The Holocaust: A "real-world experience"?

26 Aug 2009 by CST

Anti-Zionist facts and anti-Zionist fictions are impossible to define to everyone's satisfaction.  Given the labyrinthine history of Jews, Muslims, Christians, antisemitism, Zionism, Europe and the Middle East, everyone has their own version of fact and fiction, history and myth, persecution and resistance.

Nevertheless, we are entitled to expect minimum standards from those who claim to be authoritative. This is why we continue to expect more from academics than we do of circus performers. (But only in the correct context. If we were training to be clowns, we might expect more of circus performers than of academics).

What then, to make of a lengthy anti-Zionist essay by M. Shahid Alam, a Professor of Economics at Boston's Northeastern University.  This essay, "Zionism: An 'Abnormal' Nationalism" is rapidly making its way through cybersapce and is being republished without critical comment on sites such as counterpunch that variously claim to be left-wing, anti-racist, and pro-Palestinian. There is certainly no shortage of material in Alam's essay to take issue with, but it is his treatment of Nazism that really infuriates. Take for example, this extract, implying that European Jews were able to flee Nazi persecution to Palestine:  

"... The passage of the Zionist plan - from chimera to reality - would be delivered by three events: imposition of tight immigration restrictions in most Western countries starting in the 1900s, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and the rise to power of the Nazis in 1933. As a result, when European Jews began fleeing Nazi persecution, most of them had nowhere to go to but Palestine. In their bid to create a Jewish state in Palestine..."

Alam's previous work shows that he is clearly not a Holocaust denier. Nevertheless, in this complex essay of over 3,300 words - that purport to tell the history of Zionism, and includes repeated reference to antisemites - the professor fails to mention the Holocaust even once. A credible history of Zionism and antisemitism, even from such a strong anti-Zionist perspective, cannot simply avoid such a seismic event. Alam comes close on a few occasions, but can't bring himself to say the 'H' word, or to explictly spell it out. In addition to the above "Nazi persecution" reference, he offers:

"...Zionism needed a stronger boost from anti-Semites than they had provided until the early 1930s. The Zionists always understood  that their movement would have to be driven by Jewish fears of anti-Semitism...

"... In the era preceding the rise of the Nazis, the Zionist idea - even from a Jewish standpoint - was an affront to more than two millennia of their own history...

"Starting with World War II, the pro-Zionist Jews would slowly build a network of organizations, develop their rhetoric, and take leadership positions in important sectors of American civil society until they had gained the ability to define the parameters within which the United States could operate in the Middle East. Serendipitously, it appears, pro-Zionist Jews also  found, ready at hand a rich assortment of negative energies in the West that they could harness to their own project. The convergence of their interests with that of the anti-Semites was perhaps the most propitious. The anti-Semites wanted the Jews out of  Europe, and so did the Zionists. Anti-Semitism would also become the chief facilitator of the Jewish nationalism that the Zionists sought to create..."   

Maybe Alam believes the Holocaust is so obvious, that it doesn't need mentioning. Perhaps this is also the reason why he makes no mention of British Mandate Palestine; nor any mention of the UN Partition plan and its rejection by the Arab world - all in the essay's overall framework of depicting Zionism as harnessing antisemitism to aid its"grave assault  on the history of the global resistance to imperialism...They sought to overturn the demography of Palestine, to insert a European presence in the heart of the Islamicate, and to serve as the forward base for Western powers intent on dominating the Middle East." 

But perhaps that is to be overly pedantic, harsh even: after all, Alam is a professor of economics, rather than history. Furthermore, he is hardly alone (on either side of the Atlantic) for having wandered off-expertise and done extensive moonlighting for the anti-Zionist camp. 

Still, the homepage of Northeastern University states that it "is a leader in interdisciplinary research, urban engagement, and the integration of classroom learning with real-world experience." For most Jewish Zionists, including those born after the end of WW2, the Holocaust was indeed a "real-world experience". Perhaps the wise professor and his supposed leftist supporters could contemplate that fact, should they ever pause for breath in their catch-all denunciations of Zionism and Zionists.

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