Scholarship and politics (was Re: Proyect v Woods)

Austin, Andrew austina at
Sun May 20 14:58:44 MDT 2001

Who were the scholars who attacked Finkelstein on the grounds that he was
"anti-Zionist"? (Just curious.) His review of Goldhagen's book in New Left
Review is an easy enough target (it sometimes happens that people are denied
tenure on the grounds of some inadequacy). However, the political position
of a person is not entirely irrelevant to the form and content of their
arguments!! From a historical materialist point of view, thought is the
reflection (or at least the refraction) of one's social location. One may
gain considerable insight into a person's intellectual products by knowing
where they stand. This is particularly important in decoding rhetoric, as
capitalist and racists are keen on dressing their interests up in populist

It seems to me that the appropriate approach to the discourse of the "Shoah
industry" is one  which accomplishes three interrelated things: (1) make
sure that trauma stories are real (i.e., that they happened and that they
concern oppressed groups); (2) make sure that genuine trauma stories do not
silence other trauma stories; and (3) make sure that no real trauma stories
are diminished.

For example, some representatives of the Nation of Islam make it a point to
elevate the African holocaust over the holocaust of the Jews. They perceive
that white Americans have more awareness of and sympathy for the Jewish
holocaust compared to the black holocaust. Yet, white Americans are
unsympathetic to black suffering because white privilege has been purchased
at the expense of Africans and their descendants. White America has no
problem with Germans making reparations to Jews--this does not come out of
its pocket. Representatives of NOI would get much more political mileage by
championing the cause of Jewish reparations and using it as an analog for
racial justice in the United States. Anti-Jewish sentiments (especially the
conspiratorial rhetoric) is damaging to the cause of blacks in America.

Another example is the cause of the Palestinians. There appears to be a
widespread belief that the mere fact of the Jewish holocaust diminishes the
plight of the Palestinian people. Such a belief is absurd. If the Jewish
holocaust is used to legitimate oppression of Palestinians then this is a
problem--but it is not a problem solved by diminishing the role played by
anti-Jewish hatred in Europe during the holocaust. I have read Goldhagen's
book, listened to him lecture, read his responses to his critics, and I have
detected no desire on his part to use the genocide of the Jews as a
justification for the oppression of Palestinians. To make such an claim,
Goldhagen's critics enter into a silly critique akin to finding scholarship
on the African American holocaust playing a role in diminishing the gravity
of the oppression of the Oromo in Ethiopia. It is an exercise in

Andrew Austin
Assistant Professor
Social Change and Development
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Green Bay, WI 54311-7001
(920) 465-2791

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