The Israel Lobby's mistake.

Scrutinizing culture.
Sept. 19 2007 7:00 PM

The Israel Lobby and the Second Holocaust Debate

An emblematic error in a controversial book.

(Continued from Page 1)

However true this summary may be, I would rather focus on what I've called the book's failure of the moral imagination, one that can be seen encapsulated in that emblematic factual error.

The error occurs on Page 192, a page in which I am counterposed against Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of the New Republic, with the help of a misleadingly truncated—now corrected—quote from something I'd written back in 2002 on the possibility of a "second Holocaust" occurring in the state of Israel.

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It was back then that I came upon a line from Philip Roth's 1993 novel Operation Shylock. I had been writing about the world's indifference to suicide bomb butchery in Israel and its complacence about the more dangerous long-range threat of "a nuclear weapon detonated in Tel Aviv," either delivered by missile or smuggled in by terrorists.

It was something not inconceivable then, and far easier to imagine now. In addition to Ahmadinejad and his threats to wipe Israel off the map (which many have interpreted as genocidal, not merely metaphorical, as the naïve prefer to believe), consider this June 27, 2007, comment by a prominent editor of a London Arab newspaper: "If the Iranian missiles strike Israel—by Allah, I will go to Trafalgar Square and dance with delight."

Second Holocaust. It's a phrase uttered in Roth's novel by a Rothian doppelgänger who calls himself "the Diasporist" because he believes the true locus of Jewish culture and identity is in exile, and who believes a "second Holocaust" is the likely end result of the ingathering of Jews in Israel, a concentration that makes a second Holocaust all too easy to accomplish.

And so, back in 2002 when I wrote about the grim realities in the Holy Land, I raised the possibility that if things continued on the deadly path they were on, Jews in Israel faced a real threat: "a second Holocaust."

The use of this phrase caused an uproar in some circles, with Leon Wieseltier among those who sneered at it, at me, and at other Jews for being too worked up about it all. After all, he argued, in an essay titled "Hitler Is Dead" (subscription required), there was no threat to us, to Jews in America. Indeed Wieseltier giddily crowed that American Jews "are the luckiest Jews who ever lived."

It is a curiously narrow definition of luck that focuses solely on our own present moment of American well-being (a sense I'm unable to share, perhaps because I'm unable to escape the memory of Hitler's Holocaust or the impending perils of Jews in Israel). Leon's doing fine, feeling good and lucky—don't spoil his mood.

And besides, went Wieseltier's Pollyanna screed, the Jews of Israel had nothing to worry about because they had a "spectacular [nuclear] deterrent," sufficient to keep the neighbors from getting any ideas. Alas, this grandiloquent boast ignored the way deterrence had radically departed from the bipolar Cold War model. An example being the prominent Iranian mullah who, back in 2001, spoke blithely of what he said was Iran's willingness to sustain a nuclear exchange with Israel. While Iran might lose millions, he reasoned, the Jews of Israel would be utterly wiped out and there would be a billion-plus Muslims left alive. When people seek martyrdom the threat of death is not a deterrent.

In The Israel Lobby, Mearsheimer and Walt hold Wieseltier up as their kind of Jew: "A deeply committed defender of Israel," but well-behaved, non-"inflammatory." They contrast Wieseltier with those they regard as too outspoken, badly behaved Jews such as myself who overstate the danger they perceive and whom they portrayed—by means of a disingenuous use of my quote—as apocalyptically irrational.

(Despite Mearsheimer and Walt's original misrepresentation of my words, it would make me far more upset if I had earned their approval the way Wieseltier has. I should point out that, to his credit, Wieseltier has written critically about Mearsheimer and Walt, and so it's hard to imagine his being pleased with the gold star they pin on his attack on his fellow Jews.)

By now, I am not the only one who has written about the potential for a second Holocaust. It has gone from a marginalized to a virtually mainstream concern among those in touch with the grim reality of the situation. The Israeli historian Benny Morris, lauded elsewhere by Mearsheimer and Walt for his anti-Zionist historical revisionism, recently published an essay in the Jerusalem Post titled "The Second Holocaust Will Be Different." ("Different" in that it will take six seconds or six minutes for a bomb or bombs detonated in Tel Aviv to kill millions of Jews, while it took Hitler six years to kill that many.)

Even realists have to acknowledge that a second Holocaust has grown nearer rather than further since I wrote about it in 2002, especially with the dual ascension of Ahmadinejad and Hamas, whose charter explicitly calls for the murder of Jews, not merely the destruction of the Jewish state.

Still, the Wieseltier sneer at American Jews resonated with some at the time, and my use of the phrase second Holocaust stirred outrage among others. It was almost as if by attempting to forbid the use of the phrase one could somehow wish away the thing itself. In contrast to Holocaust denial—it's so awful it can't have happened—this was second Holocaust denial—it's too awful; therefore it never will happen again.

There was no doubt, however, in my essay on the possibility of a second Holocaust, that I was writing about a second Holocaust in the state of Israel. But in the initial edition of The Israel Lobby, Mearsheimer and Walt distort my quote, truncating it and using a misleading context to make it seem as though I believe there is about to be a second Holocaust in America!

They use this gross misrepresentation to make a case that the insidious Israel lobby has whipped up an irrational climate of fear—for themselves—on the part of American Jews. They quote several American Jews talking about a rise in anti-Semitism here in America and then quote me saying, "There is likely to be a second Holocaust." Period. End quote.

In context it is inescapable: They make it seem that I believe there is going to be a Holocaust in America. Jews are going to be fed into the ovens of Cincinnati at any moment!