Down the hall and around two corners, I have a colleague named Tony Hall. I say ‘colleague’, but only in the sense that we’re both tenured professors at the same university. I teach in the Philosophy Department; he’s a one-man show in a program he calls Globilization Studies.
Tony’s an affable enough fellow, but he’s also an idiot. To his credit, he doesn’t mind me calling him that. He understands that most of his colleagues regard him as an idiot. Why? Because he’s a 9/11 Truther? Well, yes. But it doesn’t stop there. Tony’s convinced there’s an international Zionist conspiracy out there that’s behind most of the terrorist attacks that have taken place in the West over the past two decades, attacks for which the Israelis and their American neo-con buddies have cleverly framed their Arab enemies.
Now my own view, for what little it’s worth, is that nineteen brave young men – brave beyond description! – managed to pull off what must surely be the single most cost-effective military operation in human history. No fiction could possibly match it! And so if instead it was Mossad that managed to frame these guileless young Arabs for what was in fact a ‘false flag’ operation, well, that just raises my admiration exponentially. But, alas, cool as that would have been, reality just isn’t that cool. That would have involved just too many co-conspirators to be plausible. It’s not that people talk in their sleep. It’s that people brag. To suppose that of the hundreds of people who would have had to have been involved not one of them, in the throes of passion, whispered to his lover … So no, I think the official story is gobsmackingly cool enough. So that’s my story and, much to Tony’s chagrin, I’m stickin’ to it.
But – notwithstanding that I guess I have – that’s not what I want to blog about here. Rather I want to blog about what happened on October 4th of last year. That’s the day that Mike Mahon, the President of the University of Lethbridge, in blatant violation of the collective agreement between the Faculty Association and the University, suspended Tony without pay and declared him persona non grata on campus.
Needless to say there are several court cases pending, an international censure of the U of L is in the works, and many of Tony’s colleagues, myself included, have, and continue to, come to Tony’s defense. But none of that is what I want to blog about here either. If the case for academic freedom has to be made to the kind of people I assume have been reading this blog, I might just as well hang up my shingle right now. Rather what I want to blog about is what Tony is being accused of.
In conjecturing that the State of Israel is behind the lion’s share of all these terrorist attacks, he’s being accused of promoting anti-Semitism. His accuser, by the way, is one Goldie Morgentaler, a prof in the English Department, daughter of the late Henry Morgentaler, the abortion doctor responsible – and thankfully so – for the 1988 Supreme Court ruling striking down Canada’s abortion legislation, and who was, along with Goldie’s mother, a Holocaust survivor. Bigotry doesn’t arise ex nihilo. So it’s not entirely surprising that Goldie would hold the view that – and I quote – “Any criticism of the State of Israel is anti-Semitism!”
According to Goldie, then, my fellow self-loathing Jew, Noam Chomsky, and I are both anti-Semites. Well, once played, nothing can trump the Auschwitz card, so I guess I must be. But Tony isn’t. He’s an anti-Zionist, to be sure. But then so is Chomsky. So am I. But anti-Zionism is little more than a hundred years old. Anti-Semitism has been around since the supersessionism of First Century Christianity. Two very different animals. Two very different pedigrees.
Now my own view – again for what little it’s worth – is that if I thought the Israelis were clever enough to have pulled off all those attacks and blame every one of them on their Arab enemies, that wouldn’t make me anti-Semitic. Hell, that would make me proud to be Jewish. I must be a member of the smartest race the world has ever known! So how are any of Tony’s false flag conjectures anti-Semitic? Anti-Semitism is the view that Jews are morally inferior to gentiles. So it must be that his accusers think that Tony thinks that intelligence is a sign of demon possession or something.
Look. Two peoples, Jews and Arabs, each want the same piece of land. And neither, it seems, is all that sanguine about sharing it with the other. What choice is there but war? And what, according to Thomas Hobbes, are the two cardinal virtues of war? Force and fraud, right? Fraud. So if the Israelis were responsible for 9/11 and successfully framed their enemies for it, that would be something to admire. If Tony thinks the Israelis did pull off these attacks and yet he doesn’t admire them for their chutzpah, then he must be a complete idiot.
