To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Who's The 'Useful Idiot?' Bloomberg's Jeffrey Goldberg Touts Tom Perkins' Deranged Holocaust Analogy As a 'Teachable Moment.'


It’s interesting to watch Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg differentiate himself from the journalistic herd, even as he stands up for the Tribe, or at least the more cynical wing of the Tribe. That’s the wing which finds analogies to the Holocaust and Nazis a very useful tool in defending the primacy of its unique status as the world’s Ultimate Victims—and in bolstering calls from Israel and the Israel lobby for military strikes on Iran so that nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again, at least as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees it.  Netanyahu can’t seem to spike his anti Iran rhetoric with enough references to the Nazi genocide.

Here’s Goldberg on the Tom Perkins controversy, in which the uber-wealthy venture capitalist prompted an almost unified chorus of journalistic ridicule for a letter he published in the Wall Street Journal drawing parallels between Nazi Germany’s war on its "one percent"--- “namely its Jews”---to current attacks in America on the wealthy “one percent.” The demonization of the rich represents “a very dangerous drift in our American thinking,” Perkins writes. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”   
Writes Goldberg:
I generally find the grievances of clueless plutocrats absurd, but I also find myself encouraged by this latest misappropriation of Holocaust imagery. This is in part because I’ve decided to no longer be offended by violations of Godwin’s Law, which holds that any online debate will eventually feature inapt comparisons to Hitler or the Nazis. (Godwin’s Law is applied offline as well these days.)
In the usual understanding of Godwin’s Law, the first person who invokes Hitler or Auschwitz or the Final Solution in a debate that has nothing to do with World War II, or genocide, automatically loses the argument. This is because there was only one Hitler and one Auschwitz and one Final Solution. But this is exactly why I’ve grown to appreciate these analogies: Each time a yutz like Perkins invokes the Holocaust to make a point about income inequality or Obamacare or the policies of the Federal Reserve, the aforementioned yutz is reaffirming the exceptional horror of the Holocaust.
At a moment in history when the last survivors of the Holocaust are dying of old age (in another five or ten years, we will no longer be blessed by the presence of living eyewitnesses), and at a time when the perverse religion of Holocaust denial has been exhibiting its staying power, I appreciate the fact that so many people compare the things they find most horrible in their own lives to the Holocaust.
Each time this happens (and it seems to happen in public life at least once or twice a month), a new educational opportunity presents itself. How many people, just in the past few days, have looked up Kristallnacht and were appropriately appalled both by what happened in Germany and Austria in 1938 and by Perkins’s narcissistic myopia?
In other words, what at first blush seems like an attempt to trivialize the Holocaust could be understood instead as an acknowledgement of the Holocaust’s singular horror. So thank you, Mr. Perkins, for being such a useful idiot.

I’ll be writing more fully --and more carefully---about Goldberg’s suggestions for raising Holocaust awareness and the warping effect the an overawareness of the Holocaust, verging on an obsession with it, has had on our relationship with Israel and the discourse that shapes it. I’ll do so full knowing that I am not Jewish, which means to some that I lack tribal license, and that this subject is the ultimate journalistic landmine, requiring sensitivity, compassion and precision, all of which are helped by a good night’s sleep. (I just saw the Goldberg column this morning.) 

In the meantime I’d suggest Goldberg take a look at The Holocaust in American Life, published in 1999 by University of Chicago history professor Peter Novick who is in fact Jewish. The Amazon.com reviewer, Michael Joseph Gross, writes:

Among Novick's most controversial ideas is his assertion that American Jews spoke softly of the Holocaust at first because they didn't want to be seen as victims; later, Jews decided that victim status would work in their best political interest. Or, as Novick puts it, "Jews were intent on permanent possession of the gold medal in the Victimization Olympics." The Holocaust in American Life is as carefully researched and argued as it is polemical and probing. Novick does not suffer Holocaust deniers lightly, and he is empathic toward victims and survivors, but he has no tolerance for false sentiment. 

This is a bit more harshly worded than I feel comfortable with. But unless you're an ideologue of the most ardent, mind-washed kind, it’s hard to deny that the Holocaust has been exploited for political and cultural purposes as Novick argues, and just as undeniable that the debate over what we should do about Iran is saturated with Holocaust rhetoric and skewed comparisons between the mullahs and the Nazis that are exploitative, manipulative and inflammatory. 

In such a climate, where these kind of historical analogies and parallels discourage needed clarity, I have to wonder why Goldberg would cheer their gratuitous, "absurd" formulation, even if he's doing so in a sort of ironic, left-handed way. Then again, this is a columnist who saw dark shadows connecting Bashar al-Assad's use of poison gas in Syria to Nazi plans for the Final Solution drawn up at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin in 1942--- a parallel that seemed to reflect overwrought communal projection far more than any historical, political or military validity.        

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