Who is David Irving?

 

Many people may not have heard of David Irving before. They need to know about him: a Holocaust denier, exposed as a falsifier of history in a classic trial in the 1990s.

Irving had brought a libel case against Deborah Lipstadt for comments made in her 1994 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.

He lost his case comprehensively.

The compliation below includes a Facebook post by David Rosenberg, Rob Ferguson’s review of the film “Denial” which provides the historical context for the threat which Irving represented in the 1990s; and a few extracts from the quarter-of-a-million word historical report which Professor Richard Evans produced for the defence in that trial exposing Irving as a fraud.

Timothy Spall as David Irving in the film "Denial"

David Rosenberg writes

Facebook, 1st August 2020

Back in 1977, a book called “Hitler’s War” made the news, claiming that Hitler knew nothing of the “Final Solution”. It was written by David Irving, described as a “historian” though he never completed his studies. What he did manage to do once at university was to second Oswald Mosley in a debate for students about commonwealth immigration.

In a publicity stunt a few years after “Hitler’s War” came out, he was offering a monetary reward to any one who could absolutely “prove” that Hitler knew. Irving’s “soft” Holocaust Revisionism became full on Holocaust Denial at the end of the 1980s when he endorsed the “Leuchter Report”

This was a report by an execution technician called Fred Leuchter commissioned by a prolific and obsessive Holocaust denier in Canada, Ernst Zundel, to help him at a trial. Leuchter went off to Auschwitz, did some tests and concluded there couldn’t have been mass gassings there. His findings have of course been comprehensively debunked. (I have attached a pic of Irving with his pal Zundel)

For more than 30 years Irving has been hanging out with other Holocaust Deniers sharing platforms with them numerous times, seeking out Far Right audiences, older and especially younger, in Poland, Austria, Germany, Hungary and here in Britain, where BNP members were covertly fixing up venues and meetings for him, chaired by longstanding antisemites and neo-Nazis

He spent time in prison in Austria for Holocaust Denial. The Polish Ultra-Right group Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski frequently publish his articles.

Obviously the kind of character that no one on the left should go anywhere near or defend.

It is pretty shocking that in a recent online meeting of Labour Against the Witch Hunt, Norman Finkelstein, who sometimes seems to want to court controversy for its own sake, calmly praised David Irving as “a very good historian”who has “produced works that are substantive” and “knew a thing or two – or three.” Finkelstein added ““I don’t see the reason to get excited about Holocaust deniers. First of all I don’t know what a Holocaust denier even is.”

Back in the 1980s I used to take Yiddish lessons from Esther Brunstein, an Auschwitz survivor who died a few years ago. I remember her telling me how she had not slept all the way through a single night since her years in the camps, because of recurrent nightmares. I remember how agitated she got reading Irving’s comments and his cheap publicity stunts. She died a few years ago. She could have enlightened Finkelstein.

Even more shocking was after Finkelstein spoke not one of the other panelists, some of whom have played a significant part in anti-racist campaigns, used any of their concluding remarks to challenge Finkelstein’s praise for Irving. Disgraceful. I hope they will do so now.


Denial

Dir: Mick Jackson, 2017

Reviewed by Rob Ferguson
Socialist Review, January 2017

In 1992 a group of Jewish socialists came together to write an Anti Nazi league pamphlet, “Holocaust Denial: The New Nazi Lie”, in response to the rise of Holocaust deniers, and in particular the British Nazi, David Irving.

The emergence of Holocaust Denial in the 1990s was not a coincidence. The British National Party (BNP) was making advances, as were Nazis elsewhere in Europe.

In 1993 the BNP won a council by-election in the Isle of Dogs, east London, and in the same year black teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered near the BNP HQ in Welling, south London.

The ANL mobilised to picket and demonstrate at every talk and meeting Irving held and tens of thousands marched on the BNP’s Welling headquarters.

By the mid-1990s the Nazis were on the retreat. The BNP lost their seat in the Isle of Dogs and their Welling HQ was shut down.

Then in 1996 David Irving launched a libel action against the American Holocaust scholar, professor Deborah Lipstadt.

In her book, Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt rightly labelled Irving as a Nazi apologist who perverted facts and manipulated evidence to support claims that the Holocaust did not take place.

Denial, with Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt and Timothy Spall as Irving, is the film of the trial and the controversy surrounding it. It will be released on Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January.

It is a film to see.

First, for those not versed in the trial, all the courtroom scenes that form the centrepiece of the film are scripted verbatim from the trial transcripts.

The trial scenes are compelling. Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson as Lipstadt’s barrister Richard Rampton, play their parts with real effect.

However, the real drama of the courtroom flows from the legal strategy the defence team pursue.

Irving’s contempt for survivors and determination to humiliate them is clear at the opening. Heckling Lipstadt at her press launch he declares: “I say to you quite tastelessly, that more women died in the back seat of senator Edward Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz.”

Rampton argues with Lipstadt, “This case is happening to you, but it is not about you.” He was right. Irving wanted to rehabilitate Hitler in order to rescue a contemporary Nazi project. Lipstadt was just the vehicle.

The defence team refused to let Lipstadt or the survivors stand to testify. This too was a political question.

Irving’s intention was to turn the trial into a farce with Lipstadt and the survivors as comic extras. As Lipstadt declares in the opening scene, there is no historical debate to be had with deniers of history. Lipstadt rejected pressure by some Jewish leaders to settle.

With overpowering effect, the legal team turn the libel action by Irving into a trial of Irving himself.

The trial was a close run thing. If Irving had won, it would have been a major political victory for the Nazis.

The trial and the Anti Nazi League mobilisations ran in parallel (in the film ANL demonstrators are pictured briefly outside the court).

The fact that the Nazi label was firmly fixed on Irving and his supporters by the ANL provides an important backdrop to how Irving is identified as a Nazi apologist inside the courtroom.

Perhaps some of the scenes outside the courtroom sit a bit awkwardly, but this would be a quibble. This is a film that provides a powerful reminder of the real source of anti-Semitism and where the real enemy lies.


Evans: David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial

This report by Prof Richard Evans was “written to assist the Court by providing an expert opinion on allegations made in Professor Deborah Lipstadt’s book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, published in 1994 by Penguin Books, about Mr. David Irving.”At the start of the Report, the author establishes his credentials as a historian at some length as a recognized authority on modern German history, teaching and researching it for the previous thirty years.

He describes the methods used to assess David Irving’s writings (Section 2 Irving the Historian) and comes to a series of conclusions:

  1. Irving’s claim that other historians copy from each other and only he goes to the original sources is false.
  2. Contrary to what he falsely claims are his rigorous methods of assessing the reliability of historical evidence, Irving arbitrarily declares sources such as the Hitler diaries or the oral evidence of Second World War survivors to be reliable or unreliable according to whether he thinks he can use them to support his own arguments.
  3. Irving has long been notorious for his factual inaccuracy amongst historians with a real expertise in the subjects on which he writes.
  4. The fact that he has had legal judgments and government exclusion orders made against him in a number of countries, and that he no longer finds reputable publishers for his work, also indicates that he is not a reputable historian.
  5. He himself admits his reputation amongst professional historians is extremely low.

