Deborah Lipstadt: Has the Vatican no Common Sense?





[Ms. Lipstadt is Dorot professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies and director of the Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University.]

The Vatican has done far more than set back Vatican/Jewish relations. It has made itself look like it is living in the darkest of ages.

Pope Benedict XVI has reinstated as a bishop a man who both denies the Holocaust and suggests that 9/11 was an American plot. He has done so, it is reported, in order to strengthen relations with a renegade segment of the Catholic Church. This is one of those inexplicable moves that has left many people asking "Have they no decency?" A more basic and, possibly even more appropriate question would be. "Have they no common sense?"

A number of commentators have observed that this will "complicate" Vatican-Jewish relations and will make it more difficult for Israel and the Vatican to come to an agreement about a papal visit in the near future. All this may be true, but that is an exceptionally narrow way of looking at the implications of this move. Simply put, it makes the Vatican look as if it is once again living in the most unenlightened of ages.

Holocaust denial is an explicit form of antisemitism. It has no purpose but to inculcate contempt for Jews. According to deniers Jews use the Holocaust to win the world's sympathy and, in the course of so doing, win reparations from Germany and political support for Israel. Such a charge, based as it is the imagery of money and political manipulation, hearkens back to traditional antisemitic stereotypes. Why a pope would want to give support to such a movement is baffling. More baffling, however, is why a pope would want to associate the Vatican with someone who preaches lies and manipulations of history.

In 2000 I spent ten weeks in a British court because Holocaust denier David Irving charged that I had libeled him by calling him a denier and an antisemite. My legal team traced Irving's comments and claims about the Holocaust backed to their sources. We followed the footnotes. In every case we found some form of invention, manipulation, distortion, and deletion. The documents that he claimed "proved" that the Holocaust did not happen did no such thing. His wrongs were so egregious that the judge, in a sweeping condemnation of Irving, used language not often heard in a British legal decision. Irving, the judge wrote, "perverts," and "distorts." His statements about the Holocaust were "misleading," "unjustified," "a travesty," and "unreal."

But there was more to it than just that. This was not happenstance or a series of improbable mistakes. Irving's "falsification of the historical record was deliberate and ... motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own ideological beliefs even if that involved distortion and manipulation of historical evidence."

Holocaust deniers rely on a merry-go-round of "I will cite you and you will cite me." Irving's claims about the Holocaust are either drawn whole cloth from other denier or parroted by other deniers, such as Bishop Williamson. Deniers have no independent proof on which to rely because there is none. The Vatican has associated itself with a body of lies.

But the reinstated bishop does not just deny the Holocaust. He also claims 9/11 was staged by America as a pretext to invade Afghanistan. The linkage between the two sets of denial is, of course, not happenstance. Basic to 9/11 denial is the charge that four thousand Jewish workers in the World Trade Center were warned to stay home that day. In fact, about 500 Jews were among the victims. That is over 15% of the total, a number consistent with the Jewish population of the New York metropolitan area. Moreover, how could so many people be told anything and thousands more not hear about it?

In short, both these claims are not just malicious forms of antisemitism but they are completely illogical. They would be laughable were it not for the tragedies they address.

In embracing Bishop Williamson the Vatican has done far more than set back Vatican/Jewish relations. It has made itself look like it is living in the darkest of ages. One awaits a pronouncement that it is heresy to believe that the earth revolves around the sun or didn't the Vatican already once do that?



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