Germany, including survivors of the camps and those who lost their entire families to the Holocaust murder machine, and descendants and relatives of the victims– including those who knew them face to face…..

  4. @Adam –

    This article’s headline is inaccurate. No “attack on Holocaust memory” is made “AT THE GUARDIAN” – because no mention whatsoever is made of the Holocaust in David Rieff’s Guardian piece.

      • @jeff21st –

        “Miranda is worried about accuracy. LOL!”

        …Whereas you, Adam, John Kinory, Dani ben Lev and Edward apparently aren’t worried in the least – which really is a bit odd on a site that claims to promote “fair and ACCURATE coverage”. Ah, well …

    • MiranDUH, reiff speaks about the Holocaust in his radio interview.

      (Here’s an audio of the entire exchange. The specific question about the Holocaust can be heard at 33:50)

      reiff forgets that WW1 is not forgotten – as the American Civil War is not forgotten – and the Holocaust will be remembered as long as WW2 is remembered.

      reiff is a pseudo intellectual boor – without any of the fan club that his lesbian bride of frankenstein mother had.