In a brief conclusion (Section 3.4 Irving and the central tenets of Holocaust denial) Evans states:

An examination of Irving’s work since the late 1980s confirms beyond all reasonable doubt that he subscribes to the four central tenets of Holocaust denial as outlined above, namely that the number of Jews killed by the Nazis was far less than six million; that gas chambers were not used; that there was no systematic killing of Europe’s Jews; and that ‘the Holocaust’ is a myth invented by Allied propaganda during the war and sustained since then with fabricated evidence by Jews who wish to use it to gain political and financial support for the state of Israel and for themselves.

Section 6 General Conclusion, begins with these two points:

  1. This examination of Irving’s work has demonstrated that there is abundant evidence of his beliefs and activities since 1988 as a Holocaust denier; that is to say, he has actively propagated the view that the Holocaust as conventionally understood did not happen. According to Irving, there were no functioning gas chambers, there was no systematic extermination of the Jews by the Nazis, the number of Jews killed by the Nazis in the Second World War did not amount to more than a few hundred thousand at most, and the evidence on which historians have relied for their accounts of the Holocaust was fabricated by the Allies during the war and further invented afterwards in the interests of sustaining the new state of Israel. Irving has manifold connections with well-known Holocaust deniers in a number of countries, and uses his website to propagate Holocaust denial on the Internet. He has repeatedly implied that such antisemitic outrages as did occur under the ‘Third Reich’ were the responsibility of the Jews themselves, who in his view gave rise to them as a result of various acts of provocation which they committed. And he has consistently sought to portray the crimes of the ‘Third Reich’ during the Second World War as no more serious, indeed possibly a good deal less serious, than the crimes, if that was what they were, committed by the Allies most notably the bombing of German cities.
  2. Irving is a particularly dangerous spokesperson for Holocaust denial because over the years he has consistently portrayed himself as a scrupulous historian with an unrivalled knowledge of the archival sources and an unerring eye for forgeries and falsifications. As we saw in Part I, he has repeatedly claimed that he is waging a ‘campaign for real history’ against legend and myth, truth against falsehood. ‘Real history’, he says, is based on the archives, not on copying other historians’ work, which is how academic, university-based historians in his opinion proceed. Many reviewers, and still more journalists, have been at least partly taken in by this ceaselessly propagated self-promotion and have paid tribute to Irving’s skill and energy as a researcher. But even if they have done so, they have often gone on to complain that Irving manipulates and distorts the sources he uses. If, like Peter Hoffmann, Charles Sydnor, Martin Broszat, Hugh Trevor-Roper, David Cannadine, or Eberhard Jäckel, for instance, they have themselves been familiar with these sources, their condemnation of Irving’s work for its inaccuracy and bias has been particularly detailed and unremitting.

Read the full report here.

Comments (36)

  • Jack says:

    I too was shocked to hear Norman Finkelstein praise David Irving, a man I knew to be a Holocaust denier. In fact I was so shocked I kept asking myself does he really mean THE David Irving? I think the panel were also stunned by what Norman said but because they held him in such great esteem, they also probably doubted what they were hearing. Nevertheless it would have been useful if one of them could have asked him to justify or explain his remarks.

  • RH says:

    “the threat which Irving represented in the 1990s”

    I’m not sure that Irving was actually ever much of a ‘threat’ as I remember the time. My recollection of the media image is of a much ridiculed and pathetic figure who had little support.

    We are living in more dangerous times now.

  • Janet Sillett says:

    Re the zoom meeting i think I heard David miller at the end of Finkelstein’s contribution say Irving was a nazi – he sounded frustrated, but it was also the end of the meeting. Maybe I misheard him.

  • dave says:

    I don’t think there is any great dispute that Irving did write some good history in his earlier days, although how much I don’t know.

    The Zoom meeting was on free speech – I don’t think Finkelstein said anything out of order and that he hasn’t said or written before. Unlike Irving, I doubt that Finkelstein has turned from good (relatively speaking) to bad.

  • Dr Paul says:

    From Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry, 2003 edition, page 71: ‘Not all revisionist literature — however scurrilous the politics or motivations of its practitioners — is totally useless. … Irving, notorious as an admirer of Hitler and sympathiser with German national socialism, has nevertheless, as Gordon Craig points out, made an “indispensable” contribution to our knowledge of World War II.’

    Richard Evans’ Telling Lies About Hitler, on the Irving/Lipstadt case, looks at these claims, and gives them a thrashing, showing that Irving’s earlier and less ideological works contained all manner of dubious findings and reasonings, let alone his later, more openly pro-Nazi ones.

    As it is, quite a few historians had taken Irving to task well before then — see especially Charles Sydnor’s demolition job in Central European History, June 1979. Irving’s earlier works often looked impressive to the casual reader, but historians with a grasp of the subject were finding dodgy and dubious things in those works at the time.

    Finkelstein’s book first came out before Evans’ one, which came out in 2002, but my revised edition of it is dated 2003, so he hadn’t taken into consideration Evans’ damning findings on Irving — and it looks like he still doesn’t.

    Using Irving as an example in the fight for free speech is unwise to say the least. It is repeating the gross errors that Chomsky made vis-à-vis Faurisson. I don’t believe in banning Holocaust denial material, but I would never use it as an example when calling for free speech (nor would I lift a finger to defend an Holocaust denier were he taken to court).

    It’s Finkelstein trying to be outrageous again. It’s one thing to be an enfant terrible in one’s twenties, not so edifying for a bloke approaching retirement age.

  • Graham Bash says:

    Thank you for your very informative pieces on David Irving and the comments on him by Norman Finkelstein. I learned a lot from these.

    I felt a little uncomfortable, however, by the comments at the end of the otherwise excellent article by my good comrade David Rosenberg when he wrote:

    “Even more shocking was after Finkelstein spoke not one of the other panellists, some of whom have played a significant part in anti-racist campaigns, used any of their concluding remarks to challenge Finkelstein’s praise for Irving. Disgraceful.”

    I was present in the ‘audience’ of the zoom meeting referred to and I have to own up that I too would have failed David Rosenberg’s test.

    Finkelstein made two connected but separate points.

    The first was his unqualified defence of free speech or what I call his “free speech fundamentalism”. Had I been one of the panellists I hope I would have challenged him on this. I am aware of the various difficulties in a ‘no-platform’ position – where and when this applies, to whom, is it just applicable to members of fascist organisations, or more generally to other racists, etc? Despite these problems, an unlimited and absolute defence of free speech is just unacceptable – and at times can put you on the wrong side of history.

    In pre-Nazi Germany when socialists, communists and anti-fascists were fighting the Nazis, this inevitably involved attempting to shut down their meetings, that is denying them freedom of speech. Were they correct? Of course they were. They were involved in a life and death struggle for survival, and free speech fundamentalism would have been of no help whatsoever.

    But on the issue of David Irving I am not sure I would have spoken up for the simple reason that – shocking as it may seem – I do not know enough about Irving to have challenged Finkelstein on this.

    Remember that no panelists know in advance what the others will say, or what subjects they are speaking about. They are given no advance warning. Had I been on the panel and been warned that Finkelstein would have referred to Irving, I trust I would have done the research sufficient to answer him. But in the absence of forewarning I think it extremely harsh to judge the panelists in such a term as “disgraceful”. “Disappointing”, perhaps at the very most. I think such invective should be saved for our enemies.

