SOME get what Whoopi was trying to say: ‘Slavery wasn’t about race, Apartheid wasn’t about race, the Holocaust wasn’t about race. It was about man’s inhumanity to man.’ (Or in the case of Leni Riefenstahl, woman’s inhumanity to woman). Except, that wasn’t exactly what she was saying. The wording is mine. The actor and talk-show host, wasn’t drawing a humanistic lesson from Hitler’s Final Solution, a universal truth that could apply equally to slavery, apartheid, the Rwandan Genocide.
Instead she was responding to the school-banning of Art Spiegelman’s Maus by a Tennessee School Board. And engaging in a trite intellectual exercise that often begins by downplaying the profound impact of Auschwitz, (why get hot and bothered by the banning of a comic book?), a dramatic intervention which then proceeds to ignore the role of the perpetrators, in order to raise an anti-racist point or two about Israel.
Absent the Holocaust, and the Nakba seems to be a terrible, singular tragedy unleashed upon innocent civilians by Jews on holiday from Eastern Europe. Absent the 1929 Hebron Massacre, subsequent 1941 Farhud Massacre, and especially the complicity of Palestinian leadership during the 1940s and 50s in pursing a ‘definitive solution to the Jewish problem’ — a broad campaign to remove Jews from Arabia articulated by Amin al-Husseini, and the result looks a lot like apartheid South Africa.
Whoopi’s ‘inhumanity to mankind’ spiel, is often trotted out whenever the privileged ‘woke’ few, wish to castigate the Zionists for defending their attempts to create, what they claim, is a secular safe haven for Jews. Since I am a non-theist and non-Zionist, I often used to engage in exactly the same type of banter. Whoopi was being rhetorical, she was not adding, so much as subtracting from an important conversation, one which needs to begin by drawing humanistic and universal lessons from history.
Unfortunately the conversation around Maus, was not the correct moment to be doing this. It was downright offensive and insensitive. Amidst the resulting twitter backlash, Whoopi was forced to apologise and has been suspended from her show The View, for two weeks.
If there is a universal truth to be drawn from Belsen and Treblinka, it is not by denial of Hitler’s attempts to create an Aryan master-race. It is not by denial of the Nuremberg race classification laws, nor denial of the Nazi’s attempts to cast persons as superior and inferior.
It is by examining the manner in which pseudo-science and cherry-picking of facts are abused by crackpots on the far right, and also by misguided individuals on the left, and realising that Hitler’s propaganda machine had a massive role to play in creating the necessary conditions for the genocide, not simply one or two bloody massacres listed in the hundreds, but rather an industrial-scale effort to affect the euthanasia of an entire population in the millions* — the sheer magnitude of which is mind-boggling.
It is often said of the Rwandan Genocide that radio played an important part in the deaths of Tutsis at the hands of the Hutus. Television and social media have become integral players in formulating public opinion. In my own country I have witnessed the emergence of anti-immigrant pogroms and the failure of newshounds and journalists to do anything about prejudice and bias when it comes to debating issues. Need one refer to censorship?
Last year, South Africa was entertained by a controversy surrounding Miss Universe, at the same time our then chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was taken to task for expressing his opinions on a political controversy. This year, we have seen an Emma Watson ‘solidarity’ fiasco (solidarity is ordinarily expressed with persons sharing common values and interests, not those like Hamas, opposed to our constitutional dispensation) and readers will no doubt find much of interest in the latest Amnesty Report on “Apartheid Israel’ (more analysis on this I promise).
When we find ourselves thus regaled by our media, remember there are always two sides to every story, and then there is the truth. Not even during apartheid did we attempt to negate our opponent’s very existence, nor did we advocate the removal of the Boers from an existential perspective. Rather, we arrived at our common peace settlement because we debated and hosted talks, talks which included all parties and all factions, listening and listening again to each other’s different perspectives, in arriving at our democratic solution.
*Note there was a population at the time of some 11 million Jews living under the Nazis