The Absurdity of the Goldhagen Test

I just read Nicholas Goldberg’s Los Angeles Times piece from yesterday. He cites Daniel Goldhagen, author of Hitler’s Willing Executioners, who argues that, “if a person repeatedly singles out Israel for attack without subjecting other countries to similar scrutiny, that’s questionable.” Can you imagine the defense in a murder case arguing, “Yes, well, the crime allegedly committed by my client was indeed heinous, but have you taken a look at all these other heinous crimes my client didn’t perpetrate? Your Honor, the prosecutor is biased against my client because he has failed to even mention these other cases!” What other point can there be to this argument than to distract the jury with irrelevancies?

Daniel Goldhagan defines anti-Semitism.

The argument is furthermore drenched in hypocrisy. For years, Goldhagen was singularly driven to expose an alleged anti-Semitism inherent in German national culture. Every German was a “willing executioner.” Did Goldhagen “balance” this obsession with numerous random atrocities and injustices perpetrated by other state actors? Was there ever any expectation that he should? The thought never occurred to me. Suppose I specialize in the history of apartheid in South Africa. Am I supposed to discuss unjust arrangements in other countries to avoid being accused of bias? (If so, I should probably avoid mentioning the situation of one of South Africa’s closest allies during the height of the apartheid system.)

Goldhagen makes an equally ridiculous argument when he claims that opposition to Zionism suggests anti-Semitism. Am I really now compelled to be a Zionist lest I be an anti-Semite? Am I not free to refuse to consent to or participate in some ethnic group’s nationalist project? What if I am ethically opposed to embracing the assignment of an ethnic or religious character to any state because I subscribe to a secular and pluralistic conception of the nation-state (which I do)? This is a serious matter. If anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism is grounds for investigation of and possible disciplinary action against me, then I could be punished for failing to support what I regard as an injustice—let’s say a movement to establish an ethnically German state. Should I publicly announce my allegiance to Zionism to avoid persecution, or at least suspicion? The absurdity of these arguments exposes their purely ideological character. Goldhagen, Dershowitz, Foxman and their ilk simply do not get what a free and open democratic society is supposed to be. They are authoritarian minds are at work.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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