    I will now see if this stringent test catches on – ie, that we are responsible not just for what we say at a meeting, but that we take responsibility for any comments of fellow panellists that we do not challenge. If this takes off, then count me out of any panel discussions. It’s hard enough to take responsibility for what I say, let alone anyone else!

    Just an ironic footnote. I see that one of the sources against Irving is Richard J Evans, author of an excellent trilogy on Nazi Germany which I have recently begun reading. The books were donated to me by Tony Greenstein, one of the “disgraceful” panellists.

    Graham Bash

  • Jackie walker says:

    That David Rosenberg expects panel members to be responsible for the utterances of others – a strategy of attack which has been so effectively and most often unjustly used against the left in the current witch hunt, including of course against Corbyn, is surprising. It’s also hard to see David’s criticism, that panel members should have known in detail the case against Irving, and been able to argue on this topic with veracity and effectiveness, as reasonable or reasoned. I wonder, for example, how well Rosenberg knows the details of race and racism in the child social services system in the U.K. since the Windrush? Perhaps he does but no individual, not even the best anti racist activist/historian/educator can claim detailed knowledge of all areas of racism – to do so would be not just arrogant, it would be preposterous. If, like the rest of us, David’s knowledge is not all encompassing , he might perhaps at times. hopefully
    not on a live stream, find himself hard pressed to argue a case unprepared, notwithstanding a long and distinguished career as an anti- racist.

  • Michael Ryan says:

    As I recall, Finkelstein’s assessment of Irving as an historian was that Irving had gained more insight into the structures of the German Nazis and therefore better understood the Nazi mindset than other historians, who will have felt disinclined to devote much energy into such research. For that reason and that reason alone, Finkelstein thought Irving’s work had historical value.
    In fact Finkelstein has often made it absolutely clear he absolutely disagrees with Irving’s views and dislikes him intensely as a person but recognises, perhaps naïvely, that despite this, his work has some historical value.

  • Mike Cohen says:

    I’m surprised no one has pointed out that Finkelstein’s father survived Auschwitz, his mother Majdanek, so I understand his animus against those who, he argues – persuasively in my view – exploit their suffering and that of those like them.

  • Graeme Atkinson says:

    This correspondence shows, I am sorry to say, how chunks of the left have lived in blissful ignorance of the nazi politics of David Irving. Nothing new there.

    For years the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight and its publisher Gerry Gable and, later, HOPE not hate worked might and main to monitor and publicly expose, at every turn, Irving’s nauseating activities in the UK and across the globe.

    I know they did this and how much effort they put in. I was international organiser of both organisations and European editor of both magazines and I find it deeply regrettable, if not shameful, that the immense contributions of Gerry Gable and the two organisations are omitted from any mention. David Rosenberg, in particular, really ought to know better than this.

    Almost all of the information publicly to hand on Irving has come from the hard-won research of those organisations and the CST.

    Gerry Gable has, at great personal cost, relentlessly monitored, researched and led active opposition to Irving since the early 1960s. Are our memories really so short?

    The chickens have come home to roost.

    I lost count of the number of times listeners at Jewish community, anti-racist and labour movement meetings would nod politely and learnedly when Searchlight or Hnh speakers explained chapter and verse about Irving but then immediately cast aside the information they had been given in the naive belief that Irving was not important.

    It is astonishing and alarm that there was, if the reports are accurate, such ignorance about Irving on that platform while Finkelstein for whom, as an intellectual, I had some time leaves me lost for words.

    Irving is not a political opponent with whom one can parley. He is our collective worst enemy, serious enough to be known about.

    Bestowing any sort of praise on him is appalling and should be condemned outright.

  • Terence McGinity says:

    I am deeply disappointed that Norman Finkelsteins remarks on David Irving went unchallenged. It felt that a discussion on Free Speech became a liberal arena and not one for socialists. Perhaps had questions from the floor been taken up some of this might have been redressed.
    And comrades, dont we need to be sharper? I am grateful for the three posts for educating me and am sorry I didn’t know more about David Irving before. I perfectly understand David Rosenbergs dismay. I think, perhaps, he was referring to us all.

  • It is clear from David Rosenberg’s comments that he has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing from the state directed campaign to destroy Corbyn.

    It is also clear that David didn’t watch the Campaign for Free Speech in the Labour Party Zoom meeting of Tuesday July 28th. The meeting was not organised by Labour Against the Witchhunt. It was an independent initiative by Jackie Walker, Marc Wadworth, Chris Williamson and myself, sponsored by LAW

    David stated that:

    ‘Even more shocking was after Finkelstein spoke not one of the other panelists, some of whom have played a significant part in anti-racist campaigns, used any of their concluding remarks to challenge Finkelstein’s praise for Irving. Disgraceful. I hope they will do so now.’

    David is wrong. In fact I did challenge Norman on one crucial aspect. NF said that he didn’t know who killed Christ which entirely missed the point that Nancy Astor, whom Rachel Reeves MP had tweeted in support of, had referred to Jews as ‘Christ Killers’. I made the point that this charge, as if Jews today bear any responsibility for the killing of Christ, was deeply anti-Semitic.

    I also remarked that Irving obtaining the Goebbels Diaries was very useful and that he has been responsible for accessing documents that no other historian has gained access to.

    If there is one lesson we should draw from the Campaign Against Corbyn it is that you don’t accept the terms of debate or the narrative of your political opponents. Instead of saying, as David and JVL did, that antisemitism was miniscule in the Labour Party they should have realised from day one that the campaign was not about antisemitism but Corbyn only.

    David is repeating this error. The Zionists didn’t like our meeting. It had nothing to do with what NF said. When these people disown the support of Trump, Bannon, Richard Spencer and Orban I will take their comments about Irving seriously. What the Zionist lobby hate is the idea that there should be free speech on Palestine. NF was targeted because he has called out their weaponisation of the Holocaust.

    Instead of joining the Zionist targeting of NF David might have addressed the ‘strategy’ that led Corbyn to such a comprehensive defeat. p. 333 of the Leaked Report sums up everything wrong about Corbyn’s throwing of his supporters, like Chris Williamson, to the wolves.

    ‘could we have an update on the current status of the cases of Ken Livingstone, Jacqui [sic] Walker, Tony Greenstein and Marc Wadsworth and a clear timetable of when they will all be heard by the NCC and when a final decision will be made on them. The Jewish Labour Movement expressed frustration that these cases have taken such a long time to be heard, as they feel that it is difficult to begin the process of rebuilding trust between the Labour Party and the Jewish community whilst we have still not dealt with these cases.’

    Well all of us were expelled or forced out. Did it reassure the Jewish community and re-establish trust? Of course not. British Jews hadn’t voted for Labour for 50+ years. Corbyn’s appeasement strategy inevitably led to his defeat yet JVL never uttered a word of criticism.

    The real disgrace is how the Holocaust is used not what Norman Finkelstein says. See my longer discussion If there is one thing Zionism hates more than Palestinians it is Telling the Truth about Israel…

  • Ann Miller says:

    Thanks for this excellent article. Finkelstein must surely have known what was at stake in making his remarks. They will be endlessly requoted and circulated.

