Bret Stephens: Polite society helped pave the way for Iran's Holocaust conference.

Roundup: Talking About History

"Not acceptable," says Ban Ki Moon, new Secretary-General of the United Nations. "Repulsive," say the editors of Britain's Guardian newspaper. "An insult . . . to the memory of millions of Jews," says Hillary Rodham Clinton. Global polite society is in an uproar over the Holocaust conference organized this week in Tehran under the auspices of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Moral denunciation is what reasonable people do--what they must do--when a regime that avows the future extermination of six million Jews in Israel denies the past extermination of six million Jews in Europe. But let's be frank: Global polite society has been blazing its own merry trail toward this occasion for decades.

The Australian Financial Review is not the Journal of Historical Review, the Holocaust-denying "scholarly" vehicle of some of the Tehran conferees. But in 2002 the AFR thought it fit to print the following by Joseph Wakim, at one point the country's multicultural affairs commissioner: "Sharon's war is not a war," he wrote. "Genocide would be a more accurate description." In Ireland Tom McGurk, a columnist in the very mainstream Sunday Business Post, noted that "the scenes at Jenin last week looked uncannily like the attack on the Warsaw Jewish ghetto in 1944." Jose Saramago, Portugal's Nobel Laureate in Literature, observed after a visit to Ramallah that the Israeli incursion into the city "is a crime that may be compared to Auschwitz."

Never mind that the total number of Jews "dealt with" in the Warsaw ghetto, according to Nazi commandant Jürgen Stroop, was 56,065, whereas the number of Palestinians killed in Jenin was no more than 60. Never mind that at the time Mr. Saramago visited Ramallah a total of about 1,500 Palestinians had been killed in the Intifada, whereas Jews were murdered at Auschwitz at a rate of about 2,000 a day. Let's concede that, for the sake of moral truth, strained comparisons may still serve useful rhetorical purposes. (Jews and Israelis also often make inapt Holocaust and Nazi comparisons.) Let's concede, too, that the comments cited above amount to criticisms of Israeli policy, nothing more.

Yet once a country's policies are deemed Nazi-like, it necessarily follows that its leaders are Nazi-like and--if it's a popularly elected government--so are at least a plurality of its people. "As the dogma of intolerant, belligerent, self-righteous, God-fearing irridentists . . . [Zionism] is well adapted to its locality," wrote Tony Judt, head of New York University's Remarque Institute, in the New York Review of Books. Ian Buruma of Bard College derided Israel's "right-wing government supported by poor Oriental Jews and hard-nosed Russians." And from British MP Gerald Kaufman, this: "If the United States is keen to invade countries that disrupt international standards of order, should not Israel, for example, be considered as a candidate?"
As it happens, Messrs. Judt, Buruma and Kaufman are all Jewish. So let's also concede that it is not anti-Semitic to oppose Zionism. After all, among the Tehran conferees were rabbis from the ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta movement, who, like Mr. Ahmadinejad, actively call for the elimination of the state of Israel.

Yet simply because opposition to Zionism ideologically or Israel politically isn't necessarily anti-Semitic, it doesn't therefore follow that being anti-Zionist or anti-Israel are morally acceptable positions. ...
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