Thursday, October 6, 2016
Denial - On Both Sides
Historian Deborah Lipstadt is one of my heroes. Her book History on Trial is an absolutely riveting account of the libel suit brought against her by notorious Holocaust denier David Irving. Even though I knew how the story ended, I couldn't put the book down! I am very excited to see the new movie of this story, Denial, which came out in the US last week, and which will hopefully reach Israel soon. It has received very favorable reviews, and it is an outstanding kiddush Hashem.
For those who don't know the story: Back in 1993, Deborah Lipstadt published a book about Holocaust denial, in which she condemned David Irving - a man with a reputation as a prominent historian - for deliberately distorting various significant aspects of the Holocaust. Irving responded by suing Lipstadt for libel. He did so in Britain, which has very strange libel laws, and requires the defendant to prove that what they said was true. Thus, Lipstadt had to prove not only that the Holocaust happened, but that Irving's minimization of what happened was due to his deliberately distorting the facts rather than making innocent errors. It was also important to win in a way that would not allow Irving to torture Holocaust survivors on the witness stand, or to nitpick Lipstadt's work. Fortunately, Lipstadt and her wonderful legal team won a decisive victory (except for failing to recoup the massive costs of the trial from Irving).
That's the story in a nutshell, but I really recommend that everyone read the book. And by all accounts, the new movie, with Rachel Weisz playing Deborah Lipstadt, is superb.
Unfortunately, there is an aspect of the movie's marketing that I feel obligated to protest. Many media outlets, feeding on comments made by Denial's screenwriter Sir David Hare, are connecting the movie to a critique of Donald Trump and the extreme right wing. Just as we had to fight the dangerous lies of David Irving, they say, so too must we fight the dangerous lies of Trump and the far right.
Now, God (and anyone who's heard me on the topic) knows that I am no fan of Trump, nor of the nonsensical conspiracy theories of the far right. However, I think that it is very, very problematic to make the message of Denial about fighting the dangerous lies of the far right. Because it's not as though the right has a monopoly on dangerous lies.
Let's start with President Obama. Now, I am not one of those Orthodox Jews who believes that voting Obama is worse than murder, idolatry and adultery. Nevertheless, he has told some dangerous lies. For example, in his famous 2009 speech in Cairo, Obama justified the Jewish nation's claim to the State of Israel in terms of the persecution that we have suffered in various places - but conspicuously failed to acknowledge the actual historical connection with the Land of Israel. That's a lie, and a dangerous one - it encourages the Arab world to believe that we are merely European colonialists, and why should they have to pay the price for the persecutions of Europe?!
Then, in his important speech at the UN last week, Obama described Israel as "occupying Palestinian land." That is a lie. Judea and Samaria are not Palestinian land. They are disputed land. The Palestinians have a certain claim, going back at least several generations. The Jews have a claim, going back millennia earlier. The 1920 San Remo conference and the subsequent Palestine Mandate recognized the legal right of Jews to live anywhere in the country. When Jordan annexed Judea and Samaria, the US did not claim that it was "occupying Palestinian land." It is especially ironic that in the same week that the Obama administration refuses to describe Jerusalem as being in Israel, due to this being a matter of dispute, Obama considers the status of Judea and Samaria to be resolved in favor of the Palestinians.
Want some more examples of dangerous lies from the left? How about the widely respected New York Times? They printed an article by Abbas claiming that the 1948 war was started by Israel. That is a lie. And then there was their "scholarly" article discussing the conceptual roots of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which managed to completely falsify the historical truth and lent credence to Temple denial - which is a much more pressing danger than Holocaust denial!
The lies of the left might not be as colorful and blatant as the lies of the right. But their insidiousness and acceptability in respectable forums makes them all the more dangerous.
I hope that Denial makes people aware of the dangers of falsehood, and how they must be fought - no matter where they come from.
Posted by Natan Slifkin