  • Jack says:

    Looking back, as far as I can remember, there was little or no criticism of Norman’s remarks in the Chat either. I think that because we respect him, we in the Chat, along with the panelists wanted to think about what Norman had said before jumping in.

  • Philip Ward says:

    I think Jackie Walker’s and Graham Bash’s comments here are very useful. I too was “at” the Zoom meeting and was a bit shocked by Norman Finkelstein’s comments about Irving. Why he said he didn’t know what a Holocaust denier is is utterly beyond me: of course he does.

    But his views are not those of his fellow speakers. It is deeply problematic to hold a speaker responsible for the views others on the same platform, as Jackie explains.

    The “free speech fundamentalism” that Graham discusses is a real problem in the USA in particular, as free speech is protected in the constitution. The left there gets itself tied in knots about this, perhaps understandably. I presume this is why Chomsky signed the awful letter about so-called “cancel culture” as well. The left in the UK needs to make sure it doesn’t fall into the same traps. Mostly, these questions are about power and oppression, not free speech.

  • Adam Waterhouse says:

    The principle that Norman Finkelstein was seeking to defend, and which he always seeks to defend, is that propositions need to be judged on their own merit and cannot be pre-judged upon the merits of the speaker. The context in which he most frequently makes this point is when being accused of being a “self-hating Jew.”

    His consistent response to this accusation is along the lines of: “Well, suppose I am. Does that mean that everything that I say is untrue? Or suppose, I’m not. Does that mean that everything that I say is true? Of course, the answer to both questions is “no. We have to judge the truth and accuracy of a claim on its own merits.”

    It would be convenient, in some ways, if we lived in a fairy tale world in which good people always make truthful and valuable statements and bad people always talk complete nonsense. But for better or worse we don’t – and “good” and “bad” people aren’t binary categories either.

    Norman has made similar arguments to this in so many different contexts. It is an argument that he always makes – sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly. In this context, it was more implicit. The point is, essentially, that since David Irving has made so many different propositions it just isn’t accurate or intelligent to say that everything that he has said is nonsense because he is a Holocaust denier.

    Whilst I support the general point that Norman Finkelstein is making, and always makes, I do absolutely think that it was unnecessary and unduly provocative for him to make such a point about David Irving within the context of the call. However, anyone who knows what he’s like knows that he always says what’s on his mind. That’s just who he is.

    I absolutely and categorically reject David Rosenberg’s attempted shaming of the other panellists. They are not responsible for what Norman Finkelstein says and are not required to criticise or correct him on a subject that they don’t know very much about. I completely agree with Graham and Jackie’s points in this regard.

  • Philip Horowitz says:

    David Irving has been dubious from the start of his career. Read about Broome v Cassell, another libel case re the PQ17 convoy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broome_v_Cassell_%26_Co_Ltd is a good start. Having been told “that they could award exemplary damages if they found that Irving knowingly lied for profit”, the jury did so.

  • I think a previous comment neatly sums it up:
    “It’s Finkelstein trying to be outrageous again. It’s one thing to be an enfant terrible in one’s twenties, not so edifying for a bloke approaching retirement age.”
    For all the useful work he’s done, I wish Finkelstein would realise that it’s not all about him. He doesn’t need to grandstand every time he speaks, and he’s old enough and smart enough to approach these issues with at least a modicum of tactical nous. Maybe one day he will, but I’m not holding my breath…

  • Ross Vachon says:

    Norman is quite right about David Irving. CHURCHILL’S WAR was simply the most compelling and revelatory WWII history I have ever read. Yes, Irving’s bias is with Hitler, but his histories are so replete with hidden documents and communications – they are incredible. His prose is crisp and spare, even quaint in an agreeable way. Nothing Norman said is “outrageous” or was he in any way playing the “enfant terrible”.

  • Philip Ward says:

    Adam Waterhouse’s comment is interesting but I don’t think it can excuse Norman Finkelstein’s comment “I don’t know what a Holocaust denier is”. I you could argue that what he means is that all Holocaust deniers are different – as all people are – but that is just pedantry, or that he is “judging the opinion, not the person”. Even if that were the case, Holocaust deniers are all the same in one crucial respect: they deny the Holocaust and in that sense Finkelstein does know what they are.

    The argument about Finkelstein being a self-hating Jew is not the same. Those who say that about him are judging the person, not the opinion and are thereby pigeonholing his views on a whole gamut of issues, not one (very large) specific one, like the Holocaust. The fact that he mistakenly accepts that epithet is neither here nor there.

  • Deborah Maccoby says:

    David Rosenberg writes: “Even more shocking was after Finkelstein spoke not one of the other panellists, some of whom have played a significant part in anti-racist campaigns, used any of their concluding remarks to challenge Finkelstein’s praise for Irving. Disgraceful”.

    But in fact Tony Greenstein did take up Finkelstein’s comments on Irving. This is what Tony said: “ I agree [David Irving] is a historian – one can’t take it away from him. The problem is that his politics has got in the way of his history and his research – and he clearly did tamper with his sources, if my reading of the libel trial is correct”.

    This is not so much a challenge as an expansion, qualification and clarification – but in fact all Finkelstein said was that, in his view, Irving is a real, substantial historian – a judgment with which Tony agreed. This doesn’t mean that Finkelstein does not agree in his turn with Tony that Irving has tampered with sources and that his politics have got in the way of his history and research.

    In The Holocaust Industry (p.71, footnote 60), Finkelstein states clearly that Gordon Craig is right to dismiss “Irving’s claims on the Nazi holocaust as obtuse and quickly discredited”, but goes on: “Craig nonetheless continues: ‘He knows more about National Socialism than most professional scholars in his field and students of the years 1933-1945 owe more than they are always willing to admit to his energy as a researcher and to the scope and vigour of his publications….his book Hitler’s War remains the best study we have of the German side of the Second World War, and, as such, indispensable for all students of that conflict.”

    In the main text, Finkelstein calls the politics and motivations of writers like Irving as “scurrilous” and describes Irving as “notorious as an admirer of Hitler and sympathizer with German national socialism.”

    There is no sign that Finkelstein has changed the views expressed in The Holocaust Industry.

