. . . and its moral pitfalls.
Jan 3, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 16 • By SAM SCHULMAN
Last month, the Canadian journalist Richard Klagsbrun drew attention to a newly submitted Master’s thesis at the University of Toronto’s ed school: “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education.” Proud author Jennifer Peto told a reporter for the Canadian Jewish News that Canada’s Jews push the Holocaust narrative because only “a victimized Jewish identity can produce certain effects that are beneficial to the organized Jewish community and the Israeli nation-state.”
The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust opens, Oct. 14, 2010.
Photo Credit: AP Photo / Damian Dovarganes
Of course there is nothing novel about Peto’s view that Jews exploit the Holocaust, as can be seen in a casual rifle through past issues of the London Review of Books or the writings of left-wing scholars like Norman Finkelstein. The beauty of Peto’s formulation is that it can be used without alteration both by Holocaust-affirmers (like Peto) and Holocaust-deniers: The Jewish Lobby has been deploying Holocaust history (whether faked or real matters not) only to obscure the Gestapo-style tactics used to oppress Palestinians. But the real genius of Peto’s attack on Canadian Holocaust-educators is that it can produce the same effects as Holocaust-denial. The many admirers of the immediate object of her study—a long-established Holocaust-education tour of concentration camp sites in Europe—were hurt, shocked, and enraged.
Peto and her comrades in the anti-Zionist Israel-Apartheid movement don’t really care whether Holocaust education is disinterested or not. Their aims are bolder: the bloody dissolution of the state of Israel, among all the countries of the world. Distracted by Peto’s cruelty, the outraged defenders of the March of Remembrance and Hope pleaded (accurately) that their tour teaches “universal lessons of tolerance and empathy.” But they neglected to refute the underlying claim of the anti-Zionist movement: that Israel as a state deserves to be annihilated and its citizens dispersed; that Jewish citizens of Western democracies are bad Jews and disloyal citizens (of America, or Canada, or Sweden) if they believe Israel ought to exist; and that they are good Jews and good citizens only as long as they regard Israel as malign and unconnected to themselves (I cannot claim credit for the elegant terms “good Jew” and “bad Jew”—I borrow them from Professor John Mearsheimer).
The sad truth is that a real “hegemon” needs followers—and, measured by its effects, Holocaust education has none. Jennifer Peto is dead wrong: Far from being the creation of sinister Jews who wanted to be regarded as victims rather than “white,” Holocaust education was to be a gift from the Jewish community to the world at large. European Jewry was destroyed, but its legacy would be a redemptive technique that was intended to prevent future genocides of others. Kofi Annan described the ideal of Holocaust education perfectly last year in an op-ed: “a vital mechanism for teaching students to value democracy and human rights, and encouraging them to oppose racism and promote tolerance in their own societies.” The former U.N. secretary-general confesses that he thought Holocaust education should have helped “to prevent future acts of genocide,” but it has not: The op-ed murmurs the words Cambodia, the Congo, Bosnia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. Annan proposes to look into “better teacher training.”
The idea of Holocaust education really took off in 1993 with the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. The notion is simple, and there is something ineffably ’90s about the enterprise. Vice President Al Gore—an iconic ’90s figure—explained how it was to work in a speech on the first anniversary of the museum’s opening: “In order to prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again, those who care must tell the story.” And that would be it. Give me a child, the Holocaust education movement said to the world, and after passing through my exhibits and taking one of my courses, I will give you back a woman like Samantha Power or a man like Warren Christopher or even Kofi Annan—a warrior against future genocides, or at least a person immunized forever against racism and the desire to murder thousands of civilians with a stroke of the pen.