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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Monday, July 24, 2017

American democracy is in danger from ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative’ facts, and is passing laws that seek to place limits on public debate, American historian and author Deborah Lipstadt told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) Monday on the sidelines of the Jerusalem International Book Fair.

“I’m concerned about American democracy,” she said. “I’m concerned when there is an attempt to create doubt about our courts, our media, the [supposedly] lying press, about our voting system – about claims that 2-3 million people voted illegally, of which there is no proof,” Lipstadt said. “That makes me very nervous. When you create doubts in people’s minds about democracy it’s not a good thing for a country. It’s not a good thing for any political system, and speaking much more distinctly, it’s not a good thing for Jews.”

Lipstadt was attending the fair to talk about her book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, the story of her successful five-year legal battle against a libel suit brought by Holocaust denier David Irving. The book was recently republished and made into a movie, Denial,  starring Rachel Weisz.

Lipstadt said that one of the things she discovered while researching Holocaust denial was that deniers are at heart anti-Semites who dress themselves up in the rhetoric of rational thinking. “But when you go down one inch below the surface you find neo-Nazism and  anti-Semitism etc,” she said.

That pretense of claiming to want to merely correct mistakes in history and to discover the truth was something she said she identifies in today’s political climate. “There are parallels to some of the things we are seeing today, with people making things up and then defending them.

“[But] truth is not relative,” she continued. “Facts are not relative. There are certain things which are objectively true. Let’s take the Shoah, which is my area of expertise. I’m not saying there is an orthodoxy about the Shoah, that you have to think a specific way. What I’m saying is that it happened. Why it happened, who was responsible, was it Hitler’s idea, was it something that was brought to Hitler, could it have been stopped, when could it have been stopped, could Jews in the Diaspora have done more – all these are points to debate. Historians debate them all the time, but not whether the Holocaust actually happened or not.”

Lipstadt  has spoken of “soft Holocaust denial,” a phrase she used back in January when President Donald Trump omitted any mention of Jewish victims from his Holocaust Remembrance Day statement. Today she says the president has since made strong statements on anti-Semitism and there is no indication that he is an anti-Semite, but there remain “a few people around him who have a great deal of comfort with people who are outwardly and unashamedly anti-Semites.”

Moving on to Israel, Lipstadt, a fluent Hebrew speaker, said she was worried by some of the current trends here, and that Israel was shooting itself in the foot in the battle against anti-Israel activists by promoting laws that seek to place limits on public debate.

“I’m very involved in the fight against BDS,” Lipstadt told TPS. “We don’t focus on Israel when we fight against BDS. We say, it’s undemocratic, it silences professors, it refuses to allow Israeli professors to come unless they do a McCarthy like disavowal of Israeli policies, it’s antithetical to  academic freedom and to discussion. So when Israel passed a law saying that anybody who supports any form of boycott won’t be allowed in, the ground is pulled out from under us … It’s not only ludicrous, it’s strategically wrong.”

Lipstadt also weighed in on the debate that has been raging in Israel over an ethical code drawn up at the request of Education Minister Naftali Bennett to govern political debate at institutions of higher learning.  

“Just in the past few days since I’ve been here there has been a discussion about not allowing professors to say certain things and creating offices in universities which will adjudicate whether [they have violated the code]. That’s very scary,” she said. “Look I don’t believe you should bring your personal politics into the classroom, I think that’s wrong. But to have some sort of authority made a Big Brother to decide this  is permitted and this is not… that’s very dangerous.”  

By: Ilan Evyatar
(TPS)