  • RC says:

    Finkelstein’s quip that he does not know what a holocaust denier is should be viewed in the context of his critique, in The Holocaust Industry, of dubious and exaggerated claims for compensation by people whose right to be considered as holocaust survivors he contests. The logical consequence of such contestation is that the greater number of successful contestations, the smaller the number of actual victims. For any given estimate of holocaust victims – say Hilberg’s of ca 5,150,000 – this is a purely arithmetical point. Frauds and their supporters thus have the effect of minimising the holocaust – an effect they presumably did not anticipate, and which they need to disavow.
    Those who allege that every claim of holocaust survivorship is correct and well-founded will of course reject this argument.
    On the other side of this situation, Finkelstein and Greenstein have noted a number of holocaust survivors who have not received their due from the state of Israel, which has achieved the status of default if not sole agent for such claims, and are living in poverty. Their poverty is a serious disgrace, to say the least. But the further point I take is that the state of Israel has no legitimate standing as a representative of or agent for Jews (let alone anyone else) who suffered from the holocaust; and of course it has even less standing as a recipient of reparation funds that rightly belong to such sufferers as individuals. Individual recipients may of course have a desire to give their money to the state of Israel, should they freely wish to do so; of course they also have the right to give it to the Palestinian refugees whose expulsion and losses were and are the basis of the state of Israel.
    In the light of these complications, which Finkelstein explains far better than I do (I do not have my copy of his book to hand as I write), his disavowal of knowledge of what a holocaust denier is is of serious interest. One point is clear: the state of Israel is not a holocaust survivor, and has no legitimate claim to adjudicate as to who is. Perhaps it might look to establish such a claim were it fully to accede (with interest as has been the case with the Swiss banks) to the Right to Return of the Palestinians whom it expelled – and then shamefully ‘transferred’ that right to non-Palestinian Jews such as myself and probably you as well….
    So Finkelstein’s principled argument, in this regard, is no more self-indulgent than his stalwart upholding of freedom of speech even for holocaust deniers (provided they are not directly inciting violence in a context where it is so imminent that no dissuasive counter-speech is possible). Remember that when the SCOTUS accepted the ‘calling fire in a crowded theatre’ exception to freedom of speech, the alleged ‘calling of fire’ was a speech by an ally of Eugene Debs opposing US participation in WWI (in the context of the infamous 1917 Sedition Act). Finkelstein, Miko Peled, Ken Loach and Jackie Walker are right to uphold this principle (which has nothing to do with endorsing Irving’s vile views) – as were the ACLU in defending the right of US Nazis – peacefully – to march through Skokie, Illinois.

  • Robert Davies says:

    Knowing the political context in which this meeting was taking place (viz the anti-semitism smear campaign against Corbyn), nobody should have been on the panel who did not have at least a basic grasp of real anti-semitism. That entails a basic understanding of Holocaust denial and the major role that Irving has played in it. Irving has always knowingly been a falsifier of history and a liar, including in his accounts of Dresden, dedicated to rehabilitating Nazism and Hitler. NF should never have been allowed to get away with his remarks about Holocaust denial and about a vile pro-Nazi lying scumbag being an “historian”. All praise to the work done by Searchlight, GG, HnH, Evans and others exposing Irving – but, Graeme, why disfigure your valuable reminder with cheap and irrelevant shots at DR, who likewise has always attacked Irving (and acknowledged the contribution of Searchlight and others)? A pity.

  • I can assure Robert Davies that speakers at the Campaign for Free Speech meeting last week fully understood antisemitism. Holocaust denial is also not difficult to understand and I suggest Norman Finkelstein’s comments should be seen as tongue in cheek. What is more interesting is why Holocaust denial has spread from a neo-Nazi fringe to millions of others. The answer clearly lies in the way that Zionism has instrumentalised the Holocaust and used as a nationalist totem.

    It is a fact that Irving, like David Starkey, is a historian. There is nothing particularly progressive about historians, most of whom tend to the Right politically. It’s like saying that a neo-Nazi can’t be an engineer. The real question is, who is a historian? Middle class professionals or ordinary people.

    RD’s praise of Searchlight’s is completely misplaced. The reason that Black groups dissociated themselves from Searchight nearly 30 years ago and why the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism parted ways with it was because of its multi-culturalism and its downplaying of the Black struggle. In particular its prioritisation of ‘antisemitism’, its alliance with right-wing Zionists and its overt support for the Israeli state and Zionism.

    Searchlight put itself on the side of imperialism and failed to understand that the fight against racism is part and parcel of the fight against imperialism.

    Searchlight never missed an opportunity to demonise the Palestinians repeatedly insinuating that the Palestinians were hand in glove with European fascist groups whilst ignoring Israel’s own links with Lebanon’s Phalange and its support for Latin America’s death squad regimes.
    Anti-fascists also began to realise that much of Searchlight’s information came from the secret state, MI5 and Special Branch. In exchange they were trading information on the left and anarchists in particular.

    The revelation by Duncan Campbell in New Statesman of a secret memo from Gerry Gable, who was then working at London Weekend Television, accusing Mark Hosenball and Phil Agee of being Soviet agents and terrorist supporters was the final straw. Agee, a former CIA agent was facing deportation by the Callaghan Government for having written Inside the Company detailing his experiences in undermining revolutionary organisations in South America.

    As a member of Anti-Fascist Action Executive I was witness to false allegations that Class War was working with fascist groups in its Stop the City demonstrations. Class War was suspended and an Inquiry launched. Searchlight failed to back up its allegations and it became clear that their agenda was destabilising a very effective anti-fascist group.

    Hope not Hate, with its support for the false antisemitism campaign in the Labour Party seems determined to repeat all Searchlight’s past mistakes.

  • Jack says:

    I think we can safely say that Norman Finkelstein’s remarks have certainly led to a broadening out of the discussion and have elicited information in the comments, some of which I and maybe others will not have been aware.

  • Terence McGinity says:

    Some comrades did not like the way things turned in the Freedom of Speech webinar. I think in terms of Freedom of Speech they are entitled to express their opinion without being deemed to be siding with Zionists. It didn’t seem that ‘Questions from the Floor’ were at all acknowledged by the Speakers. I for one would have wanted mention of Julian Assange. Nothing. And perhaps others might have questioned the nature of David Irving as an historian. Surely that’s what we’re about.

  • Deborah Maccoby says:

    Re Dr Paul’s comment:

    “Finkelstein’s book first came out before Evans’ one, which came out in 2002, but my revised edition of it is dated 2003, so he hadn’t taken into consideration Evans’ damning findings on Irving — and it looks like he still doesn’t.”

    In a post on his blog, Tony has posted his full comment that was shortened here because JVL only allows short comments. See the end of Tony’s post

    https://azvsas.blogspot.com/2020/08/if-there-is-one-thing-israels.html

    Tony’s full comment included this:

    “Since such store is set on the libel trial of Irving v Penguin and the judgement of Gray J, I feel I should also point out what he wrote in s.13.7 of his judgment:

    ‘My assessment is that, as a military historian, Irving has much to commend him. For his works of military history Irving has undertaken thorough and painstaking research into the archives. He has discovered and disclosed to historians and others many documents which, but for his efforts, might have remained unnoticed for years. It was plain from the way in which he conducted his case and dealt with a sustained and penetrating cross-examination that his knowledge of World War 2 is unparalleled. His mastery of the detail of the historical documents is remarkable….I accept the favourable assessment by Professor Watt and Sir John Keegan of the calibre of Irving’s military history….and reject as too sweeping the negative assessment of Evans (quoted in paragraph 3.5).’

  • Mike Faulkner says:

    I want to start by offering my full support for David Rosenberg’s wholly justified criticism of Norman Finkelstein’s shameful admission that he saw no reason “to get excited about Holocaust deniers”, and his description of David Irving as “a very good historian.” David was in my opinion also right to have exposed the lamentable failure of the other panelists to challenge Finkelstein’s praise for Irving, and in his appeal to them to do so. This does not mean, as is suggested in some of the comments, that their silence amounts to approval of Finkelstein’s view of Irving, but simply that they should have challenged it and failed to do so. I also find this inexcusable.

