Blogs > HNN > "Holocaust Museum Watch" and the Exploitation of Anti-Semitism

Jan 9, 2006 3:01 pm

"Holocaust Museum Watch" and the Exploitation of Anti-Semitism

Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism is something I've written about frequently enough to be immune to the charge that I'm soft on it or indifferent to it. But real as Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism is, there is (as I've also suggested) such a thing as Jewish exploitation of anti-Semitism. The agenda of Holocaust Museum Watch (HM Watch) would seem to fit that description.

Here is HM Watch's statement of purpose, drawn verbatim from their website:

The mission of the Holocaust Museum Watch is to ensure that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum fulfills its charter obligation of honoring the memory of the Holocaust’s victims.

Holocaust Museum Watch would like the Museum to take a leadership role in exposing Arab antisemitism and its threat to world Jewry. Its silence on current anti-Semitism in the Arab world is astonishing.

A museum which was built to honor the memory of those who died as victims of antisemitism and to spread awareness of the tragedy caused by the political use of this hatred needs to take a leadership role in exposing Arab antisemitism. Arab antisemitism has not only poisoned the minds of millions of Arabs against Jews, as did Nazi propaganda, and has labeled the Holocaust a fake, it is widely credited with being the engine behind the re-emergence of European anti-Semitism in exactly the areas where Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.

The antisemitism of the Arab world is rampant and reminiscent of Hitler’s antisemitism. Unlike the antisemitism on the rise in Europe, which is overwhelmingly denounced by government officials, Arab antisemitism is fueled by Arab governments.As the pre-eminent American institution researching the horrors of the political use of antisemitism, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum should be in the forefront of the fight to disclose the re-emergence of this hatred as a political tool. The absence of programs about Arab antisemitism over the last decade is a failure of the museum and an obscene dereliction of its duty.

Our mission is to encourage the museum to fashion important programs focused on Arab antisemitism – its exposition of Jew hatred in schools, media and mosques, using many images directly from Nazi propaganda
It's all as overheated ("obscene dereliction") as it is confused.

1. HM Watch describes the Holocaust Museum as having a principally historical function—to honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. But contemporary victims of Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism aren't victims of the Holocaust. So the insistence that the Museum deal with contemporary Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism doesn't"ensure" that the Museum"lives up to" its charter mission as described by HM Watch. It changes the mission.

I should add that the Museum itself confuses the issue in its description of its mission. The Museum's statement of purpose describes the Museum's primary function as"historical," and pertaining to the Holocaust as a specific event; it then turns on a dime in an afterthought to describe its mission as contemporary ("to enhance understanding of the Holocaust and related issues, including those of contemporary significance"). But no matter how you read the statement, the Museum's charter function is fundamentally historical, not contemporary. In any case, a look at the Museum's website suggests that it does deal with Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism, contrary to HM Watch's claims.

2. It's true that Arab and Muslim anti-Semites have engaged in Holocaust denial. But Holocaust denial is not unique to the Arab and Muslim world; it's essentially parasitic on European Holocaust denial. (Indeed, as Bernard Lewis argues in his authoritative book Semites and Anti-Semites, Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism is itself parasitic on European anti-Semitism.) It would be entirely proper for the Museum to deal with Holocaust denial and include the Arab/Muslim variety as one among others. It's unclear, however, what historical basis there is for dealing specifically with Arab/Muslim Holocaust denial as a category of its own.

3. It's also true that contemporary Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism is"reminiscent" of Nazi anti-Semitism. But then, all anti-Semitism is reminiscent of all other anti-Semitism. That's because all anti-Semitism resembles all other anti-Semitism. And that, in turn, follows from the tautology that all anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism. But this is a series of trivial truths, not a basis for HM Watch's criticisms of the Museum.

4. In the last two paragraphs excerpted above, HM Watch tells us that HM Watch is interested in and concerned by Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism, hence the Holocaust Museum ought to focus on it. But again, however legitimate the interest and concern, this is a demand that the Museum ought to change its charter mission, not a demand that it live up to it. To this, the Museum could (and should--but doesn't) argue that there is a division of labor involved here; one organization is needed to deal with the specifically historical issues concerning the Holocaust, and another organization can deal with the contemporary ones concerning anti-Semitism. And it's not as though there is a dearth of the latter (e.g., MEMRI, the ADL, etc.). In any case, as I've said, the Museum does discuss Muslim anti-Semitism. The best that HM Watch can say is that doesn't spend enough space on it.

5. Elsewhere on their website, HM Watch criticizes the Museum for going beyond its charter to deal with racism in Africa:
The museum has run three major programs in the last two years about African racism (in Rwanda, Sudan and Darfur), but it has run no programs or research on the call for genocide against the Jews or on the widespread Holocaust denial in Arab countries.
This is a fair criticism, but the relevant point in it is that the Museum went beyond its charter in dealing with African subjects irrelevant to the Nazi Holocaust. That error of judgment won't be remedied by urging the Museum once again to go beyond its charter to deal with contemporary Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism. Two wrongs don't make a right. Unfortunately, a look at the Museum's website suggests that the Museum itself has yet to learn this lesson. The reference to" contemporary relevance" in the last line of the Museum's charter is essentially an ideological blank check.

6. The one and only legitimate point that HM Watch makes concerns the Arabs/Muslim role in contributing to Nazi Germany. But even here, HM Watch insists on exaggerations and omissions that undermine its credibility. It is true that Muslims fought on the side of the Axis and that the Mufti of Jerusalem was a Nazi collaborator. But the sum total of the Arab/Muslim contribution to the Holocaust was pretty slim as compared with the effort required to initiate and sustain the Holocaust as a whole. By all means let the Muslim role be mentioned--but by the same token let it be described accurately as an issue of minimal overall importance. HM Watch does the former but not the latter. (This article by Robert Satloff is a partial exception, but it discusses Arabs not Muslims, and HM Watch expresses no interest in the part of the article that is favorable to Arabs.)

Unsurprisingly, HM Watch neglects to mention that thousands of Muslims fought on the side of the Allies (under the British). Granted, the Muslim role in producing Allied victory was about as minimal as the Muslim role in bringing about the Holocaust: World War II was not principally a Muslim war. But if we're going to discuss the one thing, why not at least mention the other? The answer seems to be that HM Watch is not interested in objectivity or balance, but in finding polemical points for putting Muslims in a bad light.

Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism is a real, ugly, evil phenomenon that has to be fought tooth and nail. But falsehoods can't be fought by falsehoods or even distortions of real truths. Hence my lack of sympathy for the HM Watch juggernaut.

HM Watch is putting on a community discussion of its agenda on January 19 at the National Synagogue in Washington, D.C. I'm not sure I can make it to D.C. that day, but if I can, I will, and in any case, I'll post a follow-up here shortly after the event.

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