People of the Book (and the University)
Not all of the talk at the meeting was about broad issues of faith — much of it focused on the specifics of campus politics.
Deborah E. Lipstadt, director of the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University, led a discussion about how colleges should respond to incidents of “hate speech” against Jewish students. Lipstadt, who is considered one of the world’s leading experts on Holocaust deniers, noted that she is a strong supporter of unrestricted speech and that she opposes laws in some countries that limit the ability to argue or publish Holocaust-denying materials. “We have history on our side,” she said, and bans on Holocaust deniers turn them into “martyrs.” For similar reasons, she said she was very skeptical of attempts to regulate campus speech.
In some sense, everyone on the panel agreed, with all endorsing free speech. But some focused on other issues.
Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor known for his fierce defense of the First Amendment and his equally fierce devotion to Jewish causes, said in a video presentation that he is pretty close to being an “absolutist” on free speech issues on campuses. He said that he applauded the idea that campuses needed to have a “circle of civility” for discussion of tough issues. But he said that there needed to be “ism equity” when talking about which kinds of criticism would be tolerated in what way.
Dershowitz said that on many campuses, criticism of Arabs would be labeled harassment while equal criticism of Jews or of Israel would be considered protected free speech. He said that this “double standard” was wrong — and that campuses needed to treat all groups the same way. “You can’t have affirmative action on free speech.”
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
At a recent Hillel sponsored Washington conference on "The University and the Jewish Community", Prof. Lipstadt was among the speakers who addressed the subject of free speech on campus. Inside Higher Ed has a report on the conference; here is an excerpt:
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Today's issue of the Baltimore Sun has an article in which Prof. Lipstadt and the Irving trial are cited. Here are some excerpts:
The peculiar persistence of Holocaust denial
Holocaust denial flies in the face of overwhelming evidence. Yet, decades after the Nazis' crimes, it continues -- and the president of Iran is merely its latest, and highest-profile, advocate.
By Arthur Hirsch
May 21, 2006
When a three-day conference in Tehran on the future of the Palestinians ended last month, the few hundred militant leaders and their backers had heard speeches condemning Israel and pledging support for Hamas - but not, as many anticipated, any experts challenging evidence of the Holocaust. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he'd stage a conference of Holocaust skeptics, right around the time he referred to the mass murder of European Jews during World War II as a "myth."
Ahmadinejad may be the first president of a country to challenge the Holocaust, allying himself with an array of claims viewed among serious historians in much the same light as the case for a flat Earth. He seemed to soften that a bit during the April meeting, referring to his "serious doubt" that the Nazis killed 5 million to 6 million Jews.
If the Iranian president does convene a conference challenging Holocaust evidence - a former Iranian foreign minister said it is still being planned - he'll step into what scholars describe as a parallel universe, an arena of minutiae and semantic gamesmanship where the weight of historical evidence is never so great that it cannot be dismissed with a fine point, even if the point has been willfully or innocently misconstrued.
Deborah E. Lipstadt, who teaches modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, published one of the early books on the phenomenon in 1993 only after overcoming strong impulses to ignore Irving and others, hoping they would go away. In Denying the Holocaust, she insists deniers are racist extremists who demand attention not for the merit of the ideas but "because of the fragility of reason and society's susceptibility of such farfetched notions. Many powerful movements have been founded by people living in similar irrational wonderlands, national socialism foremost among them."
The tendency to see the Holocaust as propaganda aiding Jewish causes has run through this form of extreme "revisionism" at least since the Frenchman Paul Rassinier published The Drama of European Jewry in 1964. The gas chambers, he said, were an invention of the "Zionist establishment."
When Ahmadinejad threatens Israel in one breath and in the next calls the Holocaust a "myth," he echoes a familiar song. How it's playing, and what his remarks do for the cause of the likes of Irving, is hard to say.
[IHR's Mark] Weber certainly does not seem enthusiastic about the remarks, saying Ahmadinejad is not a historian and should keep these thoughts to himself.
Next to the Irving trial outcome, Lipstadt says Ahmadinejad is the deniers' "worst nightmare ... I don't think it helps."
Ahmadinejad's intended audience is clearly not the world's academic historians, but Lipstadt figures that his remarks do say something significant about the leader of a country that apparently has serious nuclear aspirations.
"Some say he's crazy," says Lipstadt. "I say he's crazy like a fox."