    It is astonishing that anyone remotely familiar with Irving’s record – particularly anyone on the left – is still prepared to defend or excuse him. He is not a reputable historian; in fact he is not a historian at all. It has been clear since 1964 that he is a skilled propagandist, who uses and abuses the skills of the historian in his selective misuse of research data first to minimize the enormity of the Nazis’ destruction of European Jewry, and finally to deny the Holocaust entirely. His reputation was in question long before the libel case he brought against Deborah Lipstadt; since then it has been in tatters. His exposure as a Holocaust denier and antisemite was made clear in the verdict of the court in that case. Professor Richard J. Evans’s detailed, scholarly demolition of Irving’s reputation as a historian, which was later set out in his book, Telling Lies about Hitler (published by Verso in 1997, after other publishers had refused to publish for fear of further libel action by Irving), left no room for any plausible defense of him.

    It is quite extraordinary that Norman Finkelstein should continue to defend Irving. His 1997 critique (published in New Left Review) of Daniel Goldhagen’s book “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”was a powerful and convincing refutation of Goldhagen’s quasi-racist anti-German thesis. Finkelsteirn was miserably treated in later years, not least by the Harvard lawyer Alan Dershovitz, who successfully put pressure on De Paul university where Finkelsteirn was a highly regarded assistant professor, to deny him tenure. his academic career was destroyed. The pressure of this sustained campaign against him was enormous and must have caused him distress. However, this cannot excuse the supportive stance he has adopted towards Irving and the ad hominem hostile remarks against Richard Evans. One would have hoped that Finkelstein’s own experience at the hands of Dershovitz and co. might have given him pause before sounding off against Evans in a similar vein to that used by his detractors against him.

    A few final words about Irving. anyone still inclined to defend him as a serious historian should look at the controversy surrounding his 1964 book about the bombing of Dresden. On the basis of a forged document (and one that was long ago exposed as a forgery) Irving claimed that between 200,000 and 250,000 people died in the raids. The actual number was fewer than 25,000. He used this figure to argue that this amounted to ten times the number of Jews who perished in Auschwitz, whose numbers he claimed amounted to 25,000.

    Irving has claimed, on the basis of information he had from evidence he had from a Nazi interlocutor, that shortly before his death Hitler has predicted that some time in the future someone, most probably an “honest” Englishman rather than German, would treat him sympathetically and redeem his reputation for history. Irving believed himself to be that
    Engishman. His “mission” has been to re-habilitate Hitler.

  • Deborah Maccoby says:

    Mike Faulkner writes that the appalling treatment experienced by Norman Finkelstein

    “cannot excuse the supportive stance he has adopted towards Irving and the ad hominem hostile remarks against Richard Evans. One would have hoped that Finkelstein’s own experience at the hands of Dershowitz and co. might have given him pause before sounding off against Evans in a similar vein to that used by his detractors against him”.

    I can’t understand why Mike Faulkner has accused Finkelstein of making “ad hominem hostile remarks” against Evans. All Finkelstein said was “David Irving was a very good historian – I don’t care what Richard Evans said.” How is this ad hominem or even hostile? And in what possible way does it resemble the abusive campaign launched by Finkelstein’s detractors against him?

    Though expressed slightly differently, Finkelstein’s comment is very similar to the libel trial Judge’s remarks (already quoted) in section 13.5. “I accept the favourable assessment of Professor Watt and Sir John Keegan of the calibre of Irving’s military history….and reject as too sweeping the negative assessment of Evans”. At the same time, Irving of course lost the case, because the judge accepted that, as Tony put it, Irving tampered with his sources and allowed his far-right, holocaust-denial politics to get in the way of his history and research.

    As my quotation from The Holocaust Industry shows, Finkelstein agrees with both assessments of Irving. They are in no way mutually exclusive. As Finkelstein writes in The Holocaust Industry (and, as I wrote earlier, there is no indication that he has changed the views expressed there): “Not all revisionist literature – however scurrilous the politics or motivations of its practitioners – is totally useless….Irving, notorious as an admirer of Hitler and sympathizer with German national socialism, has nevertheless, as Gordon Craig points out, made an ‘indispensable’ contribution to our knowledge of World War II.” In making this reflection, Finkelstein is hardly adopting a “supportive” stance towards Irving or defending him.

  • The most disturbing thing about this discussion about the Campaign for Free Speech meeting called to mobilise against the Board of Deputies McCarthyite 5th Pledge is that once again people allow the Zionists to set the agenda.
    That the Board is actively seeking to implement No Platform for anti-Zionists when I can remember the Zionist Union of Jewish Students actively opposing No Platform for Fascists and Racists at Sussex University (because it might apply to them!) illustrates how some on the left cannot help but falling for the Zionists’ ‘dead cat strategy’.
    To quote MacBeth, Mike Faulkner’s comments are ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ All of his points, without exception, are tendentious.
    1. Mike believes that I and the other panellists were guilty of a ‘lamentable failure’ to challenge Finkelstein’s praise for Irving. Except that Finkelstein didn’t praise Irving.
    2. What Finkelstein did do was to accept, notwithstanding his dishonest alteration of his sources to sustain his Holocaust denial thesis, that Irving is a good historian in certain areas. Finkelstein said nothing far less, than Judge Gray in his Judgment. Yet David Rosenberg and others quote Gray’s judgment without criticism. Perhaps they didn’t read all of it? In that case I can only recommend it!
    3. As Deborah Maccoby has explained I did clarify and make it clear that when it came to the Nazis and the Holocaust Irving was thoroughly disreputable.
    4. There is ‘nothing shameful’ in Finkelstein’s comments about not getting excited about Holocaust denial. I have to confess I don’t lose sleep about it either. What really concerns me is the use to which Israel puts the Holocaust, in framing the Palestinians as the new Nazis. What does worry me is when the Prime Minister of Hungary, Israel’s best friend Viktor Orban, describes the pro-Nazi leader of Hungary during the war, Admiral Horthy, as an ‘exceptional statesman’. Because Orban is embarked on a project of rehabilitating the past and creating an ‘illiberal democracy’ and a ethno-Christian state.
    5. I suggest that Faulner reads Yehuda Elkana’s 1998 article in Ha’aretz, ‘The Need to Forget’which spoke about ‘a particular interpretation of the lessons of the Holocaust’ which has led to ‘the tragic and paradoxical victory of Hitler.’ Elkana, a child survivor of Auschwitz, was the Rector of the Central European University in Budapest until Orban drove him out as the University. Its crime being that it was funded by George Soros, the hate figure of the nationalist Right.
    6. Faulkner states that Irving is not a historian. But what is a historian? As a history postgraduate I am more than aware that most historians come to their subjects with fixed opinions. Irving is no different other than that he is a neo-Nazi. There is nothing saintly about historians. Would Faulkner deny that David Starkey is a historian because he denies that the slave trade and slavery were a genocide of Black Africans? This is so absurd.
    7. The suggestion that the the denial of tenure to Finkelstein are what lies behind his brief comments about Richard Evans is a deplorable piece of amateur psychologising. Richard Evans is a very good bourgeois historian but he fails to place the rise to power of the Nazis in any historically materialist context such as why he was supported by conservatives, not just in Germany but throughout the West. In particular Evans fails to emphasise that it was the Left, not the Zionists’ friends on the Right, who were almost the sole opponents of the Nazis.
    8. My real regret with David Rosenberg’s article is that once again he has adopted the narrative of our enemies. We can see where approach has led in the Labour Party. To utter defeat.