Of course it’s entirely possible that Tony’s accusers think he’s just, well, stupid. That he has conflated cleverness with evil. Or perhaps they think he hates us Jews not because of our cleverness but for the same reason most of you anti-Semites hate us Jews, namely that we killed your Lord, we celebrate Easter by drinking the blood of a Christian baby … You know, that sort of thing. But though yes, we did kill your Lord, and though yes, we do celebrate Easter by stealing a recently baptized infant and then drinking its blood, Tony doesn’t know anything about any of this.
So the best explanation is that he hates Jews for the same reason I hate Germans, namely that my co-religionists are treating the Palestinians under Occupation pretty much the way the Nazis treated us in the Warsaw Ghetto. If Sabra and Shatila aren’t grounds for Tony’s hatred then neither is Auschwitz grounds for mine.
But wait a minute. Hatred of Jews for Sabra and Shatila isn’t anti-Semitism. It’s anti-Zionism. Chomsky and I don’t exactly hate ourselves for Sabra and Shatila, but these atrocities certainly make us ashamed to be Jewish. Since Tony isn’t Jewish he can’t be ashamed. But he can be, is, and rightly so, outraged. That Goldie is neither ashamed nor outraged makes her the bigot, not him.
But now for the elephant in the room. Tony is on record as advocating that the Holocaust can be, and ought to be, as open to re-examination as any historical episode. Well, how could anyone disagree with that? And yet, apparently, some can and do. Apparently people like Goldie take opening the Holocaust to revisitation to be code for Holocaust denial. Tony should know this, so Tony is a Holocaust denier. Quod erat demonstrandum.
The absurdity of this argument aside, the problem with this closing of the canon is that it leaves no way that the Holocaust can be revisited. And that’s just the equivalent of Scriptural literalism. Scriptural literalism is an unsustainable theology. For example, since Jesus was alone in the Garden of Gesthemene, how does anyone know what was said there? The famous “Take this cup of poison away from me!” was invented. It was, at best, conjectured.
The Holocaust – more enlightened Jews prefer the theodically neutral term ‘Shoah’ – is not an event. It’s the name for a collection of events as numerous as the grains of sand on a beach. If I move one grain from here to there, have I denied the Holocaust? How many grains do I have to move, from where and to where, to count as a Holocaust denier? However that question is answered – and I’m prepared to accept any answer to it, provided it’s understood to have been a stipulated one – how does my Holocaust denial constitute anti-Semitism? How, for that matter, does it even constitute anti-Zionism?
Look. Let’s suppose that the whole beach is a lie. This is equivalent to saying that the entire New Testament was made up. Many if not most scholars are now of the view that the Exodus was a myth. How is such Exodus revisionism a threat to contemporary Jews? It isn’t. If I said to a Christian that her entire faith is built on an historical falsehood, how would that make me anti-Christian? It wouldn’t.
How, for that matter, would my Holocaust denial constitute even anti-Zionism? Zionism got off the ground in the 1880’s. The Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917, a quarter of a century before the Holocaust. So the Jews were going to have a homeland in any case. Once the camps were liberated, did the largely Jewish-controlled media exploit Christian guilt to garner support for a Jewish state? Of course they did. Do they continue to do so today? Of course they do. But calling them out on this is hardly an argument for the illegitimacy of the Jewish state. One could as readily argue that the non-historicity of the Cross means the Vatican should be leveled and turned back into a meadow.
To be fair, Tony is as guilty of this guess-the-enthymeme kind of thinking as his accusers. But that just says they’re both idiots. Tony is an idiot for thinking that a possible narrative is a true narrative, and his accusers are idiots for thinking that asking a question is providing an answer to it. But even if Tony were denying the Holocaust – whatever that might mean – this in itself is neither anti-Semitism nor even anti-Zionism. It’s true that some Diary-denialists – yes, there is such a thing – doubt the authenticity of the Anne Frank diary because they’re anti-Semites. But the because-relation doesn’t hold the other way around.
Tony Hall is an idiot, but he’s probably not a Holocaust denier, and he’s definitely not a bigot. Goldie Morgentaler, on the other hand, is undeniably the latter. I’m a bigot too. When I hear German spoken my back goes up. But I don’t allow my bigotry to close the canon on history. Nor do I allow it to ratify apartheid and genocide.
There, Goldie, I’ve said it! Now go ahead and petition President Mahon to have me join Tony in being forcibly relieved of my post.