Elie Wiesel said on the Leon Charney show a few days ago that he has not seen any signs of belligerent Palestinian activisim or any anti-Semitic or anti-Israel agitation on his own campus, Boston University, or on any of the many campuses that he has visited. The man whose whole career has been based on making people open their eyes to the horrors of the Holocaust has now joined the large complacent-about-academia crowd. Someone needs to send him some articles from NRO, Frontpage, and Campus Watch.
On another note Wiesel, noted that there are now hundreds, maybe thousands of professors who teach Holocaust Studies, in contrast to decades ago when there was scarcely one or two. The question arises, If this is so, why is Israel so often vilified on American campuses, as Natan Sharansky noted on his college tour some time ago, and why is its existence and founding continually called into doubt? You would think that awareness of the Holocaust would form a bedrock of support for Israel’s existence. Here are some possible, tentative explanations:
Holocaust studies are not really taught historically, as a continuous specific narrative, with clear cause and effect, but as part of a meta-narrative of victims and oppressors. There is no effort to establish full contexts for historical actions, or to distinguish between better and worse actions, or to consider actions against what is often a paucity of alternatives, but only the simple meta-narrative of victims and oppressors. So in that narrative, Israel is now an oppressor and the Palestinians victims.
Holocaust studies are like many types of curricula today, in which the feelings of the students are the main subject. So students will be asked to write essays on how they would feel being confined to an attic hideaway like Anne Frank, rather than to consider and analyze the circumstances that made her persecution possible.
Holocaust studies keep the focus on individual cruelties rather than on the overall horror. Rather than seeing the evil that Nazism made humans capable of, and the abiding history of anti-Semitism, the students are invited to wallow in victimization, in the demand that we “listen” to the dead, and that sort of thing. They emerge thinking that the answer to this kind of evil is simply to feel free-floating compassion and empathy, and to uphold total non-discrimination about everything, instead of being alert to the kinds of forces that made the Holocaust possible.
The Holocaust is not seen for the cold-blooded, systematic, bureaucratic genocide that it was but as an example of “intolerance” or “hate,” as that word is misused today, for anything that opposes a minority agenda. Even comparison to more serious historic ills does an injustice. The Holocaust is not on a par with segregation or slavery, which, as awful as they were, were entirely different things. But moral equivalence takes hold in today’s thinking and distinctions and historical context are lost.
Holocaust Studies are often overkill, going into more detail than is necessary and overwhelming students, who emerge without clear understanding. Perhaps students do not need to learn so much about the Holocaust in their formal education, especially since it doesn’t seem to be doing much good. Wiesel spoke of semester-long courses. Is that really necessary? A short cogent presentation should be enough, a few days perhaps in a modern history course. There are plenty of films and documentaries, not to mention books, that can help young people to a more detailed picture. Too much emphasis causes an imbalance, perhaps, and pushes history in the direction of the study of group grievances, again obscuring the differences and distinctions that are needed to make wise judgments today.