  • Mike Faulkner says:

    My reference to Norman Finkelstein’s hostile, ad hominem remarks about Richard J Evans, was not about what he said in the panel discussion, but to what he has said on other occasions. I should have made that clear. To give an example, in a discussion published in Open Democracy (May 3rd 2016), referring to the Labour Party’s launch of an enquiry aimed at producing a workable definition of antisemitism (which he claimed was impossible to achieve), he claimed that the only beneficiaries “of such a mandate” would be academic “specialists” on antisemitism who would be in line to receive “hefty consulting fees”. In this regard, he said “l can already see Richard Evans at the head of the queue”. I consider a remark such as this, made without any evidence to support the insinuation, as a personal slur against Professor Evans.

  • Deborah Maccoby says:

    A comment made in an interview four years ago surely isn’t all that relevant to the webinar under discussion here. But, in relation to that comment, see this quotation from a piece by D.D. Guttenplan in the New Statesman:

    https://www.newstatesman.com/node/155988

    “the publishing story of Telling Lies About Hitler is a story without heroes. Evans only took his book to Heinemann after Penguin, which had already paid him an estimated £70,000 for his trial report, declined to offer an additional advance. When Heinemann cut him loose, and another publisher turned him down, Evans went to Granta (which had already published my book, prompting a miffed Evans to describe me as ‘having some sympathy with Irving’, a canard he has recently repeated in Private Eye). Granta, which had earlier published In Defence of History, agreed to take on the new book. It also reached verbal agreement with Evans over three others. But, after ‘talking to friends and acquaintances in the publishing world”, Evans decided that the money ‘ was not much by current standards for history’ and pulled out – but neglected to mention his doubts to Granta until Telling Lies, which he still expected the firm to publish, had been typeset. Confronted by the possibility of large (and, given that Irving is bankrupt, irrecoverable) legal fees, and feeling that Evans had been less than candid, Granta declined. Evans originally had pungent words for Penguin in his British edition, but last summer he acquired a new agent,who sold a big new book on the Third Reich to, well, Penguin. The attack on Penguin has since been excised. The vendetta against Granta continues; but that, as they say in Little Italy, is ‘just business’.”

  • Deborah Maccoby says:

    A comment made in an interview four years ago surely isn’t that relevant to the webinar under discussion here. But, in relation to evidence that supports that comment, see this quotation from a review in the New Statesman by D.D. Guttenplan, author of The Holocaust on Trial, of Richard Evans’s book Telling Lies About Hitler:

    https://www.newstatesman.com/node/155988

    “the publishing story of Telling Lies About Hitler is a story without heroes. Evans only took his book to Heinemann after Penguin, which had already paid him an estimated £70,000 for his trial report, declined to offer an additional advance. When Heinemann cut him loose, and another publisher turned him down, Evans went to Granta….. Granta, which had earlier published In Defence of History, agreed to take on the new book. It also reached verbal agreement with Evans over three others. But, after ‘talking to friends and acquaintances in the publishing world’, Evans decided that the money ‘was not much by current standards for history’ and pulled out – but neglected to mention his doubts to Granta until Telling Lies, which he still expected the firm to publish, had been typeset. Confronted by the possibility of large (and, given that Irving is bankrupt, irrecoverable) legal fees, and feeling that Evans had been less than candid, Granta declined. Evans originally had pungent words for Penguin in his British edition, but last summer he acquired a new agent,who sold a big new book on the Third Reich to, well, Penguin. The attack on Penguin has since been excised. The vendetta against Granta continues; but that, as they say in Little Italy, is ‘just business’.”

  • Rob Ferguson says:

    It is welcome that posts by David Rosenberg and myself on Norman Finkelstein’s intervention at the meeting against the witch hunt received a wide positive response. We require clear guiding principles if we are to meet the attacks on the left the meeting aimed to address.

    The conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism by the pro-Zionist camp has consequences. It has been honed internationally as an ideological offensive against the left, Palestine solidarity and the Muslim community, and in the UK against Corbyn and the Labour left.

    However, there is a danger that under siege, the left falls into traps and distorted responses that strengthen our opponents’ hand and undermine socialist and anti-racist principles upon which we stand. Norman Finkelstein fell into such a trap at the meeting last week; he should have been challenged.

    Norman is capable of acute demolitions of the “new antisemitism” narrative, of exposing the motives of the attacks on the left, and detailing the abuse of history by the pro-Zionist camp. However, Norman has frequently taken a quite mistaken approach to antisemitism on the right and to Holocaust denial.

    On Holocaust denier, David Irving, I find it surprising that socialists of my generation can profess ignorance or imply he was an obscure figure. Irving was central in promoting Holocaust denial in Europe. For those opposing the rise of the BNP in the 1990s, he could not be ignored. Holocaust denial was an attempt to clear the path for new neo-Nazi movements. This at a time when the siting of the BNP HQ in south east London fuelled a wave of racist violence and the murders of Stephen Lawrence, Rohit Duggal, and Rolan Adams.

    David Irving is a Nazi and a Holocaust denier. He is not a historian. In 1975, in his apologist work on Hitler he declared Anne Frank’s diary a “forgery”; he denied the gas chambers and Hitler’s complicity in the Final Solution. Use of references and sources, do not make a denier of history a historian. The fraudulent claim that Irving, and his fellow “Holocaust Revisionists” are historians, is itself a vital component of Nazi denial. The two cannot be disentangled. The anti-fascist movement successfully discredited Irving. No one on the left should play any part in rehabilitating him.

    A specialist reading of Irving is not required to draw such conclusions any more than a specialist reading of history should required to demand that the statues of the confederacy and slave holders should fall. The tendency to counterpose antisemitism and other forms of racism is fundamentally misplaced.

    Scholastic citations, including those used by Irving himself, and references to comments by the trial judge, are beside the point. Their premises are comprehensively dealt with, even on their terms, by Richard Evans (see extracts above). Irving banked on the weaknesses of academia and the judicial process in launching his libel action, hoping to recover a reputation as a “historian” the anti-fascist movement had denied him. As Evans points out some reviewers, particularly journalists, were taken in by Irving’s “ceaselessly propagated self-promotion”. Unfortunately Norman Finkelstein and some of the comments here repeat the error.

    Finally, the issue of “free speech”. First, I would hope that socialists and anti-fascists would defend a basic principle of our movement: that of “no platform for fascists”. That aside, Finkelstein went far beyond a liberal opposition to “no platform”. Indeed, he went further than calling Irving a “very good historian”: “I don’t see the reason to get excited about Holocaust deniers. First of all I don’t know what a Holocaust denier is” which he attempted to justify with irrelevant non-sequiturs and rationalisations.

    David Rosenberg has been accused, quite falsely, of impugning other panellists through guilt by association. To repeat, it is not unreasonable to expect panellists in such a discussion to at least express disagreement with Finkelstein’s positions on Irving and Holocaust denial. I have spoken on several platforms against the attacks on Corbyn, the left and Palestine and I can assure these remarks would have been challenged by other speakers. Such positions have no part to play in a defence of the left, solidarity with Palestine, or opposition to racism. When advanced they should be challenged. David is right.

    The left’s uncompromising hostility to Holocaust denial, to the rise of antisemitism on the far right, and the gathering global threat from far right and fascist movements are fundamental. Our position is quite distinct from arguments over Zionism and Israel, or the attack on Corbyn. Revisionist histories of the Holocaust and outright denial is back with a vengeance in Europe and the US. It remains a key focus for the left, one that can only grow. And let us not pretend that their influence cannot permeate debates over Israel and Zionism.

    It is inherent that the pro-Zionist camp will try to dominate the narrative around antisemitism – attacking real antisemitism and Holocaust denial as well as making false charges against the left. We cannot surrender our own ground. Norman Finkelstein’s intervention last week is an example of the dangerous trap the left can walk into, eyes wide shut.

    _________________________________________________________________________

    For a more detailed argument on these issues see my review above; my blog piece on Irving with a link to the original Anti Nazi League pamphlet: “Holocaust denial: The Nazi Lie” produced to mobilise opposition to Irving.

    For one forewarning of the issues, Mike Simons’ review of “The Holocaust Industry” from 2000.

    And see my brief 4 min explainer with fellow Jewish socialist, Sophia Beach, on anti-Zionism and antisemitism

  • This post had been abridged by the editors

    The problem with Rob Ferguson’s post is that it is timeless, like the politics of the SWP. It hasn’t moved on or developed in the past 30 years. Unfortunately racism and fascism have changed its contours.

    There was a time when Holocaust denial played an important role in the British and European far-Right. Not only have those days gone but it is the weaponisation of the Holocaust as a propaganda weapon by the Zionist movement which is largely responsible for today’s spread of Holocaust denial. No longer is Holocaust denial confined to fascists and anti-Semites.

    30 years ago Britain’s fascists, the BNP and NF, were holocaust deniers.
    However times change. The new fascists, Tommy Robinson’s Football Lads Alliance or Matteo Salvini’s Northern Leagues or Germany’s AfD aren’t interested in Holocaust denial. Their target is Muslims and they do it alongside Zionists. The new Right has embraced the Holocaust not rejected it. Does this tell Rob Ferguson nothing?

    I forget how many fascists and members of the far-Right have queued up at Yad Vashem to pay their respects to the Jewish dead. From South Africa’s John Vorster to open Hitler admirer Duterte and Viktor Orban, who believes that Admiral Horthy, the person who presided over the deportation of half a million Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, was an ‘exceptional statesman’.

    Israel’s Supreme Court recently rejected a petition to ban war criminals from visiting Yad Vashem https://tinyurl.com/y2t4pocg Imagine it, Jorg Haider, leader of Austria’s neo-Nazi Freedom Party, is an official guest at Yad Vashem.

    Has it escaped Rob’s notice that the main weapon wielded against Palestine solidarity is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. What is this if not mobilising the memory of the dead in the service of imperialism and the fight against socialism?

    The ruling class in the West has embraced the Holocaust as a ‘bizarre cult of memory, death and kitsch’ (Tom Segev). As Yitzhak Laor argued the Holocaust has become part of an ideology of exclusion of the other.
    The second world war has been transformed into a war against the genocide of Jews even though at the time the Coalition Government, including Labour Home Secretary Herbert Morrison, fought tooth and nail AGAINST the admission of Jewish refugees.

    Why does Rob think that Theresa May and Boris Johnson fought to put a Holocaust memorial at Westminster whilst defending the statues of slavers? Is it not about using the Holocaust to create an ‘antiracist’ identity for today’s British state?

    Norman Finkelstein made it very clear what he meant when he said that he didn’t know what Holocaust denial was. Does the Holocaust include the Disabled and the Gypsies and Russian POWs? Zionist historians such as Yehuda Baeur and Lucy Dawidowicz argued that only the genocide of Jews was a Holocaust.

    David Irving was important 30 years ago. Today he is irrelevant. It is not Irving who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of refugees in the Mediterranean but the bourgeois leaders of Europe who pay tribute to the Holocaust whilst criminalising their rescuers.

  • I’m glad that commentaries by both myself and Rob Ferguson has provoked quite a discussion here. My own comments were not written specifically for JVL, they were originally a private post on Facebook for “friends” and were well received by large numbers of people, including many longstanding anti-racist and anti-fascist activists.
    I had no objection to them appearing here and very pleased that they were coupled with those of Rob Ferguson, who I have known better in recent years but have known of for decades as a principled campaigner both against racism and fascism, especially in the British/European context and an equally determined campaigner for Palestinian justice and against Zionism.
    I am especially appreciative of comments here that have added more information rather than doubling down on/defending the regrettable event that occurred.
    None of us except those directly involved in the meeting will know what discussions there were between the panelists before the event, but I’m willing to wager that if Finkelstein had said to the others: “As well as saying this, this and this, I’m going to praise David Irving’s work as a historian who knows a thing or two or three, and also state that I don’t know what a Holocaust denier is”, his fellow panelists would have objected and tried to dissuade him.
    Which is why I was so surprised that they didn’t react after he said these things. I did not attend the event at the time but heard about the comments first through a third party, so I then sat down and watched and listened, and was duly shocked.
    Of course I accept that only Finkelstein himself is responsible for those words. There is no absolute obligation on others to comment one way or another about his words. But it still surprises me that as far as I know the other panelists haven’t condemned them.
    Graham Bash made a fair comment near the start of this thread that I could have expressed this as “disappointment” rather than using the emotive term “disgraceful”, which implies a stronger obligation on the other panelists to explicitly condemn them, although in my original post I did express the wish that whatever was said in the meeting itself, I hoped that reflecting in the aftermath they would condemn Finkelstein’s comments. I don’t think that has happened.
    Everyone on the left makes mistakes, regrets things said and done, and mainly tries to learn from these instances. I suspect that after this episode people will certainly take more care around how/whether they involve Finkelstein in debates on such explosive territory. But it does still strike me as odd in commentary here and elsewhere that some people are much more willing to condemn him for being anti-BDS and a 2-stater, than to take him to task on his praise for David Irving who is described on the Auschwitz Museum website in the following way: “The best known Holocaust denier in the UK is David Irving… he has written numerous books about the history of the Second World War in which he expresses his pro-Nazi sympathies. He denies that the Nazi Germans murdered Jews in gas chambers, maintains close ties with the IHR [Institute for Historical Review – the main international Holocaust Denial institution], and testified in Zundel’s defense. [Zundel wa a leading Holocaust denier in Canada]”
    Final comment: I had made reference to Irving’s connections with a wide range of Far Right/Holocaust Denial groups over several decades (something Graeme Atkinson above also details) but in the light of this controversy I’ve been looking more closely at his connections with the fanatically antisemitic Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski (National Rebirth Poland – who have an active branch in London too). One particularly interesting aspect of their politics is that they incorporate a Far-Right version of Anti-Zionism) which principled left wing anti-Zionists need to be more aware of and keep maximum distance from. I blogged about it last night: https://wordpress.com/post/rebellion602.wordpress.com/11038

Comments are now closed.